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Aberdeen Harbour Catch Pier, site of
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Aberdeen Harbour Catch Pier, site of
associated engineer
John Smeaton
date  July 1788 - December 1790
era  Georgian  |  category  Jetty  |  reference  NJ960058
ICE reference number  HEW 1377
photo  © Keith Grinsted and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The 'catch pier' at Aberdeen Harbour is a low-level projection attached to John Smeaton's North Pier. Also known as Abercrombie's Jetty, the catch pier was built to combat the increased wave action upstream in the River Dee that resulted from the earlier construction of the North Pier. However, the jetty became an obstruction to harbour expansion and was reduced in size in the 19th century.
John Smeaton (1724-1792), one of the first people to describe himself as a civil engineer, was commissioned to improve the harbour at Aberdeen. He began by designing a 366m long pier (the first section of North Pier) on the northern side of the river mouth, which was constructed between January 1775 and October 1780. The scheme was intended to mitigate the effects of a sand bar that was hampering harbour access and usage.
Smeaton revisited Aberdeen Harbour in October 1787, and saw that his pier had increased the depth of water over the sand bar at high tide by 1.1m. The corollary to this success was increased wave action in the river upstream under easterly winds, which tended to propagate swell waves inside the harbour. Possibly this was the result of not following Smeaton’s plans accurately, and siting the pier a little too far to the north.
His report of 22nd March 1788 proposed ameliorating the situation by constructing a low-level catch pier about 100m east of the landward end of the North Pier. It would project 51.2m into the channel, and be set at an angle pointing towards the harbour in a south westerly direction.
The crest of the pier was a little above high water spring tides. Of characteristic Smeaton trapezoidal section, with horizontally coursed stone block faces and a core of sloping stones, the structure (as designed) was approximately 65m long. The body of the pier was 7.3m wide at the top and 9.1m wide at the base. It was much wider at its junction with the North Pier and terminated in a round pier head 12.2m in diameter.
A marker stone inscribed J ABERCROMBIE PROVOST 1789 is located on the west side of the root of the catch pier. It is presumed that the stone was laid by John Abercrombie (1729-1820), a stocking manufacturer who became Lord Provost of Aberdeen in 1787, during construction. The pier was known thereafter as Abercrombie's Jetty.
The work was undertaken by local mason Alexander Gildavie, working on a 'cost plus' contract, with Smeaton as supervising engineer. The total cost for the catch pier and some rebuilding work to the harbour's South Pier was about £1,500.
As the harbour became busier, and more improvements were carried out, the catch pier became an obstruction to shipping and dredging. Between July 1810 and September 1833, probably in 1820, its south end was removed and Abercrombie’s Jetty was reduced to a stub some 18m long. The demolition work cost £123.
A capstan was installed on the truncated jetty to help haul in sailing ships that could not make headway against westerly winds.
By the 1920s, the jetty had been equipped with a fully curved return to the south east, pointing out to sea, which is known locally as The Horseshoe. The remodelled jetty now measures some 38m in length along the centreline.
Supervising engineer: John Smeaton
Contractor: Alexander Gildavie
Research: ECPK
"Reports of the late John Smeaton, F.R.S.", Vol.2, M. Taylor, London, 1837
"House of Commons Papers", Vol.29, H.M. Stationery Office, London, 1835
reference sources   CEH SHIJSBDCE1

Aberdeen Harbour Catch Pier, site of