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Aberdeen, Greyfriars Church

Burial(S) (Period Unassigned), College (Post Medieval), Friary (Medieval), Hospital (Period Unassigned), Post Hole(S) (Period Unassigned), Wall(S) (Medieval), Organic Material (Bone)(Medieval), Pot(S) (15th Century), Unidentified Pottery(S) (Medieval)

Site Name Aberdeen, Greyfriars Church

Classification Burial(S) (Period Unassigned), College (Post Medieval), Friary (Medieval), Hospital (Period Unassigned), Post Hole(S) (Period Unassigned), Wall(S) (Medieval), Organic Material (Bone)(Medieval), Pot(S) (15th Century), Unidentified Pottery(S) (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Marischal College; Grey Friar's Monastery; Aberdeen, Franciscan Friary

Canmore ID 20146

Site Number NJ90NW 26

NGR NJ 9425 0650

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeen, City Of
  • Parish Aberdeen
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District City Of Aberdeen
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ90NW 26 9425 0650

For Dominican friary (NJ 9389 0640) and Carmelite friary (NJ 9411 0608), see NJ90NW 27 and NJ90NW 49 respectively.

(NJ 9425 0646) Greyfriars Church (AD 1500) (NAT)

(NJ 9425 0650) Site of of Marischal College (NR)

OS 1:500 map, Aberdeenshire, 1st ed., (1867).

(NJ 9425 0650) Marischal College on site of (NAT)

Grey Friar's Monastery (NR)

OS 1:500 map, Aberdeenshire, 2nd ed., (1901).

The site of the Franciscan Friary, some of whose buildings were used by the original Marischal College after the Reformation.

The friary was founded in 1469 and consisted of cloister, church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, etc. A new church was built for the friars in 1518-32 and in 1559 they resigned their whole property to the Town Council, so the buildings survived the Reformation. In 1567 permission was granted for 'the place of the Friars Minor' to be converted into a hospital, but the church stood derelict until 1624, when it was restored. A north projection was added to it in 1768 and it remained in use as a parish church until its demolition in 1903. The other buildings passed to George, Early Marischal, who founded Marischal College on the site in 1593 although new college buildings were not erected until c.1676. The college was rebuilt on the site in the early 19th century.

D E Easson 1957; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1897; A Smith 1882.

Visited by OS (JLD) 20 August 1952.

The original college buildings were grouped around a courtyard behind Broad St. In 1837 Simpson designed a new Tudor-Style quadrangle in white granite behind the original houses of Broad St. A Mitchel Mackenzie built the Mitchell Tower in 1891.

(Additional bibliography cited).

NMRS, MS/712/83.

The site of this church is now occupied by Marischal College.

Visited by RCAHMS (JRS, ATW), 26 February 1997.

NJ 9425 0651 Interim report on ongoing works around Marischal College, Aberdeen. This report covers evaluation work within the rear and front quadrangles (Trench 1-8). Medieval and post-medieval contexts have been recorded in all areas.

Information from OASIS ID: aberdeen3-53479

Alison Cameron, Aberdeen City Archaeological Unit


Publication Account (1997)

The church was not quite conventionally aligned east to west, probably because of its position at the end of the building site. By the eighteenth century it was shortened by one bay to the north to permit easier access to Marischal College and extended to the east. Otherwise, it survived largely intact until 1903 when it was removed to make way for a new frontage to the college. The fine south window was, however, rebuilt into the east gable of the new Greyfriars Church figure 19. To date there is no direct archaeological evidence of the friary (but see John Smith’s Warehouse, Queen Street; and Show Land coin hoard, below)..

Information from ‘Historic Aberdeen: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1997).

Publication Account (1997)

Members of the Observant of Franciscan Friary, commonly called Greyfriars, may have been working in Aberdeen from 1461. Their house was erected around 1469 as a result of endowments and land from Richard Vaus, burgh officials and others. The friary was at the east side of Broad Street on the site of the present Marischal College; this was in the heart of the settlement which was an unusual situation for a friary. The location was, in all probability, determined by the availability of waste tenements owned by Vaus, since archaeological evidence suggested that the east side of Broad Street was in decline in the fourteenth century, a process that was to accelerate in the fiftheenth. No documentary evidence has come to light on the firary complex and its first church, but in 1518-32 a new larger church was built for the friars by Bishop Gavin Dunbar figure 18.

It has been estimated that the group consisted of twelve to sixteen friars. In December 159 the friars resigned all their possessions to the town council, thereby avoiding destruction of their property, and the council determined to maintain the house for the use of the town. In 1567, some of the property of the Greyfriars was designated for conversion into a hospital and in 1593 certain remaining buildings passed to George Keith, Earl Marischal, who endowed them on Marischal College.

Information from ‘Historic Aberdeen: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1997).

Test Pit Survey (2008)

A series of test pits dug by Land-Drill Geotechnics Limited (Susan Leitch) for engineering purposes in advance of the redevelopment of Marischal College, were observed by Alison Cameron, Aberdeen City Council Archaeological Unit.

