Posted by: christinelaennec | July 23, 2013

Marischal College – an overdue update

Two years ago, I began a post about the recently-refurbished Marischal College, and I never finished it.  However, I thought some of you familiar with Aberdeen might be interested to see what they’ve done.  As an academic institution, Marischal College [pronounced “Marshall”] has existed since 1593.  Marischal was a Protestant institution, created after the Reformation, in contrast to the Catholic King’s College, founded in 1495 a mile and a half away in Old Aberdeen.  In 1860, the two joined forces, and together they constituted the University of Aberdeen.  The building you see below was designed by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie and was opened in 1906 by Edward VII.  I believe it’s one of the largest granite buildings in the world:

Statue of Robert the Bruce in front of Marischal College, Aberdeen. June 2011.

Marischal College was used by the medical school until at least 2005.  I remember going to give a workshop on memory tricks to a group of medical students in the anatomy lecture theatre there, and noting with a shudder the large drain on the sloping floor.  The University of Aberdeen vacated the building and some years later Aberdeen City Council took a 100-year lease on it, and renovated it.  It was very badly in need of renovation by that stage.  For a while, as the mouldy rooms were being gutted and some rooves replaced, the shell of Marischal College looked pretty sad.  I remember encountering a woman standing in front of Marischal in tears.  She and her husband had come to Aberdeen especially to visit the place where they had studied, and she hadn’t known about the severe renovations.

The new council headquarters opened in July 2011.  There’s a newly-commissioned statue of Robert the Bruce in front.  He’s important to the history of Aberdeen because in 1319 he gave the Forest of Midstocket to the city.   Prior to the renovation, cars and people entered Marischal through an archway, which you see just behind the statue in the photo above.  Before the start of the annual Torcher Parade (the student charity campaign parade), the students used to assemble in the courtyard behind the closed gates, and rattle them until they were ceremonially allowed out to begin the parade.

That archway has now been incorporated into the building, and the opening is now a glass entryway.  Once inside, looking straight ahead you see this:

Looking into the courtyard

The day that I visited, these doors were locked and you could only gaze through.  The door at the far side of the courtyard used to be the entrance to the wonderful Marischal Museum (immortalised in Leila Aboulela’s story “The Museum”).  I’m not very sure what has happened to the museum space itself, although some of its contents are now in the small King’s Museum on the King’s College campus.

Standing in what used to be the arched entrance to the courtyard, if you look left, instead of seeing a dark granite wall, you see a reception area:

Looking to the left as you stand in what used to be the arched entryway to the courtyard.

And looking to the right, another public area:

Looking to the right

Meanwhile, demolition has begun on the eyesore across the street, St. Nicholas House:

St. Nicholas House, the former headquarters of Aberdeen City Council. June 2011.

I’m sure we weren’t the only ones to be disappointed to learn that there won’t be a dramatic controlled explosion to bring it down.  Such a thing would pose too great a risk not only Marischal College, but also to the lovely Provost Skene’s House, which is nestled at the foot of St. Nicholas House, now surrounded by tall hoarding. I hadn’t realised that Provost Skene’s House was to be closed for a year.  By the time I went to pay a farewell visit in March, it had been shut.  However, I welcome the day when it will no longer be overshadowed by this hulk of a building!

On a more personal note, packing is going well here.  We “flit,” as they say, a week tomorrow.  Also, I was happy to hear that the new royal baby arrived safe and sound.  I was hoping it might be a girl, since she would have been the first female to be in line for the throne since they changed the rules.  In weather news, although yesterday was the hottest in Britain for seven years, Aberdeen had a high temperature of 18.5C / 65F.  Back to normal!



  1. It looks as if it’s been very nicely renovated. Hopefully that lady who came back with her husband and got upset about it being closed will be able to return and see it in its new glory.

    I, too, was hoping for a girl but I’m glad the wee prince has arrived safely. He won’t know what it’s like to live out of the public spotlight, he has a strange life ahead of him.

  2. Yes! I saw the picture of the sailors! Such an exciting time! We are doing our Beatrix Potter “summer camp” this week and will be sure to celebrate today and probably all week. 🙂

    “Flitting” was a new word for me when we were over there. It’s quite sweet I think. I hope your packing goes well and the actual move too!

  3. Good luck with the move-hope it’s smooth and calm for you all. Would you believe weare going to Stonehaven the day beore you move?! Thanks for showing us lots of lovely places to visit in Aberdeen.

  4. wishing you all the best with your move, Christine. I hope this last week in Aberdeen will be a good one for you and your family and that the move goes smoothly.

  5. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your views of Aberdeen with us, Christine. It amazes me to see such massive buildings with ancient foundations and then to ponder how time has weathered them and current efforts are made to preserve or enhance or mar them!
    One British blogging friend has been posting a few pithy comments on FB to protest all the media fuss about the new Royal arrival, but new life…hope for the best, is a rather wonderful focus in a world that often is swamped by conflict or disaster, to my way of thinking 🙂
    Praying that the joy of the Lord will be your strength for you and yours as you complete your move,
    Gracie xx

  6. I knew nothing of Marischal College before reading this, Christine. A very interesting and informative post. I completely understand why most will be glad to see the end of St. Nicholas House, too. What an ugly structure.

  7. Lovely to see it all finished at last. Glad your packing is going well, not long now! xxx

  8. What a lovely building. All the best on your move. My stepson went to Glasgow as a film student a number of years ago and says it was one of the most awesome places he has ever been. I would love to visit Scotland especially for family history reasons — my paternal granddads side of the family emigrated from Dundee though they might have actually been from higher in the hills– but my real goal is to visit every yarn shop, alpaca/sheep ranch, and textile museum in the whole country. Not independently wealthy so it’s probably a “pie-in-the-sky” kind of dream but it is nice to think about anyway.

  9. Stunning! I graduated in this building – twice! So glad to see it looking splendid again – or ever more splendid.

    Good luck with the flit. Are you having a roup, or a displenish before you pack everything up? 😉

  10. I love the college and provost house and hated the huge building beside. Be nice to see it gone.
    Enjoy Glasgow. I think I would prefer Aberdeen.

    On another note WA State is having a spectacular northwest summer. Best in several year I do believe. Temps run between 29-40c in my little mountain hamlet.

  11. Dear Everyone,

    As always thanks so much for your comments – they are such a pleasure to receive! Preparations for moving are going well so far.

    Linda, we have been sifting and sorting for months now! Many bags of things have gone to the charity shops.

    Paula, I’ve been hearing about this lovely summer in the Pacific Northwest. I have acclimatised so much here that 29-40C is too hot for me now!

    Gracie, I agree that the safe arrival of any baby is good news, and I’d had the same thought, that it was a refreshing change to have that dominate the headlines for a few days. As Lorna says, he has a very unusual life ahead of him.

  12. It’s hard to tell whether this post reflects a wider trend in Aberdeen, but I get the impression that the city is quite good at preserving its granite heritage. I see this as very commendable. You can see where I’m coming from when I tell you that the organisation I work for has a building voted to be “Sydney’s Ugliest” – built in a style labelled by a colleague as “late 20th century brutalism”, beside which St Nicholas House would look like an architectural masterpiece. Workers who clock on at Marischal College must really feel their spirits lift when they walk in the front door.

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