Footdee is a place like no other. Designed and built in the early years of the 19th century to house fisher folk displaced by the expansion of Aberdeen and its harbour, the coastal hamlet and its close-knit community have, over the years, weathered storms both natural and political, but through everything it has stubbornly hung on to its unique character and identity.
Bounded on one side by the breakers of the North Sea and overshadowed on the other by rows of oil storage tanks, the Footdee of today is a peaceful, picturesque place, a time capsule of tranquillity ostensibly oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
This innate resilience stems from Footdee’s unusual layout. While Scotland’s traditional fishing villages grew up organically around their harbours, Footdee was planned from the outset. An isolated spit of land east of the harbour was identified for the development and, in 1809, Aberdeen’s Superintendent of Public Works, John Smith drew up plans for two neighbouring squares – North Square and South Square – containing 28 simple single-storey, two-roomed, thatched cottages. All were built facing inwards, accessed from communal greens, their backs to the sea to protect inhabitants from the rough coastal waters and weather.
Known by its residents as Fittie, the enclosed and largely self-contained community was christened Fish Town and expanded in 1837 with the addition of Middle Row and again in 1855 when Pilot Square was built, taking the total number of homes to 74. Footdee Mission Hall was constructed in the centre of North Square in 1869 and there was a school and shop.
A thriving community established, the town council began selling off the houses to tenants in 1880. This prompted a spate of building work as residents enlarged their properties upwards with the addition of dormers or additional storeys to accommodate growing families.
Each lot included a plot on the greens on which families were encouraged to build sheds. With raw materials in short supply, most of the huts and washhouses were fashioned from driftwood or timber sourced from the harbour shipyards, the walls tarred to protect them from the elements. Over time, many of the original ‘tarry sheds’ were replaced with brick, stone or corrugated iron structures.
And it is these quirk sheds, with their random styles, mish mash of colours and jolly decorations that make taking a step back in time through the peaceful, paved alleyways of Fittie such a serene and joyous experience.