The post-medieval period saw many new churches being founded, and extensive redesigning of existing church buildings. This was partly a result of the growing range of religious denominations present in Perth and Kinross, which included Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians and numerous groups that broke away from the Church of Scotland. However, the poor repair of many older churches, a wish to improve religious provision in inadequately served parishes and changing fashions in ecclesiastical architecture also led to the construction of many new buildings for Church of Scotland congregations.
During the 17th century, major construction work took place at a number of parish churches in the region, such as Bendochy (MPK5236), Tibbermore (MPK5543) and the Old Kirk at Weem (MPK1052). One of the most notable buildings from this period is St Mary’s Church at Grandtully (MPK1105), which was extended in the 1630s and has an elaborately painted pine ceiling – one of only two ceilings of this type to survive in situ in a Scottish ecclesiastical building. Although some study of this ceiling and its iconography has been undertaken, further research would be desirable.
More systematic study of 17th- and 18th-century ecclesiastical architecture in Perth and Kinross should be a priority. Relatively little research has been undertaken regarding this period, beyond some initial recording and conservation work. Although a degree of information on later alterations to parish churches is contained in the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches, the focus of this project was understandably on earlier buildings (Fawcett et al 2009). Consideration of the impact, if any, of shifting ecclesiastical and political loyalties on the design of parish churches and family chapels would be of particular interest. The factors which led to the abandonment of particular sites, and sometimes their later reoccupation, are another important topic.
There is also a need for more research into the sites used by early dissenting groups.
Perth, in particular, was known as a dissenting hotbed In the late 18th century, there were congregations of Scottish Episcopalians, English Episcopalians, Cameronians, Anabaptists, Burgher seceders, Anti-Burghers, Relief Church, Glasites and a group of independents known as ‘Balchristy People’ (Scott 1796: 533). Although Perth had an especially diverse range of Christian churches, most parishes in the region had a dissenting presence. Written records may well prove key to identifying the locations where dissenters met, which sometimes included barns and private houses. The Statistical Accounts frequently provide helpful clues as to the religious make-up of parishes at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries, though the situation in the 1790s could be different from earlier in the post-medieval period.
The 19th century was a period of major upheaval in Scottish church architecture. New congregations sprang up across the region, whilst existing church buildings were often abandoned or remodelled. By the end of the 19th century, even relatively small communities frequently had a large number of churches. For example, Aberfeldy had a Church of Scotland parish church, two Free Church congregations with their own buildings, a Congregational church and a Roman Catholic ‘tin’ church (MPK12521), which was saved from demolition in 2004 (Gifford 2007, 136; Clark 2021, 26). Many 19th- and early 20th-century churches remain in use for worship today. However, a significant proportion have been converted to other uses or demolished, whilst 15 former churches in the region were on the Buildings at Risk Register in 2022. Particular attention should perhaps be drawn to the small number of ‘tin’ or corrugated-iron churches still extant in Perth and Kinross. These structures were once relatively common in Scotland, but it is thought that over 90 percent have been lost (Clark 2021, 22).
Current religious trends suggest that the conversion of church sites to other purposes is likely to continue or even to increase. Some of these changes of use are accompanied by major structural alterations, such as the recent removal of the roof at St Paul’s Church (MPK10383) in Perth. The process of conversion provides a window of opportunity for more detailed physical investigation. Yet time pressures means that the amount of study at this point is sometimes less than ideal. Careful recording before and during alterations therefore needs to be accompanied by a wider programme examining churches not under immediate risk of redevelopment. Although Historic Environment Scotland has undertaken a degree of recording of standing buildings, further research would be desirable, particularly regarding church interiors.
More research into buildings other than churches used by religious groups, such as church halls and manses, would also be helpful. The 19th century, and to a slightly lesser extent earlier periods, saw numerous congregations constructing or purchasing buildings in addition to their main church. The roles that these buildings played in the wider community, and the extent to which such ancillary structures show specific denominational features, are among the many questions which deserve greater study regarding religious activity in post-medieval Perth and Kinross.