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Visiting Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen, Scotland: historic, stone property with changing names

Updated on July 8, 2014
Flag of Scotland
Flag of Scotland | Source
Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen
Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen | Source
Doorway of Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen
Doorway of Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen | Source
Map location of Aberdeen, Scotland
Map location of Aberdeen, Scotland | Source

Stones and property names in curious juxtapositions

This historic property is one of the main heritage buildings in Aberdeen, Scotland. Localted on a street known as the Guestrow, it has many interesting associations with notable people down the centuries; some famous, others not so famous.

But one interesting feature of the house is its name, or, rather, the various names by which it has been called or associated over the centuries.

Today, then, its name is Provost Skene's House. So, who was Provost Skene? Well, firstly, it needs to be said that the title 'Provost' refers to the traditional administrative head of certain larger Scottish cities; one of these cities which has had a Provost for centuries is Aberdeen. Sir George Skene served as Provost of Aberdeen from 1676-1685. Provost Skene would have been a prominent figure in his day. But it's maybe fair to say that the house which bears his name is the main reason why he is remembered.

So, Provost Skene built the house, then?

Well, actually, no: he lived there and made improvements to it, but the house itself dates from at least the century prior to the one in which he lived. Historical records first mention the house in 1545. It is an early example of what is known as 'burgh architecture'.

So although it wasn't at first known as Provost Skene's House, this is the name by which it came to be known. So, is this the name that has stuck ever since? Well, actually no: the association with Provost Skene was eclipsed somewhat for centuries, after it started to be called Cumberland House.

So why was it called Cumberland House? The reason for this is that Prince William, Duke of Cumberland is thought to have commandeered the property, when on his way to fight the Battle of Culloden in 1746 against Charles Edward Stuart (1), 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', the Jacobite Pretender to the throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie lost, the Duke of Cumberland won, and earned himself the name 'Butcher Cumberland' in the process.

After this decisive battle, the last to be fought on the soil on the island of Great Britain, the name Cumberland House stuck for a long while; into the 20th century, indeed.

Circumstances changed again in 1953. HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited the House, to open it formally after it had been refurbished and turned into a well-appointed, historical museum. Since the 20th century, it has been known as Provost Skene's House (a much 'nicer' name for a museum, in fact, than one which recalls 'Butcher Cumberland'?)

The house has been the constant, for centuries; it is human perceptions which have changed, back and forth.

One of the museum features is a period costume gallery. The totality of the museum and furnishings which have been recreated are described as a 'Period House and Museum of Local History'.


(1) Not to be confused with Charles Edward Stuart, Senator from Maine from 1853 to 1859.

Also worth seeing

In Aberdeen itself, King's and Marischal Colleges are architecturally distinguished, as is the New Town House.

Slains Castle, Cruden Bay (distance: 38 kilometres), now ruined, is reputed to have associations with author Bram Stoker, creator of 'Dracula'.

Balmoral, Royal Deeside (distance: 67 kilometres) is a Scottish residence of HM The Queen.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports, where car rental is available. There are air and rail services which connect Glasgow and Edinburgh with Aberdeen. Some facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      alocsin: It's certainly worth seeing. Thank-you for your comment.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Nicely done. I'll have to visit this House when I'm next in Scotland. Voting this Up.