Edinburgh’s clean water on tap

For inhabitants of a modern city such as Edinburgh, it is easy to take clean fresh water for granted. Half a million of us have a seemingly inexhaustible supply at the turn of a tap to fill our kettles, baths and sinks. And most of us take advantage of this without batting an eyelid!

But we should remember that we have this luxury while living in the same city, the same streets and often the same buildings which were once dangerously dirty and smelly. Auld Reekie’s inhabitants regularly fell victim to waterborne plagues due to a lack of clean, safe wells.

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition, Reservoirs of Edinburgh gives a unique insight into how this problem was solved, through the eyes of one of the engineers involved,  Alexander Leslie C.E.

We know little about Leslie and only discovered him by chance when we came across a mysterious and anonymous album entitled ‘Photographs of Edinburgh Reservoirs’ among our photographic collections.

Leslie was a partner in the civil engineering firm J & A Leslie and Reid, who oversaw the building of the Moorfoot project, constructing several reservoirs in a range of hills to the south of the city.

The photographs may simply have been a tool to record the project’s achievements, but the volume also contains images from further afield so we can perhaps assume he was a keen amateur early photographer.

These photographs are attributed to him by James Colston, a local lawyer and author within his book ‘Edinburgh and District Water Supply: A Historical Sketch’ published in 1890. Colston’s volume contains several illustrations based on scenes from Leslie’s photographs.

 

The images show reservoirs in and around Edinburgh and their infrastructure which are now over a century old, during their construction or just after their completion.

Interestingly some images show the navvies who worked on the project at ground level. Often with great works of engineering the designers and architects are remembered in history but the faces and names of the men who did the dirty work are lost making this insight rare and invaluable.

We’ve also included some of the other illustrations from Colston’s book as they helped to develop a more rounded picture of the history of Edinburgh’s water supply including images in the typical style of Walter Geikie, of life in the city before water was readily available in private homes and of prominent figures integral to the process of bringing Edinburgh’s water supply up to scratch.

Discover more about the history behind Edinburgh’s clean water on tap at Capital Collections. 

The view from the top

Ever made it to the top of the 4,408 ft climb to Britain’s highest peak?

Here in our latest exhibition on Capital Collections is the view from a Victorian 360 degree perspective. The panorama is drawn from the Observatory at the summit. The building now lies in ruins but has a prestigious heritage. It was planned by Thomas Stevenson, lighthouse engineer (and father of Robert Louis Stevenson) and enabled the collection of 20 years’ worth of mountain weather data until its closure in 1904.
Section from 'Panorama from Ben Nevis', looking West

The drawings are delicately coloured in muted browns, purples, and blues to indicate the perspective of the distant hills, lochs and islands. Several islands to the West are visible, even Ireland itself. Although a reviewer writing in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, cast doubt over the accuracy of such a sight:

“It also seems improbable that Ireland can be seen from Ben Nevis, for the distance of the visible horizon from a height of 4,400 feet is but eighty-one miles”.

However the journal also recommended the panorama without hesitation, to

“every one contemplating a visit to the summit to provide himself with one of these excellent panoramas, for he will certainly find it a most useful and pleasant aid to his enjoyment of the view”.

Now you can browse online and enjoy the view without the exertion or battling the elements!

Time for a mystery

Edinburgh libraries are on a quest! Queries from the public have brought these two photographs to our attention and we are desperate to find out anything we can about them.

McGlashen Sundial

All we know of this sundial is that it was made by Stewart McGlashen & Son Ltd., who were monument sculptors, marble and granite workers. They were based in Canonmills in Edinburgh and were in business from the 1840s until the 1970s.

What we would like to know is the location of the sundial and where is it now? Do you recognise it at all?

Mystery Photo Sept

This second photograph is the second part of our mystery. We know a little about it: that the photograph was taken by J. Clapperton of Galashiels, around the year 1900. We think that they may belong to the Free Church of Scotland as one of their number attended the Free Church Training College (now Moray House College of Education) and worked as a teacher in Fife and West Lothian.

