8.1 Introduction

In the centuries since 1600, Perth and Kinross has undergone vast changes. The experience of daily life for most residents of the region has been transformed, the agricultural and industrial revolutions have reshaped the local landscape and economy, and structures of governance have been repeatedly reorganised. Many of these shifts were recorded in written records, and on maps and photographs, and are arguably better studied by disciplines other than archaeological fieldwork. Yet archaeological techniques do still have a role to play in our understanding of how Perth and Kinross has evolved over the last 420 years. The key challenges for archaeologists studying the period are to identify when archaeology is of value, and to assess how the other rich and varied forms of evidence can be most effectively integrated.

This chapter will particularly focus on the years between the union of the crowns of Scotland and England in 1603 and the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 – the period broadly defined as post-medieval by Scotland’s Archaeological Periods and Ages (ScAPA). The coverage of the 20th century in this framework is deliberately limited due to the scale of the subject. As we come closer to the present, the sheer quantity of extant evidence creates issues about how best archaeological approaches can inform understanding of life in the recent past. The contemporary archaeology movement is currently highlighting the value of studying recent material culture as a topic of interest in its own right, rather than as a tool to inform interpretation of the more distant past. In this context, the last 100 years present exciting opportunities for archaeologists to work in partnership with other specialists and communities of interest (Graves-Brown et al 2013). However, such approaches are typically beyond the scope of what it is reasonable to record in advance of development work. As a result, the funding opportunities for this area of contemporary investigation are often limited.

There are clearly some types of 20th-century monuments that are relatively rare, are currently at risk or for which we have few other sources of information. For example, many smaller industrial buildings and machinery are now quite unusual and are often imperfectly documented. We are also arguably living through a critical period regarding the preservation and understanding of military architecture from the World Wars, although in this case there is extensive written and photographic evidence which can complement the information which archaeology offers. Where possible, these topics of exceptional significance will be highlighted.

Many more standing, and roofed, buildings survive from the post-medieval period than from earlier times. These extant structures provide remarkable opportunities for research. However, the changing requirements of modern communities and societal demands mean that their future is not assured. Increased recording and study of post-medieval standing buildings, including interiors, should therefore be a priority for researchers working in the region. Ideally, historic building recording should take place prior to demolition or major changes, but but this is not a requirement necessitated by current planning legislation for non-residential buildings. It would also be desirable for more standing buildings to be studied in less critical and time limited circumstances.

Large sand coloured castle with smooth walls and rectangular windows placed close together on each wall. Each corner of the rectangular building has a large, rounded turret with a dome roof and weather vein.
17th century Methven Castle in Perth ©️ HES

A particular issue for the post-medieval period is the lower value that heritage professionals and the wider community often place on remains from the more recent past (Matthews 1998). Greater appreciation of the research potential of different forms of post-medieval monuments and artefacts is needed. With artefacts there is sometimes a perception that museums’ social and local history collections provide a relatively full and representative sample of post-medieval material culture. However, contextual data can often be poor for elements of such collections. There is therefore a need to bring together historical and archaeological approaches to better understand the wide range of surviving material culture in the region. By addressing what already survives in collections, and assessing these items’ significance, we can help to inform future collecting policies and to develop improved research foci for archaeologists, historians and curatorial teams.

The centuries between 1600 and 1900 saw successive crises afflict Perth and Kinross. Although there were some stable periods, a series of political and economic upheavals repeatedly disrupted local life. The region was in the path of significant military campaigns during the 1640s, 1650s, 1680s, 1710s and 1740s, with certain military forces deliberately devastating the surrounding settlements and agricultural land. An important legacy from these periods of conflict was the construction of a network of military roads and bridges under the guidance of Major-General George Wade and his Chief Engineer (later Inspector of Roads in Scotland) Major William Caulfeild. Their building programme lasted from the 1720s to the late 1760s and introduced formal roads to many upland areas (Graham 1964; Farquharson 2011; 2012). Whilst the region was spared incursions by hostile forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, conflict further afield, particularly during the Napoleonic era and the two World Wars, still had an impact on the architecture and economy of the area. Notable political turning points, such as the Act of Union of 1707 and the various Jacobite attempts to reclaim the throne, also had far-reaching financial and social consequences. For much of the period, religion was a similarly disruptive factor, with the Church of Scotland experiencing in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. These splits have left their mark on the design and distribution of local churches. Meanwhile, tenurial changes associated with policies of ‘improvement’ and ‘clearance’ caused hardship for many rural communities, and fundamentally re-ordered the use and appearance of the land.

These mostly human dramas played out against a backdrop of challenging weather conditions, which led to significant famines in the 1620s and 1690s. Although full-scale famine did not subsequently affect the region, there were various subsistence crises and agricultural slumps in both the 18th and 19th centuries. Epidemic disease often accompanied economic hardship: between 1600 and 1900, Perth and Kinross suffered outbreaks of plague, smallpox, cholera and typhus, among other diseases. The extent to which rises in mortality associated with these misfortunes can be discerned in the archaeological record is one of a number of research questions for the region.

Yet, despite the challenges that successive generations faced during the post-medieval period, this was in some respects a time of growth and development. Disruptive as the process of ‘improvement’ was, it almost certainly fostered greater agricultural productivity in some parts of Perth and Kinross. The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries saw considerable investment into many aristocratic estates, leading to new plantations, the founding of model villages and pioneering industrial ventures – innovations which still shape the landscape and built environment of today. The burgh of Perth grew significantly during the post-medieval period, and became a major centre for leather goods and the weaving of linen and cotton; these products were exported to London and further afield. Perth’s economic status was of course facilitated by its role as an inland port. The early 19th century saw the construction of a new harbour at Perth, although this ultimately became too small for most international shipping which largely resorted to Dundee instead. For many people, the 18th and 19th centuries were a time of unprecedented access to consumer goods, even as some aspects of their daily lives possibly worsened. Many of these historical trends have left distinct imprints on contemporary society, from the legacies of imperialism to the current climate emergency. Archaeological research can play a socio-cultural role in uncovering evidence from the material culture of this period and amplifying the issues they represent.

Image of a the end of a harbour, with a small boat sitting next to the dock. The clouds are grey and there are leaves over the ground.
Perth Harbour ©️ Bob Jones (CC BY-SA)

The story of Perth and Kinross in the post-medieval period is a complex one, with considerable variation between different localities and ranks in society. The archaeological record enables us to track the nationwide trends which affected Perth and Kinross, and can also help us to uncover the distinct experiences of specific communities, both of which are important research priorities.