Perth Bridge ~ Smeaton’s Bridge

This nine-arched 270 metre bridge was designed by John Smeaton in 1772. A key communication link to the town, Perth Bridge was widened in 1869. Of note are the flood level inscriptions under the bridge on the North Inch side. The 1993 floods were only surpassed by that of 1818 – the 2006 river level will hopefully appear on the bridge at some point. At the other side of the bridge lies Bridgend – one time ferry terminal for Perth – now a substantial settlement of 19th century housing.

John Smeaton (1724-1792) is often referred to as the Father of British Civil Engineering. In 1759 he built the first stone Eddystone Lighthouse. He was the engineer for the Forth and Clyde Canal (1767-1777) and Aberdeen Harbour. Thomas Hay the 9th Earl of Kinnoull was the instigator of the proposal to build a bridge at Perth. This is first mentioned in records of 1763. An Act of Parliament for the Building of the bridge at Perth was passed in 1765 and bridge commissioners were appointed. The estimate was £10000 but the final cost was two-and-a-half times the estimate. Public subscriptions were collected, the government gave money from the Annexed and Forfeited Estates and also the bridge commissioners had to borrow money on security of the income expected from the bridge tolls.

1766 – Work began with an experimental pier one span out from east bank. John Gwynn was clerk of works. The stone came from Quarrymill, the mason work being supervised by John Adam, probably the brother of Robert Adam. A coffer dam was built and the pier constructed within. With a cost overrun the first pier was completed in summer 1766. Extra cost was caused by the fact that the dam had to be pumped 24 hours a day.

1767 – Three more piers built.

1768 – All piers completed. A wooden service bridge was constructed and foot passengers paid a farthing toll.

1770 – The centres, wooden frameworks on which the stones rested until the arch was completed, were constructed. A toll house was also erected on the east end.

1771 – Toll-gatherers were appointed. The bridge was in use though not complete. The foundation stone had been laid on 13 September 1766 by the Earl of Kinnoull accompanied by Provost William Stewart. Five years later the bridge was completed and the workmen paid off on 13 November 1771. A copper token was struck bearing the words – Perth halfpenny Tay Bridge Finished 1770 – and showing the bridge and Kinnoull Hill on one side and a fisherman and coble on the reverse.

In 1778 the capital debt had been repaid and tolls were removed. Winter 1773/4 was very severe with icy sheets on the river from Luncarty to the River Earn. In February came the thaw and ice flowed to the bridge where the large sheets wedged through the lower parts of Perth – the Inches, Castle Gable, High Street to Mill Wynd. The flood waters destroyed quays and walls at the North Shore, rushed through the pends below the Council House and carried huge ice flows along the High Street. But Smeaton’s Bridge stood firm! The cost of the bridge was £26,446.

By the mid nineteenth century, the bridge was too narrow for the increasing traffic. In 1869/70 with no interruption to traffic the bridge was widened. The stone parapet was removed and iron brackets fixed to support footpaths of five feet and iron sidings. Money was raised for this work by holding a bazaar in the City Hall. The project was carried out on the initiative of Lord Provost Pullar, who gave £400 to it.

In the late 19th century Smeaton’s Bridge carried firstly horse-drawn trams and later electric trams on the Cherrybank to Scone run. Electric trams ceased on that route in 1929. In 1869 at the time of the bridge improvements not all were in favour of widening Smeaton’s Bridge. There was a suggestion to make a suspension bridge at the foot of the High Street.

List of Subscribers:

Grants from Government £13800
The Town of Perth £2000
The Royal Burgh of Scotland £500
The Earl of Kinnoull £400
The Viscount Stormont £300
Duke of Athole £200
Duke of Queensbury £200
Earl of Bute £200
John Lord Gray £200
James Stewart Mackenzie, Lord Privy Seal £200
George Dempster of Dunnichen £150
Duke of Buccleugh £100
Duchess of Argyll £100
Andrew Drummond of Macheny £100
Patrick Crawford of Errol £100
Adam Drummond of Megginch £100
General Graeme of Gorthy £100
Sir Lawrence Dundas of Carse £100
Earl of Hopetown £100
Earl of Breadalbane £100
Duke of Montrose £100
Duke of Argyle £50
Duke of Gordon £50
Earl of Morton £50
Earl of Marchmont £50
Earl of Aberdeen £50
Earl of Findlater £50
Charles Craigie of Glendoick £50
Robert Haldane of Glenagles £50
David Moncrieffe of Moredun £50
Archibald Ogilvy of Inchmartine £50
Archbishop of York £50
Earl of Panmure £50
John McKenzie of Delvine £50
Earl of Fife £50
Willaim Mercer of Aldie £50
Robert Oliphant of Rossie £50
Dr. Stuart Thriepland of Barnhill £30
Lord John Murray of Pitnacree £30
The Guildry Incorporation of Perth £26.5.0d
The Wright Incorporation of Perth £12.12.0d
The Taylor Incorporation of Perth £10.10.0d
The Glover Incorporation of Perth £10.10.0d
The Convenor Court of Perth £10.10.0d
The Shoemaker Incorporation of Perth £5.0.0d
The Baker Incorporation of Perth £5.0.0d

And looking back nearly 150 years when flood swept away John Mylne’s bridge at Perth there is recorded in the Kirk Session Records – October 16 1621 – the decision that voluntary contributions be uplifted from all inhabitants. It is also decided to reward “the great and miraculous deliverance that the Lord gave to this burgh of Perth of a fearful inundation of waters … the brig of tay was hailly dung doon except only one bow thereof standing.”

Rain began on Friday 12 October about 10am and continued to Saturday night. People went to high houses for safety. The Reverend John Malcolm exhorted them to confess their sins. The waters began to decrease after noon on Sunday.

Also recorded 13 November 1621 – “Money to Henry Moss, boatman for pains and trouble in saving persons from perishing by the late inundation of waters out with Castle Gavel Port by means of his boat.”