Civic History of Perth from Medieval Times

The Old Ship Inn

A notice board suggests an Old Ship Inn has been on this site since Medieval times. The Inn was close to the Old Mercat Cross where presumably there were lots of customers on market days.

The present building which is described by Gifford as late-Victorian, displays a series of boards showing mock newspaper headlines relating to the events occurring within the life-time of the inn.

Old Mercat Cross High Street and the Markets of Perth

A plaque in the roadway of the pedestrianised part of High Street marks the site of the Old Mercat Cross.

A modern information board close-by describes the various markets held over the centuries. This is Panel 6 of the Perth Medieval Trail which replaced an earlier board (also pictured). Further details of markets and trades are recorded on Panel 8 at St John’s Kirk which replaced an earlier information board.

The original cross was demolished by Cromwell’s engineers  to provide stones for his citadel. It was re-instated in 1669 and this replacement demolished in 1765. The design of present Mercat Cross in King Edward Street is closely based on that of the original. (Duncan. J., Perth, A City Again, 2012, p299)

Cross in New Scone

The cross bears no inscriptions.

West Mill Street

A modern information board gives full details of the importance of the Lade and the City Mills. (The information board was sponsored by the Perth Civic Trust.)

There were almost certainly mills on this site in the 12th century. Commercial activity continued until 1966.

Until fairly recent times the importance of the Lade was confirmed by the annual inspection carried out by members of the Town Council.

The buildings were restored by Perth and Kinross Council between 1982 and 1988 and became a working mill again for some years. There is a plaque inside the Mill commemorating this. Later it housed Perth Tourist Information Centre. The buildings are again being restored for use by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and are occasionally open on Doors Open Days.

 King James’ Hospital

An information board explains the history of the Hospital. A Hospital at that time could be described as an early form of Poor House. It was built on the site of a Carthusian Monastery (see our page History of Perth from Medieval Times).

The date, 1587, refers to the establishment of the Hospital by King James VI , although buildings were not erected until 1596. The original buildings were not on the present site but close to the Perth Bridge. They were demolished by Cromwell’s engineers to provide material for the building of his citadel on the South Inch. (Gazetteer for Scotland, 2020)

The building we see to-day was built on this new site in 1749 and renovated in 1975 to form a series of flats.

The flats are administered by the Hospital Manager overseen by the ministers and elders of St. John’s Kirk and Letham St. Mark’s church, maintaining a religious connection.

There are further informative plaques within the property.

Baxters Vennel

There are several vennels in Perth, not all towns have them. The word is derived from the French “venelle” meaning a narrow lane between buildings. Baxters Vennel goes between St John Street and the Watergate, along the side of the former McEwans building. Walking along St John Street from South Street it is the first opening on the right.

The plaque explains that Baxter was the old Scots name for bakers. There is evidence that the Baxter Incorporation had property in this area including a “Bakers Hall”.

The plaque was donated by McEwans of Perth; much of the text describes the origin and development of the store. 

In 1868 when Perth had a population of only 25,000 there were 16 Draper shops in St. John Street.

Fountain Close with Vennels and Guilds of Perth

Fountain Close is at 17 South Street on its north side.

Until recently, painted on the whitewashed walls were 14 descriptions of the old vennels of Perth and their relationship to the old Guilds of Perth with emblems of the Guilds. The descriptions were painted directly on to the walls. It is believed the images were painted by pupils of Kinnoull School under the guidance of Miss Rhoda Fothergill. They have now all been whitewashed over. These photographs were taken in 2018 and 2019. Also shown is part of a Celtic cross painted on the end wall.

Some of the vennels remain in existence although others are lost. Traces of the Meal Vennel remain as the exit of the shopping centre on to the High Street and the loading bank on the South Street.

The close when in use passed by the 15th century Bishop’s House and on into Baxters Vennel. A board on a corner building in St John Street also confirms the existence of the Bishop’s House prior to its demolition in 1821.

Golf In Perth 

Until recently there was a modern information board close to the railway bridge over the Tay, setting out the history of the game in Perth.

There is a reference to James IV playing in Perth in 1504 despite the recently past  laws prohibiting the game. (see Archery Butts).

Cunningham Graham Close 

Said to be the oldest continually inhabited building in Perth.

Recently restored but unfortunately these details are not recorded on a plaque.

Visit by Robert Burns

This plaque records the site of the Inn in which Burns stayed during his visit to Perth in 1787.

