The Fittie Squares, Aberdeen The Secret History of Our Streets


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The Fittie Squares, Aberdeen

The series about archetypal streets in three of Scotland's great cities focuses on the Fittie Squares, a housing scheme built for fishermen in 1809.


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The streets we live in reveal the secret past

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beneath the skin of the present.

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Here is our kitchen, which was the operating theatre of the hospital.

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There were families that didn't have toilets.

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There was many a visit to the drains in the middle of the night.

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Our memories are rendered in the bricks and mortar that surround us.

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Just behind you there was where we all danced.

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Our streets chart momentous social change

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and the ebb and flow

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between enormous wealth and terrible poverty.

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Pretty grim, isn't it?

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Dirt, filth, stench everywhere.

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They reveal the changes that have shaped all our lives.

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And make the story of our streets the story of us all.

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It's a nice view, isn't it?

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Aberdeen, Granite City on the north-east coast of Scotland.

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Hub of the global oil industry.

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But long before oil arrived, fishing was king.

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Here you'll find the Fittie Squares,

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purpose-built enclave for fisher-folk.

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They're just a mile from the city centre, but a world apart.

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You were being taught at an early age

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that the demon drink was bad for you.

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Fittie was regarded as kind of a strange place, a closed community.

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This is our living room.

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It's like a boat.

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I don't see it like that but you do get comments like that.

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This is the story of how this traditional community

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was forced to adapt in the face of seismic change.

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These people have been sacrificed to oil interests.

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Down by Aberdeen harbour lies a narrow spit of land

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between the beach and the quayside.

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It's an unlikely place to find a community.

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But here you'll find three squares.

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They're at the heart of an old fishing village called Footdee,

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better known to the locals as Fittie.

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The squares are designed with the houses looking inward,

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making for an unusual sense of intimacy.

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If you're sat on a bench outside your front door you're probably

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only a couple of metres from the person next door

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sat on their bench outside their front door.

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So, you get to know people a lot more that way.

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And you tend to know what's going on at all times for a lot of people.

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The squares fill a tiny footprint.

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There are 80 dwellings here,

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crammed into an area less than 200 by 100 metres.

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They're a unique remnant of Aberdeen's past.

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They're surrounded by industry and yet they feel like a separate world.

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A quieter, quainter, more eccentric place.

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We were kind of like a little bubble

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that's existing in this kind of oil mad city.

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These days, many people in the squares are incomers.

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White collar professionals from all over Britain.

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But for generations Fittie was made up of the same group of families

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who lived together, worked together and intermarried.

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In South Square, number 13 belonged to Robertina Baxter

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and her daughter Ruby.

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Ruby's daughter Norma Reid grew up here in the '50s,

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surrounded by her relatives.

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This is the one my Uncle John lived in.

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He was a Baxter.

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The one at the end is still my Uncle Henry's.

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This was my granny's house.

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It still is in the family, but it's my cousin Ian has that house now.

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That was my granny's shed.

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It was really pretty. She loved her garden.

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She'd be turning in her grave if she saw it now.

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There was a few families that were quite strong in the village.

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Most people can say, "I'm related to a Baxter."

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And if you go back a few generations, you find that they're all related.

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I think maybe fisher-folk are like that

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because my understanding is that they married their own kind.

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They didn't marry outwith their own kind.

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In Norma's day, over half of residents worked

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directly or indirectly in the fishing industry.

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My Uncle Jim, who was a fisherman,

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his boat sometimes landed just round there and he would come round with

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a fry of fish and Granny would be distributing it within the family.

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Before the oil was discovered,

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you could have crossed the harbour just standing on the boats.

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You would never have got your feet wet.

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While the men went to sea for weeks at a time, the women worked at home

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shelling thousands of mussels to use for bait and braiding fishing nets.

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For these hard-working people,

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the squares were a practical live-work space.

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This bit wasn't as nice to look at here

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cos there was no grass.

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It was all black earth.

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And you would see maybe creels

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and different pieces of fisherman's equipment.

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You'd have boats and that lying about.

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And this here was Mr Stout.

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He used his washing line

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but mostly he was noted for hanging his fish on the line.

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Pegged all the fish up and dried them.

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Didn't look very hygienic with all the flies buzzing around.

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But that was the way they would have cured their fish.

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But now the fishermen have left Fittie,

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the squares have become a historical curiosity.

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From late spring through the summer months,

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they fill up with tourists from all nations.

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-Why did you come here today?

-Just to visit and see.

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This contains the old Scotland houses and everything.

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So we just wanted to see how it looks like.

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Just a small village on the seashore which has lots of artistic things,

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so we just wanted to explore it.

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It's a more authentic area here in Aberdeen.

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Local people, and maybe how it used to be before.

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A lot of the tourists come around and say, "Is this a holiday village?

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"Do people just live here in the holidays?"

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Or, "Who lives in the sheds?"

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On a weekend it's nonstop.

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Busloads from Spain and Italy to Germans.

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You name it. They come round in their droves.

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Which can be irritating.

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Sometimes you get a whole coach load, so you get 30 or 40 people.

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Some will be a German party or a Spanish party.

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If they don't have a guide, then it's easy

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because you can tease them, you know?

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"Not fishing today?" I say, "No, day off. We never fish on the Sabbath."

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Sometimes we dress up and we mend our nets.

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The history of the squares begins in the early 1800s,

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when Fittie was just a cluster of hovels

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near the mouth of the River Dee,

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set apart from the town.

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They may well have stayed there if the city hadn't realised

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that the village was in the middle of some prime real estate.

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The old village of Fittie has been there since the 12th century.

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There was a little community there

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separate from Aberdeen proper. And...

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..it's described as being very insalubrious.

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There were piles of rotting fish and all sorts of stuff.

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The houses were ancient and basically clapped out.

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So the council decided, "We'll condemn this place,"

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but I suspect, as always, the real reason was they were wanting

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rid of it so that they could develop this area.

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Get rid of these houses and put them down at the point where

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they were as far out of the way as they could possibly be.

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The next place is Norway.

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You can't really get any further out of Aberdeen than this point.

