Plague and Quarantine in Aberdeen, 1499

By William Hepburn

Quarantine blog post image

This entry, from 21 June 1499, is one of several from the Aberdeen Council Registers concerning plague. It gives us clues about the town’s response to the disease. Part of this response was to set up two lines of quarantine around the town. The first was the physical boundary of the town. Aberdeen did not have an encircling city wall, so its physical boundary was made up by the town gates and the back walls of properties. This physical boundary on its own was apparently not enough to enforce a line of quarantine around the town, because people were able to jump or climb over the walls and gates. Further measures were put in place, including the employment of guards to watch the town at night and the offer of a reward to anyone who reported someone climbing or jumping the boundary. 1

The second line of quarantine covered the town’s hinterland. The entry states that no people or goods were allowed into the town from outside of a prescribed area surrounding it unless it could be proven that they were uninfected and came from an uninfected place. The entry appears to define that area as stretching from the river Dee on the southern edge of Aberdeen, out to St Ternan’s (modern-day Banchory) in the west, and from there up through Monymusk to Strathbogie (modern-day Huntly or, more broadly, the area around the river Strathbogie). The area was enclosed to the north by a line apparently set somewhere between there and Old Aberdeen to the north of Aberdeen.

In her 2001 thesis on plague in early modern Aberdeen, Karen Jillings argued that before 1514 the town largely escaped the plague.2 Measures such as the ones described in this entry may have helped to keep the plague out.


ACR, 7, p. 963-4, 21 June 1499

Statuta pro Custodia burgi

The saide day It was statut ordanit ande finalie concludit be the aldirman balyeis consale ande communite of this burghe opinlie warnit be the hande bell and officiaris throw the haill tone that nay manere of persone wittalis nor uthir stuf beyonde and one the southt part of the wattir of dee cum within this burghe without sufficient certificacion that thai ar clene and cumin fra clene placis. Item that nay persone off nay degre bevne Sanct Ternanys Monymusk Srabogy nor northt part wart fra ald Abirdene cum within this burghe and that the said personis cum nocht within the tone withoutin sufficient certificacion that thai ar cumin fra clen placis and that thai ar clene. Item that xxiiij personis circualy requerit and warnit personaly pas ilkan nycht to the waching of the tone and that ilke man pas for him self undir the panys of banysing. And that nane Induellar of this towne pas uteuthe to faris. Ande that nay tymmir cum within the tone. And that nane leip dikis portis nor cum in atour ony uthir place the portis vndir the pane of bannysin the tone and quhay findis ony persone lepand ony port or bak dik and schevis to the aldirman the name of the persone he sal haue v s’ to his revarde and that nay tymmir cum within this burghe.

  1. In a recent blog post Edda Frankot highlighted another reward for preventing infection from entering the town. In 1456-7  a man named Alexander Logy was made a burgess as reward a reward for preventing infected people from entering the town at the Green. 
  2. Karen Jillings, ‘For the safte and preservatioun of the toun’: Plague and the Poor in Early Modern Aberdeen (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Aberdeen, 2002).