Down by the Lade – our little green corridor – So Whats a Lade?

posted in: Photography | 21
I’ve only just realised that unless you are Scottish or have lived at one time in Scotland you probably will not have the slightest clue what I’ve been talking about when I mention anything about Perth Town Lade in this blog.
Lots of Scottish towns have their own lade – and this lade of ours has a little history all of its own too as its the earliest known in Scotland.  Perth Town lade can be dated to around 1153 and many would  describe it as a man made canal.   At first it was the defensive moat around the walled town then much later when the town’s main industry was grain and flour milling the water from the Lade was used to power the mills along with coal.  Later in the 18th and 19th century the Lade was used by the textile industry and by 1824 there were 8 dyeworks on the Lade but by the 19th century only 2 were left.

How the Textile Industry used the Lade

The water from the Lade was directed from the Weir to the first bleachworks on the canal.
Lows Works at Perth Lade | River Almond
Lows Works Weir at Perth Town Lade
lumsden bleach works water wheel Perth Lade
Lumsden Bleach works waterwheel (photo used with permission)
This is the waterwheel in1978 when it was still in use.
part of lumsden bleach works at Perth lade
Clocktower still remaining from Lumsden Bleach Works
Today the wheel is overgrown and the buildings to the left have been demolished to make room for new homes.
Once the water passed this water wheel it soon divided into two branches.  These two branches were regulated by a system of sluices and channels depending on the needs of each mill.

Today those channels are still visible along with some of the old metal cogs and wheels from the sluice gates and water freely flows through them.

Perth lade system of channels
Historic sluice gates at Perth Lade
One branch fed a Beetling mill (that’s where a finishing process for cloth involved the pounding of the cloth with heavy weights).  The Beetling Mill was to the right of this photo below.  Only Cottages are left at this site today.  Along here the Caledonian Railway line ran and you can see the disused railway bridge in the photo below.  Today  that railway  bridge no longer exists other than the stone supports.  There are only a few clues in the local landscape that a railway once ran through the area like a  a row of distinctive cottages that  were the station buildings and a disused tunnel I can see in the far distance at the far end of fields.
railway line over Perth lade in 1978
Railway line over Perth Lade in 1978 (photo used with permission)
 and and the other branch fed the Old Shepherd’s Mill below.
Shepherds Mill at Perth lade
Shepherds Mill at Perth lade
The water  was pure and soft so was just perfect for bleaching and dyeing fabrics.  Manufacturers in Glasgow would send their raw  fabric to the Lade for treatment via the railway line.

The Bleachfields

The cloth was steeped in the lade water with various blends of ashes added.  The main ash being soda ash which was prepared from burned seaweed.
linen left out on bleach fields
Then it was heated and left to ferment and left lying flat on the grass for weeks at a time.
The next step was to bring it back into the mill  for it to be washed and then steeped in milk  which was again left to ferment. Then the cloth was laid out again  in the fields to dry in the sun. This whole process was repeated many times to get the desired whiteness.
Any flat field near the Lade would be used for that purpose – hence the word “bleachfields”.
So important was this trade that large areas of good arable land that could have been used for farming were used instead for bleaching.  Its been said that  many a vivid colour to the lade water from the dyeing process could be seen or else foam from the bleaching floating down stream.
Up until 1832 the lade water was also the workers main domestic water supply as the council established a new waterworks supply after many complaints about its quality.
Here’s a little local story …

 

St Conwalls Well

 

Sixteen  women on May 4th 1618 were brought before the Kirk Session (church committee) for superstitiously visiting St Conwalls Well and depositing pins and headlaces.
A lot of locals and myself have always thought that the well was at the corner of the brae down below the castle as there is a natural spring there where many people collect the water.  But thanks to Betsie who has contacted me through comments here she too has been looking for the well and its not below the Castle but  somewhere in the locality of Shepherds Mill …
St Conwalls Well Perth Lade map
click to enlarge
St Conwalls Well Perth Lade
click to enlarge
Now I can’t be 100% sure about this but in the area marked in the map above there is an area  with lots of trees across the road from the Shepherds Mill and in that area of undergrowth there is a little area fenced off  with barbed wire around the top of it. You can just about make it out in the middle of the photo as the grass is so long in that area.  Could that possibly be where the well was situated?
Possible position of St Conwalls Well Perth Lade
Possible location of St Conwalls Well