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The city chose a sandy site just south of the existing village

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and commissioned architect John Smith to come up with

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a scheme for 56 houses which he called Fish Town.

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He drew out a radical design of two equal squares.

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The idea of the square, based on the classical Roman forum,

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was much in vogue at the time,

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but was usually reserved for more rarefied architectural schemes.

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The concept was really for gracious living

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and the square was meant to be a grassed amenity area

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that you could wander about on a Sunday afternoon

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or something of the sort.

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And it was a communal garden really rather than anything else.

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This was a workplace, which makes it even more interesting.

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It's unusual for fishing houses because most fishing communities,

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like this one at Torry at the other side of the river,

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is made up of rows of houses.

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A row of house, a lane, a row of house, a lane.

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And this is right up the coast.

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Right around the north-east, so to have a square was a new idea.

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And they were in fact the first council houses in Aberdeen

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paid for by the council.

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The layout may have been elegant

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but the houses were built for practicality.

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They were based on a traditional but and ben design.

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Two rooms, the but's on the left-hand side,

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the ben is on the right,

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but ben the hoose is going through the house.

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And they had clay floors, very primitive clay floors.

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Simple house for simple people.

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The squares were officially named North and South Square.

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And the fisher-folk from the old village,

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along with a few families from Torry, moved in.

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Oil geologist and mum-to-be Natalie Farrell

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lives in one of the tiny but and ben houses.

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Come in.

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This is the living room.

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It's quite small, but it fits me and my husband.

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And then this is the kitchen.

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Which is also quite small.

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We have a microwave cooker because we can't fit a real cooker in.

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And then...

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..through here.

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We have a bathroom in the middle.

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Which miraculously has a bath.

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There's no upstairs. We've just got a little loft.

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But we do have a really good-sized bedroom.

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This is where the baby will sleep. We've got enough room there.

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All the books are going to have to move.

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So they're going to move and be replaced by all this baby stuff.

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Muslins and all sorts, and nappies, and things like that.

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My cello can only stay in here because it can't go in the shed.

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I should have given up and started playing the violin instead.

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But when I get back to writing my PhD,

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at least I can put the baby to sleep and write so we'll fit in.

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The only problem is, when the baby's crying at night

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and one of us wants to get some peace,

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there's not really anywhere you can go and take it.

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I think one of us will have to go out into the village

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and walk around with the pram.

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Natalie's problem isn't a new one.

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Her cottage was once lived in by a family of five.

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And the pressure on housing was even worse in the 19th century.

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The fishing fleet grew nine-fold in the square's first 60 years.

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And as a result, houses were packed full.

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Two families to each but and ben cottage.

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To alleviate the overcrowding,

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in 1837 the council built seven new houses across South Square,

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named Middle Row.

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Another house was added to the entrance to South Square.

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And in North Square, a school.

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But with such a rapidly expanding population,

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these additions still weren't enough.

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In 1855, the city paid for another row of houses,

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creating Pilot's Square.

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These were two-storey houses of better quality

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than the but and bens.

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They were intended for the pilots of Fittie,

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boatmen who guided vessels in and out of the harbour.

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The original 56 houses had now become 80.

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But space was still at a premium.

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To make the most of it, the fisher families began to improvise,

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filling the common ground in the middle of the square

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with sheds made of driftwood.

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They preserved the wood with tar and I had a cousin who, a schoolboy,

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and in the summer he would earn money by tarring these sheds.

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And his nickname was Tarry Biler.

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And he would do lots of these old sheds.

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I couldn't imagine that being allowed now.

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Going up a step ladder with this boiling tar

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and brushing the roof and the planks.

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Yeah, I don't think they'd be allowed to do that now.

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In the 1870s, Aberdeen Council, keen to cut costs,

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began a sell-off of the houses in the Fittie Squares,

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predating the right-to-buy scheme by over 100 years.

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Tenants were given the chance to buy their homes in instalments.

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Houses were auctioned off in numbered lots

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with their own sheds included in the title deeds.

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The deeds specified that new owners should rebuild their old tarry sheds

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in solid masonry within two years.

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Most people ignored this ruling, but a handful of sheds,

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like Natalie Farrell's in Middle Row, conformed to the pattern.

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This is a shed which I think, space-wise, is bigger than the house.

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Because it's got a downstairs...

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This is really embarrassing, it's so full of stuff.

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It has quite a big downstairs and it also has an upstairs

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so by area it is much bigger.

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But it's great having a shed.

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Once the sell-off was complete, the new owner-occupiers wasted no time

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in making the houses their own.

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They began to add new dormers and storeys.

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The squares, once uniform, took on an off-beat, individual character.

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You can see that was originally a but and ben.

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You can just see where the roof was.

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In 28 North Square, the owner built three extra floors

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to accommodate his growing family.

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That's an old one there.

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That's what we called in the village the Tower of Babylon.

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It's quite steep stairs. And it looks like it would be, you know?

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And in my granny's day it was a school.

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Children used to go to school there.

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Despite the various improvements and extensions,

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the Fittie Squares were far from luxurious.

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The water supply was erratic

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and cholera a regular visitor in the early days.

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Piped water was only brought to the squares in the mid-19th century.

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And the water pumps, known locally as the "wells",

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remained in use well into the 20th.

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Each square had its own "wells" and when you were a kid, you could,

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if you got sand in your feet, before you were allowed in the door

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you would turn on the water and clean your feet there.

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When we went to our house, there was no water, there was no running water.

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So you would get your water in big jugs from here.

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And they would brush down the gutters.

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You never had any weeds growing. It was pristine.

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The toilet facilities, too, remained basic.

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My granny, we shared her toilet. It was on the shed outside.

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It wasn't indoors.

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But there were families that didn't have toilets

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and you can use your imagination what they had to do.

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But there was many a visit to the drains in the middle of the night.

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Just a stone's throw from the squares were the shipyards.

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Hall's in Fittie, Hall Russell in York Place

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and John Lewis across the harbour in Torry.

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Albert Swinborn was a boy in the '20s

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and lived within earshot of Hall Russell's yard.

