A look at the original plans to widen a busy bridge sheds light on Aberdeen’s unusual two-level design of its main thoroughfare.
The construction documents of Union Bridge show the landmark at various stages, from construction to widening, and have been discovered by archivist Martin Hall.
The documents, dating from the early 1800s, reveal how the building of Union Street crippled the city financially.
Martin, who works with both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils, said: “The earliest drawing we have here is the original design for the bridge, signed off by Lord Provost Hadden, chair of the New Street Trustees who were responsible for the two new streets at the time – Union Street and King Street.
“While King Street went off without a hitch, Union Street had a series of issues that bankrupted the city and ended up being run by its own creditors.”
In the Union Bridge design, dated in 1802, it is possible to see the detailing of the original stonework as well as the superstructure and carriageway, along with the entry points to the vaults near what is now Jamieson and Carry.
Martin said: “The plans were actually amended because the initial plan had a few wrinkles.
“They widened the bridge by a few feet for various reasons – purportedly to do with civic grandeur – but they neglected to calculate how much dirt to use to causeway the street up to the same level and so Union Street ended up being a few feet lower and it didn’t meet in the middle.”
A design competition was set up for proposals to rectify the problem and eventually the contract was awarded to Thomas Fletcher – one of the panel who was judging the entries.
Martin said: “Thomas Fletcher was a consultant for the job – he was considered best placed to explain to people what had gone wrong as he had previously worked as the superintendent.
“They had hoped to get the famed bridge designer Thomas Telford to judge the entries, but in the end, Thomas Fletcher awarded his own design as the winner.”
The bridge was then widened in the early 20th Century to meet traffic demands of the time.
Aberdeen Lord Provost Barney Crockett said: “Looking at these plans just proves how detailed our records are in Aberdeen.
“It is the human element that comes through too, as you can see that people were arguing, as they do now, about the development of the city.
“And then, as now, people take responsibility and push forward for the sake of the city.
“We are so lucky in Aberdeen to have these records that tell you what people were doing in such detail so long ago.
“The bridge widening was an enormous breakthrough at the time, and opened Aberdeen up for development, but of course we’re still trying to handle the legacy of that now.
“We have this unusual two-levelled city and we still get these arguments about where things should be amongst the two levels – it’s still a challenge to bring the two levels together. Links between Union Street and The Green are still an issue today as they were 50 to 100 years ago.”