Less than a decade after an attempt to replace Perth’s century-old town hall with a civic square was thwarted, work is underway for a dramatic reinvention as Scotland’s next major cultural and heritage attraction.
Due to open in 2024, the £26.5million project has seen the interior of the building completely stripped down since work began last summer.
The new National Museum being created inside the building’s ‘blank canvas’ will explore how Scotland was shaped by people, places and events ‘uniquely associated’ with Perth.
It will feature everything from rarely seen prehistoric and Neolithic stone carvings and Pictish slabs to specially created exhibitions and commissions about Perth’s role as “a melting pot of commerce, religion, culture and politics”, the Scottish Reformation, the Jacobite Risings, the Highland Clearances, colonialism, slavery and modern immigration.
The star attraction will arguably be Scotland’s most famous historical artefact, the Stone of Scone, better known as the Stone of Destiny, the ancient symbol of the monarchy used for centuries at the investiture of the Scottish kings, until it was seized by King Edward of England in 1296 from Scone in Perthshire.
It is hoped the project, which is backed by both the Scottish and UK governments, will not only secure the building’s future, but help revitalize Perth city center and put the city firmly on the map as a must-visit tourist destination for the first time.
Built in 1911 following the demolition of Perth’s main entertainment venue, City Hall has hosted everything from live musical events, ceilidh dances and political rallies to markets and wrestling matches, but its condition was declining when it was closed after a new concert hall. opened nearby in 2005.
Prolonged objections from government agency Historic Scotland to its plan to demolish the building led Perth & Kinross Council to agree to release it for public use.
A project to provide a new home for the city’s nationally significant collections and attract major traveling exhibitions was part of Perth’s 2017 bid to become a UK City of Culture.
The town hall was able to move forward after the £700million Tay Cities contract backed by both governments and the council.
In an exclusive site interview, Council Culture Manager Fiona Robertson said: “City Hall is really the flagship project of a 10-year strategy for Perth.
“Tourism has always been very important to Perth, but most tourist activity has actually been concentrated in Highland Perthshire.
“We really felt that people were missing in Perth, which is not just a medieval city, but also has a thriving contemporary arts scene, and has also played a big part in Scotland’s cultural renaissance in the early 20th century, through people like William Soutar, John Duncan Fergusson and Patrick Geddes.
“A touchstone for the whole project is to tell the story of Scotland through the story of Perth and Perth & Kinross.
“There’s a whole web of different stories and connections here. We want to tell those stories from a hyper-local perspective, through particular events and people, as a lens to open up and understand Scotland more widely.
“The Jacobite Risings and the Highland Clearances, for example, had a very particular impact on Highland Perthshire, on the communities, on the ways of life, on the language and the landscape.
“These are very important parts of Scottish history, but they also link to other themes and stories relating to colonialism, slavery and emigration.”
JP Reid, head of collections at the council, said less than one per cent of its historic artifacts have been able to be displayed in the city’s current museum, which dates back to 1822:
He added: “The Town Hall project will give us a significant expansion of our capacity, but we are running a preservation program which means a lot of material that is not suitable for public display will be able to see for the first time. time, especially medieval materials taken from the ground.
“We should be getting an absolutely exquisite picture of what daily life was like in Perth in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries for the first time in any significant content.”
With town centers across Scotland suffering from the combined impact of the decline in the retail industry and the impact of the pandemic, it is hoped the Town Hall project can generate the kind of beware in Perth that the V&A museum did for Dundee when it opened four years ago.
Ms Robertson added: “We will tell the story of old Perth & Kinross and its part in the emergence of ancient Scotland, but the town hall will also tell of modern Scotland.
“We want to tell these two stories to appeal to a wide audience and reconnect in crucial ways with local communities.
“One of the things we found when we applied for City of Culture status in the UK was that some of our communities felt they had lost a sense of connection and pride with Perth and the wider region. This is what we want to revive.
“We all know that small towns and big cities face challenges, but it’s really important to be optimistic and forward thinking about the future.
“Perth is a small walkable city. The idea of the 20 minute neighborhood is being mooted more and more as people live and work in their own community and rediscover local businesses and connect with people and places they just haven’t known before.”
“When City Hall opened, it was not a bureaucratic and administrative headquarters – it was a real gathering place where concerts, ceilidhs, dances and union rallies took place. It will be different , but we really want it to retain that spirit.”