Perth Theatre, Mill Street, Perth

In 2015/16, the Red Rooms rehearsal space at Perth Theatre was demolished as part of a programme of refurbishment by Robertson Construction Ltd. Prior to demolition, Alder carried out an evaluation within the footprint of the building and adjoining carpark. This was a challenging brief, because the construction of the building using transverse concrete groundbeams meant that demolition and removal would inevitably destroy any subterranean remains. It was decided to evaluate by digging short trenches within the standing building and when these produced a wealth of remains that led to a prolonged excavation, this could only be done within the confines of the evaluation trenches, still within the undemolished rehearsal space.

 

                                                       Spade-work in Trench 04

Perth Theatre lies between the High Street and Mill Street, in the centre of medieval Perth and an area rich in archaeological deposits. The Red Rooms were built in 1982, over demolished 19th Century properties including the headquarters of the Guild of Hammermen. Previous archaeological work in the area included the High Street excavations of the 1970s, which demonstrated occupation from the 12th Century onwards. 

 

Ditch profile in Trench 02 

One of the major features exposed beneath the Red Rooms was a ditch, apparent in Trenches 01, 02 and 03, running on a North-South alignment and measuring up to 3.50m wide. This was far more substantial than an ordinary rig boundary and may well have represented part of the earliest medieval defences of Perth, pre-dating the known 14th Century layout to the West of the site. Traces of an accompanying interior bank were also noted.

 

Possible slag pit furnace in Trench 03

As well as the continuing ditch line, Trench 03 contained evidence of industry, probably metalworking- including a possible slag pit furnace, into the top of which a later pit had been dug to dispose of metalworking debris. The slag pit is a simple smelter, in which slag and iron drop into a vegetation-lined pit beneath the furnace, already an archaic form by the later middle ages. Several floor levels suggested prolonged use of the site and the presence of metalworking so close to the Hammermen's Guild seems peculiarly apt!

Remains of medieval house, Trench 05

The most substantial remains of all lay within Trenches 04 and 05, where sections of walls and floor levels from a building with stone foundations were exposed, dated by the presence of imported Rhenish Stoneware pottery to the late 15th/early 16th Century. An earlier hearth and partially preserved timbers beneath this structure indicated lengthy use of the site and deposits of ash, charcoal and slag suggested more metalworking. However, one interesting find from within the stone building was a pair of iron shears, of 13th or 14th Century date, that may have been used for cloth or thread cutting (if not cutting hair!).

X-ray of the shears (conserved by AOC Archaeology) 

The pottery assemblage from across the site spanned several centuries and included both domestic and imported wares. The presence of early Yorkshire-type wares in the fill of the large ditch suggested it had become disused as a defensive feature by the mid-14th Century at the latest, while the Rhenish wares from the stone house suggested a building of fairly high status, despite its location mid-way along the back lots behind the High Street. Its date of use in the late 15th/early 16th Centuries is significant, as the insertion of cellars in the 18th and 19th Centuries frequently destroyed remains from this earlier period elsewhere in Perth, making this a rare survival.

Zoomorphic spout in Scottish Redware, from Trench 04

 

> Read about the Theatre dig in Volume 24 of TAFAJ here