'She didn't really exist' - expert debunks myth behind Fair Maid's House in Perth


24 May 2018
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One of the most persistent myths about the history of Perth has been debunked by historian Dr Nicola Cowmeadow, whose job involves sharing the region's history with the public.
'She didn't really exist' - expert debunks myth behind Fair Maid's House in Perth Images

One of the most persistent myths about the history of Perth has been debunked by historian Dr Nicola Cowmeadow, whose job involves sharing the region's history with the public.

The common misconception is that the Fair Maid of Perth, made famous by Sir Walter Scott's novel, lived in the house, a medieval building near the city's North Inch. But it's not that straightforward, says Dr Cowmeadow, who has been researching the Fair Maid story as part of Local and Community History Month.

The site is located where the ancient Blackfriars monastery stood but there was a great deal of debate around its ownership. (This can be read in the library among the pamphlets of local antiquarian Robert Scott Fittis (1789- 1896).) The house as we see it today stems from the ownership of an Alyth solicitor, William Japp who bought it around 1890. William renovated the house and enclosed the staircase which had formerly been on the outside of the building.

The house was given over to the City of Perth at the turn of the 19th century and, due to the success of Scott's novel, it had become known as the Fair Maid's House. After falling into disrepair and lying empty for more than 15 years, the listed building - the oldest secular structure in the area - re-opened in 2011 after extensive refurbishment. It is now a visitor centre housing the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

'She didn't really exist'

The first thing to understand is that the Fair Maid didn't really exist," said Dr Cowmeadow. "She was a character, Catharine Glover, created by Scott. Scott was adept at weaving historical truth with fiction and was clearly inspired by the building's history in creating the Fair Maid. The building in Curfew Row housed the Glover's Hall where the city's Glovers met for 150 years.

"Scott's novel created a narrative around the Glovers and this property, and it was an immense and immediate success. The entire tale lives on as an intrinsic part of Perth's history and one that put the city on the international map. But with so many coming to visit both the historic sights of the Perth and those places which had featured in The Fair Maid of Perth, it has become difficult to separate the myth from the reality."

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