Marischal College
Panoramic of the building following restoration
General information
TypeCivic Building
Architectural styleGothic Revival architecture
AddressBroad Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1AB
Town or cityAberdeen
Current tenantsAberdeen City Council
University of Aberdeen
Construction started1837
ClientAberdeen City Council
OwnerUniversity of Aberdeen
LandlordUniversity of Aberdeen
Technical details
Floor count5
Floor area188,400 sq ft (17,500 m2)
Design and construction
Architect(s)Archibald Simpson (1837–44)
Robert Mathieson (1873)
W W Robertson (1888–89)
Alexander Marshall Mackenzie(1893–1906)
Renovating team
Architect(s)Holmes Partnership (2009–2011)
Renovating firmSafe Dem
Sir Robert McAlpine
Laing Traditional Masonry[1]
Structural engineerArup Scotland
Services engineerWallace Whittle
Listed Building – Category A
Designated12 January 1967
Reference no.LB20096
Marischal College from the rear, showing Mitchell Tower and Mitchell Hall
Detail of ornately carved granite pinnacles on the facade of Marischal College, following restoration

Marischal College (/ˈmɑːrʃl/ MAR-shəl)[2] is a large granite building on Broad Street in the centre of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland, and since 2011 has acted as the headquarters of Aberdeen City Council. However, the building was constructed for and is on long-term lease from the University of Aberdeen, which still uses parts of the building to store its museum collections. Today, it provides corporate office space and public access to council services, adjacent to the Town House, the city's historic seat of local government. Many Aberdonians consider Marischal College to be an icon of the "Granite City" and to symbolise the zenith of Aberdeen's granite-working industry.

The construction of the modern college building began in 1835, following the demolition of previous buildings on the site, and was completed in its present form in the early 1900s.[3] It is the second largest granite building in the world.[4] Formerly the seat of the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen founded in 1593, the building was retained by the unified University of Aberdeen, which was created in 1860 by the merger of Marischal College and King's College. The buildings of Marischal College continued to be used for academic purposes until the mid-20th century and less and less until the early 2000s. During this period they were frequently rebuilt and expanded upon.

In the mid-to-late 20th century, teaching and academic activities at the university began to move to King's College or Foresterhill (for students of medicine) and by the early 21st century a new purpose for Marischal College was required. After a number of unsuccessful proposals, the majority of the building was leased to Aberdeen City Council to be restored and refurbished as office accommodation. The extensive renovation was completed on schedule and significantly under budget and the building opened to the public in June 2011.[5] The university has retained the Mitchell Hall and a number of other significant parts of the building for its own use, in addition to its museum stores (formerly the Marischal Museum).


Statue of king Robert the Bruce in front of Marischal College.

"Marischal College and University of Aberdeen" was the formal name of the former university which occupied the present Marischal College site then in New Aberdeen. The College was founded in 1593 by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal of Scotland. The original charter of the university was lost by the early 18th century, but two near-contemporary copies exist – one of which was accepted by the courts in 1756 as being authentic.[6][7] In this charter, Marischal College is described variously as a gymnasium, collegium (college), academia (academy) and universitas (university).[6]

Marischal was the second of Scotland's post-medieval "civic universities", following the University of Edinburgh, created without Papal bull and with a more modern structure and a greater resemblance to the Protestant arts colleges of continental Europe.[8] As such, both Edinburgh and Marischal came to be known as the "Town Colleges" of their respective cities. The university was founded with the expressed aim of training clergy for the post-Reformation Kirk.[6] Its Greek motto translates as "virtue is self-sufficient".

The plaque to Seabury's consecration
Bust of James Clerk Maxwell by Charles d'Orville Pilkington Jackson. Located in the Mitchell Hall of Marischal College

The College was constructed on the site of a medieval Franciscan friary, disused after the Reformation. This building was later replaced by a William Adam-designed building in the mid-18th century; however, this, together with the friary remains, were demolished entirely for the construction of the present building between 1835 and 1906, as was the Longacre home of Bishop John Skinner, site of the 1784 consecration of Samuel Seabury, now marked by a plaque on the east wall of the College's quadrangle.

James Clerk Maxwell FRS, FRSE (1831-1879), described as "the most famous and influential professor Aberdeen has ever had"[9] was appointed as Professor of Natural Philosophy in 1856 and continued in that post until the merger of Marischal College with Kings College.

The Mitchell Hall, where University of Aberdeen graduations previously took place, was built in the early 20th century. It is named after Dr Charles Mitchell, an alumnus of the university and a Tyneside shipbuilder. A large stained-glass window dominates the hall, executed by TR Spence of London and representing the university's history.[10]

The building was commended by poet John Betjeman following a visit to Aberdeen in 1947:

"No-one can dismiss Marischal College, Aberdeen, when looking at the work of the present century. Wedged behind a huge town hall in an expensive and attractive mid-Victorian baronial style, I saw a cluster of silver-white pinnacles. I turned down a lane towards them, the front broadened out. Oh! Bigger than any cathedral, tower on tower, forests of pinnacles, a group of palatial buildings rivalled only by the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.
"This was the famous Marischal College. Imagine the Victorian tower with a spire on top, and all that well-grouped architecture below of lesser towers, and lines of pinnacles executed in the hardest white Kemnay granite and looking out over the grey-green North Sea and you have some idea of the first impression this gigantic building creates.
"It rises on top of a simple Gothic one designed by Simpson in 1840. But all these spires and towers and pinnacles are the work of this century and were designed by Sir Alexander Marshall Mackenzie. You have to see them to believe them."[11]

There is an urban legend of unknown origin that Marischal College was Adolf Hitler's favourite building in the United Kingdom and that he would have liked to use it as a residence if the outcome of the Second World War had been different.[12]

University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen was created after the merger of Marischal College and King's College, Aberdeen in 1860 under the terms of the Universities (Scotland) Act 1858.