Employment

The lade created employment for a large population and half of those were women and children.  Each Summer the City Fathers of the Town Council would walk along the lade and inspect it and at the end of their walk they would be rewarded with  strawberries and cream.
The last industry to close along the Lade was the Bleachworks  in the 2nd photograph in 1981 and the owner’s home was turned into a hotel  – and he even had part of the Lade diverted so that it would feature in his front garden! now the Huntingtower Hotel.
Huntingtower Hotel - former Lumsden residence
Huntingtower Hotel  – former Lumsden residence
Once the Lade reached the town it again it divided into two to serve all the mills in the town and  providing a continuous moat around the town walls.
Lower city mills, Perth lade
Lower City Mills, Perth Lade

 

Lower City Mills once the Grain Mills  now are occupied by the Tourist Information Centre.  Upper city mills is now a hotel – the Ramada Jarvis where you can  view the lade from the hotel garden  and watch water trickle down the water wheel from the reception area and lounge.

Upper City Mills, Perth Lade
Upper City Mills, Perth Lade
Today  Perth lade is a tourist attraction with a 1 – 2 foot wide path along the rural stretch with reeds, rushes and sedges carpeting the banks along with aconites, wild ranunculus ficara, snowdrops and daffodils  in the spring time. The rest of the lade is more like a canal.  Some parts run along peoples back gardens and are not visible to walkers on the public footpaths.  Half a million trips are made along the lade each year. It is so lovely to walk along and much favoured by all the local wildlife.  Its a great green corridor more white than green just now!  where many species can move, and find food and shelter.   Perth Lade wildflower images can be viewed here.
Here are some more photos – December 2009
Perth Lade along one of the ash paths
Perth Lade along one of the ash paths
Perth Lade near old bleach works
Perth Lade near the old Bleach works
A bridge over Perth Lade to someone's garden
A bridge over Perth Lade to someone’s garden
Perth Town Lade
and further along where it resembles a man made canal.
collage of winter photos from Perth lade
Perth Lade in Winter
Perth town lade and its ducks
Perth Lade and it’s Mallard ducks

These are some photos from New Years Eve 2010…

The new………ish moon  shimmers at the break of the final dawn.
dawn along the lade
Previous days had been dreek with snow, fog and mizzle merging together into one big Gaussian greyish blur.
Scottish Mist with sheep
As the last day slips away the mountains start to appear as if a mask has been lifted from the landscape.
Foggy Sunset along the lade
Along the lade on the valley floor a flare of light filtered by the mist illuminates the tree trunks as if they are on stage for the final countdown.
Smokey sunset along Perth Lade
While the gentle smokey billows of a log fire drift away into the last hazy sunset of 2010.

I hope you enjoyed discovering a little more about Perth Town Lade.  Unfortunately as the years go by it gets harder and harder to preserve the landscape as it once was.   Even since I took the photos above so much has changed over the years.

ash path along Perth town lade fine art print
My fine art image of one of the original ash paths before it was widened along Perth Lade is available for purchase – contact me for further details.

 

Images of Perth Town Lade

The ash paths were widened a few years ago and the wildflowers are slowing getting established again.  Let’s hope the council preserve as much of the land as possible nearest the lade as planning permission and a new road in the future will change the surrounding landscape so much.

Rosie Nixon
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Rosie is a passionate wildlife gardener in Scotland, a Perthshire / Tayside flower and garden photographer and writer. She enjoys soaking up nature in her own garden and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that buzzes, creeps, crawls or flutters. She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography.

Rosie Nixon
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21 Responses

  1. That is so interesting…& the photos are beautiful. Thanks for the info. What history!

  2. Thank You for explaining what a Lade is. It's kind of sad that all that historic industry is gone. It would be great if someone started up some of the old trades just so us new age people can see how things were made in the past.
    Great post!
    Cindee

  3. Thank you for explaining what a 'lade' was. I have visited Scotland, but didn't learn about them. I love how different things are in other places and learning about them. I hope you have more to show us from your part of the world.

  4. This was really interesting! Beautiful pictures to illustrate your description of lades.

  5. Now, I know what a lade is. A story well told with beautiful pictures. Happy New Year 2010!

  6. Your website/blog has been fun to explore.
    I now feel educated as to what a lade is. I have never been to Scotland so your pictures and explanation was real treat!
    Also, thanks for visiting my website too.
    Happy New Year!
    GR

  7. Wow, I'm amazed. That article was well-researched and I learned something brand new on the first day of the new year. Lovely photographs, and your town looks to be such a beauty!

    Happy New Year!

  8. Great history lesson! I learned something new:)

  9. Hello leaves and blooms,
    I discovered your blog from a comment on mine! How lucky I was to find you! This piece on the lade was so well written, and took me back to some of the books I had read of those ladies and children working in the mills. I am amazed that your garden can burst forth into such wonderful colour once the snow is gone. Great work, I will definitely be following your blog from now on.