This is all we know about the picture but we would like to know more if anyone out there can help us. Does anyone know the building they are in front of? Or perhaps the reason for the gathering? Do you know any of the people that feature in the picture? Any information would be gratefully received.

To see larger views of these pictures or to let us know any details you might have about them then please visit our Flickr page and let us know what you think or know about the pictures in the comments box there.

Central Inspiration

HannahBotma_1Prepare to be inspired as you follow an innovative art trail through Central Library.  Original artwork by Edinburgh College of Art masters students, which was inspired by the building and its collections, form the Central Inspiration exhibition, on display until the end of August.

The aim of the project was to highlight the importance of tactile objects in the library in a digital age.  MA Graphic Design student Sigrid Schmeisser said: “While libraries must incorporate technology to compete with their online counterparts, we cannot discount the tactile nature of public libraries that cannot be recreated on-screen. Libraries are often home to rare books, prints and manuscripts and unlike a museum the public has access to these artefacts which is an interaction that no scan or image can recreate.”

To celebrate this aspect of a traditional library, the 15 postgraduate graphic design and illustration students installed pieces around the main public areas of the Central Library building to encourage audiences to explore the collections.  The work ranges from light reflecting mobiles in the children’s library to an Edgar Allan Poe inspired illustration in reference.  There’s a digital animation in the Lending Library and ornate paper crafts outside the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection.

DanDan-Chen_img11-1024x763You can collect a map at the foyer of the library and use it to navigate your way through these wonderful pieces.  The process was also filmed to allow you, dear library user, to click a QR code beside the artwork and discover the inspiration behind it.

Here’s a taste of what the artists had to say:

Visit the Central Inspiration website for more information on the project and view more videos on our You Tube Channel.

The story of Edinburgh Zoo

One hundred years ago Edinburgh Zoo opened its doors to the public for the first time. To mark the zoo’s centenary we’ve collaborated with Edinburgh Zoo to share its fascinating history on Our Town Stories.
Discover why the zoo’s logo is a penguin and where escapee sea lions were found in 1924. Take a nostalgic look at the Children’s Farm and meet the many famous animal faces Edinburgh Zoo has looked after over the years. Look behind the scenes at the zoo’s state-of-the-art Wildgenes Laboratory where today scientists undertake genetic analysis in support of conservation projects.

Bobo the chimp takes a bath

There are also some rather special Then & Now images to find on the Our Town Stories map

The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: Robert Butchart

Robert Butchart, F.L.A., Principal Librarian, 1942 - 1953Robert Butchart held the post of Edinburgh City Librarian from 1942 until 1953. Mr Butchart had a particular interest in topographical prints of Old Edinburgh, and collected drawings by the likes of Bruce J. Home and engravings by John Ewbank. After Mr Butchart retired, he published a book in 1955 entitled, ‘Prints and Drawings of Edinburgh’, giving ‘A descriptive account of the collection in the Edinburgh Room of the Central Public Library’. Mr Butchart wrote with pride of the collection of prints and drawings held by the then Edinburgh Room which had been accumulated over the previous 25 years, claiming it ‘undoubtedly ranks as the finest collection in existence of topographical and historical prints of the City’.

In October 1982, Mr Butchart’s personal collection was presented to the Central Library by his daughter, Miss Jean Butchart. In this short film, she explains why she felt it appropriate that the majority of the prints from her father’s collection should be housed in the library where he had first become inspired by the subject.

The prints collection of the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library has continued to grow since Mr Butchart’s tenure and you can now search many more hundreds of stunning images of Edinburgh from our collections on Capital Collections.

It’s a mystery!

Back in 2011 we ran a campaign to ask for your help in identifying the locations of some of our old photographs. Well now the mystery photos have come back again!

Over the next few months we will put up sets of our most stubborn, difficult to place pictures and hopefully some of the well-informed amateur detectives amongst you will be able to guide us towards the answer! Not so much a Whodunit?, more a Whereisit? Eat your heart out Agatha Christie.

