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Royal Deeside : Victorian Buildings in Ballater

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Ballater is a relatively modern town. It did not exist before 1790 and much of its growth took place in the middle years of the 19th Century. This is why two features of Ballater stand out - the array of fine Victorian stone-built houses and cottages and the fine straight roads that make up the village centre. Much of the centre of Ballater is today a conservation area.

On this page Sheila Sedgwick tells the story behind the construction of some of the buildings. These range from the determination to have a bridge across the River Dee to the generosity of Alexander Gordon. Stories about buildings are also contained on other pages in this section most notably in Church matters where the details are given of the varios churches in Ballater.

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Ballater History Old Kirkyards Francis Farquharson Lord Byron Ballater Local History Group
Bridges of Ballater Ballater in Victoria Times Alexander Gordon Ballater Highland Games AA Box 472
Go To Page A village is born Ballater people Some Personalities Ballater Buildings Aspects of Village Life Church matters

Victoria Nad albert Community Halls
Ballater contains some fine Victorian Buildings - including the Community Halls

Many of Ballater's buildings in me early days of the nineteenth century were erected by Alexander Sherriffs and sons who stayed in Tullich. The first mason to reside in Ballater and to carry out contracting work was Peter Mitchell. Feuing was at a standstill for a time until the passing of a new Feuing Act, then James Reid carried on mason work for a number of years. A company of Watt, Mollison and Anderson erected some buildings, to be followed in this work by James Michie and John Smith.

Pictures of the 1840's and 1850's show very little development in Ballater, except by the river, in the vicinity of Dee Street. As Deeside was gained popularity through Royalty and the Railway boom, building styles became more ornate. The 'baronial' building of the Victoria and Albert Halls with its imposing tower, is an excellent example of the work of William Duguid and Sons, Builders and Contractors. They built many of the fine edifices remaining today, like the Auld Kirk. Darroch Learg is of the same period but has later additions. The tree-lined Braemar Road was the home of the 'better off', most of the houses facing the road. (Several of these houses are now hotels.) Balgonie, formerly called Beauvais, was built in 1898 by James Jamieson, a lawyer. Craigendarroch was the home of the Dundee family of Keiller. The Towers (St. Andrew's Nursing Home) and Craigendarroch House reflect the confidence and prosperity of some residents. Many folk, of course, were not in such comfortable circumstances. A great many houses had little 'sleep-outs' (cottages) at the back to which the family retired to allow summer visitors the use of the main house.

Ballater’s Bridges.
The 1783 bridge, which preceded the founding of the village, was washed away by flood in 1799 but was replaced in 1809 by a Telford granite bridge of five arches costing £3,800. That bridge too went down the river in 1829, in the "Muckle Spate". – a major flood that caused much hardship in the village. A third bridge, of wood, was erected in 1843. That the bridge appeared at all was due to the exertions of the schoolmaster, the very popular Rev. James Smith. No disaster overtook this bridge before it was replaced 40 years later and its foundations are still visible. Ballater had risen in the world and needed to show that it was modern and up to date, so the Royal Bridge, opened by Queen Victoria in 1885, was erected, and still stands today.

Imagine the inconvenience for the Ballater residents when there was no bridge linking the north and south sides of the Dee! The "boat" was used, and in some places the Dee could be forded, but not when in spate!

Monaltrie Arms, Ballater, Royal Deeside
The former Monaltrie Arms Hotel at Ballater - during the period when it was known as the Invercauld Arms

Monaltrie Arms
When a proper hotel, the Monaltrie Arms, was erected in the 1830's it was named after the feudal superior, Farquharson of Monaltrie. Invercauld Estate leased the Hotel to tenant landlords. The first tenant was a man called Middleton. A family called Ross succeeded him, then came Charles Cook. He was still there in 1877. On his entry to the Hotel it had been refurbished and enlarged. Following him came a family of McGregors, and during their tenancy the building had a second addition. Mr. Proctor took over and there was yet another extension.

The 'square' near the Hotel was the original centre of the village.(Bridge Street did not exist at first.) Stage-coaches stopped there and the whole area was bustling, with stabling, etc. Many young village lads had jobs as ostlers, porters and general workers. In 1850 the Royal Mail Coach left the Royal Hotel in Union Street, Aberdeen, for Braemar, at 7a.m., stopping for a while at the Monaltrie. The whole journey took 9 hours, (allowing for refreshment stops), according to the diary of James Farquharson, a prosperous London merchant with roots on Deeside.

A coachman published a description of Ballater in 1830. It was written by Joseph Robinson. "The inn, the Monaltrie Arms, is at the south east comer of the square, just on the bank of the river". Sketches of around 1856 do not show the building as it is today. The present building dates from about 1860, and stands on the foundations of the original Monaltrie Arms. The Hotel and the accompanying farm, Cornellan, formed a complex that provided local employment. The farm used to provide the Hotel with all its produce, including game. The present McEwan's shop is on the site of the old Hotel laundry. The kitchen garden was across the road, just beyond the present Riverside Garage. Tinkers camped by the river, beyond the old laundry and gave their name to the Bar that is now a private house. Even when another bar opened, it closed half an hour after the last train, so everyone rushed to the 'Tink'.

The Railway.
With the coming of the Railway in 1866, Royal Deeside was easily accessible. (The track would have gone to Braemar, but Queen Victoria refused to allow it to go near her lands.) The Railway opened up Ballater, and all spheres of life were revolutionised. It was pleasant to travel through beautiful scenery. The driver of the first train into Ballater was Mat Michie, whose family are still in the village and surrounding areas. The station was the setting for the arrival of many crowned heads and famous people, bound for Balmoral. In 1886 the station and waiting rooms were refurbished, - perhaps the most sumptuous in the country at the time, with the Royal lavatory in blue porcelain.

Albert Hall, Ballater, Royal Deeside
The Albert Hall at Ballater donated by Alexander Gordon - here referred to as the Town Hall

Victoria & Albert Halls.
Alexander Gordon, formerly of Littlemill, Girnoc, son of a farmer and wool-dyer, became a successful businessman in the brewing industry, with Caledonian and Lyndhurst breweries. He gave a generous subscription towards me building of me Church, but he is better known for his gift to me village of the Victoria and Albert Halls. He was born in 1818, second son of a tenant farmer and Betty Gauld, a native of Migvie. There were also two sisters. Alexander and his brother John stayed for a time with a farming uncle, William Gauld, teacher and preacher. They received a sound education, perhaps at Logie Coldstone. Alexander was apprenticed to a Mr.Rattray in Dundee, where another uncle was Rector of the Academy. Alexander seems to have had charge of a brewery in Aberdeen at an early date, - when little more than 18 years old. In 1838 he was at Lochnagar Distillery and then went to London. The other brothers went to Ceylon. Once in London, Alexander Gordon threw himself into his work at the brewery, but became increasingly interested in engineering. In 1844 he married Elizabeth Mickle. In the course of years he built his own breweries and became very wealthy. Perhaps because Alexander witnessed a drowning in the Dee, he vowed to replace Polhollick ferry with a bridge when he had money to spare. He did that in 1892. An even bigger gift was the Halls, for public entertainment and education. The Albert Hall opened in 1874, the Victoria Hall in 1895. The Gordons had no family. Alexander died in 1895, his wife some months later.

Victorian Heritage.
The centre of Ballater reflects its Victorian heritage, from the Victoria & Albert Halls to street names like Victoria Road, Albert Road, Queen's Road and Salisbury Road (after Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister).
Ballater has some Grade B listed buildings.

Top of Page

Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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