History of Perth from Medieval Times

St. John’s Kirk

On the East Wall in St John Street is a plaque recording that King David granted the Church of St. John the Baptist in Perth to Dunfermline Abbey in 1126 under whose auspices Perth fell at that time.

Outside the Kirk are two modern information boards.

One deals with the history of the Kirk, explaining its environs in the Middle Ages and later. It describes the Kirk’s place in Scottish history from its founding, through the Reformation and into the modern period.

Perth Grammar School and surrounds

This plaque on the north side of South Street opposite Princes Street outlines a small part of the history of the original Perth Grammar School.

The first recorded evidence of the school is in a charter of 1150. Robert, Bishop of St. Andrews together with a number of his successors confirm the presence of the school as part of the organisation of the church.

By 1560 the Town Council, together with the reformed church had taken control of  the management of the school. (The History Of Perth Academy, 1932, E. Smart,  Milne, Tannahall & Methven, Perth, p30.)

The original Grammar School was demolished to provide material to build Cromwell’s citadel. The school’s destruction is another example of the damage wrought by Cromwell’s commanders on the historic buildings of Perth.  

When additional secondary school places were required in 1971, the new school was given the long redundant title of Perth Grammar School.

Further details of the school and its surrounds are to be found on a plaque at the entrance to St. Anne’s Lane on the north side of South Street.

The Site was previously occupied by The Chapel of St. Ann, which held a number of altars was dedicated to the Mother of the Virgin. The chapel acted as a hospital for travellers and the poor. The chapel was in existence in 1514 when prayers were said every Tuesday for the soul of James VI who had fallen at Flodden the previous year. (Marshall T. H., The History of Perth: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, 1849 pp381-382)

Castle of Perth

Despite a plaque in North Port giving the date of the destruction of the Castle by flooding as 1210 AD, the 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica states that the castle was still in existence during the Wars of Independence in the 14th century. In the encyclopaedia  Bruce is stated to have attempted to destroy the castle to prevent its use by English armies.

There is a plaque on the right-hand side of the entrance to the Memorial Garden, which quite clearly shows a motte and bailey castle close by the river. Judging by this depiction the “motte” or mound on which the castle is built does look vulnerable to flooding from the close by river.

Old City Wall

On the north side of the narrow passageway that runs from Skinnergate to George Street a simple plaque indicates what is reputed to be the remains of the old city wall. There is debate on whether this claim is justified.   

In the 19th century, plaques were sometimes put up based on less information than we would accept to-day. This is undoubtedly an old wall and may rest on the foundations of an even earlier wall which along with the lade, walls provided Perth’s main defence.

According to Thomas Hay Marshall the city walls were re-built by Edward I. After the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 Edward I destroyed the walls and fortification in most other Scottish towns. He considered Perth so important that instead of destroying its fortifications, he ordered that the fortifications and the walls be re-built in the strongest possible manner.   (Marshall T. H. The History of Perth : From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, 1849. p25)

The walls were in turn demolished by Robert the Bruce and then rebuilt by Edward III (1312-1377).

The walls were seen as a defence against marauding highlanders but later demolished in a piece meal fashion. It was thought they had been largely demolished by 1760. (Duncan J., Lost Perth, 2011. p137)

Blackfriars Monastery, The Dominicans

The plaque on the corner of Charlotte Street and Blackfriars Street sets out three important dates in the history of the Blackfriars Monastery.  The Church of the Friars Preachers of Blessed Virgin and Saint Dominic at Perth, commonly called “Blackfriars”, was a mendicant friary of the Dominican Order.

The Friary was frequently used for national church councils and as a residence for the King of the Scots. Perth was perhaps the most important royal centre in the Kingdom of Scotland until the reign of King James III of Scotland who died in 1488. It was at Blackfriars Church on the night of 20th February 1437 that King James I  of Scotland was murdered by followers of the Duke of Atholl.

See details of the murder of James I at the King James pub on Kinnoull Street. It is thought that the actual murder took placein a cellar on the ground on which the pub now stands.

A record of his burial within the grounds of the Charterhouse Monastery can be seen on the obelisk at the King James Hospital at the junction of King Street and Hospital Street (see below).

The Robert III viewed the Battle of the Clans from the Blackfriars Monastery gardens. The site of the battle in 1396 is marked by a stone plinth on the North Inch opposite the Blackfriars plaque.

The Battle of the Clans

The staging of the battle of the clans in 1396 was an attempt by King Robert III t to find a solution to a long running feud between Clan Chatton and Clan Kay.

