Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Water is Wealth - Woodside vs. Stoneywood

Pond at Stoneywood House
Readers might be aware that the Other Aberdeen HQ is in the upscale heart of downtown Pitmuxton (or "Pitmuckston"), on the south-facing slope of the valley of the Dee, nestled around the Geldieburn (or west branch of the Pitmuxton Burn), between Ferryhill and Garthdee, and encompassing Ruthrieston. Recent psycogeographical expeditions have taken us to the Don-valley mirrors of our home turf - those being Woodside, Bucksburn (or, indeed "Buxburn") and Stoneywood. There's simply a huge amount of stuff for us to discuss about these fascinating parts of Aberdeen, not least of which is the fact that (and reasons why) these areas are but recent additions to the administrative boundaries of the City of Aberdeen.

When you visit Woodside, its difficult not to be alienated by the A96 Trunk Road which is a gash in the community's social fabric; a dead space designed for machines rather than people. A hot-spot for noise, congestion, pollution, accidents and isolation. At one time, Woodside hosted and boasted a terminus for the much mourned Aberdeen Tram system, and was conveniently connected by that clean, efficient, quiet and cheap transport provision to the rest of the town. Today, the urban dual carriageway separates Woodside even from itself.

And not for the first time has this phenomenon of a transport "upgrade" ill served Woodside. Between 1807 and 1854 the Aberdeenshire Canal ran through Woodside. The canal was a considerable convenience and, indeed, luxury to the inhabitants of Woodside who would swim in it in the summer and skate on it in the winter in addition to using it as a virtually inexhaustible source of clean, safe, fresh water. It was the very centre and continual re-genesis of their already ribbon-developed community. The canal also had the effect of feeding and adding to the natural springs below it on the north face of the Don Valley at Hayton and Tillydrone. Those springs, in turn feeding a gathering system which provided the water supply for Old Aberdeen. Old Aberdeen was at that time also a burgh independent of "New" Aberdeen.

Canal remnant at Station Road, Woodside.
With the building of the Great North & Scotland Railway the greater part of the canal-bed was to become the bed of the railway, and so the canal was closed, drained and (having been established by Act of Parliament in 1796) was abolished in 1854. This had a devastating effect on the springs below it, effectively depriving Woodside and Old Aberdeen of a fresh water supply. Fresh water extraction from the River Don itself was out of the question, the river being already quite heavily industrialised. The provisions of the Acts of Parliament relating to the establishment of both the canal and railway obliged the railway company to remedy any injury done or deficit caused by the building of the railway and so the railway company agreed to make good the loss of water. Various schemes were implemented drawing water from here and there but all proved inadequate, and in a precursive example of short-sighted venality the town council of Old Aberdeen accepted a sum of £1000 from the railway company instead of the water. The fate of Old Aberdeen and Woodside was thus sealed. Ill-conceived attempts by Old Aberdeen council to secure a supply of water for their inhabitants proved more ineffective than even those of the railway company, and so both Old Aberdeen and Woodside lost their independence, being forced to go cap (or rather, water-jug) in hand to the neighbouring burgh of Aberdeen, where the citizens luxuriated in their new state-of-the art high-pressure water supply brought from high up the Dee at Cairnton. Thus deprived of its independent water supply, and mistaking money for wealth, Woodside's autonomy was sacrificed for the agency provided by neighbouring Aberdeen. Old Aberdeen and Woodside were formally absorbed into Aberdeen in 1891.

Aberdeenshire Canal artifact at Stonewood Terrace:
Mile stone: "5 1/2"

Old Mill at Bucksburn House
Contrastingly, Bucksburn and Stoneywood (parts of the parish of Newhills) - a little further upstream on the Don, remained independent of Aberdeen until the big nationwide local government reorganisation of 1975. Stoneywood and Bucksburn are areas characterised by both water and mills; the prior being the source of wealth, the latter being the means to convert that wealth into affluence (or, at least, prosperity).

Following this area's two main water courses to the Don (the Bucksburn itself and the Greenburn) we find mill after mill, manor-house after manor-house in a fractal succession of water-descent driven capital ascent from the small-scale meal-mill at Bucksburn House to the vast internationally-exporting paper-manufacturing enterprise at Stoneywood. The meal-mill at Bucksburn House is long-retired, and the flourmill on the Bucksburn which supplied the famous Chalmers bakery is now the site of a large motel, but the Stoneywood Mill still operates, manufacturing speciality paper. There's a histobunk section on its retail website which is well worth a look, so we recommend it.

Stoneywood Mill
The Stoneywood Mill is the last of the seventeen (we think) papermills which once operated on the banks of the Don, and is one of only two remaining paper mills in Scotland (the other being in Fife).

[edit - correction
Six papermills remain in Scotland. Stoneywood, two in Fife, two on the west coast and one in the Borders.
- Thanks to Mark Chalmers for the info]

The weir and mill-lade are on a bend in the river below Stoneywood House, accessed by a little zig-zag path. The entirity of the capital manifest in the site of this internationally renowned papermaking enterprise was accumulated through the judicious use of the diverted - gathered and mustered, wrangled and re-tasked - waters of the Don and Greenburn as they fall onto and through, past and across the inch upon which the mill stands.

Stoneywood House and Mill-lade intake.
"Water is Wealth"
Greenburn at Bankhead Road.
No Trolls under this bridge.
The water-workings of the mill are, em, "in retirement" now, benign neglect allowing a picturesque and whimsical aspect to subsume the once rigorously industrially rational and practical. Motive power for the mills is derived from a three-phase electricity supply, which is transmitted to it (largely, notwithstanding grid-balancing on the National Grid) from the gas-fired power station on the very north-east corner of Aberdeenshire at Boddam. That power station itself is fed by gas through the integrated North Sea gas pipeline system, by which gas is brought from the Norwegian-controlled sector of the North Sea, the UK being these days a net gas importer.
Benign neglect
While the Stonewood Mill still operates today, we cannot help but see parallels and portents in history, which is of course like all things, fractal in nature. The affluence and prosperity which bootstrapped itself out of the geographical wealth of the location and accumulated in the capital manifest in the mill site was built via autonomous means - the motive power supplied by water seeking to find its own level under gravity - right there, before your eyes and under the control of your hands. That local autonomy has now been surrendered for the agency of electricity which is manufactured remotely. Moreover, that electricity is manufactured from a feedstock which is not under the control even of our nation's agency, nor even that of the supranational agency of the EU. It is controlled by the monopoly state capitalists of a foreign power.

We said in the title that 'Water is Wealth'. Well, it certainly was wealth. Perhaps it will be again some day. No-one can turn off gravity, and we trust that rain and snow on the Cairngorms will not stop any time soon.

Stoneywood Weir. Play it full screen in HD and feel as if you're there.

We spotted these Statoil ads on the back of magazines, click them to read their messages. We think they're supposed to be comforting, but we find them more than a little chilling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

fabulous work

Mytho Geography