The Fair Maid's House

Fair Maid's House, Perth
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Fair Maid's House, Perth

Dating at least in part from 1475, the iconic Fair Maid's House is regarded as the oldest secular building in Perth. Located in Curfew Row, behind the Perth Concert Hall, the two-storey B-listed building is much altered but still contains Mediaeval sections. Restored and extended at a cost of £750,000 by Page & Park architects for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 2010-11, the Fair Maid's House is an education, information and exhibition centre adjacent to the Society's headquarters in Lord John Murray's Stables. This conversion won a commendation in the Scottish Civic Trust Awards 2012.

The house is most notably linked to Catherine Glover, the fictitious heroine of Sir Walter Scott's popular novel the Fair Maid of Perth (1828), which provides a romanticised account of the city in the late 14th century, intermixed with some genuine historical events. The Fair Maid also appears in Georges Bizet's four-act opera La Jolie Fille de Perth (1866). Her father, Simon Glover, was a senior member of the Glover Incorporation who, according to Scott, lived here with his pious and chaste daughter. The Glover Incorporation, one of the Mediaeval guilds of Perth, bought the house c.1622 and used it as a meeting hall for the next 200 years. Their motto, Grace and Peace, is carved above the door. The building was sold by the Glovers to their neighbour Lord John Murray in 1758 and then leased back from him. By 1786 the Guild was able to buy back their premises and, in 1858, having built a replacement Meeting Room in George Street, the Old Hall passed to James Bell, a cabinet maker who used it as a workshop. The property returned to the Glovers some years later but was finally sold to a solicitor, William Japp of Alyth, in 1890. Japp set about a major restoration 1893-4, demolishing much of the house to remake it in his vision of where the Fair Maid would have lived. With the exception of a prayer niche and a fireplace on the first floor, which most likely date from the 15th century, the wood-panelled interior is largely a fantasy. The 19th century recreation of the Glovers' Hall moved it down to the ground floor, although the Royal Scottish Geographical Society have restored it to its original location. The north wall of the building is an exposed relic, a Mediaeval wall which was part of the former Blackfriar's Monastery where King James I was killed in 1437. The wall shows the position of two ancient fireplaces and the original level of the floor. A recess high on the outside wall is said to have contained a curfew bell, although this seems unlikely as the house lay beyond the town gates. The house features in verse by the doggerel poet William Topaz McGonagall (1830 - 1902).

To the south lay the Skinners Yards which for centuries contained leatherworker's tanning pits.

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