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Chainyard, Aberdeen Docks  /

Along York Street, on the main road into Footdee, industrial estates and corrugated roofs line the maintenance docks where bright-beached trawlers queue up to be repaired. A chainyard of rusting anchors and rig-parts overlook the waters.

 

The Hall Russell engine shop is the only original building from Aberdeen’s industrial heyday, when 1500 workers were employed in this area alone. It was in these grounds that Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior was constructed, a boat destroyed by the French intelligence service after leading a series of protests against nuclear testing in the Pacific.

 

Beyond the chainyard Auld Fittie begins, a village of delicate cottages and tarry sheds (for storing fishing tackle) built around patches of green, designed for the drying of nets. This area was mainly occupied by fisherfolk in the 1890s, and is now the home of artists, craftspeople and relatives of some of the families who first lived here.

 

It was at Pocra Quay, near the end of York Street, that escapologist Harry Houdini performed in front of an audience of thousands in 1909. He visited the city to tend to the grave of his hero John Anderson, the Wizard of the North, who is buried at St. Nicholas Kirk. 

 

Houdini performed an underwater escape trip in the navigation channel. Locked in chains and handcuffed, he jumped into the polluted and sewage-ridden harbour waters from a tug boat. He emerged unscathed ninety seconds later from the depths much to the delight and shock of onlookers.

Now, the only chains in Footdee are the rusting anchors from vast vessels of the deep.  


This project was a collaboration with writer Adelle Stripe who explored the city with me and created the stories and histories that sit alongside the thirteen main images from the exhibition. Secret Cities Aberdeen was part of the SPECTRA Festival of Light 2017 in Aberdeen and commissioned by Curated Place. 


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