Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.
Past Times

A history of the Marcliffe in pictures: From Tivoli Theatre boarding house to luxury hotel

Now Aberdeen's most luxurious hotel, it's unlikely the Marcliffe would even have existed if it wasn't for the Tivoli Theatre. We chart its fascinating history back to 1946.
Kirstie Waterston
The Marcliffe Hotel when it was on Queen's Terrace and, inset, functions there in the 1980s and '90s. Image: Clarke Cooper/DC Thomson
The Marcliffe Hotel when it was on Queen's Terrace and, inset, functions there in the 1980s and '90s. Image: Clarke Cooper/DC Thomson

The Marcliffe Hotel is a name synonymous with prestige and luxury in Aberdeen, but it’s come a long way from humble roots as a boarding house for Tivoli Theatre.

It’s one of the few names left in hospitality that has endured the decades, attracting royals, politicians, and celebrities alike.

And despite the hotel’s longevity, the Marcliffe has had remarkably few owners in its 76 years.

Sir Jim Milne shakes hands on the deal with Marcliffe managing director Ross Spence.
Sir Jim Milne, left, with Marcliffe managing director Ross Spence. Image: The Marcliffe and Balmoral Group

With the news that Sir Jim Milne of Balmoral Group will be taking on Aberdeen’s illustrious hotel, Marcliffe at Pitfodels, we’ve taken a look back at its fascinating history.

Perhaps you might spot some familiar faces in our gallery of 1980s and ’90s photos at the end?

1947: Marcliffe boarding house founded by Tivoli theatre performer

While the name ‘Marcliffe’ might be reminiscent of a continental seaside resort, it was actually an amalgamation of the owners’ Christian names – Margaret and Clifford.

Well-known theatre star Cliff Jordan and his wife Margaret opened the Marcliffe as a boarding house at 2 Queen’s Terrace in 1947.

An article from 1947 detailing plans to create a boarding house which would become the Marcliffe. Image: DC Thomson

Cliff came to the city in 1938 as an orchestra conductor and musical director of the Tivoli Theatre.

The enterprising pair opened and ran a successful boarding house for touring performers appearing at the Guild Street venue.

But, spotting an opportunity, they sold their house for a “substantial profit” and bought premises on Queen’s Terrace for £6,000, and turned it into a ‘high-class boarding house’ in 1947.

Cliff Jordan, founder of the Marcliffe. Image: DC Thomson

The couple later bought number 3 Queen’s Terrace for £6,500 in 1948, and the Marcliffe Hotel was born.

1950s: Five functions held a week at popular Marcliffe Hotel

Now with 35 rooms, it welcomed a steady stream of performers. The small but popular Marcliffe Hotel did a roaring trade.

In 1952 alone, it welcomed 3,328 visitors, 418 of whom came from abroad.

And with a busy calendar of functions ahead, Cliff applied to the city council for an alcohol licence in 1953.

Roadworks outside the Marcliffe on Queen’s Terrace in August 1982. Image: DC Thomson

Functions took place in the Marcliffe ballroom about five times a week, and Cliff had to apply for 138 special licences – once, three times in one day – to cater for them.

He had to apply for an individual alcohol licence for each event because the hotel didn’t have its own licence.

Chief Constable McConnach was concerned giving the Marcliffe an alcohol licence would set a precedent for smaller hotels to become boozy boarding houses.

He even suggested the Marcliffe should be a temperance hotel and abstain from selling alcohol entirely, because he thought Cliff was “unsuitable” to hold a licence.

The announcement of a new ballroom at The Marcliffe from 1951. Image: DC Thomson

But Mr Jordan – who was president of the Hotels and Boarding House Association and a member of the Scottish Tourist Board – stuck by his guns.

Councillors came to the defence of Mr Jordan, believing the snooty chief constable’s claims to be unfounded, and granted the licence.

Clifford and Margaret were brimming with community spirit

As well as gaining a reputation for top-class hospitality, Cliff was brimming with community spirit.

Cliff Jordan, second from the right, helping to entertain patients at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary at Christmas. Image: DC Thomson

During the Second World War, he was convener of Aberdeen Welfare Committee, and hosted auctions to raise money for the war effort.

And every Christmas, the Tivoli Theatre company would bring fun and frolics to the patients of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Artists, musicians and comedians would provide festive cheer to those convalescing at Foresterhill.

An advert for weddings at the Marcliffe in 1969. Image: DC Thomson

Cliff was also president of Aberdeen and District Angling Association for 12 years.

And he even put up the Scottish Empire Games swimming team for free in 1958 when the cash-strapped team needed to fund a summer of training in Aberdeen.

But wife Margaret was no wallflower either, and took a leading role in running the Marcliffe.

