We’re working on a historical map of Perth with a view to progressing to a volume of the British Historic Towns Atlas. Theresa Hughes and John Jessop of the Perth team write about the project.
‘Perth, a town of less than 50,000 souls in the heart of Scotland, sits neatly against the bank of the River Tay between two pleasant green parks, 25 miles inland from Dundee and St Andrews. That distance inland and its relationship to the river are pivotal to the town's story. Archaeology indicates that a settlement was established here centuries before facts were chronicled. Beyond the northern park, in the second century the Romans crossed the Tay between camps at Bertha and Scone, under Septimius Severus' vigorous campaign against the Caledonians. Before the tenth century, the town deemed it worth engineering a watercourse from four kilometres away to power a prospering town.
‘Sadly, like many a town across Britain, wear and tear and in particular twentieth-century modernisation riddled much of its character to the convenience of the car. Eagle-eyed Historic Towns Trust (HTT), seeing potential for capture, swooped in and enquired of Tayside, Angus and Fife Archaeological Committee if ‘Perth’ would like to become one of their suite of historic town maps. These maps, through clever graphics and editing, condense the history of a settlement onto an Ordnance-Survey-style map format. On the reverse of the map is a gazetteer of the settlement’s story.
‘After a little jostling, the venerable Perthshire Society of Natural Science stepped shyly forward (or did everyone else step back?) and said that they would have a go at making this project happen. Formalised in 1867, PSNS is one of the oldest scientific societies in Scotland and can boast many eminent members. The Archaeological and Historical Section were considered natural drivers.
‘Like a beautiful classic car HTT slid gracefully in and presented us with a most sophisticated road map. Before you could change gear, we were being patted on the back and told we would do a great job and that HTT would be with us at every turn. As indeed they have been.
‘To secure the approximately £15,000 necessary to fund the project, through 2022 we issued applications to local organisations. This activity focused our minds on spreading the word, getting our thoughts in order, and to the enormity of the project. Wonderfully, Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, the Guildry Incorporated of Perth, and the Thomson Trust gave generously to the project and many organisations expressed interest and support. PSNS, as well as providing the volunteers, itself contributed financially — and in February 2023 we officially set off. The Royal Scottish Geographical Society, whose headquarters are in one of Perth’s most ancient of buildings, and Perth Civic Trust, both natural partners, are enthusiastic in their involvement.
‘And so we stepped forward and back in time. The group of about twenty formed sub-groups. We divided Perth's history into three eras: 1000–1603; 1603–1774; and 1774–1901; and four areas of scrutiny: topography, economy, governance and culture.
‘We realised that the grapevine for promoting the project was working. Questions were being asked by professionals in the field and suggestions made. Whilst lively struggles with the subject matter seemed our fare, they brought colour and noise to the project. Not least was the appearance of Professor David J Parkinson from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada! David is an academic researching and writing on the Muses Threnodie, Henry Adamson’s nine poetic ‘laments’ for the late-medieval life in Perth, published in 1638, a year after his death. The Muses emerges as a comic masterpiece, a mock-lament for past eras of town life, glancing at the intrusiveness and neglect that contribute to Perth's long decline. So what’s new we ask?!
‘After six months travail we are now circulating our first draft of maps, text and gazetteer to local professional experts for feedback. Have we missed a critical building or event? Does what we say make sense? Is it correct? Critically – does it tell a good and clear story of Perth? Next, we edit again and clear the decks for the final lunge towards to finish line – we hope! It’s been fun…. now it gets serious!’