Aberdeen has been called many things over the years, but one name that has stuck is “the Granite City” or, sometimes, the “Silver City”; the latter reflecting the colour of the stone (silver grey granite) from which many buildings (and streets) are constructed. Certainly, when you go to the far (south) side of the bustling harbour and look back over the city on a sunny day, the buildings do glister and are a very impressive sight.
However, granite comes in many different colours and a good place to see the amazing subtleties of the polished stone is the Aberdeen Art Gallery in Schoolhill (which, once its current restoration is finished, is also well worth visiting for the art!).
As explained on the website “The Doric Columns” (which is another good place to find out a lot more about Aberdeen), although “largely constructed of light-red and grey granite”, the columns supporting the building are of different types – and hence colours – of granite, while inside the Art Gallery the central Sculpture Court has a “bifurcated stair of black and white marble (and a) distinctive colonnaded sculpture court with columns of different coloured granite” – although at noted above you’ll have to wait till next year, once the restoration is complete, to see these.
The different coloured granites came from different quarries around Aberdeenshire. While granite from Aberdeen (from Rubislaw, as described in our previous blog) was generally silvery-grey, there were two varieties produced from Peterhead (50 minutes’ drive north of Aberdeen), known as Red and Blue Peterhead granites. The red variety was used for ornamental and monumental work, in London, Cambridge (St John’s College Chapel pillars) and Liverpool (St George’s Hall pillars). Blue Peterhead was more often used for decorative building and ornamental work, including the base of fountains in Trafalgar Square and the Prince Albert Mausoleum.
Kemnay in Aberdeenshire was the other major centre – and is one of the only two remaining in the North-East (the other being at Correnie) – and it produces a light-grey granite (muscovite-biotite for the experts!) which was used in the Queen Victoria Memorial in London and, much more recently, as cladding for the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.
Unfortunately, it’s now much cheaper to import granite from abroad (principally from China, India and Portugal), even though the quality is regarded as somewhat inferior to the stone produced here. Perhaps equally sadly, as the building industry makes more use of concrete and other materials, there are relatively few stone masons left in Scotland, and this makes architects wary of using traditional materials in their buildings as there are not enough people to fashion and maintain them.
The colour of local stones may not seem very important, but in fact they present the public façade of many of our towns and cities, whether it’s the blonde sandstone of Glasgow and Perth, the ‘red sandstone of Stonehaven or, of course, the silver city of Aberdeen.
Julie Skinner, Resourcing & Benefit Specialist