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HAMMERS CLANG

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In the quiet of the night, especially if they were working overtime,

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you heard the bomp, bomp, bomp, the riveters hammering together.

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It was teamwork, you know?

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The holder up, the two riveters.

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And the man that was heating the rivets would throw the rivet to him.

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And he used to catch it in this box

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and they used to flatten the rivets down.

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Marvellous.

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I used to say, if I throw this piece of metal into the water now

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what does it do?

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Sink to the bottom. How can all these big sheets of metal keep afloat?

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The weight should take them down to the bottom, but no.

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I could never understand that.

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The shipyards have left their mark on the Fittie Squares.

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They provided all manner of materials.

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Teak for people's front doors and paint for sheds and fences.

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88-year-old Betty Kay from North Square

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had many friends and neighbours who worked in the yards.

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What did people do? Did they used to take stuff, you mean?

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Lassie, if the hooses could only speak.

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They would tell you a lot of stories.

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Oh, my!

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When Margaret and Brian Wilkinson bought their house

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in North Square in 1998, they discovered a fascinating history.

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This is our living room.

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What was this like when you first moved in?

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This was all wood panelling. All wood panelling.

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I think a shelf was still up there.

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The laddie who did it worked in the ship yards

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and it was like a captain's cabin.

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Oak panelling, oak floors, really nice.

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Years and years and years ago the floors were made of sand.

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Can you believe that?

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I crack up if the kids come in with sand in their shoes.

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It's just unbelievable, the floor was made of sand.

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I think, "How did they put up with that years ago?"

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But that was life again, was it?

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This is my kitchen.

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And it wasn't like this before.

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The lady that had it had a bed in here

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because it was like a kitchen cum bedroom thing, I think.

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And this was their toilet. And there was a ladder here.

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Like a boat ladder that took us right up to the bedroom.

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This is our bedroom.

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And...you used to get up from downstairs,

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you came up, there was like a hatch here

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and it was in two parts. The old way, it was two parts.

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And the mum and dad slept at one side

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and the two sons slept at the other side.

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And this is our wardrobes.

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-Wilkie designed this. This is our wardrobes.

-Clever.

-Very.

0:22:540:22:58

Because a wardrobe you don't use the full length of it,

0:22:590:23:03

so Wilkie said, "Right, we'll make it like this,"

0:23:030:23:07

because we had no room for clothes, cupboards or whatever.

0:23:070:23:11

That's how they came about and that's our bed.

0:23:110:23:14

You know with a bed you can walk around and...

0:23:140:23:17

I hate that bed but we can't do anything else.

0:23:170:23:22

I tell everybody I've got a swimming pool

0:23:220:23:24

and they go, "You've got a swimming pool, Margaret?" "Aye."

0:23:240:23:28

"Margaret, that's brilliant."

0:23:280:23:29

So I tell everybody that's my swimming pool.

0:23:290:23:32

Lots of people say it's like a boat.

0:23:330:23:36

I don't see it like that, but you do get comments like that.

0:23:360:23:39

As well as transforming the house,

0:23:410:23:43

the Wilkinson's have put their own individual stamp on the shed.

0:23:430:23:46

Watch your head. As you probably know, the doors are quite low.

0:23:490:23:52

This is what they now call a man shed.

0:23:550:23:58

So when I'm wanting out of the house, I come in here, put my records on.

0:23:580:24:01

I've got my record collection

0:24:010:24:03

and if I want to work on the computer, I work on the computer.

0:24:030:24:06

This is my gaff. She doesn't get to do nothing in here.

0:24:080:24:11

I come in here, play Pink Floyd and sit in here for hours.

0:24:130:24:16

We've got heaps of drink, my picture.

0:24:190:24:23

-Your picture?

-That's some spare wood so I thought I'd make a picture.

0:24:230:24:28

That's what a tiger would look like in the dark.

0:24:280:24:30

MUSIC: Breathe by Pink Floyd

0:24:300:24:33

While today's sheds are leisure spaces

0:24:380:24:41

reflecting their owner's personalities,

0:24:410:24:43

they once had a practical use.

0:24:430:24:45

Originally built to store fishing gear,

0:24:480:24:50

they were later used to do the laundry.

0:24:500:24:52

Every single Monday, the Fittie women would light

0:24:540:24:57

the wood-fired boiler and spend all day doing the washing.

0:24:570:25:01

This is where it all happened.

0:25:010:25:03

You would put your sticks underneath there.

0:25:040:25:07

You generally didn't need to buy anything like that

0:25:070:25:10

because you'd get it off the beach.

0:25:100:25:12

And you'd set fire to that

0:25:120:25:14

and then you would obviously have this filled with water.

0:25:140:25:17

You'd have your scrubbing board and your scrubbing brush.

0:25:170:25:21

Also your big bar of soap.

0:25:210:25:23

And you would proceed to wash your clothes.

0:25:230:25:26

And it would bubble and boil

0:25:260:25:27

and really get your washing pristine white.

0:25:270:25:31

It was hard graft.

0:25:310:25:33

But then they weren't so well off as we are today

0:25:330:25:36

so they wouldn't have had a lot of clothes.

0:25:360:25:38

They probably had to pry the long johns and that off the men

0:25:380:25:42

when they come in from the sea and get them washed.

0:25:420:25:46

And my mother said, when she was a child, she bathed in there.

0:25:460:25:50

They would heat the water for them and then stick them in there

0:25:500:25:53

and they would get washed.

0:25:530:25:54

Wash day wasn't over

0:25:570:25:59

until the laundry was hung out on the drying greens.

0:25:590:26:02

This too was always done on a Monday.

0:26:020:26:05

But artist Joyce Cairns, one of the first incomers to Fittie,

0:26:090:26:13

wasn't afraid to bend these unwritten rules.

0:26:130:26:15

This is me holding on to the drying green pole

0:26:190:26:22

and I think a lot of things happen on the drying greens in Fittie.

0:26:220:26:25

When I first came to the village,

0:26:250:26:26

everybody had their washing out on a Monday.