The plaque has been moved, having previously been further down the High Street in the close leading to the Scott Street car park.

The Guildry Plaques

A series of six plaques set on top of the riverside wall. The plaques describe various elements of the civic history of Perth.

One plaque records the visit of James VI in April 1601, before he became King of the United Kingdom. During this visit an attempt was made on his life while he resided at Gowrie House.

A second plaque deals with the previous bridges of Perth which were destroyed by the river and gives details of the current bridge. The plaque also outlines the extent of the Guildry’s responsibility for the bridges.

Plaque number 3 sets out the reasons why Perth was built where it is, showing a view of Perth in 1665.

Prior to the building of the Smeaton bridge, Perth was without a bridge between 1621 and 1771. Plaque 4 plaque describes the crossing the river by ferry. A gravestone in Kinnoull graveyard reflects the obvious importance of ferrymen.

Although Perth currently retains a harbour, the port of Perth was more important to the town in earlier times. Plaque number 5 deals with the port of Perth showing an illustration of its appearance in 1790.

Plaque 6 looks at the Tollbooth which stood at the bottom of the High Street. It was built in1666 and demolished in1878. The Tollbooth was the equivalent of to-day’s Council Offices with the main difference being it had a prison attached.

Fire Insurance Plaques

This light blue building on Charlotte Street adjacent to Smeaton bridge displays a fire insurance plaque (actually a replica as the original one was stolen).

The plaque is above the door below the central upper window. It is the mark of the Sun Fire Office with the property’s registration number, 10154, at the bottom.

Fire insurance marks were used in the eighteenth and nineteenth century prior to the introduction of municipal fire services. They were fixed to the front of insured buildings as a guide to an insurance company’s fire brigade. The plaques bore the emblem of the company which insured that particular building.

If an insurance company’s Fire Brigade found the plaque of a rival company on a building, they might choose not to put out the fire or else they would extinguish the blaze and charge the insuring company.

The first company to use the mark was the Sun Fire Office which was established in 1710. Cast metal plaques were made of iron, lead, or sometimes brass. 

Fleshers’ Vennel marriage lintel

The dates sited high above the west facing gable as seen from Fleshers’ Vennel are believed to be the initials of the married couple who either occupied the property, or had it built in 1766.

The Vennel, which itself bears no plaque, led from the South Street where fleshers from out of town had to wait with their meat before entering the market near the kirk. Meat and other commodities were traded on prescribed days and rules were strictly enforced.

Fleshers (Butchers) – They held their market in South Street before moving to the Fleshmarket (the area in front of St. John’s Kirk). Fleshers’ Vennel leads from South Street to St. John’s Square. They owned property in this part of the town. Their guild sign is on a building in South Street (south side) facing Fleshers’ Vennel. (Madeinperth  May 2014)

Meat and other commodities were traded on prescribed days and rules were strictly enforced.

For details of Vennel see Baxters Vennel.

For more details on markets see boards at St John’s Kirk

Site of Town House of Lord John Murray

As reported on the nearby information board this building was the stables for Lord John Murray’s Town House.

Some modern histories suggest the building may in fact have been an arcade of shops.

Lord John Murray was the second son of Duke of Atholl and brother of Lord George Murray who was the general of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army.  John Murray was serving in the British army in Europe at the time of the “45” and therefore was not involved in the uprising.

Date plaque on property on George Street/High Street

The date of the construction of the building 1774.

George Street was first conceived in 1769. The Street opened in 1771 to provide access from the new Perth Bridge to the High Street.

Although the street is one of the architecturally most interesting in Perth, this particular building was not considered worthy of special comment in Griffith’s review. (Griffith, J.  Perth And Kinross, After Pevsner 2001 p619)

Perth Bridge

The building of Perth Bridge was started in 1766, following a proposal tabled in 1760, by the 9th Earl of Kinnoull in his capacity as Lord Provost William Stewart.

John Smeaton an accomplished architect was appointed. Smeaton had built a varied number of projects including harbours and lighthouses such as the Eddystone Lighthouse.

The bridge opened in 1771. In 1869 pavements were added, outside the main supports of the bridge.

At the gateway to the Memorial Garden, on the North Inch, there are two plaques, one on each side of the entrance. The left -hand side shows present Perth Bridge, the right-hand side shows the Old Perth Bridge. By comparison the new bridge has fewer arches each of which is higher and wider than in the Old Bridge. The Old Bridge being lower and the arches narrower it is clear there was a greater possibility of debris brought down by the river in flood could form a dam, which would cause the bridge to collapse.

