‘Follow in footsteps of the past’

Follow in footsteps of the past

By Published On: 21st April 20233.1 min readCategories: Headlines, History

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Restoration of Jacob’s Ladder will give historic Aberdeen communities a welcome lift

A staircase dating back more than 100 years that was used by thousands of Aberdeen mill staff is to get a new lease of life.

Better known to generations of textile workers and machine operators employed by Grandholm Mills as Jacob’s ladder the steps once provided a safe route for workers who made one of the most famous fabrics in the world.

Acquired by James and John Crombie in 1859 Grandholm mill employed more than 3,000 people to produce almost 500 miles a year of the world famous cloth bearing their name. During World War I some 10 per cent of all overcoats worn by British officers were Crombie. And, by the middle of the 20th century Grandholm was the largest supplier of tweed in the UK.

Although the heyday of Aberdeen’s mill industry has long since gone the steps remained an important and popular reminder of the city’s textile heritage. Unfortunately, due to structural damage, Jacob’s Ladder was closed to the public several years ago forcing residents of nearby Woodside to walk around Don Terrace onto Gordon Mills Road via a steep hill with no pavements, uneven cobbles and frequent traffic.

However, supported by the University of Aberdeen’s Elphinstone Institute, the Friends of Jacob’s Ladder and Riverside Walk are working to restore the historic steps.

The Friends say the restoration is crucial to providing a gateway for the communities of Woodside, Tillydrone and beyond to access the River Don pathways and other local nature spots.

The Elphinstone Institute, which promotes the cultures and traditions of North-East Scotland, is supporting the Friends in documenting the community effort and interviewing local people to help to build a picture of what the steps mean to those in the area.

Gary Dawson, secretary of the Friends of Jacob’s Ladder and Riverside Walk said: “We are a group of local people trying to preserve our heritage and community resources by means of working to have our 101-year-old staircase reopened after their closure some 15 years ago.

“We have widespread support from our host communities of Woodside and Tillydrone but also from further afield. The stairs were the main gateway for workers to attend the various mills along the river Don but now are a gateway to the river and pathways themselves which offer an escape into beautiful natural spaces on the edge of two areas which continue to host some of the highest areas of deprivation in the country.”

So far The Friends have been given some funding from Aberdeen University Community fund to buy basic equipment to keep the stairs clean while Aberdeen City Council have granted funding from their Common Good Fund to pay for a full structural survey of the stairs.

“This will offer an overview of the repairs and associated costs of hopefully returning the stairs to community use again,” added Mr Dawson.

The Friends are now conducting a survey to gather public views which can be accessed, together with more information about the project, at www.jacobsladderrestoration.com

Simon Gall, Public and Community Engagement Officer from the Elphinstone Institute, said: “Supporting local cultural groups to do their important work is a key part of what we do at the Institute, so we’re delighted to be helping the Friends of Jacob’s Ladder to explore what the stairs mean to the local community and bolster their efforts to have them re-opened.

“The project could bring about practical benefits in terms of improving access to and from the river, and impact positively on the sense of local identity through the re-vitalisation of an iconic piece of community heritage.”