The following extract refers to this merger:[13]

Universities of Kings College and Marischal College, Aberdeen. First Report of the Commissioners, 1838. 1837–38. Vol. XXXIII, 75p. [123] Chairman: Lord John Cunninghame.

The commissioners were in favour of a merger of the two colleges despite opposition from Kings College. They considered the unification as essential for the educational system of Northern Scotland although they disagreed with the proposed method of merger laid down by the last commission. The buildings of Marischal College were in very bad repair but new ones were under construction. Additions had been made in 1827 to Kings College buildings which were in a tolerable state of repair.

Throughout the 20th century, Marischall college housed all sciences and medicine. Since about 1960, the college housed the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Medical school.

The building standing today, which replaced a number of older structures, was constructed between 1837 and 1844 by Aberdeen architect Archibald Simpson. This 1837 building formed a U-shaped quadrangle, with a small entrance via an archway amidst unrelated housing on the west side. The building was substantially extended between 1893 and 1905 by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, and with its new "granite cage" front, enclosing the quadrangle, it became the second-largest granite building in the world (exceeded only by the Escorial Palace near Madrid).[14]

Renovation as Aberdeen City Council Headquarters

Marischal College appearing dilapidated prior to restoration
Prior to restoration
Marischal College following restoration
After restoration
Marischal College before and after restoration

For many years, much of the building was derelict as university departments had moved to King's College or Foresterhill years or decades before. Up to 2009, the only parts of the college building chiefly used by the university were the Mitchell Hall (for graduations, concerts and other events), the Marischal Museum, and the Anatomy department, which was used for 1st year medical students until March 2009. It was also home to the University's debating chamber.

In 2006 plans were announced for the renovation of the college as new administrative headquarters for the Council to replace the ageing St. Nicholas House across the street.[15] The University leased the Marischal College site to Aberdeen City Council for 175 years in exchange for £4.7 million.[15] Work began in 2009 and the newly refurbished Marischal College was opened in summer 2011. The internal spaces were completely demolished and replaced with a new internal structure which matched the existing walls and windows. The renovations restored the granite exterior, ornamentation and detailing, and provided new public space for citizens accessing council services and offices for council workers. The Council Chamber and democratic processes continue to be located at the Town House next door. The university retained the north wing comprising the Mitchell Hall, debating chamber and associated rooms, although as of May 2012 these are not yet open for use. In Spring 2011, the city erected outside Marischal College a statue of King Robert the Bruce on horseback, holding up a charter.[16] Outside the College there is a large modern fountain, known as the "dancing fountain" for its alternating patterns.[17] The fountain was briefly shut in 2019 due to high levels of bromine, but has since been turned back on.

Greyfriars Church

Amongst the buildings demolished to make way for the new frontage of Marischal College at the turn of the 20th century, was the Greyfriars collegiate church, built in 1532 and incorporated as part of the College in 1593. Following a dispute regarding the conservation of this church, a new church building was constructed within the Marischal College complex. It is incorporated into the College frontage, which includes the southern tower, notable for being surmounted with a spire.[18]

The southern tower of the Marischal College frontage – the spire of Greyfriars Church, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, 1903

Following a merger, this church was later to become known as Greyfriars John Knox Church.[19] The building is currently unused and is being offered for sale by the Church of Scotland for commercial or residential use.[20]


Notable alumni of Marischal College include:
(See University of Aberdeen[21] for eminent scientists, Fellows of the Royal Society, who have worked at Marishal College.) see


In 1860 the college merged with King's College, Aberdeen to create the University of Aberdeen.

Other notable academics

See also


  1. ^ "Laing Traditional Masonry" (JPG). Marischal College – Aberdeen City. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  2. ^ Pointon, Graham, ed. (1990). BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (2nd ed.). Oxford: The University Press. ISBN 0-19-282745-6.
  3. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Broad Street, Marischal College (Category A Listed Building) (LB20096)". Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  4. ^ How we built Britain by David Dimbleby
  5. ^ "Council moves into Marischal College". BBC News. 21 June 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "University Charter". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 11 (2): 145–158. JSTOR 530957.
  7. ^ Skene v. Duff
  8. ^ Steven John Reid (2007). "Aberdeen's 'Toun College': Marischal College, 1593–1623". The Innes Review. 58 (2): 173–195. doi:10.3366/E0020157X07000054. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  9. ^ "The Scientific Tourist at Marischal College" (PDF). University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Mitchell Hall". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Marischal College Heritage". Aberdeen City Council. Archived from the original on 17 November 2008.
  12. ^ [1] Archived 20 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Haythornthwaite, J.A.: Scotland in the 19th Century; hosted by Strathclyde University, pub. 1993.
  14. ^ "About Marischal College". University of Aberdeen website. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  15. ^ a b "University and Aberdeen City Council mark handover of Marischal College". University of Aberdeen. 28 February 2006. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  16. ^ "New Robert the Bruce statue unveiled in Aberdeen". BBC News. 9 May 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  17. ^ "Aberdeen fountains switched off due to high chemical levels". BBC News. 21 October 2019. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  18. ^ The Church of Scotland (14 May 2010). "Stone-built church, Greyfriars John Knox, Queen Street, Aberdeen" (PDF). The Church of Scotland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 December 2010.
  19. ^ "". Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  20. ^ [2] Archived 8 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Fellows of the Royal Society from the University | Blog | Alumni Relations | The University of Aberdeen".
  22. ^ Br Med J 1904; 2 doi: (Published 17 December 1904)

57°08′58″N 2°05′47″W / 57.1495°N 2.0964°W / 57.1495; -2.0964