Saturday, 21 January 2012

Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen

A very elegant 18th century dining room.  Wooden panelling keeps out Scottish draughts and adds grandeur.

Sometimes, as they say, the best things in life are free, and this was certainly true during my visit to Scotland last summer, where I was delighted to find that many museums and galleries are still free of charge (although everyone who visits should still do what they can in the form of donation).   Provost Skene's House is a museum run by Aberdeen Art Galleries and Museums, which is an absolute delight to visit.  First mentioned in records in 1545, the house was an important dwelling of the new Town through the 16th to 18th centuries, and it was reputedly commandeered by the Duke of Cumberland as he travelled north to the slaughter at the Battle of Culloden, where he earned the nickname "Butcher Cumberland".  Indeed, the house was known as "Cumberland House" for the next 200 years as a result, during which time it eventually became a public rooming house.  The immediate vicinity of the house gradually devolved into a slum, which was eventually cleared out in improvements between the wars. Remarkably, Provost Skene's House was spared destruction, although it was ultimately surrounded by a sea of 1960s/70s concrete, which remains to this day.  Recently, the council has agreed that their vacant office building, the most prominent eyesore in the area, should be demolished and the site sold.  Hopefully the planners will get the next phase right.  Nonetheless, Provost Skene's House has managed to survive thus far, and will surely withstand any future insults!   And who was Provost Skene anyway?  Well, he was not the original occupant of the house, which was built at least a century before he lived there in the latter part of the 16th century.  He was the Provost of Aberdeen from 1676 to 1685, the Provost being the head of the town council, similar to a Mayor.
In any case, the interior of the house forms a wonderful series of rooms displaying period furnishing from the 17th to early 19th centuries, and an absolutely remarkable painted ceiling in what was originally a catholic chapel.  The painted ceiling naively represents the life of Jesus and was hidden for  three centuries, only to be rediscovered when the rooming house was being restored.  When we visited, we were lucky enough to be in the room with a native Aberdonian guide who really knew all of the history and allegory in the painting and who gave a very colourful account of the scenes depicted.  Definitely worth the entry price and a real gem of the city.

A richly carved "press", possibly from the low countries, with whom the port of Aberdeen had strong trading relationships

A very toasty spot!

love the long case clock

The painted chapel ceiling, thought to have been painted by itinerant Italian artists

Much of the ceiling is in near perfect condition, after being concealed for nearly 300 years

There are 10 panels in all, each telling an important part of the life of Jesus - and most with some characters that definitely look more like locals than folk from the Holy Land!

Love the crewel work drapery

A perfectly charming bedroom

A regency period sitting room.  That yellow silk was extremely intense, but in the grey gloom of an Aberdeen winter, would be reminiscent of warm sunshine, and it worked well in the room

A perfect place to take tea.


  1. Welcome to Botanical, interesting blog
    Un Saludo

  2. Hi, tis run by the City Council, who run the art gallery also, so is paid for by city tax rates