The identity of the actual participates has not been firmly established.

Clan Chattan was originally called Clan Qwhewyl. The Clan Chattan was a confederation of a number of individual clans, principally the MacIntoshes and the MacPhersons together with others.

Clan Kay was originally known as Clan Yha. This clan according to William Skene in his “Highlanders Of Scotland” (1837) might well have included among others, dissident MacPhersons and Camerons who had previously been part of Clan Chatton.

The contest was arranged by The Earl of Crawford and the Ear of Moray to prevent a previously local feud over land holdings developing into a larger conflict, involving the entire highlands.

As sir Walter Scott describes it, the clans were to “refer their differences to the fate of the battle” 

Thirty warriors from each clan were to do battle to resolve the dispute.

One of Clan Chattan’s men fled before the battle began and Hal O The Wynd was drafted in to even up the numbers. Clan Chattan were victorious said to be in no small part to the efforts of Hal O the Wynd.

Clan Chatton still exists. The Camerons assume the mantle of Clan Yha. Disputes continued until finally resolve in the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh in 1664. This may appear to be rather a long time, but a similar dispute between Gunns and Keiths was not resolved until 1978

Staging the Battle of the Clans was probably better than having entire clans doing battle but it was still pretty sickening.

Carthusian Monastery

The foundation of a Carthusian or Charterhouse Monastery is recorded on the obelisk in the grounds of King James’ Hospital, on the corner of King Street and Hospital Street.

This Carthusian Priory in Perth, the only one in Scotland was founded in 1429 by James I (1406–1437).

The name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps where the order was originally founded. The name was adapted to the English “Charterhouse”. Charterhouse Lane is nearby.

It is said James I was buried within the grounds of the monastery following his murder at Blackfriars.

Also buried in the monastery grounds are Joan Beaufort Queen of James I and Margaret Tutor, sister of Henry VIII and Queen of James IV.

Archery Butts in Perth

Originally this bench on the South Inch was a column marking the site of the archery butts on the scholars’ knoll. The knoll was lost during the levelling of the Inch during the 16th century. In the medieval period, towns which were attacked, relied on their citizens for defence which meant regular practice of archery was vital. According to Marshall a second stone, now lost, was sited “500 fathoms” from the first, approx. 1,000 metres. This must give an indication of what was expected from archers.

The importance attached to archery can be judged by the setting out of two areas in Perth for archery butts and by Act passed by James I in 1424.

The Act that required “That all men busk to be archers fra they be twelve years of age ”and “To play at futeball under the paine of fifty shilling”.  Later Kings enforced this act declaring “That in na place there be used futeballis, golf or other unprofitable sports…” . ( The History Of Perth Academy, 1932, E. Smart, p6.)

The stone had previously marked the site of the scholars’ knoll midway between Scott Street and Nelson Street. The stone was relocated to its present site during the construction of the flood defences.

Dewars Corner Archery Butts and Amphitheatre

A Plaque attached to the railing of Roslin House sets out the believed location for both the archery butts and the amphitheatre where James V watched plays.

The actual site of the amphitheatre is believed to be in the area now occupied by the industrial park opposite.

The Gowrie House and Gowrie House Conspiracy

The large plaque on the front of the Sherriff Court in Tay Street records the events of the 5th August 1600 when an attempt was made on the life of James VI.

The Gowrie House was built in 1520 by the Countess of Huntly who later sold it to the Ruthven family. After the Gowrie conspiracy the Ruthven family, who were considered responsible for the attack on the king, forfeited the building which was then held jointly by the Murrays of Stormont and Perth Town Council.

Charles II stayed in Gowrie House after his Scottish coronation in Scone in 1651 before departing for Worcester. After the Restoration he returned in 1663 to be entertained in Gowrie House by the Earl of Kinnoull. In 1746 the house was given by Perth Town Council to the Duke of Cumberland who sold it to the Board of Ordinance for use as cavalry barracks until its demolition in 1807. (The Stewart Society)

The building occupied an area greater than the County Buildings and the Prison, now a car park, which were erected on the site following the demolition of Gowrie House. The river frontage of the grounds extended for 275 metres from a line beyond the present-day Canal Street to past the South Street and the Custom House before ending at the Water Vennel.

Monks Tower

The Monks Tower was situated in the south-east corner of the gardens of Gowrie House and jutted out over river. The tower acted as a lookout post, working in tandem with the Spey Tower to defend the southern approaches to Perth.