A modern notice board on Tay Street outlines the history of the Bridges of Perth. It is Panel 3 of the Perth Medieval Trail entitled Crossing the Tay and replaces an earlier board (also pictured). A little further south along Tay Street is another board (Panel 2) entitled Soggy Feet which explains changes in the ground level of Tay Street over history. About 500m further south on Tay Street opposite the Sherriff Court is Panel 1 which explains how Perth has been a ‘Perfect Location’ since at least medieval times.

A stone tablet at the bottom of the High Street indicates the site of the bridge destroyed in 1621.

Green House in the High Street

Pevsner describes this building as late 18th century.

He considered it possible that much of the embellishment of the façade might be attributed to early 19th century. (Griffith, J. Perth And Kinross, After Pevsner 2001 p619)

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. The Wright Incorporation of Perth was one of a number of Guilds which were given monopoly rights to trade within the city, goods relating to their particular craft.

The Incorporations were empowered to decide who should be admitted to the Guild and to set rules and standards to which members were required to adhere.

The Wright Incorporation looked after the interests of masons, weavers, glaziers, barbers, carpenters and bookbinders. In 1833 they lost their authority to control trade and became charitable organisations. This building may also have been used by masons. The building was used as a hospital by the Jacobite Army of 1745.

Another plaque in High Street near Perth Theatre describes the site where the Hammermen, one of the Guilds of Perth met until 1895. All metal workers in Perth were required to join the Guild which was first incorporated in 1518.

A night shelter for the destitute women of Perth was opened in the Watergate in1902. The shelter was endowed by Sir Robert Pullar.

Water Vennel

The vennel runs from the Watergate through to Tay Street.

This was an important access to the river when Gowrie House and its gardens  blocked so much of the river frontage,

Flood records on Perth Bridge

Records of the flood heights since 1814.

Perth Art Gallery and Museum

The original Perth Museum was built in 1822-1824.

The current building was required to house the amalgamation of the Marshall Monument collection with that of the PSNS.

The Perth Art Gallery which had previously been sited on the top floor of the Sandeman Library was included to form the Perth Art Gallery and Museum

The statue Thomas Hay Marshall who as Lord Provost did much to shape Perth as it is to-day stands in the rotunda.

The plaque provides details of the date of the official opening of the extension to the Art Gallery and Museum and other relevant information.

Thomas Hay Marshall

Thomas Hay Marshall and his father-in-law Thomas Anderson, who owned the previous Blackfriars lands, were responsible for the construction of much of Georgian Perth. The construction included the building of Atholl Crescent and Street, Marshall Place and the first steps in the development of Tay Street.

Rose Terrace was built on land donated by Hay Marshall. The Old Academy at its centre was built with funds raised by private subscription.

Thomas Hay Marshall was Lord Provost in 1800 to 1802 and again from 1804 to 1806. During this time, he was able to upgrade the status of Provost to Lord Provost reflecting the ancient importance of the city.

Thomas Hay Marshall also wrote a heavy tome on the history of Perth which I have used extensively in this exercise.

Perth Waterworks

The Waterworks were designed and built (1829-1832) under the supervision of Adam Anderson, then Rector of Perth Academy (1811 to 1839). Adam Anderson also designed Perth Gas works.

As an academic he was responsible for a considerable body of research dealing with atmospheric phenomena and the utilisation of gases and other fuels.

Following his tenure at Perth Academy he moved to St Andrews University when appointed Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy.

He died in St Andrews in 1846. His grave in Greyfriars Churchyard is marked by an obelisk

The building housed steam driven pumps which drew water through suction pipes from filter beds on Moncrieffe Island. The storage tank within the actual building could hold 146,00 gallons which was sufficient for Perth until the 1960s. The building was declared redundant in 1965. The rotunda opened as a tourist office, following a campaign led by Perth Civic Trust. It was later converted to the Fergusson Art Gallery in 1961.

The gold inscription above the door reads “Aquam igne et aqua haurio” which translates as “I draw water by fire and water” meaning steam.  (Canmore 28358)

Parmelia Court

This plaque records the 150th anniversary of the sailing to Australia in 1829 of the ship Parmelia to found the City of Perth, Capital of Western Australia.

