Perth and Kinross was, and is, less urbanised than many other regions in eastern Scotland. The burgh of Perth was by the far the most significant post-medieval urban settlement, and at the start of the 17th century already had a lengthy history of occupation. In the late 17th century, Perth had about 4,000 residents (Whatley 2011, 42). The number of inhabitants increased over the course of the 18th century, and by the 1790s the burgh had a population of about 19,000. This rate of expansion was ‘average’ for a Scottish town of the period (Whatley 2011, 42). Perth’s medieval street plan provided the framework for the post-medieval burgh, and still influences the townscape today. However, alterations were made to the burgh’s layout in the 18th and 19th centuries. There were significant new developments on the outskirts at this time, meanwhile the construction of Smeaton’s Bridge (MPK3405) led to a redesign of the street plan in the north-eastern section of the historic burgh and the creation of what is now George Street. This reordering can be traced in historic maps, including a series by the Board of Ordnance engineers Lewis Petit and William Horneck (carried out in 1715–16) and Archibald Rutherford’s iconic map of 1774, which shows relatively limited expansion beyond the boundaries of the medieval burgh. Later growth beyond the medieval boundary is charted through the maps of Robert Reid (1809) and John Wood (1823), before the Ordnance Survey maps begin in 1859/1860.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw major changes to Perth’s architecture, and a number of medieval and 17th-century structures were swept away at this time. When Thomas Pennant visited Perth in 1769, he remarked that the burgh was ‘in general well-built’ although ‘in some of the lesser [streets] are yet a few wooden houses in the old style; but as they decay, the magistrates prohibit… rebuilding them in the old way’ (Pennant 1772). This period of ‘improvement’ has attracted a degree of historical attention, but more investigation of the physical evidence for the processes by which change was implemented would be beneficial (McKean 2011).
Further study of the significant public buildings constructed in Perth during the post-medieval period would likewise be desirable, with many of these structures still surviving. However, a proportion have been demolished and interdisciplinary research into these lost buildings could prove illuminating. A particularly notable loss was the late 17th-century tolbooth (MPK8697) which stood at the east end of the High Street, and was dismantled in the 1870s (Bowler 2004, 23). The tolbooth was replaced by Victorian Gothic council chambers (MPK10276) which continued to be used for municipal purposes into the 21st century.
Mention should also be made of the increasing 18th and 19th-century efforts to provide utilities such as clean water, sewers and street lighting. Of particular note is the remarkable former Perth Waterworks (MPK3453), its impressive classical architecture arguably indicating the status that the provision of utilities was accorded in the 19th century. Water supply became a particularly pressing public health issue as towns grew. In Perth the sand filters of an island and steam engines were initially used pump water into the town (Cameron 2007). In the later 19th and 20th centuries, the introduction of iron pipes allowed the use of gravity to bring water from reservoirs over greater distances. Greater study of the evolution of water and sewage arrangements in the region’s urban settlements would be desirable. During the 19th century, gas works also existed in many towns. These structures have been largely demolished in Perth and Kinross. However, Historic Environment Scotland has British gas records for a number of these sites, and interdisciplinary study of this aspect of the region’s past might be beneficial. Greater recording and study of the smaller structures associated with utilities in Perth and other urban settlements also needs to be undertaken.
Archaeological research into the experience of the less affluent residents of Perth should be another priority as, unsurprisingly, the poor and marginalised are much less well-represented in written evidence. As a burgh which underwent moderate urban growth during the 18th and 19th centuries, Perth provides an interesting comparison to the incredibly rapid expansion of cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is not at present clear how industrialisation and the creation of a consumer society impacted working-class living standards in places such as Perth, so many of our models for this period of change are based on rather different urban communities.
Perth and Kinross also had several smaller urban centres, like Aberfeldy, Dunkeld, Crieff and Coupar Angus. Despite the good work undertaken by the Scottish Burgh Surveys at the latter, these smaller towns deserve far more historical and archaeological research (Dennison and Coleman 1997). Many of these communities are currently undergoing significant development, and when opportunities arise for archaeological intervention, they should be seized. The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are critical to understanding the evolution of the region’s smaller towns. Excavation and recording of standing buildings are likely to be key to enhancing our knowledge of many aspects of post-medieval architecture and daily life in this second tier of urban communities.