  10. Wonderful blog, full of beautiful photos and lots of info.
    I wondered why you didnt finish your posts on the front page, –I see now,lol,
    so many pics to look at and lots of info, must come back and see more.

    Thanks for visiting my lil blog and your kind comments.

  11. I'm Scottish but I never heard of lades before. I was visiting my daughter in the south of England and we went to Dartmoor for a short family holiday – there they have leets. – man made streams I think for irrigation not sure. I wonder if the words are related – sounds like they might be. I left Scotland when I was 15, for Liverpool. Then other spots, now in California for 30 years… still I feel I am Scottish – formative years and all that.

  12. gloria bonde

    Very informative and lovely blog. Thank you for a well done post

  13. Thankyou everyone for your great comments. I hope I have helped explain what a Lade is. April I will be doing another post soon on a part of the lade that is only accessible up until the Spring time and after 10 years living here have only found out about it – so in that article I will explain about sluice gates.

    Alot of wildlife use the Lade so I also will be writing about that too over the next few months.

  14. Wow!Excellent article. I remember the Lade when Lumsden was still in use and the water was full of dye. In those days (mid sixties) it was still a very impressive flow of water and the waterfall at the old Ruthvenfield bleachworks was truly terrifying. It's great to see your recent pics, but slightly sad too, to see how it's been tamed by man and nature. Incidentally, some great pics of Lumsden as it was on RCAHMS site canmore.rcahms.gov.uk
    (type huntingtower bleachworks into search box). Did you know it once had it's own electrified railway system?

    All the best – John (aka macotheisles)

  15. Wow! Excellent article which brings back many memories. I knew the Lade when it was (just) still in use in the 60's and the water was often full of bleach. It was very powerful and full back then – not to be trifled – with and the thundering waterfall at the old Ruthvenfield bleachworks was truly terrifying. So many features have disappeared. For example, did you know that Lumsden used to have its own electrified railway system? I's both exciting and sad to see your pics – I haven't been back since I took those photos back in '78. incidentally there are some great images on RCAHMS at canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/ (type Huntingtower Bleachfield into search box).

    All the best…. Johnny T (aka macotheisles)

  16. Hi Johnny you're just the person I have been wanting to contact. I could not remember if I had left a message on photobucket or not for you – obviously I must have if you have come here.

    I got permission from RCAHMS to link their material to this blog today – they have wonderful b/w pics on that government site. They have asked me to send them the links too.

    What I need to find out is where the Ruthvenfield Mill actually was – if it was over that humpback bridge or near the school – I've not been able to find a local around there yet that knows that. If I can find you on photobucket again I'll leave a message for you. Rosie

  17. Thanks for alerting me to your -lade- posts.
    You have put a lot of thought and work into your blog. Very impressive.
    I am glad that they don't use these canals for (obvious) waste disposal anylonger.
    That fabric finishing process you are talking about is know to us modern weavers as 'fulling and crabbing'. such a wonderfully descriptive term.
    The fulling bit is usually done in the bath, with foot stomping like grape pressing used to be. And only for woollen or worsted fabrics I hasten to add, to prevent somebody reading this from ruining woven silk 🙂

  18. Well, Rosie, thank you very much for leaving me with the link to this post. Fascinating information, and certainly answers my question!! My dream trip is to visit Scotland someday! ~karen

  19. Another local here 🙂 A search for St Conwall's Well brought me to your blog. As per the photo you have here, I always understood it to be located at the corner past the castle, but a search via Archaeology Data Service (http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/) has it down as being in the field opposite Shepherd's Mill. Weather permitting, I feel some staring in fields might be in order tomorrow 🙂

  20. Thanks betsie for letting me know. It was the folk at the Castle that told me that was the well…… well well well! they may not be correct after all.

    I did have old maps on my computer before it crashed from the 1800's that had quite a few wells marked on it.

    Does that grid reference point to a field across the road? or a field on the Shepherds Mill side of the road.

    Please leave a message here if you do find it – it would be really interesting to find the correct spot as so many think its that spring near the castle.

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

  21. betsie thankyou so much – I checked that website and have taken some screenshots of the information and later today I will amend my blogpost to highlight this new information and hopefully go and get a picture of this area – its very overgrown in that little area with a few old trees down aswell – but thats the area where I always find some lovely little wildflowers. I think I might have a photo of that area in my archives aswell.

    I can't thank you enough 🙂 Rosie

    now I'm wondering what that spring at the castle really is! so many stop and collect the water in bottles……….

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