The post-medieval period saw the increasing development of specific places and buildings for recreation and exercise. This trend was particularly apparent from the late 18th century onwards, and may reflect changing attitudes to leisure. Theatres were one expression of the new purpose-built spaces for entertainment; in the early 19th century a theatre opened on Atholl Street in Perth (MPK13516). It was regarded by contemporaries as ‘an elegant little theatre’ which was ‘fitted up with great taste’ (Wood 1828, 301). This theatre closed in the 1850s, although the building still survives and has served a number of functions including manufacturing clothing and operating as a restaurant (Smith 2017). Greater study of this standing building would be of interest. In 1900 the current Perth Theatre (MPK10453), located between Mill Street and the High Street, opened. This was recently restored and a degree of recording of the building has been undertaken. However, further monitoring of the theatre and its furnishings would be advisable.
|State of Remains
|Perth, 185 High Street, Perth Theatre
|NO 1171 2369
|B Listed. Extant, in use and has undergone some redevelopment.
|Pitlochry, Festival Theatre
|NN 9383 5761
|Extant, in use.
|Perth, 7 Atholl Street 77, 79 Kinnoull Street
|NO 1168 2392
|B Listed. Extant, no longer in use.
The early and mid-20th century saw the construction of cinemas in many of the larger settlements in Perth and Kinross. Early cinemas are known to have existed in Aberfeldy (MPK17603), Auchterarder (MPK16895), Blairgowrie (MPK16960), Coupar Angus (MPK11164), Perth (MPK11998) and Pitlochry (MPK20330). There was also a short-lived cinema in Comrie (MPK12701) for the labourers helping build local hydroelectric works, and the foundations of this structure are still visible (Hall and Lowe 2002). The Playhouse Cinema in Perth remains operational as a movie theatre. However, most of the early cinemas in the region now serve other purposes or have been demolished, as the Blairgowrie Picture House was in the 2010s. A degree of study of the region’s cinemas has been undertaken (Peter 2011). Yet the unique architecture of these structures, often influenced by the art deco movement and other modernist styles, their significance for the history of popular entertainment in the region and their current vulnerability mean that further recording and investigation of the cinema buildings that remain should be a priority.
|State of Remains
|Coupar Angus, Queen Street, Cinema / St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church; Playhouse Cinema
|NO 2224 3983
|Extant, now returned to use as a church.
|Perth, Murray Street, Playhouse Cinema
|NO 1160 2379
|Extant, still in use.
|Comrie, Twenty Shilling Wood
|NN 7626 2203
|Ruinous? Site formerly a construction workers camp for Glen Lednock reservoir in 1950s. Now a caravan park.
|Auchterarder, Townhead, Regal Cinema
|NN 9409 1261
|Extant but derelict?
|Blairgowrie, 22-26 Reform Street, Picture House
|NO 1783 4515
|Demolished and redeveloped with flats.
|Aberfeldy, Dunkeld Street, Birks Cinema
|NN 8567 4911
|Extant, still in use.
|REGAL CINEMA; LEISURE CENTRE, PITLOCHRY
|NN 9384 5826
|Extant, now a leisure centre.
Various forms of physical exercise have long provided entertainment for spectators and participants. However, the post-medieval period saw an increasing formalisation of sporting activity. Perth and Kinross provides particularly rich evidence for the development of sport in post-medieval Scotland. There are numerous written references to sport in the 17th and 18th centuries in the region, and some notable associated artefacts, such as the silver ball of Rattray, which formed the trophy for a 17th-century handball competition (Rodger 1992). A number of places had their own forms of ball games, like the team game at Scone every Shrove Tuesday where participants ran with the ball until it was taken by the other side ‘but no person was allowed to kick it’ (Thomas 1796, 88). Both these sports, and these specific examples, had medieval roots and the evolving nature of such games is worth exploring further.