The Parmelia was the flagship of Captain James Stirling who founded and later was Governor of the new colony.

The City of Perth, Australia, was named in honour of Sir George Murray of Ochtertyre , by Crieff who was Secretary of the Colonies at that time.

Former Lakeland Store

The building, erected between 1846-1847 in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzi, was designed by David Rhind, (1808-1883), a pupil of Pugin, It was originally the local headquarters of the Central Bank.

Rhind is responsible for a building of a similar design on the corner of South Street and Princes Street. The building currently houses a restaurant.

Pugin worked with Barry on the design, construction and internal furnishings  of the Palace of Westminster.

Lodge at Hospital (now A K Bell Library)

This B-listed building on York Place, originally the lodge for the 1836 Perth County and City Infirmary was built in 1840 to a design by William Donald Mackenzie, a Perth City Architect, who was responsible for a number of impressive public and domestic buildings within the city.

It was built in a neo-classical style to harmonise with the main hospital building.

It was moved and rebuilt on its present site on York Place in 1867. After being derelict for many years it was purchased and restored by the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust work for which PKHT was given a Civic Trust Award in 2003, for an outstanding improvement to the built heritage of Perth.

The lodge served as the offices of PKHT until 2019.

Statue of Prince Albert

Following the death of Prince Albert on December 14th, 1861, Perth Town Council were examining possible memorials.

A bust in the council offices was rejected because “none but the privileged few would see it” and similarly a reading room was not considered to be sufficiently permanent. They decided on a statue at the southern tip of the North Inch adjacent to Charlotte Place.

The statue is dressed in the robes of a Knight of the Thistle, the highest award of chivalry in Scotland. In his hand he holds the design of the Great Exhibition of 1851. During the construction of the statue Prince Alfred, the Queen’s eldest son paid regular visits to the sculptor, Brodie of Edinburgh, to comment on the design of Albert’s face and dress. Queen Victoria was shown a photograph of the statue and after amendments, approved it. She agreed to inaugurate the memorial on her way to Balmoral.
Queen Victoria was making one of her rare visits to Perth. Her royal train arrived in Perth Station at 8:40am on 30th August 1864. She alighted and was escorted in procession along Marshall Place and on to the site at the North Inch. Following the inauguration, the queen’s procession returned to the station by way of Athol Street to resume her journey north. The whole visit lasted barely one hour.

William Brodie was possibly the first Scottish sculptor to have his work inaugurated by royalty.

Former Trustees Saving Bank

The building, built in 1874 to a design by Andrew Heiton Jnr is now occupied by the Capital Asset, a Wetherspoons pub.

The presence of the City of Perth Coat of Arms on the wall outside is a reminder of the local  nature of the early bank, before various amalgamations resulted in it becoming part of a nationwide organisation.

Trustee Saving Banks were set up on democratic and philanthropic principles and overseen by trustees appointed from the locality. Due to a number of bank failures, after 1871 Trustee Savings Banks were regulated by the Savings Bank Act. The structure of the Trustee Savings Banks was primarily designed to safeguard domestic depositors, these safeguards restricted their activities.

In 1926 at the suggestion of W.A.Barclay of the Perth Saving Bank, cheques were introduced. There followed an increasing number of initiatives which changed the character of the bank until it was privatised in 1986.

Old Council Offices and Police Station

The site occupies the corner of the High Street and Tay Street.

Doorway of old Perth Town Council Administrative Offices.

There is no plaque there at present, though doubtlessly one will appear in due course.

The old police station, on Tay Street, was built in 1879 as part of the Perth Town Council Administrative Offices on the site of the Old Tollbooth.

Above the doorway is the inscription setting out what would now be described as the mission statement of a police force. The text was originally on the medieval tollbooth.

Sandeman Library

A series of plaques commemorates the establishment of the library in 1898.

Among the plaques is a dedication to the Library’s Founder Archibald Sandeman (1922-1893) Professor of Mathematics at Owens College, Manchester.

The Sandeman room in the A.K, Bell library is so named in his memory.

A second plaque includes details of benefactors including  Andrew Carnegie and Lord Forteviot both of whom gave books, not cash. Other Scots emigrates who made donations are also named.

There are a number of decorative features on the building.

Bridgend House and Toll Regulations

This is one of three toll houses in Perth, the others being on the Edinburgh Road and on the Dundee Road.

