Granite city

I’ve spent a few days in Aberdeen, Scotland, where my great-grandfather Adam Gauld grew up. Most of the city is built with the local granite, a lovely silvery-grey stone that has been used in everything from tombstones to townhouses and massive public buildings with ornate decoration. Adam’s father James was a mason (which seems to be the local equivalent of a brickie) living and working in Aberdeen between 1880 and 1940. One of the best hotels in Aberdeen (Skene House Whitehall) just happens to be on the street where James was living in when Adam was born, Esslemont Avenue. Naturally, I’m staying there!

Coming from Queensland, I’m used to seeing detached, single story homes made of wood so these rows of multi-story granite townhouses seemed very large, expensive and permanent at first. But I did a bit of research and discovered they have all been built as flats; each of these buildings were built to have six or eight families living in them, each family renting a flat of two or three rooms.

James had a very difficult time in 1886-1887, losing his wife Mary Adams and two of his daughters, Lily and Mary, in the space of a year. I found their headstone in the beautiful local cemetery, Nellfield, which is hidden behind high stone walls right in the middle of the city. The stone on the grave is very ornate and at first I thought he must have been a wealthy man to have such an expensive memorial made, but on reflection I think he has most likely either made the memorial himself, or had another mason friend do it for him. Memorial stones were much larger in the late victorian era than we would see now, and in this cemetery they have mostly been made for multiple burials. This stone commemorates six people, five of whom are buried beneath it.

For the family the transcription reads:


Erected by


in memory of his beloved wife MARY ADAMS

who died 15th Nov. 1896

aged 33 years.

Also his daughter LILY ARCHIBALD

died 4th Feb. 1897, aged 11 months, 24 days.

Also his daughter MARY

died 27th Nov. 1897, aged 12 years.

Also his son JAMES

who died of wounds 21st Nov. 1916,

buried in Abbeville France. Aged 22 years.

Also the said JAMES GAULD

Died 10th Jan. 1947, aged 86 years.

And of his wife


died 27th Dec. 1952, aged 72 years.