Archery, golf and football regularly appear in early records from the region (Thomson 1845). During the 17th and 18th centuries, most of these activities took place in spaces that also served other purposes. For instance, in the 1770s it was noted that during ‘the spring and autumnal seasons’ the residents of Perth exercised with ‘golf-clubs and balls’ on the North and South Inches. However, their sport was ‘interrupted during the summer-season by the luxuriancy of the grass’ which provided pasture for herds of cows (Adamson and Cant 1774, 18). Partly because of this mixed use, the physical evidence for many early sporting locations may be quite sparse. However, interdisciplinary study of sites associated with sport during the 17th and 18th centuries could be beneficial.
Animals were sometimes a part of sporting activity. The burgh of Perth has a long tradition of horse racing, with written evidence for racing on the South Inch as early as 1613 (Thomson 1845, 88). By the late 18th century, racing at Perth had moved to the North Inch, where a course of 2220 yards was constructed (Thomson 1845, 88). The racecourse on the North Inch is clearly marked on early 19th-century maps by Robert Reid and John Wood. At the start of the 20th century, the racecourse moved to its present site in the park of Scone Palace. The main stand at the current racecourse is particularly noteworthy, as it dates from around 1908 and ‘is a rare example of a little altered early 20th century timber racecourse stand’ (Historic Environment Scotland 2013). Further interdisciplinary study of the history of racing in Perth, and in particular the early years on the North and South Inches, might be of interest. Some racecourses were more short-lived, but can leave traces in the way of derelict stands, as is shown by the stand at Uthrogle, Fife (Martin 1999). The landscape impact and contribution of cross-country horse races also deserves more research. By the early 17th century, a cross-country horse race was run annually between Perth and Methven. The start and finish post was the 11th-century Goodlyburn Cross, which then stood in Letham (Hall et al 2011).
More brutal entertainments involving animals also took place in post-medieval Perth and Kinross. In the 1790s it was noted that the schoolboys at Kirkmichael preserved ‘the custom of cock-fighting on Shrove Tuesday’ (Stewart 1795, 521). Meanwhile, the skeleton of a badly mistreated dog excavated in a post-medieval cess-pit on Mill Street in Perth perhaps provides evidence for dog-fighting (Bowler et al 1995; Hall 2002, 300–1; for the medieval background to dog breeds and uses see Smith 1998). Further study of animal bones from the region may reveal more clues about blood sports.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw major changes to sport in Perth and Kinross, and across Britain more generally. Some traditional activities died out, while others became more regulated and standardised. In the 1790s it was remarked in Moulin that the ‘gymnastic exercises’ formerly popular in the Highlands had ‘almost totally disappeared’, and that activities such as shinty, wrestling, and ‘putting the stone’, were ‘now practised only by school-boys’ (Stewart 1793, 72). The heritage of the original highland games, and their 19th-century revival, deserves much more research.
One traditional activity which did survive was curling, and Perth and Kinross played an integral role in the development of this sport. Some of the first written references to curling occur in an early 17th-century collection of poetry by the Perth writer Henry Adamson (Adamson 1638). There is also evidence for curling on Lochleven as far back as the 1660s, and the associated Kinross Curling Club may be the oldest in the world (Kerr 1890). Curling ponds, often with associated structures, are common in the area, with 59 listed in the region’s Historic Environment Record, although more have been identified by the ongoing Historical Curling Places project. More research regarding the development of curling in the region, involving the study of written records, survey of curling sites – both formal constructed ponds and the informal use of frozen rivers and lochs, and study of curling stones, both in public collections and in private hands, would be desirable.
In the 1840s it was noted that the most popular games among the residents of Perth were ‘foot-ball, casting quoits, cricket, and golf’ (Thomson 1845, 87). By this date activities such as golf and cricket were increasingly being organised by formally constituted clubs such as the Royal Perth Golf Society (founded in 1824) and Perth County Cricket Club (founded in 1826), whilst association football clubs were founded a little later. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the establishment of numerous sports clubs and the construction of associated pavilions and facilities across the region. These related to a range of activities including football, cricket, tennis and bowls. Sporting sites are typically poorly recorded, and often experience pressure for development. The less durable construction techniques used for many early sports pavilions can also make these structures vulnerable. An interdisciplinary project to identify older sporting sites in the region and assess their state of preservation would be desirable, as would more contact with sports clubs about historic artefacts in their care.