Our first set of pictures comes from the lens of Alexander Adam Inglis, an Aberdeen born artist who worked from the Rock House on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, a studio which had a number of distinguished artists & photographers working from it for nearly a century.

So for starters – do you know where this is? We think the picture was taken in 1892.

If you do know then let us know via the comments box below!

To see the rest of this set of Alexander Adam Inglis photographs visit our Flickr account. Have a look and if you don’t know where these photos were taken please pass it on.

Library news round-up

LOADS happening in libraries recently – so let’s have a quick round-up.

First, thanks to all you big-hearted readers who helped us raise lots of money for Comic Relief and Marie Curie. Central Library hosted a Red Nose Day Readathon with staff taking turns to read from the funniest novel ever – as voted by our readers…

Library staff get into the red nose spiritWhile dressing up of a different sort was the order of the day as Newington Library celebrated International Women’s Day with a fashion show featuring women’s national dress from around the world.

model in national dress at Newington LibraryNext, news for Edinburgh and Scottish Collection fans. The good news is that this part of Central Library is getting a makeover, including paintwork and new carpets. We will however have to close for 10-12 weeks while the work gets done (from 2nd April). The rest of central library will remain open during this period.

At Corstorphine Library National Science and Engineering Week was all the reason  needed to examine how acids and alkali work with these Rainbow Jellyfish. We also calculated the speed of light – using chocolate and a microwave. To find out how visit Corstorphine Library’s Facebook page.

rainbow jellyfish

Last but by no means least,  Edinburgh Libraries have been shortlisted for The Bookseller Magazine’s Library of the Year award, a title currently held by… Edinburgh Libraries (you might have seen us mention this before). The winner is announced on 13th May – fingers crossed!

Print

Planning a Burns Supper?

At the Edinburgh & Scottish Library we’re gearing up for the annual influx of enquiries from Burns Supper hosts, attendees and speakers.

The library is home to an impressive collection of material on the life and times of our most celebrated poet. From biographies, poems and songs, to cartoons and rhymes for wee folk, we’ve got all the information you need to make your Burns supper a roaring success. Here’s a selection of what’s on offer.

We also have on display engravings by Robert Bryden from our unique print collection, illustrating scenes from Burns’ poems including ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’. (Last year we blogged about John Faed’s wonderful illustrations of the same poem – if you didn’t see these they’re well worth a look.)

And to get you right in the mood, take a couple of minutes to enjoy this performance of one of the bard’s most popular works.

The Traverse Theatre at 50

We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of an Edinburgh cultural institution with a specially curated exhibition.

January 2nd 1963 saw the birth of a Theatre Club housed in an abandoned brothel in the Lawnmarket. From inauspicious beginnings, the Traverse Theatre has grown in scale and stature over the years to a global reputation for producing innovative, must-see Theatre.

Taking images from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection’s theatre archive, material from the ‘Traverse Archive’ kindly loaned by the National Library of Scotland and specially commissioned photographs of the Traverse in its 50th year, the exhibition traces the history of the theatre from its early days in Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket, via its second location in the Grassmarket, right up to present day production shots taken during the dress rehearsal for ‘Arthur Conan Doyle’s Appreciation Society’.

The Traverse Theatre was given its name by Terry Lane, its first Artistic Director who had mistaken the name of the ‘transverse’ staging arrangement. However, he realised too late as the name had already stuck for Edinburgh’s newest theatre. Today, the Traverse Theatre is synonymous with new writing and over the years has helped launch the careers of some of Scotland’s most prestigious and best-loved playwrights, including John Byrne, David Greig, David Harrower and Liz Lochhead.

Our ‘Fifty Years of the Traverse Theatre’ exhibition runs on the Central Library Mezzanine from 3rd January to 27th February. However, if you can’t make it in, you can view our online exhibition to enjoy a behind the scenes tour of the Traverse through the years.

From our collections, ‘A Series of Etchings’ by John Clerk of Eldin

John Clerk of Eldin was a remarkable man, best known in his day as a naval writer and tactician, he was also friend to the geologist, James Hutton and architect Robert Adam. Today though, it is Clerk the amateur artist, who is more widely recognised. Currently on show at the City Art Centre is an exhibition dedicated to his etchings of Scottish Scenes, from his earliest self-taught efforts to later finely executed works.

If you’ve not yet caught the John Clerk of Eldin exhibition at the City Art Centre, here’s a little preview of what to expect. From our library archives, we’ve put together a small selection of Clerk’s etchings focusing on scenes of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Click on the image in Capital Collections and you can zoom right in to the smallest detail to see how the city looked two centuries ago.

ClerkCity Art Centre exhibition runs until 3rd February 2013.

1950s Greenside revisited – and it’s all thanks to you

A wee while ago we blogged a request for help to locate the artist of a collection of fantastic photographs depicting life in 1950s Greenside.  We’re delighted to say that with a little help from friends on Facebook, we’ve made contact with the photographer’s family who have kindly allowed us to share and publish the pictures online.

Here’s a preview of the wonderful pictures taken by Ewing Smith of children playing in the streets and at the Greenside Youth Club. The photographs are a unique record of a lost community and a terrific picture of youth culture in 1950s Edinburgh. Look out for The Little Demon Skiffle Group, including some mean washboard playing… Browse the full exhibition on Capital Collections. And let us know if you spot any familiar faces amongst the youth club crowd!

Valentine’s Scotland

Taken from the library’s metaphorical attic and now Capital Collections newest exhibition is this wonderful album of photographs from the 19th century photographer and publisher, James Valentine.

James Valentine’s album is far removed from the traditional photo album, with crumpled pictures of Great Uncle Charles and Granny with her army of spaniels; these pictures capture some of Scotland’s most fantastic scenery, landmarks and historical sites.

Valentine’s album contains photographs covering all areas of Scotland and all aspects of Scottish life. Photographs of ancient castles, of hills filled with folklore of fairies and magic, photographs of Burns cottage in Alloway and Sir Walter Scott’s mansion Abbotsford, and historical images of Scotland’s biggest cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

So settle down with a cup of tea, slice of cake and have a browse, we guarantee this is one album you won’t be bored of by page two.

Do you remember the Greenside of the 1950s?

Before the glass facade of the multiplex cinema, the metal giraffes and the car boot sales, the Greenside area of Edinburgh was home to a population of 571 people living in 256 houses. Lying in the shadow of Calton Hill, the neighbourhood’s narrow streets and alleyways saw little sunshine. The area suffered from poor ventilation, over-crowding and poor sanitation. With the backing of the City’s Medical Officer of Health and the Chief Sanitory Inspector, Greenside was a priority area on the council’s programme of slum clearances. The Medical Officer had declared the area unfit for human habitation and the only satisfactory option would be to pull the tenements down.

In 1961, after demolition had started, a journalist wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News that the area was awaiting a ‘new era of usefulness’. The area would have to wait some time as a large multi-storey car park filled the gap left behind by the housing until the late 1990s when a multi-million pound development for a cinema and leisure complex was invisaged.

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We’ve discovered within the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection, a fantastic collection of images of Greenside dating from the late 1950s before demolition work had begun. The photographs capture the dark and unsalubrious atmosphere of the narrow streets. They also however, show a different side of the neighbourhood. Many of the pictures are taken at Greenside Youth Club, possibly run by Greenside Parish Church, and show a strong community coming together to laugh and play and have fun.

We think the photographer was William Ewing Smith, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to trace him to get in contact. We’d love to hear from you, if you lived in the Greenside area of Edinburgh in the 1950s or maybe you went to the Greenside Youth Club? We’d love to hear your memories and we’d really like to hear from anyone who helped run the Youth Club or knew Mr Smith.

