History of Powis Gate, Old Aberdeen

An Instagram worthy picture? Look again…

I wanted to start a wee series of blog posts that are history based, being a tour guide it is naturally ingrained in me to look at historical places and research them.I wanted to start with Powis Gate, in Aberdeen as I visited recently on a weekend. 

This tower may look like it’s from a fairytale but it has a much more sinister history that I am not sure many people know about. Last year when I was studying for my North East Scotland tourism guiding badge, I came across this place in Old Aberdeen and thought it was worthy of a blog post.

Powis gate marked the entrance into the Powis estate and is a stone’s throw away from Aberdeen University’s King’s College. In the 1800’s the estate was largely (82%) of it’s income came from agriculture and rents. 

The gate was built in 1834 by an Aberdeen architect under John Leslie of Powis who succeeded his father and was the owner of the Powis country estate. The Leslie family has a strong historical connection to Aberdeen and two of the Leslie family members were Greek language lecturers at the university nearby. 

The design of the gate stands out amongst the more traditional Scottish stonework, the tower as said to be inspired by a Turkish minaret. During my research I couldn’t find a clear connection between this family in Aberdeen to the middle east. So to be that remains a mystery to why this building has such a unique style for the north east of Scotland.

The Leslie family coat of arms is marked on the top of the archway and was restored in 2007. The gold crescent glistens in the very elusive Aberdeen sunshine. Nowadays, however, the University uses the  building as postgraduate offices and as a Muslim prayer room. 

What is not immediately clear is that the money used to build this gate was indeed linked to the Caribbean slave trade. The Leslie family were plantation owners, mostly coffee and sugar estates based in Jamaica. Scotland had strong connections with Jamaica, with thirty percent of estate owners there being Scottish owned. 

The family had a total of 1268 workers (slaves) before emancipation. When the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came in, it outlawed slavery in the UK and British Colonies from August 1st 1834. Under this act, a substantial pot of money came from the UK government in form of compensation for slave owners.

It was seen as a significant loss of earnings to estate owners and therefore they were compensated. The Leslie family received £7,000 towards their losses, which in today’s money works out at around £600k. The proceeds from this scheme was put towards building this fairytale looking gate in the heart of Old Aberdeen. 

The University only recently erected a plaque on the wall nearby which states that this archway was created through earning from slavery. 

I wanted to write something about this place as I’ve often seen it on social media.

 I have seen many aesthetic pictures of people posing in front of it  and I wanted to draw attention to the history of the area. I’m glad the university has added the recent information plaque nearby to highlight it’s history. 

Thanks for reading,

Kat @travelkattours