Posted by: christinelaennec | November 21, 2010

A visit to Provost Skene’s House

Provost Skene’s House is a late medieval house in the heart of Aberdeen that dates from 1545.  It is dwarfed by the rather monstrous 1970s carbuncle of St. Nicholas House, and was nearly pulled down in the 1930s when the surrounding slum housing was being cleared.  The Queen Mother, however, saved it.  It was restored and opened to the public in 1953.  It is named after a 17th-century Lord Provost (like a mayor) of Aberdeen, George Skene.  Like Robert Gordon, for whom Robert Gordon’s College is named, George Skene was a merchant who made his money in the Baltic.  He was Provost from 1676 to 1685.

The entrance to Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen, on a wet winter's day. Notice the lamp in the window: the coffee shop!

I really like the exuberance of the carvings around the door:

Doorway, Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen

A 1953 article by Edward Meldrum on the history of the house says that the crest above the door is that of Sir George Skene.  The motto is “Gratis a Deo Data” or “Thanks be given to God” (p. 87).  The carved decoration around the doorway he says is a ” ‘Restoration’ pattern of thistle and rose motifs”.   This particular Restoration was the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 with the crowning of Charles II as King of Wales, England and Scotland.  There are no leeks for Wales, but the roses are for England and the thistles symbolise Scotland:

Not just a pretty decoration but a political statement! Carvings around the doorway of Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen.

The inside of the house is well worth a visit.  While they were restoring the house in the 1950s, a painted ceiling was discovered that pre-dated the Reformation and had miraculously survived the destruction of that time.  The rooms of the house have been decorated to show how they would have looked during various historical periods.  There is an amazing doll’s house (ca. 1917) that the Dafter and I used to visit very regularly.

My most favourite room in Provost Skene’s house is the Costume Gallery.  The day that I went, there was a great exhibition of Edwardian dresses.  Sadly, no photos are allowed to be taken inside, but this link has a photograph of some of the costume collection.  Anyone who is interested in needlework, dressmaking and dress design would appreciate these gorgeous dresses.    But even if you aren’t a fashion afficionado, the stories the dresses tell are very interesting.  For example, one of the outfits on display was a grey motoring coat, made by Helen Bagrie of Aberdeen in 1905.  It was worn by Dr. Agnes Thomson — whoa! Dr. Agnes!  what’s the story there? — as part of her going-away outfit after her wedding — she got married!  did she continue to practise her profession? hmm! — at St. Nicholas West Church, Aberdeen.

Provost Skene’s House is free to visit, at least at the moment, and if you find yourself in the middle of Aberdeen and want a quiet half-an-hour, I highly recommend it.  And there’s also the coffee shop!



  1. The same Provost used to own part of our farm and his “poor” cousins rented a house and land from him in what is now just a bare scrubland. They are an interesting family, the Skenes!

  2. Thanks for this post, I’ve been in Scotland so many times but only once in Aberdeen, it’s about time to visit ….

  3. What a great pictures. Love the stone of the building and the carvings around the house !!

  4. I love history and this house sounds like it has plenty of history (and a coffee shop which makes it all a bonus!) Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks everyone, I’m glad you liked the post. There are some interesting things to see and do in Aberdeen. Roobeedoo, how interesting that you know the history of your farm going back so far. Provost Skene must have been a very powerful man.

  6. I really must come back to Aberdeen to visit all these lovely places you write about.
    Any snow yet?

    • No snow at the moment but we are promised six inches by the end of the week – we’ll see!

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