Yesterday, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) opened the doors to the Fair Maids House (FMH) which has been sympathetically converted and restored into a new geographical education and visitor centre. John Swinney MSP and Perth Provost, John Hulbert cut the ribbon and officially opened the new centre to the public.
The date holds particular significance for the society as it is the 20th of July1884 that is traditionally regarded as the unofficial founding of the Society. It was on this day that Mrs Agnes Livingstone Bruce (daughter of David Livingstone)
The Fair Maids House, made famous by Walter Scott’s novel, The Fair Maid of Perth, is the oldest secular building in the area, unfortunately the building has lain empty for more than 15 years, causing the garden to become overgrown and unkempt and the inside to slowly fall into disrepair.
Despite this, historians will be happy to note that the façade of the building remains unchanged and meticulous work has gone in to preserving some of the main features of this iconic house, including the upstairs prayer niche and, a previously hidden, medieval stone wall, both of which have been made into beautiful features of the property.
It is only from the rear of the property, and once inside, that the profound change is truly visible. Intensive building and restoration work has been completed and in place of the red brick ‘link’ building that was added on between FMH and RSGS HQ in Lord John Murray House, is a bright, modern, welcoming reception and glass panelled education room. An old style library and explorers' room are upstairs, while downstairs will host a number of displays on geographical issues, the history of the society, the geography and history of Perth and the house itself. The new centre also has many impressive state of the art features and displays, including the peculiarly named ‘PufferSphere’
The centre will also house the society’s vast historical collections of maps, diaries, books, photos and artefacts from the best of scientific exploration of the past 150+ years. These collections have never been properly publically accessible before now.
The BBC’s resident geologist and RSGS Vice-president, Professor Iain Stewart, said ”It's fantastic to see geographical research alive and kicking at this new and exciting centre, one in which people can really get up close and personal the past collections and appreciate their relevance to what's happening with the planet today.”
World renowned adventurer and RSGS Vice-President, David Hempleman-Adams commented, “I admire the work that the Royal Scottish Geographical Society does in bringing young people into adventure and into geography. I think the RSGS is the best in the world. I really believe that.”
The renovation of the Fair Maid’s House to create a centre of excellence for geography in Scotland would not have been possible without the generous support of the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Regeneration Fund, Perth & Kinross Council, Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, Perth Common Good Fund, The Gannochy Trust, The Forteviot Charitable Trust, Thomson Charitable Trust, Jimmie Cairncross Charitable Trust, The Guildry Incorporation of Perth, The Glover Incorporation of Perth, and RSGS members and supporters.
The new centre will be open to the public from July 21st 2011. The RSGS intends that the centre will initially be open from 10:00am to 4:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, until October.