0:26:260:26:29

Apart from me, which would have it hanging outside the house.

0:26:290:26:34

When did you do your washing?

0:26:340:26:35

Whatever day suited me really.

0:26:350:26:37

Sunday which would have been appalling

0:26:370:26:40

because people didn't really do things on a Sunday.

0:26:400:26:42

The Sabbath was respected in Fittie.

0:26:460:26:48

And certain behaviour wasn't tolerated.

0:26:480:26:50

I hung my washing out on a Sunday when I first moved here.

0:26:540:26:57

And I didn't really... I think I might have hung it on the wrong line.

0:26:570:27:00

It was a bit confusing. And I came home one day to find

0:27:000:27:03

that my washing had all been posted back through the window.

0:27:030:27:06

Religion played a big part in the lives of God-fearing Fittie folk.

0:27:100:27:15

Most people attended the Mission Hall in North Square,

0:27:150:27:18

known locally as the Schoolie.

0:27:180:27:19

This part of the Schoolie is where we used to go

0:27:240:27:27

-when it was the Rechabites.

-What?

0:27:270:27:30

The Rechabites was that you abstained from alcohol.

0:27:300:27:34

We were only children but you were being taught at an early age

0:27:340:27:38

that the demon drink was bad for you.

0:27:380:27:40

And we went in there.

0:27:400:27:42

You would start off your Sunday School with singing.

0:28:050:28:08

And then you would break up into your little groups.

0:28:090:28:13

And your Sunday School teacher would take you along.

0:28:130:28:16

And she would tell you about the Bible.

0:28:160:28:20

And they always had a sweetie to give you.

0:28:220:28:24

My least favourite was the toffee rolls. I wasn't so keen on them.

0:28:260:28:29

The highlight of the Mission Hall calendar

0:28:360:28:38

was the annual Fittie picnic.

0:28:380:28:40

Everybody went to the Fittie picnic.

0:28:410:28:43

It was very, very important the children were turned out well.

0:28:450:28:49

And the girls would have bows in their hair. They were gigantic.

0:28:500:28:54

It was like having a hat on your head.

0:28:540:28:56

Fittie people travelled out to the country

0:28:590:29:02

for a whole day of good, clean fun.

0:29:020:29:04

The boys would get their new shorts and their white shirts.

0:29:070:29:12

"Don't you get yourself dirty. Don't you dare get yourself dirty."

0:29:140:29:19

You got a tea and a bag of biscuits when you got out there.

0:29:220:29:26

After that, you would be running, jumping, skipping.

0:29:280:29:32

Auntie Sally stalls.

0:29:320:29:34

Everything.

0:29:340:29:36

That was our entertainment.

0:29:390:29:42

It was just marvellous.

0:29:420:29:43

With their distinct rituals and customs and the closeness

0:29:510:29:54

of their family ties, the Fittie folk seemed like a breed apart,

0:29:540:29:59

the squares as remote to outsiders as a desert island.

0:29:590:30:03

Fittie was regarded as quite a strange place - a closed community.

0:30:030:30:09

If you went through it, people would stare at you.

0:30:110:30:13

It did have that kind of reputation.

0:30:130:30:16

I never felt part of Aberdeen, really.

0:30:170:30:20

I always felt that Fittie was separate.

0:30:200:30:25

My dad lived here all his married life

0:30:250:30:27

and always said he was an incomer.

0:30:270:30:30

If the original folk are speaking, they'll say,

0:30:300:30:34

"Oh, they're nae Fittie.

0:30:340:30:36

"They dinnae really ken fit Fittie's aboot."

0:30:360:30:38

-Can you understand me there?

-SHE LAUGHS

0:30:380:30:41

But that's what they would say, "They're nae Fittie."

0:30:410:30:44

So you identify this place with the people that have been here

0:30:440:30:50

since it was built.

0:30:500:30:52

There was an old saying, "Stane 'im, Jock. He disnae belang tae Fittie."

0:30:560:31:02

OFF CAMERA: And what does that mean?

0:31:050:31:07

Well, he's an outsider.

0:31:070:31:09

So outsiders weren't very welcome at the time.

0:31:110:31:14

"Stane 'im," that's throw stones at him

0:31:160:31:19

and get him out of the area altogether.

0:31:190:31:21

But the old ways could not survive forever.

0:31:290:31:32

There was soon to be a dramatic shift in Fittie's fortunes.

0:31:320:31:37

In 1969, oil was discovered 130 miles offshore in the North Sea.

0:31:370:31:42

Over the next few years,

0:31:480:31:49

new rigs and onshore facilities sprung up at dizzying speed,

0:31:490:31:54

as Aberdeen became aware just how much oil was out there.

0:31:540:31:57

'By this summer, there will be 15 rigs in the British sector,

0:32:000:32:04

'and by 1980, there should be over 50 committed.'

0:32:040:32:07

Foreign workers and their families, particularly Americans,

0:32:110:32:14

began to arrive in the city.

0:32:140:32:16

Mr Pillop, how are you?

0:32:190:32:21

Didn't see you standing there.

0:32:210:32:23

Good morning, ladies.

0:32:240:32:25

Welcome to the second meeting of the Women's Petroleum Club Of Scotland.

0:32:250:32:30

Every other voice you heard was American.

0:32:310:32:34

If you went into town, you heard the Americans.

0:32:340:32:37

There was lots of them.

0:32:370:32:39

Lots of them.

0:32:390:32:41

But then, they had the know-how -

0:32:410:32:43

it was just a very young industry here.

0:32:430:32:46

Obviously they ate different food from us, and you started to see

0:32:460:32:49

things like peppers and courgettes and aubergines.

0:32:490:32:56

"What's that?!" said I, when I first saw them!

0:32:560:32:59

The pace of change was so rapid

0:33:010:33:03

that Aberdeen's infrastructure struggled to cope.

0:33:030:33:06

If it was going to have its share of the promised oil wealth,

0:33:060:33:09

the city would have to improve facilities at the harbour.

0:33:090:33:12

The city began a huge building programme.

0:33:140:33:17

Giant oil silos were put up on the quayside next to the Fittie squares.

