Perth is a city in central Scotland, located on the banks of the River Tay. It is the administrative centre of Perth and Kinross council area and the historic county town of Perthshire. According to the preliminary 2011 census results Perth, including its immediate suburbs, has a population of approximately 50,000.
Perth has been known as The Fair City since the publication of the story Fair Maid of Perth by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott in 1828. During the later medieval period the town was also called St John's Toun or Saint Johnstoun by its inhabitants in reference to the main church dedicated to St John the Baptist.
The name Perth comes from a Pictish word for wood or copse. There has been a settlement at Perth since prehistoric times, on a natural mound raised slightly above the flood plain of the Tay, where the river could be crossed at low tide. The area surrounding the modern city is known to have been occupied since Mesolithic hunter-gatherers arrived more than 8000 years ago. Nearby Neolithic standing stones and circles also exist, dating from about 4000 BC, following the introduction of farming in the area.
The presence of Scone Abbey, home of the Stone of Destiny where the King of Scots was crowned, enhanced the early importance of the town. Perth became known as a 'capital' of Scotland, due to the frequent residence of the royal court. Royal Burgh status was soon given to the town by King William the Lion in the early 12th century. The town became one of the richest burghs in the country, doing trade with France, the Low Countries and Baltic Countries for goods such as Spanish silk and French wine.
The Scottish Reformation also played a big role in the town with the sacking of the Houses of the Greyfriars and Blackfriars, after a sermon given by John Knox in St John's Kirk in 1559. The Act of Settlement later brought about Jacobite uprisings. The town was occupied by Jacobite supporters on three occasions (1689, 1715 and 1745). The founding of Perth Academy in 1760 helped to bring major industries, such as linen, leather, bleach and whisky, to the town. Given its location, Perth was perfectly placed to become a key transport centre with the coming of the railways, and its first station was built in 1848.
Today, Perth serves as a retail centre for the surrounding area. Following the decline of the whisky industry locally, the city's economy has now diversified to include insurance and banking. Due to its location, the city is often referred to as the 'Gateway to the Highlands'.
Two suburbs of Perth within the parish boundaries are Scoonieburn and Cherrybank.
The name Perth derives from a Pictish-Gaelic word for wood or copse. During much of the later medieval period it was known colloquially by its Scots-speaking inhabitants as "St. John's Toun" or "Saint Johnstoun" because the church at the centre of the parish was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Perth was referred to as "St. Johns ton" up until the mid-1600s with the name "Perthia" being reserved for the wider area. At this time, "Perthia" became "Perth Shyre" and "St. Johns ton" became known as Perth.
Perth's Pictish name, and some archaeological evidence, indicate that there must have been a settlement here from earlier times, probably at a point where a river crossing or crossings coincided with a slightly raised natural mound on the west bank of the Tay (which at Perth flows north-south), thus giving some protection for settlement from the frequent flooding. Finds in and around Perth show that it was occupied by the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who arrived in the area more than 8,000 years ago. Nearby Neolithic standing stones and circles followed the introduction of farming from about 4000 BC, and a remarkably well preserved Bronze age log boat dated to around 1000 BC was found in the mudflats of the River Tay at Carpow to the east of Perth.
The presence of Scone two miles (3 km) northeast, the main royal centre of the Kingdom of Alba from at least the reign of Kenneth I mac Ailpín (843–58), later the site of the major Augustinian abbey of the same name founded by Alexander I (1107–24), enhanced Perth's early importance. Perth was considered the effective 'capital' of Scotland, due to the frequent residence of the royal court. Royal Burgh status was soon awarded to the town from King William the Lion in the early 12th century. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Perth was one of the richest trading burghs in the kingdom (along with such places as North Berwick, Aberdeen and Roxburgh), residence of numerous craftsmen, organised into guilds (e.g. the Hammermen [metalworkers] or Glovers). Perth also carried out an extensive trade with France, The Low Countries and the Baltic Countries with luxury goods being brought back in return, such as Spanish silk and French pottery and wine. The royal castle (on or near the site of the present multi-storey car park adjacent to the new council offices), was destroyed by a flood of the Tay in 1209, one of many that have afflicted Perth over the centuries. It was never rebuilt and Perth was protected at this time only by partial walls and an inventive water system consisting of a Mill lade from the River Almond which divided and flowed to the North on one side and the West and South on the other, eventually joining the Tay.
King Edward I brought his armies to Perth in 1296 and with only a ditch for defence and little fortification, the town fell quickly. Stronger fortifications were quickly implemented by the English, and plans to wall the town took shape in 1304. They remained standing until Robert the Bruce's recapture of Perth in 1312. As part of a plan to make Perth a permanent English base within Scotland, Edward III forced six monasteries in Perthshire and Fife to pay for the construction of stone defensive walls, towers and fortified gates around the town in 1336. These defences were the strongest of any town in Scotland in the Middle Ages.
In the mid-16th century, John Knox instigated the Scottish Reformation at grass-roots level with a sermon against 'idolatry' in the burgh kirk of St. John the Baptist. An inflamed mob quickly destroyed the altars in the kirk, and attacked the Houses of the Greyfriars and Blackfriars, and the Carthusian Priory. Scone Abbey was sacked shortly afterwards. The regent of infant Mary, Queen of Scots, her mother Marie de Guise, was successful in quelling the rioting but presbyterianism in Perth remained strong. In 1651, Charles II was crowned at nearby Scone, traditional site of the investiture of Kings of Scots. That same year Oliver Cromwell came to Perth following his victory in the Battle of Dunbar and established a fortified citadel on the South Inch, one of five occupation forts built to control Scotland. The restoration of Charles II was not without incident, and with the Act of Settlement in 1701, came the Jacobite uprisings. The town was occupied by Jacobite soldiers in 1689, 1715 and 1745.
In 1760, Perth Academy was founded, and major industry came to the town, now with a population of 15,000. Linen, leather, bleached products and whisky were its major exports. Given its location, Perth was perfectly placed to become a key transport centre with the coming of the railways. The first railway station in Perth was built in 1848. Horse-drawn carriages became popular in the 1890s; they were quickly replaced by electric trams of Perth Corporation Tramways. Despite being a garrison town and undergoing major social and industrial developments during the First World War, Perth remained relatively unchanged. In 1829, with the settlement of the Swan River Colony, in Western Australia, Sir George Murray wanted it to be named Perth after the place where he was born.
Today, Perth serves as a retail centre for the surrounding area. This includes a main shopping centre along with a pedestrianised high street and many independent and specialist shops. Main employers in the city now include Aviva, Royal Bank of Scotland and Scottish and Southern Energy.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Perth, Scotland.
Notes for Perthshire
Family history societies and historical associations covering Perthshire are:
All of these associations publish their aims on their websites as well as a list of publications. In many cases the publications are also available through the Scottish Genealogy Society (see below).
Sources for Old Parish Registers Records, Vital Records and Censuses
Transcriptions of Gravestone Inscriptions
Further Sources of Reference
Please note and respect the copyright warnings on these websites.