Aberdeens Graffiti Mecca 2008 vs 2018!

The old Richards Textile factory sits dominant on the Aberdeen skyline, its red brick chimney stacks visible for miles around. The high walls and cast iron fences once served to protect the valuable textiles and fabrics created with in, but now with added barbed wire act as a deterrent to any would be trespassers. The story of the factory (check the Wikipedia page and also this article) and its closing is quite controversial with local millionaire Ian Suttie stepping in to save the factory from closure in 2002 only to shut it down completely in 2004. The workers lost their pensions and the site has lain dormant as they await approval for a new 'Urban Village' (see unrealistic vision of it here) with some 390 new homes. If ever there's a case of playing the long game its the Richards debacle. Thankfully the project has been held up in the quagmire of planning permissions and heritage issues but I'm not sure if the pensions issue has been settled yet. But the factory has continued to live and breathe with new, less welcome occupants and a very different type of industry.

In mid 2008 I managed to gain access to the factory and set about documenting some of the incredible graffiti that could be found inside. A small portion could be seen from the main entrance, the heavily padlocked gate keeping most people at bay but for years the factory has acted as a beacon to graffiti writers and artists. Its impossible to fully grasp how massive the site is from the main entrance but a quick look on google maps reveals an expansive footprint and quite a sizeable piece of land. I spent about 3 hours wandering through the buildings, expecting to be jumped at every turn and trying to take in this incredible beautiful wasteland. Even in 2008 the site was in a state of disrepair with leaking roofs and rather dodgy looking iron fire stairs, most of which I avoided for fear of plummeting to my death 5 stories below. The main red brick buildings were all in relatively good condition though, the Victorian's really knew how to build those work houses and many of the smaller shed style buildings only had a ground level and presented very little danger although the wind rustling the plastic drapes left me constantly paranoid.

I followed a simple rule of only going into spaces that were open and didn't have any signs of damage. One or two rooms had been torched in the main building while another had a green moss floor which was ripe for falling through so best to avoid these types of spaces. It was such a rabbit warren with each corridor leading to a new warehouse or workshop. What really amazed me is the mix of the traditional mill paraphernalia, hundreds of spools of wool, a Victorian looking cart abandoned at the front door, weird motivational posters and hundreds of fire hoses left to rot. I've heard the giant chimney stacks were actually used to hang the fire hoses, allowing them to dry out after some synthetic fire resistant coating had been applied. Even then, in its abandoned state the place felt like it was only a few days away from being reactivated. The whole place had a spooky feel and the incredibly colourful throw ups and tags left me expecting to find someone painting around every corner. Many of the pieces had been laboured over, the asbestos roofs providing the perfect cover for getting up to no good for the cities then active graffiti community.

Jump forward ten years and well, quite a lot has changed and the factory owners seem to be closer to achieving that windfall dream of developing the site into an 'Urban Village'. The most recent development plans have received the initial backing of the council but there's still a lot of hoops to jump through. A series of small fires led to calls for the site to be properly secured and monitored although later news stories revealed the fires were started by the demolition company, a strange tactic considering neighbouring flats sit just 30 feet away. The bulldozers moved in soon after (check them out here), the perfect excuse to start tearing down the 'unsafe' parts of the site and also a handy excuse to clear the way for the future developments. Much of the graffiti is now gone or locked up safe behind thick wooden boards. All the main buildings that remain have been secured and meant I spent most of my time wandering and trying to remember where pieces used to be. A few new additions could be seen and few classics still remain like the roof top water tank and the Shoe piece which now sits in the open, exposed to the elements.

My exploration was cut short by the arrival of a high vis vest and after some Rambo style covert manoeuvres I exited the site having only covered a third. Many of the old hiding places have been demolished, leaving me feeling quite Warriorsesque, running the gauntlet to get home to Coney Island (Mastrick in fact) and brought me right back to my misspent youth trying to get chases from the bigger kids and generally going where we weren't supposed to. But the guard didn't seem too bothered and after a quick sweep disappeared without hassle and I made my way out. As I made my way home I said quietly to myself, mischief managed! Although the site feels 100 times safer than when I first visited back in 2008, a lot of the character has been lost or more accurately demolished and its a sure sign of the clean cut, bland 'Urban Village' that's to come. I'm sure the finished spaces will look nothing like the fancy mock ups but the real question is, how urban will it be, tags are cool now right? Sadly it'll probably all go ahead without a hitch and eventually add a few more zeros to the existing millionaires bank accounts.

You can check out a selection of my snaps both from 2008 and 2018 below along with the P&Js archive viewable here and some more snaps by Geoff Croll here.

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