0:33:190:33:24

But when Shell UK put in a request for new wharf space,

0:33:250:33:28

it was clear that there was no room for them in the harbour.

0:33:280:33:32

Something had to give.

0:33:320:33:33

Planners turned their attention to Fittie and her sister village Torry.

0:33:350:33:40

Both communities overlooked the harbour

0:33:400:33:42

and sat squarely in the way of development.

0:33:420:33:45

There was a worry - which fishing village would go?

0:33:470:33:51

It was a toss-up between Fittie and Old Torry,

0:33:510:33:56

and obviously Fittie was close to the harbour and so was Old Torry.

0:33:560:34:01

The two fishing villages had had a friendly rivalry

0:34:060:34:08

since the squares were built in 1809.

0:34:080:34:11

Torry had been absorbed into the wider sprawl of Aberdeen,

0:34:120:34:16

and the original village on the edge of the harbour

0:34:160:34:19

was now known as Old Torry.

0:34:190:34:20

Its architecture was a mix of

0:34:260:34:27

traditional but and ben fishermen's cottages

0:34:270:34:30

and tenement housing built in the late-19th century.

0:34:300:34:33

Lorena Essen and her husband Sandy were both brought up in Old Torry,

0:34:350:34:40

and remember a tight-knit fishing community,

0:34:400:34:43

where families had lived for generations.

0:34:430:34:45

I was actually born in the same house as my mother.

0:34:470:34:50

My mother was born there in 1917,

0:34:500:34:52

and I was born in 1946.

0:34:520:34:55

Exactly the same house as her.

0:34:550:34:58

Great community spirit in Torry.

0:34:580:35:01

Everybody helped everybody,

0:35:010:35:03

and if you got a fry of fish, you took out of it what you wanted

0:35:030:35:06

and you passed it to your neighbours.

0:35:060:35:08

That was how it was in these days.

0:35:080:35:10

At first, neither Fittie or Old Torry had cause

0:35:130:35:17

to think their village was under threat.

0:35:170:35:19

Residents of both places

0:35:190:35:21

were offered council improvement grants in 1970.

0:35:210:35:25

They began to update their houses with new kitchens and bathrooms.

0:35:250:35:28

But then, in 1971, the council suddenly gave

0:35:330:35:36

the 350 residents of Old Torry notice to quit.

0:35:360:35:40

Their village, they were told, had been earmarked for demolition.

0:35:430:35:47

John Smith, the lord provost, was left to explain why.

0:35:490:35:52

The announcement of the commercial discovery of oil was not made

0:35:550:36:00

until earlier this year.

0:36:000:36:02

Prior to that time, it was in the council's mind to develop

0:36:020:36:05

in an interesting and imaginative way, the old village of Torry.

0:36:050:36:10

The oil interest was certainly considered to be

0:36:100:36:12

the primary factor at this time.

0:36:120:36:14

My information is that most residents in the area

0:36:140:36:17

welcome the town council's decision.

0:36:170:36:19

They haven't considered us in the least bit.

0:36:190:36:22

There's not one member of the town council has been near us.

0:36:220:36:25

I think they've been very shabby with us all.

0:36:250:36:28

Despite the residents' objections,

0:36:300:36:31

the council were unlikely to be swayed.

0:36:310:36:33

Global oil giants Shell, already leasing a plot nearby,

0:36:350:36:38

had already threatened to leave Aberdeen

0:36:380:36:41

if the land at Old Torry was not made available to them.

0:36:410:36:44

There was a great hue and cry about it,

0:36:450:36:47

but of course, it was just pointless, because the oil wanted the property

0:36:470:36:51

and they were going to have it.

0:36:510:36:54

Councillor Frank McGee voiced the frustrations of Old Torry.

0:36:540:36:57

I think that the council has betrayed the people of Torry.

0:36:590:37:02

Betrayed them! They gave their word and they've broken it.

0:37:020:37:06

There can be no doubt at all that these people,

0:37:060:37:09

no matter how poor and humble they may be,

0:37:090:37:12

have been sacrificed to oil interests.

0:37:120:37:14

In March 1974, the bulldozers moved in,

0:37:180:37:22

and Old Torry was razed to the ground.

0:37:220:37:24

Its people were dispersed to other parts of the city.

0:37:280:37:32

Now the harbour expansion could go ahead,

0:37:320:37:35

and for the time being at least, Fittie was safe.

0:37:350:37:37

But for the people of the squares, it was a hollow victory.

0:37:400:37:44

It was a relief to the folks in Fittie

0:37:450:37:49

that our village wasn't chosen.

0:37:490:37:53

But I can understand how it must have been for the other side,

0:37:530:38:01

for the fisher-folk in Torry.

0:38:010:38:02

Cos they just destroyed a community.

0:38:020:38:05

Old Torry was like this, and there was a rivalry,

0:38:090:38:14

but to lose that heritage...

0:38:140:38:18

They can't build it back.

0:38:180:38:21

It's...

0:38:210:38:22

..hard.

0:38:240:38:26

Supposing, in terms of the thousands

0:38:280:38:31

and millions of oil that people are conjuring up,

0:38:310:38:35

supposing they say, "We want Fittie."

0:38:350:38:38

Will they take that too?

0:38:390:38:41

The oil industry grew and grew, creating a booming job market.

0:38:560:39:00

Local fishermen like Brian Wilkinson found themselves in demand.

0:39:020:39:06

We was in the pubs and they used to come in and ask us,

0:39:090:39:12

"Come and work for us."

0:39:120:39:14

We were fishermen, "Bugger off, we're fishermen.

0:39:140:39:17

"We don't want work in the oil."

0:39:170:39:20

Ten years later, we crawled in at the doors to get the job.

0:39:200:39:23

And as more and more workers arrived in the city,

0:39:290:39:32

the demand for housing grew.

0:39:320:39:34

House prices crept ever higher.

0:39:360:39:38

'With the oil boom drawing people

0:39:390:39:41

'from all over the world to Aberdeen, like a magnet,

0:39:410:39:43

'house prices in Aberdeen are

0:39:430:39:45

'basically double the national average.