Marcliffe’s refurbished dining room in January 1982. The paintings were specially commissioned from local artist Ken Ferwin. Image: DC Thomson

In 1952, she was the star of a feature in the Evening Express arguing that women made better head chefs than men.

It was a controversial opinion at the time – while housewives spent a lot of time in the domestic kitchen, commercial kitchens were the domain of men.

The Marcliffe challenged kitchen traditions

But Margaret broke away from tradition by having a female head cook, instead of a head chef.

The luxurious sun suite at the Marcliffe Hotel, a with comfortable lounge section in 1982. Image: DC Thomson

Leading the charge in the Marcliffe kitchen at Queen’s Terrace was Peggy Adam, “a brown-haired, bespectacled woman”.

Margaret, “spoke fearlessly” when arguing that head cooks were better than head chefs.

She said women in the kitchen were “not so temperamental, more dependable, thriftier, more patient, and more adaptable”.

The ‘New Marcliffe’ at Queen’s Road in 1984, before moving to Pitfodels in 1993. Image: DC Thomson

Peggy would often cater “for a few hundred guests at a time” when the Marcliffe was hosting a wedding.

She was famed for her perfect omelettes, lemon meringue pie and semolina snow. And Peggy exclusively shared her secret omelette technique with EE readers.

Her recipe was two eggs, one tablespoon of milk, salt and pepper, poured into a pre-heated, greased pan.

1978: Celebration night for members of the Inner Wheel Club of Aberdeen, in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Front is club president Flo Crighton. Image: DC Thomson

But the secret to her success was that the pan should never be washed. Instead it “should be rubbed over, first with some soft paper and then a clean cloth”.

1960s: Margaret and Cliff leave the Marcliffe

In January 1961, with New Year’s resolutions still swirling around, a host of local personalities were asked by the Evening Express what luxury they could never give up.

1984: The elegant old-world atmosphere of the lounge in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson

Olympic swimmer Sheila Watt said she could never give up her wireless, while Aberdeen architect T Scott Sutherland said he could never give up his Rolls Royce or chain smoking.

But kindly Cliff said: “My dog. If human beings were as good as dogs, it would be a much better world. My dog is faithful and its friendship is sincere.”

1984: Save the Children Fund Fashion Show at the New Marcliffe Hotel. Compere for the evening was Margaret Donald of GTV, left. Image: DC Thomson

Soon after, the Marcliffe passed into new ownership for the first time in its history.

In May, the Marcliffe was bought over by Four Mile House with Fraserburgh solicitor Alexander Brown as majority shareholder.

And in December 1961, Tom Ballantyne succeeded Cliff as manager.

1984: Magician Paul Daniels, centre, produces a cuddly toy for auction at the New Marcliffe Hotel for charity. Among those looking on are Dons star Eric Black. Image: DC Thomson

After an illustrious career on stage and in hospitality, Cliff moved back to London with Margaret in 1964. He died there aged 72 in 1973.

1970s: Stewart Spence takes on illustrious hotel

Throughout the 1960s, and still at Queen’s Terrace, the Marcliffe soon became the city’s most prestigious wedding venue.

1984: It was off to the golf course for Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ general manager Sandy Mathieson following his retirement in August 1984. Mr Mathieson, third left, was presented with golf clubs by chairman Angus Pelham Burn. Image: DC Thomson

By now, it was part of the fabric of Aberdeen’s West End.

The Marcliffe didn’t change hands again until 1979, when it was sold by the widow of Alexander Brown to Stewart and Sheila Spence.

The Spences already ran two successful hotels – the Atholl on King’s Gate and the Queen’s on Queen’s Road.

1984: New Marcliffe head chef, Norman Mundie, discusses the menu with Betty Angus, chairwoman of the Grampian branch of the Scottish Keep Fit Association. Image: DC Thomson

Under their tenure, the Marcliffe flitted from Queen’s Terrace to Queen’s Road in 1983 and became the ‘New Marcliffe’ (now Malmaison).

Ten years later, the hotel moved to the historic Wood of Pitfodels, Cults, once owned by the Laird of Pitfodels.

1984: Chairman of Aberdeen Grocers’ Buying Group, George Burns, seated centre, and members at their dinner-dance. Image: DC Thomson

Marcliffe at Pitfodels loved by locals and celebrities

Over the decades Aberdeen’s only five-star hotel has hosted countless weddings and glittering events – and welcomed many celebrities through its doors.

1985: Entertaining Aberdeen Speakers’ Club at its annual dinner in the New Marcliffe was Robbie Shepherd, third right. Image: DC Thomson

And the brand-new Marcliffe at Pitfodels was even opened by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1993.

He and his entourage spent a night there when Gorbachev was given the freedom of Aberdeen.

King Charles and Princess Anne and politicians including Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair have all stayed there.

