Mercer Family and Perth Lade

“Behold the arms of the Mercers are Three mill rynds, three geid balls, with glittering star, To let the world know that their ancient race Possess’d three mills, for many ages space In pleasant Perth, near situate the Tay, Which mills Perth keeps unto this present day. Three balss next show them potent in each thing Therefore they gift these mills unto the king Who for their golden gift and loyal mind With arched tomb in church did them provide, With lands, rents, arms of privilege and fame Kept now by Aldie’s lairds, chief of their name. Lastly the star, clear shining as a gem, Proves their descent out of Moravian stem. Likewise their will and virtue doth presage In name and fame to last with shining age. Therefore men may avow with justest breath Mercers are, yea, older than old Perth.”

1106 – John Mercer, burgess of Perth and owning estate at Meiklour was given right of burial in St John’s Kirk.

1464 – Richard Eviot and the town council make an agreement concerning the Lade. The “Boot” was to be taken up and a fresh pipe of 32 inches diameter made.

1774 – Cant’s note to the “Muses’ Threnodie” state that the Boot of Balhousie is “lately repaired”.

1823 – Shortening of North Transept of St John’s Kirk, where Mercer vault was placed.

The water of the lade was used by the inhabitants of Perth as domestic water. A writer in the Perth Guide of 1822 writes:

“It were most devoutly to be wished that the water for this uses (i.e. domestic) were procured from a different source. That of the town’s aqueduct has no unwholesome property but it is so liable to be contaminated by the poisonous substances that are used in immense quantities at the bleachfields and printfields through which it passes.”

By 1824 there were five dye works in operation on the south branch of the Lade and three on the north branch at Castle Gable. By the late 19th Century there were two main dye works – Pullars of Perth and P & P Campbell (Dunkeld Road). Pullars and Campbells later amalgamated. At the City Mills there were corn, barley and meal mills. There was an Upper Malt Mill and nearby a waulk mill which was later used by dyers and then as a wool spinning mill. At the Castle Gable (north end of Skinnergate) there was a Nether Waulk Mill and a Nether Malt Mill, also an oil and lint mill (1765). In 1824 Perth’s first Gas Works were built on the south side of the lade in Canal Street. Coal was brought from the South Shore by barge along to the gas works.

1846 – The lade from Methven Street to Kinnoull Street was arched over and there the Public Baths were built. In 1857 wash-houses were added.

1871 – Charges for the public baths and wash-houses had risen because of the rise in price of coal. Charges were:

Hot or Tepid Plunge or Shower – Marble Baths (1/6); First Class (1/-); Second Class (6d); Third Class (4d). Cold Plunge or Shower – Marble Baths (9d); First Class (6d); Second Class (4d); Third Class (2d). Salt baths were 3d extra. The Public Washing and Drying Department – 2d per hour for the first hour for each person and one penny per hour thereafter.

From the Muses Threnodie;

“And as a happy presage they had seen They fix their tents amidst that spacious green, Right where now Perth doth stand, and cast their trenches Even where Perth’s fowsies are, between these inches, The south and north, and bastalies they make The power and strength of Scots and Picts to break “

The Perth poet, Adamson (died c1634) here suggests that the Romans dug the lade (ditch) on the north, west and south in one night by the military! The Mercer family owned the Mills at Perth and gifted them – probably to Malcolm Canmore (11th century) – in return for right of burial in St. John’s Kirk. They became the King’s Mills. In 1375 Robert II returned the mills and their revenues to the city fathers, the Provost, Magistrates and Baillies. A laird of Balhousie requested water from the Lade for corn mills at Balhousie. This was known as the Boot of Balhousie (the Boot o’Bousie).

In 1464 the outlet pipe was widened to 32 inches diameter. In 1494 there was an agreement with the Town and Eviot of Balhousie and Lord Ruthven (Ruthven Castle) for repair of the lade and erection of a sluice gate at Low’s Work (Louis Werk – Gaelic Waterworks).

Lade was uncovered until 18th/19th Century. Before 1802 there were eleven bridges from River Tay (Canal Street) to Canal Crescent. “Canal Street” was just a pathway at the side of the lade. Lade water had purity and softness – ideal for bleaching and dyeing. Around 1780/90 there were bleach-fields established at Huntingtower. Cotton manufacturing was not successful in Perth and district so there was concentration on bleaching and dyeing. Cloth was sent from Glasgow for bleaching and printing at Huntingtower. Eventually there was Glasgow control of the print-fields. The Stamp-master inspected for length, breadth and quality. Charge was two-and-a half pence per piece. The Stamp House was behind Huntingtower Castle. Perth manufacturing did prosper for a time. In 1782 there was cotton manufacturing for printed shawls and chintzes. Cambrics, calicos and ginghams were all produced, along with linsey woolseys, Silesia lines and blunk (a mixture of cotton and linen). Textile manufacturing declined but ginghams, napkins and umbrella cloths continued to be made. There was a spinning mill in Mill Street which turned to wool spinning in c1810.