One trench at the extreme north-east of the site showed evidence of the survival of the foundations of buildings seen on the First Ordnance Survey map (1867) at a depth of 2.5m. No attempt was made to dig below these foundations and so there is no further information about archaeological deposits which might survive below these buildings.

Very little further archaeological information has been gathered from these trial pits due to their locations. The exterior trenches included one dug through an area previously excavated and others were not excavated to a depth where archaeological deposits might survive. TP08/15 in the internal area on the frontage of Broad Street produced evidence of

stones in the fill above the natural; these might be demolition from a previous building.

A Cameron 2008

Excavation (1 June 2009 - 30 June 2009)

NJ 9426 0650 Conversion of Marischal College into the new headquarters of Aberdeen City Council involved gutting the standing buildings, engineering work to retain the facades and the construction of new walls and services.

Phase 1 Garden soil levels pre-date all construction at this site; small amounts of medieval pottery and bone were recovered from these levels.

Phase 2 Buildings probably belonging to (but possibly pre-dating) the Franciscan friary which occupied part of

the site from the mid 15th century. A series of stone walls, pits (including one containing two complete 15th- to 16th century pots), postholes and a dump of rubbish, including pottery, ceramic floor tile, stone roof tile and window glass, are probably of friary origin. The Greyfriars Church stood on a NW–SE alignment until the early 20th century, when it was removed to make way for a new frontage for Marischal College. No structural evidence of the church was uncovered, but possible cloister walls which survived to a height of 1.5m were recorded. A series of seven burials of older male individuals with their hands clasped were buried with their heads to the SW against a cloister wall.

Phase 3 From the late 16th century the friary buildings were occupied by the newly founded Marischal College.

College buildings were regularly added and refurbished; some of these demolished buildings survive under the

Quadrangle to a height of over 1m. Plastered walls, doors, windows and a fireplace were recorded.

Phase 4 We recorded the 19th-century development of Marischal College in the form of a demolished wing and

numerous drains, some containing glass stirrers and other objects that had probably been discarded down the drains from the laboratories of one of the science departments which were housed in Marischal College. This work was undertaken 1–30 June 2009.

Archive: Aberdeen City Council and RCAHMS

Funder: Aberdeen City Council

Alison Cameron – Aberdeen City Council Archaeological Unit

Watching Brief (16 June 2010 - 4 August 2010)

NJ 94240 06481 A watching brief was undertaken, June–August 2010 during the excavation of deep drains in the college quadrangle and on Broad Street. The quadrangle excavations revealed a series of large cut features, the base for the now removed McGrigor Obelisk, and a section of granite masonry. It is possible that the masonry relates to the Franciscan friary or early college structures. Finds recovered included sherds of medieval pottery, roof tiles and Flemish floor tiles. A series of modern made ground deposits, overlying a compacted surface, of unknown date, were recorded during the Broad Street excavations.

Archive: Aberdeen City Council and RCAHMS

Funder: Aberdeen City Council

CFA Archaeology Ltd, 2010

Information also reported in Oasis (cfaarcha1-102482) 16 September 2011

Watching Brief (15 November 2011 - 1 May 2012)

A watching brief was carried out from 15 November 2011- 1 May 2012 on trenches excavated for the City Centre Heating Phase 1 (Aberdeen City Council Planning references P110789, P111251 and change of route P120455). The trench for laying the pipes starts at The Beach Ballroom, Links Road (AB24 5NR), runs SW along Links Road, along Constitution Street, around Constitution Court, along Wales Street, across Park Street, along Frederick Street, north along King Street, Mealmarket Street, West North Street to Mitchell Hall (AB24 5AS) and also SW along Longacre and Queen Street to Grampian Police HQ and Aberdeen City Council Town House (AB10 1BS).

Information from Oasis (camerona1-125584) 24 July 2012

NJ 95273 07178 (Beach Ballroom) – NJ 94325 06603 (West North Street) – NJ 94325 06405 A watching brief was maintained, 17 November 2011 – 1 May 2012, during the excavation of trenches for new heating pipes. The trenches running from The Town House, Broad Street to Aberdeen Leisure Centre, Beach Boulevard were 1.5m wide and 1.2m deep. The foundations of 19th-century tenements were recorded in Broad Street and garden soils in Mealmarket Street.

Archive: RCAHMS

Funder: Aberdeen Heat and Power

Alison Cameron (Cameron Archaeology) July 2012

Watching Brief (10 November 2017)

NJ 94297 06499 A watching brief took place on 10 November 2017; a trench was excavated to a depth of 1m for the connection of Aberdeen Heat and Power cables into Marischal college. An iron pipe was located at the bottom of the trench and digging ceased. No further excavation is required in this location and the rest of the cabling is within an area already subjected to a watching brief in 1988 and therefore no further archaeological work is required during the current development.

Information from Oasis (camerona1-302679) 4 January 2018


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