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Perth, Tay Street, Baptist Church

Culvert (Period Unassigned), Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Perth, Tay Street, Baptist Church

Classification Culvert (Period Unassigned), Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Perth Harbour

Canmore ID 28304

Site Number NO12SW 145

NGR NO 1204 2333

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Perth And Kinross
  • Parish Perth
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Perth And Kinross
  • Former County Perthshire

Archaeology Notes

NO12SW 145 1204 2333.

Trial excavations were carried out in August 1984, after the Baptist Church was damaged by fire and demolished. The site lies just outside the Burgh defences, at the mouth of the town ditch, close to the Greyfriars Monastery (NO12SW 17). Three machine trenches were dug to locate the canal mouth and harbour shown on Rutherford's Town Plan of 1774. The harbour works, consisting of sand stone blocks and rubble, faced with a sandstone wall, were found c 2.1m below ground, and continued to at least 2.8m below ground. It was not possible to dig below these structures into waterlogged deposits, but late medieval pottery was found further back from the river, at a depth of 0.8m.

D Bowler and D Hall 1984.

Two phases of stone-built harbour works were excavated in 1989 with associated and later pavements, buildings and stone-drains.

D P Bowler 1989.

There is documentary evidence for three harbours at Perth. The earliest (NO12SW 1142) is indicated on the earliest (1715) map of Perth and was probably the original harbour founded by David I, just before 1127. Situated adjacent to the former bridge NO12SW 77 and at the eastern end of the High Street, [at NO c. 1207 2366], it has not been the subject of controlled excavation, but underpinning work beneath the council chambers (NO12SW 125) has revealed timber structures nearly 5m below street level.

The second harbour (NO12SW 145) or New Haven is dated to 1539, when the Perth Guildry Book records that John Moncur of Balluny paid for the carriage of 200 ashlar stones for its construction. This harbour also appears on Louis Pettit's map of 1715 up against the Greyfriars' burial ground (NO12SW 204) at the SE corner of the town and at the outflow of the southern branch of the town lade (NO12SW 50), which now runs beneath Canal Street. This harbour was formed by opening up the mouth of the southern lade into a large basin and building stone quay (the 'Coal Shore') on the S side of the basin, under the walls of Greyfriars. The canal was covered-over by about 1806 and the basin subsequently infilled, as is indicated by the 1st edition of the OS Map (1862/3). Ships could still be berthed along the waterfront until the 1870's, when the foreshore was embanked to form Tay Street.

The third harbour (NO12SW 202) at Friarton (about a mile down river) superseded the other two in the 19th century.

In 1987-8, excavation by the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust examined the second of these harbours on the demolition site of the former opera house (NO12SW 145) in Tay St. This building was opened in 1881 and later converted into a Baptist church, which closed in 1984. Excavation served to examine a strip from the basin across the harbour wall, up to a point as close as possible to the wall of Greyfriars. The construction of the harbour wall and quay were examined in an attempt to recover dateable artifacts and explore any stratigraphic relationship with the adjacent Greyfriars. Excavation within the upper levels revealed the foundations of the 19th century buildings and a contemporary system of stone-built storm drains set into a solid cobbled pavement. The cobbles were set on end into a bed of clean sand, and deeply ingrained with coal dust. The outer, exposed face of the harbour wall had been robbed. Springing from its face was the barrel-vaulted stone culvert that now confines the lade beneath Canal Street; this incorporates long rectangular blocks which were probably robbed out of the harbour wall face. Lifting of the pavement and its sand bedding revealed two large post-holes in a hard, compacted layer hard up against the harbour wall; these probably represent mooring posts on the quay. The make-up layers behind the wall were over 2m deep, comprising mostly dumps of sand, clay and shingle. The inside face (at the back of the wall) was well built, but of rubble masonry rather than squared blocks. A further wall was found about 10m back from the harbour wall and parallel to it, close to the Greyfriars burial ground and to the southern limit of excavation. Again, the outer (N) face had been robbed away, except at the very bottom where one of the long rectangular facing blocks remained in place. The inner (S) face was of rubble masonry. This discovery confirms the map evidence that the New Haven was enlarged between Pettit's map (1715) and that of Rutherford (1774), the quay being enlarged at the expense of basin area. The southern wall is the earlier (as depicted by Pettit) with one of Moncur's stones still in place. The later (N) wall is that depicted by Rutherford, and which remained in use until the 19th century. The remaining 199 of Moncur's stones were doubtless reused twice, first to build the new wall in the mid 18th century and then to build the culvert in the 19th century. The earlier map also indicates some form of closure at the mouth of the basin. This is omitted from the later map, and could not practically be sought by excavation.

D P Bowler 1991.


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