Over the weekend we ended up viewing the lade from inside the Mercure Hotel, Perth formally known as Ramada Jarvis at the Upper City Mills. In a previous article about the Lade I mentioned this hotel. And if you remember … this hotel has something unique as you will soon discover. In fact we met a lovely receptionist called Gillian inside at the reception desk. She was so helpful. Moreover she allowed me to take some photos from the hotel garden, inside the main reception area and lounge.
Mercure Hotel Garden
We first went out into the garden. You could see where they had still kept some of the implements for the mills hanging from the wall. Furthermore there were some stone mill wheels and some metal cogs (like wheels but with teeth) also in the garden.
All you could hear in the garden was the sound of the Lade flowing at such a great speed. Moreover you can see from the photo below that the Lade splits in two in the hotel garden.
But where were those 2 channels flowing to? There is only one place they could be flowing and that’s straight into the hotel! And you can view the lade from inside the Mercure Hotel.
Gillian also gave me a leaflet that the Mercure Hotel have produced for their guests. I have taken some of that information and placed it here…
The History of The City Mills
The history of the City Mills dates back to the 10th Century with the city lade, the source of the water that you can see today flowing through the hotel. There is evidence that suggests that it pre-dates the reign of Malcom Canmore, who famously deposed Macbeth and married Saint Margaret of Scotland.
The lade supplied the motive power to the mills. A man-made waterway, it flows from the River Almond at Almondbank, north of the city, a distance of around four and a half miles before emptying into the River Tay just below the “Old Bridge”.
Legend has it that the lade was dug in one night by the military and was therefore named the “Kings Lade”. What is know is that it was part of the defences of the medieval city of Perth.
Below the Lower City Mills currently occupied by the Tourist Information Bureau, the lade originally split into two with one branch following the line of the modern South Methven Street, Canal Crescent and Canal Street. This branch silted up regularly and fell out of use in the 19th Century. The other branch currently flows underneath Mill Street. It can be seen at the end of Skinnergate, one of Perth’s oldest streets. Nearby, in Alberts Close, stands the last remnant of the Old City Wall.
The First Mill On This Site
The first mill on this site appeared around the beginning of the 12th Century. They were apparently gifted to the crown in the following century but in 1375, by Fen charter, the mills were given to the people of the city by King Robert the Third, and they were renamed ‘The City Mills’.
The area to the west of the lade housed flour, meal and barley mills, kilns and a granary and an oil mill. Together, with ownership of the waterfall at Tulloch, all provided an important part of burgh revenues.
Throughout the centuries the mills suffered quite a few fires but each time the town rebuilt them. The last, indeed the only record of repairs to the Mills was in 1879 – the cost being 11 pounds. In the twentieth century they fell into disuse, finally closing in the 1930’s.
In the 1970’s the derelict building was developed as a hotel with help from the Civic Trust Scheme. The award winning conversion has retained many of the features of the old mill. Guests can follow the flow of water through the hotel as it splits to power the wheel opposite Reception and joins and splits again in the Lounge Bar where the oldest parts of the structure can be viewed through one of the viewing ports.
The Lade from inside the Mercure Hotel
Here are some photos I took today from inside the Mercure Hotel reception area of those viewing ports on floor as well as to the left side and inside the Lounge Bar.
The Old Granary
The Lade then flows out of the hotel again at the Granary flowing towards Lower City Mills. While you can see many old mill wheels against the walls of the old buildings.
The Town Lade and the City Mills
Then there is this wall plaque full of more information which I have copied here for anyone who has difficulty reading text on photographs.
As you look over the wall
…the water that you see has just been through the lower city mill where it powered the large undershot wheel. The water is taken out of the river Almond, four miles west of Perth. It is now being channeled to join the Tay below the old bridge.
This is the lower part of Perth’s lade, the Scots term for mill stream. And it has been in existence since at least the 12th century.
Scottish charters of 1153 make reference to several mills, built to grind oats and bere, a primitive form of barley by means of water power. Previously these tasks would have been done using a hand turned stone of quern.
Mills owned by the important medieval Mercer family were gifted to King Malcom III and renamed the King’s mills. In 1375 Robert II gave them back to the city fathers and inhabitants of Perth.
Water in the lade was also used for defence.
In 1306 Edward 1, occupying Perth, ordered a new ditch to be dug, which may have been an extension of the lade to the west and south. With this defence and the fact that Perth could be provisioned, via the River Tay, meant that it was not until 1313 that Robert the Bruce could recapture the city.
The junction where the lade forked to provide water for the Balhousie mill was known as the Boot of Balhousie. The Laird of Balhousie asked the king for permission to take a bootful of water from the lade, and this was granted.
The Laird is reputed to have used a boot with no sole, thus ensuring a constant supply of water for his mill. Perhaps the more likely explanation is that the Scots word ‘bowt’ or ‘boult’ means a gap.
Small boats used to off load coal
After passing through the City mills, a southern spur of the lade flowed south along the line of South Methven Street. Around Canal Cresent. And turned east along Canal Street where small boats were used to off load coal from larger boats on the Tay. While flour from the mills was also transported.
A smaller branch of the lade continued south along the line of King Stree, across the South Inch to link up with the Craigie burn. This extension was covered over in 1802.
The success of the mill was assured. Farmers were required to bring their grain to be ground. And had to pay a duty of between 1/24th and 1/13th of the total to the miller. And also to pay a small cash levy to the miller’s servant. They might also be called upon to help with repairs, and maintaining the lades.
The building of the upper mill, now the City Mills Hotel, dates from 1774 and 1792. And still retains many of the original features. The lower mill with its large undershot wheel dates from 1808 and specialised in grinding oats. Recently restored they are worth further inspection. In 1807 a survey reported that the mills of the King’s lade were worked by four falls. These totalled about 13 feet from the upper mill to the lower mill. The volume of water in the King’s lade in October was 3180 cubic feet. And the calculations suggested that if properly harnessed this would produce the equivalent of a 60 horse power steam engine.
The City Mills finally closed in 1966. The Upper City Mills were converted into the City Mills Hotel. While the Lower City Mills, which were just as the last miller had left them were renovated. With financial assistance from various agencies. And are now open to the public.
I hope you enjoyed reading a little more about the lade from inside the Mercure Hotel.