Friday, 28 October 2011

March Stones 56 & 57 ABD. K is for Kittybrewster.

In a wide-ranging exploration of just what psychogeography means in Britain today, Tina Richardson - Psychogeographer of Leeds - wrote in her blog-post "The Psychogeographical Franchise" about a strain of 'radical nostalgia' (per Bonnet - pdf) within British psychogeography. This approach whereby "loss and redemption are explored and negotiated" is said to be typified by author Iain Sinclair.

And yes, sometimes when we read the online psychogeographical output of others, we find ourselves reading what in fact turns out to be but a whimsical commentary referencing lost buildings or now-obscured geographical features. A sort of mildly-indignant melancholic short-range travelogue - very often beautifully-written - with a loose historical context. Histobunk. For our part, we psychogeographers of OtherAberdeen are aware that nostalgia has the potential to be a pitfall and have guarded a handful of times against the ease of falling into its attractive trap. But that's not to say we don't do it too - sometimes it simply can't be avoided. Often we find in Aberdeen so egregious are the harms done to once thriving neighbourhoods by planning blight and spectacularly ill-conceived development decisions that the"radical nostalgic" theory and praxis is the best searchlight to turn upon the situation.

And so, while tracing the ancient boundaries of Aberdeen - the "March Stones" we came upon the once-thriving former suburb of Kittybrewster. Here, two of our semi-regular strands ("March Stones" and "The A to Z of Aberdeen") coincide. "K for Kittybrewster": location of march stones 56 and 57 ABD.

Celtic Place-Names in Aberdeenshire
John Milne, 1912
KlTTYBREWSTER, KlTTYBROUSTER WELL, KlTTYTHIRST WELL. In these names the first part represents Cuitan Briste, broken fold. Cuitan, dim. of cuit, fold; briste, broken. Usually, folds for cattle had water near them. Kittybrewster was in the den now called Berryden, which means watery den. Kittybrouster was on the boundary between St Nicholas and Spital parishes, on the west side of Monthooly. It is mentioned in a charter defining the bounds of the Spital lands, in the possession of the Town Council. Kittythirst is in Keig, and in this name, from association with a well, briste had become thirst. Broken- fold in Forglen is a translation of Cuitan Briste. These folds had been made by planting trunks of trees upright in the ground. When these decayed the folds had become ruinous.

Speaking to my old mum and dad, they tell of a mid-20th century heyday for Kittybrewster:

The Great Northern Road. Town meets county. A railway junction and locomotive engineering works with 20-track turntable and engine shed. A split-the-wind fork in the road, a luxury hotel, a livestock market. A huge - huge! - rail-head freight terminal at the former ancient borough boundary which follows the watercourse route of the Powis Burn. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of cattle-trucks in the acres upon acres of marshalling yards - as far as the eye can see. Tweed-clad flat-bunneted livestock owners and wranglers smoking pipes and cheroots and 'ticklers'. Impenetrable dialects. The cattle-pens all the way to Berryden. The smell! The auctioneer's cant, his clipboard, his gavel, his white coat.  Agricultural machinery vendors and motor-sales garages. Open outcry roups of second-hand harvesters and motorcars on the cinder football pitches in the suburb's Central Park. Vertically integrated agricultural business, horizontally diverse service enterprises. Cafes, pubs, restaurants. Barbers, florists, grocers. Bakers, stationers, newsagents. A diverse confluence of transport, commerce and industry at the edgeland. Integrated transport - road, tram, rail freight, passenger rail - diversified businesses. A coming together at the crossroads, money and goods changing hands, people changing trains. Aberdeen's largest ever granite built cinema, velour and polished-brass luxury next door to the deco achievement of the Northern Hotel.
A grand day, a good price - silver service, malt and cotton sheets at the best hotel in town, then first class carriage home in the morning. Prices not so good? A dormitory bunk at the Temperance Hotel and third class home to Formartine. Cattle driven from market the short downhill drove to the captured bolts and razor-sharp long knives of the slaughter men at George Street with their "Butcher's Arms".

Pre WW2 - Astoria Cinema, Central Park and Livestock Mart
with tenements behind on Great Northern Road.

There's not much to see at Kittybrewster today, other than derelict and vacant industrial and retail premises and, amid the devastation, the great-survivor that is the grade-A listed Northern Hotel. But, of course, the past is the past, and Kittybrewster is neither transport hub nor commercial nexus today. No-one could credibly suggest that the area (which is no longer suburban, rather it is very much inner-city) would be a suitable area for cattle-trading and meat-packing, nor indeed for a rail-freight terminal. No, indeed, in Aberdeen, no-one should be surprised to learn that the sites formerly occupied by rail marshalling yards, by cattle-pens and by agricultural machinery showrooms are to be swept away in favour of a radial urban expressway which is designed to deliver high volumes of high-speed motor traffic into the town centre in ever larger numbers. This radial expressway scheme is known to our urban planners as the "Berryden Corridor Improvement" [sic]. When it is opened, the destruction of Kittybrewster will be complete, and far from being the literally crucial destination that it once was, Kittybrewster will be separated even from itself by the new motor-highway.

March Stone 56 ABD.
Just to the north of the site formerly occupied by the Astoria Cinema

So the formerly economically vital business, trade and transport and community hub that was centred in the community of Kittybrewster was a diverse nexus pinning Aberdeenshire to the edge of our town like a brooch but is today a disquietingly quiet place. The already devastated area appears to be holding its breath and steeling itself for the greater devastation to come, planning blight. Kittybrewster - the "broken cattle-fold". Nominative Determinism? 

March Stone 57 ABD. Close to the railway bridge at the
southern end of Great Northern Road. By the bins.

Having walked through and thought about Kittybrewster, we return now to the analysis of nostalgia itself, and its use in and affect upon psychogeographical theory and praxis. For during our dérive through Kittybrewster an alternative analysis concerning the real effect of nostalgia upon urban liveability came to mind. Rather than sit here in our atelier, typing up this report, luxuriating in the indignant bemoaning of Kittybrewster's current situation: "oooh, it's not like the old days" and willingly revelling in wistful nostalgia, we can see that Kittybrewster is, in fact the real victim of a very different kind of nostalgia. In those urban-expressway plans which are on the cusp of being implemented we discern the realisation of a strain of nostalgia which, rather than being the harmless plaything of us dilettante psychogeographers, is actually a genuinely harmful influence on the actual situation of the forthcoming urban environment. For in their grandiloquent road transport plans we can detect in our local urban planners a longing for the kind of retro-future, the sort of spectacular 'motopia', which was first dreamt up in the centre of the car-crazy 20th century. That now, as we approach the main run of the 21st century, the planners of Aberdeen begin to implement these embarrassingly old-fashioned motorcentric plans is nothing other than the lazy indulging of a nostalgia for a stillborn future which never arrived, and which we today know very well will make for urban places and spaces which are unpleasant in the extreme.

Development corridor
Fill it with motors! 


uair01 said...

Your nostalgia reminds me of the great "forgotten new york" website:

Anonymous said...

Kittybrewster today is a pretty grim place right enough. And you have to pass through it on the way into the city from the airport. What a picture of despair and decline it presents to the visitor! It left a psychological mark on me when I came to Aberdeen to work. I couldn't wait to leave.