05 September 2018
As Bell’s Sports Centre prepares to celebrate 50 years with a community party this weekend, we look back on how one of Perth’s most iconic buildings came to serve the sports and fitness needs of an entire community.
Bell’s Sports Centre opened its doors to the public on Tuesday October 15th 1968. The impressive dome was 58 ft. high and more than 200 ft. in diameter and was recognised as the largest dome in the UK. In fact, architect David Cockburn was presented with a Guinness Book of Records certificate and held the record until the opening of Greenwich Dome at the Millennium.
It was during a train journey to Edinburgh that the then Lord provost discussed plans for a sports arena with Mr WG Farquharson, the Gannochy Trust Chairman at the time. Pointing out the benefit it would bring to the community, he soon had Mr Farquharson enthralled!
It was announced in September 1964 that the Gannochy Trust had offered to meet the cost of the building; then estimated at £150,000 and predicted to complete within two years. In December of that year, Dr Ritchie publicly declared plans for the centre, proclaiming that it would be named after A K Bell as a fitting memorial to his love of sport and his concern for the welfare of people in Perth.
On 16th September 1966 bulldozers moved on to the site to begin preparing the ground and in December work began on the giant iconic dome as the first of 36 giant arches arrived in Perth. A police escort led the vehicles into the city where large crowds gathered and traffic came to a halt as the lorries negotiated the tricky turning from South Street into Tay Street.
By January 1967 all of the arches were in place and the building had begun to come to life. On 20 March 1967, with the dome already underway, the Foundation Stone for Bell’s Sports Centre was laid by Mr Farquharson, Chairman of the Gannochy Trust, at a ceremony presided over by the then Lord Provost Mr David K Thomson.
Despite inclement weather over the winter months, the dome roof sheeting was completed in ten weeks giving the people of Perth a first glimpse of what was to become one of Perth’s most celebrated and well known landmarks.
The opening was planned for March 1968 however, this was not to be as one day after this announcement, on Sunday 18 February 1968, Mr Farrelly saw a plume of smoke from the vicinity of the centre and arrived on site to find the fire brigade fighting a blaze.
Damage from the blaze was estimated to run to thousands of pounds with a large section of the dome covering destroyed and most of the 36 arch rib beams badly scorched and the repair of the fire damage proved a slow process.
Seven months behind the original schedule Bell’s Sports Centre opened with 330sq ft. of unobstructed floor space that could be laid out to accommodate courts for tennis, badminton, volleyball, netball and basketball. It was also ideal for athletics and gymnastics, with an innovative eleven lap per mile running track, 60m sprint, long, high and triple jumps, pole vault, hammer, discus and javelin all part of the centre’s offering.
As well as this, Bell’s had facilities for indoor football, hockey, practice cricket wickets and golf. The additional benefits brought by the seating for spectators, dressing rooms for players, committee rooms for officials and a public restaurant elevated Bell’s Sports Centre to a national stage and brought together the realisation of the vision shared between Lord Provost Dr Robert Ritchie and Gannochy Chairman Mr W G Farquharson during that fateful train journey to Edinburgh.
PHOTOGRAPHY: All modern day photographs here of Bell’s have been taken by Fraser Band. The black and white scans come from the Live Active Leisure archives and, fittingly, the AK Bell Library archives. You can download the 50th Anniversary Brochure here >>>