The Tower later served as an ammunition store prior while Gowrie House was being used as a barracks prior to its demolition at the end of the 18th century.

Visit of Charles I 

An alcove cut into the riverside wall on Tay Street marks the spot where men of the Glover Corporation entertained Charles I during a visit to Perth in 1633. They performed a sword dance on a platform floating on the river.

Battle of Tibbermore plaque in Needless Road/Wilson Street

The Battle, also known as the Battle of Tippermuir, which is the old spelling Tibbermore, was fought on the 1st September 1644.

The battle was the first to be fought between the Scottish Covenanters led by Lord Elcho and the government forces of Charles I, commanded by the Marquis of Montrose. The royal army, despite having fewer men and poorer equipment managed to defeat the Covenanters. Much of the details of the battle are unclear, but the City of Perth was under threat.

Although there were a number of Perth citizens killed in the battle, the plaque principally remembers Covenanters from Fife.

The Scottish Covenanters were established to oppose attempts by Charles I to introduce a new more Anglicised form of worship into the Scottish Church.

According to the Chairman of the Marquis of Montrose Society this plaque is in entirely the wrong place. The location of the plaque bears no connection to the site where events it purports to explain took place.

The events were originally commemorated by a painted stone in the area of Fairies Road. This stone was moved from its original position in Fairies Road, closer to Pitheavlis Castle and later when the stone deteriorated beyond recovery, a decision was made to find a convenient site for what the Chairman describes as “some sort of memorial.”

The plaque we see to-day was installed on a convenient newly built bungalow in 1921.

Cromwell’s Citadel

The building of the citadel began in 1652.

A modern information board, located within the South Inch car park sets out a comprehensive history of the site.

The board details the area occupied by the citadel and the quantities of material used in its construction giving an indication of just how large and extensive was the citadel.

Many of the older historic buildings of Perth were destroyed by Cromwell’s engineers as they gathered building material for its construction. Only plaques remain as evidence these buildings ever existed.

After the restoration the citadel was given to the town with orders to demolish it. The result is that only the foundations of the citadel remain, under the turf with no visible indications of the building.

Jacobite Army Assemblies

A plinth recording that the Jacobite armies assembled on the North Inch in 1715 and 1745.

James VII “The Old Pretender” arrived in Perth in December 1715 where he received a cold reception.  He reviewed his troops after they had fought at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in November 1715 and was so disappointed with what he saw he decided to “abandon the contest as hopeless, due to the reduced state of the army and its deficiency in arms and ammunition”  (Marshall, T.H., The History of Perth: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, 1849, pp262-263).

Bonnie Prince Charlie entered Perth on 3rd September 1745. He reviewed his troops  on the North Inch on 7th September 1745 and declared that with training they would make excellent soldiers. The army left Perth on Wednesday the 11th September 1745  (Marshall, T.H., The History of Perth: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, 1849, pp282-287).

Salutation Hotel

Bonnie Prince Charles visited the hotel during his stay in Perth on his way south to Edinburgh. It is thought he planned his campaign in room 20 which the hotel is happy to say is still in use.

The original building from the 1600s was the town house of the Murrays of Scone Palace. It was converted to a coaching inn in 1699.

Threipland House, Dundee Road

A small low plaque in the front garden describes the history of the house and some small details of the Threipland family, particularly their Jacobite sympathies.

Sir David Threipland fled to France after the “1715” with 100 others. He forfeited his estates which were only restored to the family when his son purchased them from the crown in 1782.

Watergate

There is a modern information board in nearby Baxter’s Vennel which gives a detailed account of the Watergate, one of the most important streets in historic Perth.

The present buildings were largely built in the 18th century.

The building dated 1725 was occupied by the Wright Incorporation of Perth, and was used as a hospital by the Jacobite Army of 1745. 

Balhousie Castle, The Black Watch Museum   

The Castle displays the history of the Black Watch.

The site also contains a number of plaques and a statue to honour soldiers of the regiment who have died in war.

The site also exhibits a series of plaques acknowledging the association of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother with the Regiment.

A plaque on the gates signify their dedication to the memory and career of Field Marshall the Earl Wavell. As General Wavell he commanded the 8th Army in North Africa where he defeated the Italians. Wavell was appointed Commander in Chief for Middle East. He was later appointed to take charge of the defence of India in the Burmese theatre.

Wavell’s final appointment was as Viceroy of India.

One further plaque commemorates the opening of the Gardens and the dedication of the gates to the memory of Field Marshall the Earl Wavell by his widow, Lady Wavell.