0:39:450:39:47

'London apart, it's the most expensive place to live in Britain.

0:39:470:39:52

'Getting onto even the bottom of the housing ladder

0:39:520:39:55

'is well-nigh impossible.'

0:39:550:39:56

Brand-new housing estates sprung up throughout the city,

0:39:560:40:00

but supply couldn't keep up with demand.

0:40:000:40:02

Property prices were sky-high in most places, but not in Fittie.

0:40:040:40:08

It was cheek-by-jowl with the oil boats and the shipyards.

0:40:100:40:13

The demolition of Torry and the harbour development,

0:40:130:40:16

had left it adrift in a sea of industry.

0:40:160:40:18

Its housing stock was mostly un-modernised.

0:40:190:40:22

It was into this down-at-heel village that artist Joyce Cairns

0:40:280:40:32

first came in the late '70s.

0:40:320:40:34

She chanced upon a house for sale next to the squares,

0:40:360:40:39

at number 5 New Pier Road.

0:40:390:40:41

It was 1979, and I saw this house and I said,

0:40:470:40:50

"God, look at that house, it's for sale. Isn't it amazing?"

0:40:500:40:53

It had dark purple woodwork and it looked quite menacing.

0:40:530:40:58

And I just had to have that house.

0:41:010:41:03

It was magical.

0:41:030:41:05

Number 5 had previously been Fittie's corner shop,

0:41:050:41:08

owned and run by Jimmy Leaper.

0:41:080:41:10

That house, till the day I die, will always be Jimmy Leaper's.

0:41:120:41:17

It doesn't matter how many folk live in there, that's Jimmy Leaper's.

0:41:170:41:21

And if you speak to anybody that's from Fittie

0:41:210:41:25

and you mention that house,

0:41:250:41:27

they will say the same thing.

0:41:270:41:29

When Joyce arrived,

0:41:290:41:31

the shop had closed down and fallen into disrepair.

0:41:310:41:33

Jimmy Leaper owned this shop many years before I came on the scene.

0:41:370:41:42

Coming into here, into the shop, there was these beads,

0:41:440:41:48

like little bead curtains.

0:41:480:41:50

And in the shop, there was a counter that came across here.

0:41:500:41:55

It was riddled with woodworm, totally,

0:41:570:41:59

they'd enjoyed the counter so much, it had just exploded.

0:41:590:42:03

But the floorboards, they hadn't eaten them,

0:42:030:42:05

though they'd eaten the ones upstairs.

0:42:050:42:08

The floor coming in was worn almost to holes in it,

0:42:080:42:13

because of the traffic that had come in and out.

0:42:130:42:16

He sold everything,

0:42:170:42:19

from balls of string to cheese.

0:42:190:42:23

It was like a time-warp, to get this house,

0:42:230:42:26

and that's what thrilled me about it.

0:42:260:42:28

Nobody had done horrible things to it in the '60s.

0:42:280:42:32

It was just as it was.

0:42:320:42:34

The shop wasn't the only Fittie landmark to get a makeover.

0:42:360:42:40

The old Customs House building, just south of Pilot Square,

0:42:400:42:44

had been accommodation for the harbour boatmen.

0:42:440:42:47

It had lain empty for years,

0:42:470:42:49

when it was spotted by French chef Didier Dejean.

0:42:490:42:52

He converted it into a restaurant, the Silver Darling,

0:42:530:42:57

and brought international cuisine to Fittie.

0:42:570:43:00

This building was just an empty shell.

0:43:030:43:06

No electricity, no water downstairs.

0:43:060:43:09

I was just here, just the wall, practically.

0:43:090:43:12

It was the first business opening here.

0:43:150:43:18

It was such a quiet corner of the city.

0:43:180:43:22

-OFF CAMERA:

-Did you have to work hard to make friends?

-Yes.

0:43:220:43:26

HE LAUGHS Yes.

0:43:260:43:28

Yeah, it took about a year to...for a few of them to speak to me.

0:43:280:43:34

But now, it's fine.

0:43:340:43:36

I've been here for 28 years now, you know.

0:43:360:43:40

So they know me.

0:43:400:43:42

In the beginning of the '80s, nobody ate oyster.

0:43:540:43:58

Mussels - nobody knew what was mussels.

0:43:580:44:02

Then, the oil arrived,

0:44:020:44:05

and restaurants started to buy all those forbidden

0:44:050:44:13

fish, or shellfish.

0:44:130:44:16

Like Didier, Joyce found her arrival in the village caused quite a stir.

0:44:210:44:25

I think they thought it was a commune that was moving into 5 New Pier Road,

0:44:270:44:32

and of course the curtains were twitching all the time,

0:44:320:44:34

as you can imagine.

0:44:340:44:36

Cos there was very few incomers at that time.

0:44:360:44:40

It was more closed, there weren't parties.

0:44:400:44:43

I know that some people do not want to be part of that,

0:44:430:44:46

it's just not part of their culture, they don't think

0:44:460:44:49

that sitting outside and drinking is such a thing that you would do.

0:44:490:44:54

They come out and they sit and drink and...

0:44:540:44:57

Oh, no, couldn't be doing with that.

0:44:570:45:00

It's all right having a drink, but not every other day.

0:45:000:45:04

Bleurgh!

0:45:040:45:06

Meanwhile, the fishing industry,

0:45:110:45:13

once the lifeblood of the squares, was in crisis.

0:45:130:45:16

Trawlerman Brian Wilkinson saw at first-hand

0:45:180:45:21

the industry's rapid decline.

0:45:210:45:23

Up to 1980, there was over 200 ships here,

0:45:240:45:29

which went from all over the place -

0:45:290:45:33

North Sea, Faroe and Iceland.

0:45:330:45:36

And it started to deteriorate very rapidly.

0:45:380:45:42

Quotas, restrictions and diminishing fish stocks all took their toll.

0:45:420:45:47

Fishermen across the UK were leaving the industry in their droves.

0:45:470:45:51

I was mate on an Aberdeen fishing boat,

0:45:540:45:59

and the boat was being scrapped.