1986: Rosettes were all the rage at the New Marcliffe for the presentation of prizes for Hayfield Riding School. Image: DC Thomson

While Denis Law, Alex Ferguson, Rod Stewart and Elaine C Smith are no strangers to the hotel, guests got an unexpected surprise in 1999 when Robbie Williams threw an impromptu after-party there.

Other famous guests have included Sharon Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meat Loaf, Jack Nicklaus and actor Charlton Heston.

1986: Clare Penny models a cocktail dress at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children fashion show. Image: DC Thomson

More than 30 years after moving to Cults, and despite various plans to sell up, the Marcliffe at Pitfodels remains Aberdeen’s top luxury hotel.

And 75 years on, Cliff and Margaret’s names continue – quite literally – in the hotel’s name, and their sense of community does too.

Mr Spence has raised millions of pounds for charity in his 45 years at the Marcliffe, and like Cliff, remained hands-on throughout.

1986: A fur coat attracts a lot of attention at a charity fashion show in the New Marcliffe Hotel. One of the more unusual star turns was a brief modelling display by Dons players Alex McLeish and Tommy McIntyre. Dons skipper Willie Miller drew the raffle at the end of the evening. Image: DC Thomson

Gallery: Were you at any of these Marcliffe functions in the 1980s?

1980: Robert Cook, centre right, was retiring after 30 years as senior driving examiner with the Department of Transport. He celebrated with a dinner at the Marcliffe. Image: DC Thomson
1981: District Manager for R S McColl, Nan Cowie, centre left, presented a floral arrangement to Margaret Milne, at Margaret’s retirement party in the Marcliffe Hotel. Margaret, who worked for the company for 28 years at their Ramsay Crescent shop, also received a tea service. Image: DC Thomson
1981: To mark his 25 years’ service with GH Robertson Jun Fish Merchants Ltd, foreman Sid Munro, right, received his long service award at a presentation at the Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson
1985: The president of Aberdeen Ladies Speakers’ Club, Irene Garden, left, receives her badge of office from installation officer Jane Green at the club’s dinner in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson
1985: Retiring after 53 years in the fashion business, Frances Robertson, centre right, was presented with a gold necklace by Agnes Wilson, director of Helen Hunter Fashions, at an event in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Miss Robertson was a sales assistant with the company for 13 years. Image: DC Thomson
1986: Secretary of Hamilton brothers Oil and Gas sports and social club Moyra Duncan, seated centre, celebrates the success of the company’s fourth country and western dance which raised funds for a renal dialysis machine for Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital. Image: DC Thomson
1987: Staff members of the A&E unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary enjoying themselves at their Christmas party dinner in the Marcliffe. Image: DC Thomson
1987: Committee members and guests celebrated the first birthday of Aberdeen Businesswomen’s Club at a dinner in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson
1989: To mark his retirement after 19 years as head of music at Cults Academy, Mr Jimmy Reith, front left, was treated to a surprise party in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson
1989: Bank of Scotland Ladies’ Circle Toy Appeal Christmas Party was held in the New Marcliffe Hotel where, with the help of 39th Queens Cross Brownies, they presented a collection of soft toys to Diana Speed of Grampian TV, left. Image: DC Thomson
1989: Ten-year-old Bashir Jardaneh, of Westhill, lined up with the models from Modiste of Westhill in 1989 at a fashion show in aid of the Royal National Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson

1990s: More Marcliffe memories

1990: Members of Aberdeen and Counties Licensed Trade Ladies Association at a dinner in the New Marcliffe Hotel to celebrate its 21st anniversary. Toasting the event are founder president Barbara Collins, left, and the 1990 president, Betty Craigmile. Image: DC Thomson
1990: Members of the Deeside Field Club raise their glasses to celebrate the club’s 70th anniversary at a dinner in the New Marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson
1990: The Aberdeen student nurse intake of January, 1988, held their finals dance in the New marcliffe Hotel. Image: DC Thomson
1991: On the eve of Scotland v England rugby World Cup semi-final, two opponents from the 1948 Calcutta match were reunited at the Aberdeen Grammar School Former Pupils’ Club and dinner at the New Marcliffe Hotel. Holding the 1948 match ball are Donnie Innes (who captained Scotland, and England’s Micky Steele-Bodger. Image: DC Thomson
1992: A group of nurses at their end-of-course dinner in the New Marcliffe Hotel. They started their studying in 1989 at the Foresterhill Nursing College. Image: DC Thomson
1994: Enjoying their end of course Ball in the New Marcliffe Hotel are the 1988 intake for general nursing at Foresterhill Nursing College. Image: DC Thomson
1994: Committee members of the 1994 Grampian Save the Children fund serenaded by entertainer Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen at the 75th anniversary ball at the Marcliffe at Pitfodels. Image: DC Thomson

If you enjoyed this, you might like: