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Perth Harbour

Located at Friarton, opposite Moncreiffe Island, a mile (1.5 km) south of the town centre, Perth Harbour is effectively the highest point of the River Tay navigable by sea-going vessels, 30 miles (48 km) inland from the North Sea. This modest harbour was built in the 1840s for Perth Harbour Commissioners to plans which had been drawn up by Robert Stevenson (1772 - 1850) and his son Alan (1807-65) in 1834. Stevenson's plan was not fully implemented due to financial difficulties; a permanent navigable channel in the Tay was never completed and the harbour was smaller than intended. In part due to the coming of the railway, the Harbour Commissioners were bankrupted in 1854 and the harbour was taken over by Perth Town Council, whose successors still run it today in the form of Perth and Kinross Council. Quays were added in 1898 and 1939, which remain in use today, and significant improvements were carried out 1955-56.

Perth has been an important centre for sea-borne trade and shipbuilding since Mediaeval times, when the river was much deeper and the harbour was situated upstream opposite the end of the High Street. As the river silted up and ships got bigger, the harbour was moved further downstream. A New Haven was established in 1539 at the outflow of the southern branch of the Town Lade, opposite Greyfriars Monastery (now Greyfriars Cemetery). Until the 1820s, Newburgh served as an outport, where larger vessels tied up.

Today's harbour comprises a single tidal basin of 1.2 ha (3 acres), with four berths extending to 418m (1371 feet), which can handle ships up to 90m (295 feet) in length. Depths vary according to the height of the river, with vessels lying aground at low water.

Perth's main overseas trade in Mediaeval times was with northern Europe and the Baltic. Exports included hides, leather goods, wool, salmon, coal and salt, while imports comprised flax and linseed for the growing textile industry, wood and resin, iron and wine. The port declined because the Tay was too shallow for big ships and competition from the railways reduced the importance of coastal craft. It was not until the 1950s that ships began to return to Perth in any numbers. Today, the harbour carries on a busy trade with Scandinavia, the Baltic, the Low Countries and the east coast of Scotland and England.

Until 1850, shipbuilding was an important activity in Perth. Timber was floated down from the forests of N Perthshire to the many small shipyards on the banks of the Tay. It was not just sailing ships which were built here - the 257-ton paddle-steamer Tourist and steamship Union, the first twin-hulled ship in Britain, were both built by Brown of Perth in 1821. An iron steamship, the Eagle, was built by Perth Foundry in 1836. The 446-ton Mary Grey was the largest ship to be built in Perth. Launched in 1840, it was wrecked off the Lofoten Islands of Norway only 17 years later.

By the later 19th century, the shipyards here were in decline because vessels were increasingly being built from iron with steam engines fuelled by coal, none of which were locally available in Perth. Launched in 1879, the last substantial sailing ship built in Perth was the Ballinbreich Castle. In 1896, the steamship Bertha was one of the final craft to be constructed here. Today, while modest ship repairs are undertaken, there is no shipbuilding in Perth.


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