0:45:590:46:02

That was about 1980.

0:46:020:46:06

And I was getting my fishing gear off the boat,

0:46:060:46:08

and I slung it down and I thought, "Well, that's it."

0:46:080:46:11

I had three kids, wife, and I had to make a decision.

0:46:110:46:16

And I thought, "Right, I'll go offshore."

0:46:160:46:18

In the oil industry, my mate's certificate allowed me

0:46:180:46:23

to go offshore as a rigger.

0:46:230:46:26

But, for Fittie, a way of life

0:46:270:46:29

which had defined the village for centuries was slipping away.

0:46:290:46:34

I loved it when I was trawling.

0:46:340:46:36

People say, "What do you see in it?"

0:46:360:46:39

I just loved it - the lifestyle.

0:46:390:46:41

You lived, drunk, fought, ate,

0:46:440:46:47

everything, and we were pretty close.

0:46:470:46:49

It was good comradeship and I've never met it anywhere else.

0:46:530:46:58

The shipbuilding industry had fared no better than fishing.

0:47:030:47:07

Across '70s and '80s Britain,

0:47:070:47:09

the picture was one of foreign competition,

0:47:090:47:12

industrial strife and declining orders.

0:47:120:47:15

Of Aberdeen's five big yards, only Hall Russell, in Fittie, held on.

0:47:190:47:25

But in 1992, it too closed.

0:47:250:47:27

Now Hall Russell's old wharf space is filled with oil vessels.

0:47:330:47:36

All the traditional industries

0:47:400:47:42

which had tied the Fittie families to the squares have gone.

0:47:420:47:45

Thelma Cooper, who's lived in North Square for 60 years,

0:47:500:47:53

has seen many of her neighbours move into a globalised oil industry.

0:47:530:47:57

They're all going to different places, and the oil takes them

0:47:590:48:04

to different jobs and things like that.

0:48:040:48:08

Some of them, their husbands went to America for the oil.

0:48:080:48:13

Well, they've sold their houses and went there and stayed there.

0:48:130:48:17

Now, the majority of people from the old Fittie families have died

0:48:210:48:25

or moved away, their houses sold off.

0:48:250:48:29

There's not so many.

0:48:290:48:31

I think there's only about 16, 17 people stays here,

0:48:310:48:37

originally born and brought up here.

0:48:370:48:41

Meanwhile, at the local pub, the Fittie Bar, the newcomers

0:48:420:48:46

are celebrating the arrival of the village's newest resident.

0:48:460:48:50

Your next-door neighbour.

0:48:500:48:52

Natalie Farrell and her husband Dave

0:48:520:48:55

have a five-week-old baby girl, Katrina.

0:48:550:48:58

The girls at the antenatal classes,

0:48:580:49:00

their worries were about having a support network.

0:49:000:49:03

I don't really have that worry because I know so many people here

0:49:030:49:08

will support me in different ways - there's people my mum's age,

0:49:080:49:11

and then people my age.

0:49:110:49:13

I just wanted to say thank you very much.

0:49:150:49:17

Thank you for all your support when I was pregnant,

0:49:170:49:20

and thank you so much for all the presents,

0:49:200:49:24

especially buckets and spades and clothes for playing on the beach.

0:49:240:49:28

She's a very lucky baby to be born in Fittie

0:49:280:49:32

and have so many nice people.

0:49:320:49:34

Thank you very much.

0:49:360:49:37

THEY CLAP

0:49:370:49:39

Dave and Natalie would love to put down more permanent roots

0:49:480:49:51

amongst their friends in Fittie -

0:49:510:49:53

they're rapidly outgrowing their tiny rented cottage in Middle Row.

0:49:530:49:58

All good.

0:49:580:49:59

We're going to have to move in about six months, I'd say.

0:49:590:50:03

If we spend another winter here, that could get quite claustrophobic.

0:50:030:50:07

I think we're at a stage where we'd like to buy a house

0:50:070:50:11

as we'd like a bit more security.

0:50:110:50:14

But they don't come up so often in Fittie.

0:50:140:50:17

But a house has come up for sale, next door to Thelma.

0:50:210:50:25

5 North Square is on the market, five years after the death

0:50:250:50:29

of its owner, George Walker, who came from an old Fittie family.

0:50:290:50:34

George, he worked with my husband.

0:50:340:50:37

He was his mate in the boatmen.

0:50:370:50:39

We all went to Ayrshire a holiday.

0:50:410:50:43

Well, there are two public rooms - this is the sitting room,

0:50:460:50:49

across there is the dining room.

0:50:490:50:51

Upstairs you have two bedrooms, and downstairs, toilet and shower-room.

0:50:510:50:57

And that really is about it.

0:50:590:51:01

There's not a hell of a lot to it.

0:51:010:51:03

The house is totally un-modernised,

0:51:040:51:06

but it's on the market for offers over £250,000...

0:51:060:51:11

70,000 more than the average two-bedroom house in Aberdeen.

0:51:110:51:16

It could be used for a variety of purposes.

0:51:160:51:19

It could be a holiday let,

0:51:210:51:22

or it could be somebody's place that they live in the city

0:51:220:51:26

and pop down here for a bit of leisure and recreation

0:51:260:51:30

at the weekend. That's possible as well.

0:51:300:51:32

Because it doesn't come up every day of the week,

0:51:350:51:38

that can result in the price running away with itself a wee bit.

0:51:380:51:43

Thelma has seen it all before.

0:51:440:51:46

Down here, it's always higher, but the houses sell well.

0:51:510:51:56

We know the property's not worth that, but they get the price.

0:51:560:52:00

Even the small ones, the but and bens,

0:52:020:52:04

they're going for a lot of money.

0:52:040:52:06

Sadly for Natalie and Dave, number five is out of reach.

0:52:080:52:11

We looked at it, trying to do the maths - it's a lot of money for us

0:52:120:52:17

at this stage. So...

0:52:170:52:19

Especially with me not having a job.

0:52:190:52:21

I've still got to finish my PhD, so...

0:52:210:52:23

We might have to move out of Fittie by then, but...

0:52:230:52:27

-OFF CAMERA:

-How do you feel about that?

0:52:270:52:29

Oh, really sad.

0:52:290:52:31

-Yeah, we like it here.

-Yeah.

0:52:310:52:34

The future of the Fittie squares may change again,

0:52:360:52:39

as even some of the incomers struggle to afford the house prices.

0:52:390:52:43

These days, more and more of the old but and ben cottages

0:52:480:52:52

are being made over into smart contemporary spaces.

0:52:520:52:55

You can see we've got some windows in the roof

0:52:580:53:01

which let in a lot of natural light.

0:53:010:53:03

This would have originally been loft space,

0:53:060:53:09

but they opened up this side of it.

0:53:090:53:12

It's all done in stainless steel,

0:53:120:53:14

giving it that modern feeling as well.

0:53:140:53:17

People will joke with me cos I'm tall, they'll say,

0:53:190:53:22

"How do you fit in those small houses?"

0:53:220:53:24

Actually, there's a lot of space when you get inside.

0:53:240:53:27

By them taking out the roof, it's opened it up a lot.

0:53:270:53:30

And by having the kitchenette and the dining area

0:53:300:53:33

and the living room all open-plan, it makes the most of your space.

0:53:330:53:36

Sometimes, if we're lucky, we can see dolphins as well.

0:53:380:53:41

Local dolphins like to come out and give us a show,

0:53:430:53:45

so we joke that it's just like being in Florida at Sea World.

0:53:450:53:49

And old Fittie's traditional fry of fish

0:53:590:54:02

is a far cry from the fine dining of new Fittie.

0:54:020:54:06

We put the cabbage and pancetta inside and make a ball.

0:54:060:54:10

And then serve it like this with monkfish in red wine.

0:54:100:54:14

With mushrooms.

0:54:140:54:16

But whilst modernity has arrived in Fittie,

0:54:230:54:26

some things don't change.

0:54:260:54:28

What attracts so many newcomers to the squares

0:54:280:54:31

is their old-fashioned sense of community.

0:54:310:54:35

They're a peaceful refuge in a fast-moving city.

0:54:350:54:38

People are brought together by the closeness of the houses

0:54:390:54:42

and the shared spaces.

0:54:420:54:45

There's a neighbourliness here

0:54:450:54:47

that's vanished from many other towns and cities.

0:54:470:54:50

There are a lot of people who would want something traditional

0:54:500:54:53

and would like to be part of the community.

0:54:530:54:56

And that's what you get if you do come here,

0:54:560:54:58

if you want to be part of a community.

0:54:580:55:02

People just drop in, you don't have to formally say,

0:55:020:55:05

"Oh, we're doing a dinner party."

0:55:050:55:06

People just... Things happen just by chance,

0:55:060:55:09

and I think that's the nicest thing that can be in your life.

0:55:090:55:12

You don't need to feel lonely in Fittie,

0:55:130:55:16

there's always something going on.

0:55:160:55:19

It tends to attract quite interesting, quirky kinds of people.

0:55:200:55:25

Unlike me, I'm perfectly normal, of course!

0:55:250:55:28

The rest are all quirky!

0:55:280:55:30

So it means you've got an interesting place,

0:55:300:55:32

interesting people - a recipe for delight and happiness.

0:55:320:55:36

As for the older Fittie folk,

0:55:460:55:48

who knew the squares in the heyday of fishing,

0:55:480:55:50

they're all too aware that the future does not belong to them.

0:55:500:55:54

Their homes are gradually falling into new hands.

0:55:560:55:59

No sentiment when the house is given up.

0:56:020:56:05

The skip comes to the back door and everything gets tipped into it.

0:56:050:56:10

Just a way of life.

0:56:120:56:14

I'm the last of the Kays,

0:56:140:56:17

so when I go it's sold.

0:56:170:56:19

-OFF CAMERA:

-You'd better hang on, Betty,

0:56:240:56:26

cos you're the last of the Fittie folk.

0:56:260:56:28

SHE LAUGHS

0:56:280:56:30

That's true.

0:56:300:56:32

There's nae much of us left. No.

0:56:320:56:34

As for Norma Reid,

0:56:470:56:49

although she visits the squares every week

0:56:490:56:52

to care for her elderly mother,

0:56:520:56:54

she now lives away from Fittie,

0:56:540:56:56

seven miles west of Aberdeen.

0:56:560:56:58

Fittie, for me, is up here and in here.

0:57:010:57:04

And the Fittie that we have now is not the same place.

0:57:040:57:07

It's very nice and the new people that come in love it.

0:57:070:57:12

But, for me, Fittie was more than just the houses -

0:57:120:57:16

it was the people that lived there.

0:57:160:57:19

I don't know if I could feel quite as at home now...

0:57:210:57:27

..as I did as a child.

0:57:290:57:30

As you get older and your memories get stronger of the past,

0:57:310:57:35

I think I might be disappointed.

0:57:350:57:38

So I think I like to remember it as it was.

0:57:400:57:45

Yeah.

0:57:450:57:46

If you want to learn more about social change

0:58:030:58:06

and issues such as poverty, class and housing,

0:58:060:58:08

the Open University has produced a free publication.

0:58:080:58:11

Go to bbc.co.uk/ourstreets

0:58:110:58:13

and follow the links to the Open University,

0:58:130:58:16

or call 0845 271 0018.

0:58:160:58:18

BBC Two's multi-award-winning Secret History of Our Streets told the story of six London streets, from Victorian times to the present day.

Now, as its people stand at a crossroads in their history, the series travels to Scotland to tell the stories of three archetypal streets in Scotland's three great cities: Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Endlessly surprising and not at all what you would expect, the stories of these streets are the story of a nation.

At the mouth of Aberdeen Harbour lie the Fittie Squares, a model housing scheme built for fishermen and their families in 1809.

Tethered to the sea and cut off from the city, the squares developed their own culture. They were a traditional fishing community, untroubled for 150 years, until the day that oil was discovered just a few miles out to sea.