The Bye Law on the notice board on the toll house sets out the rules for a locomotive (traction engine) crossing the bridge by requiring a person bearing a red flag to go on in front.

The regulations were imposed on 21st February, 1902 after a steam propelled locomotive with spiked wheels was accused of damaging the tarmac. Evidence about the event was given by the driver William Adamson and flagman Adam Simpson.( Court Case  B59/26/5/70/5/27).

There was further legislation, regulating the weight of locomotives, obviously to protect the bridge.

The original notice board is in the Perth Museum this replacement was donated by the Perth Civic Trust.

Buildings of Late 19th and early 20th Century

There are a number of buildings erected in Perth during that period. This was clearly a time of prosperity.

The earliest is the Baptist Church in Kinnoull Street (1843).

A building in Princes Street dates from 1863.

The cutting through of the Scott Street, Kinnoull Street gave rise to many of the main buildings of the time.

The Co-operative Building (1895) on Scott St., an unnamed building at the Scott Street/ South Street  junction (1899). Jedburgh Building (1899) also on Scott Street.

Skinnergate No. 11 (1882)

In Kinnoull street , the Sandeman Library (1898) , the Kilt Shop (1895), Gloags (1907).

In the Old High Street is the ex-Peddie building (1904)

In Mill Street is the Pullars extension (1901).

In the Watergate is the Destitute Women’s Shelter (1902)

High Street port, High Street/ Methven Street (1903).

Electricity Boxes

This particular box is sited in Viewlands Terrace. There are a number of similar boxes distributed throughout the city, for example at Pullars corner on Mill Street. .

These boxes were part of the system in operation at a time when Perth generated its own electricity supply. The generating station which began providing electricity in 1901 was built on the shore, close to the site of the now redundant gasworks. By 1930 the capacity of the station was insufficient for the needs of Perth, additional supplies were bought in from the Grampian Electricity Board, which at that time, was building a series of hydro-electric schemes. Perth Corporation continued to be responsible for the electricity supply to Perth until 1948 when the North of Scotland Hydro Electricity  Board took over the task.

This particular box, dated 1900, must be one of the very early ones. The date suggests it had been installed as part of the process of wiring up the city prior to the generator station actually being in operation.

New Mercat Cross

The New Mercat Cross which was erected in 1913 in memory of Edward VI, was said to be an exact copy of Old Mercat Cross.

It is embellished with the crests of 13 town guilds, but there is no information to say which guild each of the crests represent.

The Cross stands in King Edward Street which was created in 1901-1902. (Duncan. J., Perth, A City Again, 2012, p299)

Queen’s Bridge and Norrie-Miller Riverside Walk

Two plaques describing the construction of the bridge and its opening by the Queen on 10th October 1960, the 750th anniversary of the granting of the Charter in 1210 by King William The Lion.

In May 1971 the walk within the parkland was gifted to Perth, for the use and pleasure of the citizens, by the directors and staff of The General Accident in recognition of Sir Stanley Norie-Miller’s contribution to the life of the city of Perth.

Wildlife on the Tay

This modern board details the extensive flora and fauna to be found by the Tay. It also describes the features of some of the very old houses in the Tay valley.

Aschaffenburg Plaques

Perth is twinned with Aschaffenburg. Aschaffenburg has a population of 70,000, it stands on both sides of the River Main in Bavaria in south-west Germany.

There is evidence of inhabitation in that area during the Stone Age. The town was occupied by the Romans and has continued to be prominent in the history of Bavaria.

During the Second World War it was almost completely destroyed by bombing and a last stand by the German Army in March to April 1945.

The town of Aschaffenburg hosts a number of festivals and cultural events each year.

There is a stone plaque to note the twinning in an alcove on Tay Street and a metal plaque in the pavement outside the main entrance to the Council Headquarters at 2 High St.

Rotary Obelisk at Horse Cross

The obelisk celebrates 100 years of Rotary in Perth.

North Inch Information Board

A simple modern explanation board setting out various features of the North Inch.

A Time Capsule 

The capsule was sealed and buried on 20th October 2010 by Provost John Hulbert and Mr. Gair Brisbane of the Royal Air Force Association.

The capsule celebrates the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter to Perth in 1210 and also the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The capsule is to remain closed for two hundred years.

Milestone on Glasgow Road

This milestone at 101 Glasgow Road is believed to be exactly one mile from the old Perth Post Office.