If you’ve any information you can share with us, please contact informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk

Get with the programme: Edinburgh’s sporting history

“Sport” is the theme of this week’s Scottish Local History Week so we’ve been looking through our collection of programmes with an Edinburgh connection.

Here’s the programme from the 1956 Scottish Cup Final, a game the Jam Tarts won 3-1 to lift the cup for the first time in fifty years.

A slightly bemused looking Gavin Hastings gazes out from the cover of the programme from American Football’s 1996 Word Bowl (below). A crowd of over 38 000 watched The Scottish Claymores (remember them?) beat Frankfurt Galaxy at Murrayfield to record their solitary success in the competition.

On a more tragic note, the 1963 speedway challenge match between an Edinburgh select and Belle Vue was the scene of a accident in which Belle Vue’s captain and former world champion Peter Craven was critically injured.

All these programmes and more will be on display in the Central Library foyer this week. See how Hearts and Hibs matchday programmes have changed over the years, and find out more about our ever expanding collection of sporting material including books, fanzines and other ephemera.

Scotland versus England in pictures and programmes

As well as being National Libraries Day, Saturday also sees the start of this year’s RBS Six Nations rugby championship. Scotland’s first match sees Murrayfield play host to a visit from the ‘auld enemy’, who ran out victors when the sides last met at the 2011 World Cup.

Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection is home to books, photographs and programmes which document the history of international rugby’s oldest fixture. Some of these items make up part of a display which is currently on show in the library.

The slideshow below features the teams from the first match between the countries, which took place at Raeburn Place on the afternoon of Monday 27th March 1871. Each team had 20 players and each half lasted 50 minutes. The match was won, somewhat controversially, by the home side.

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The slideshow also includes a couple of items from our collection of programmes, including the cover of the programme for the 100th match between the sides, which took place in 1984. Despite the efforts of England’s splendidly named Dusty Hare, Scotland won this game on their way to a rare grand slam.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our collection of rugby material speak to a member of staff or drop us a line at central.edinburghandscottish.library@edinburgh.gov.uk.

Do you use library internet computers or wifi?

We are currently carrying out some work to improve the performance of the libraries’ Peoples’ Network computers. This means there may be no internet access in some libraries for a time.

We need to carry out this work in order to increase bandwidth and speed up the performance of these machines. This will improve response times for logging in and internet page loading.

If you need to know more please contact your local library for details of People’s Network availability.

On Sorley MacLean’s Centenary

Today is the centenary of the birth of Sorley MacLean, one of Scotland’s most distinguished twentieth century poets. MacLean was born at Oscaig, on the isle of Raasay on 26 October 1911, into a background where Gaelic, especially in song, was still very influential. He studied English at the University of Edinburgh in the 1930s, and chose teaching as a career, eventually becoming headmaster of Plockton High School.

His early poems were in English, and Gaelic, but “The Heron” in 1932 signified his adoption of the latter as the preferred conduit for his verse. His left wing leanings shone through in his 1930s poems on the Spanish Civil War and the Highland Clearances, but he was also a fine exponent of love poetry.

During the Second World War he fought and was wounded in North Africa. He married in 1946, and continued to write fine poetry. He also produced a fair amount of literary criticism, drawing attention to the excellence of much Gaelic writing, although he could be highly critical of some nineteenth century work.

He received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1990 but died a few years later on 24 November, 1996.

If you want to find out more about Sorley MacLean you can borrow books by and about the poet from the Edinburgh & Scottish Collection in the Central Library, where you will also find many other titles in Gaelic, as well as books, videos, and cd roms to help you learn the language.

Don’t throw away those festival flyers and programmes!

Festival time is once again upon us and the streets of Edinburgh are awash with flyers, posters and other promotional material.

Instead of throwing away those leaflets and programmes we’re asking you to hand them into the Central Library so they can be added to the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection‘s outstanding collection of theatre and Festival memorabilia. Programmes from any shows that you attend are especially welcome.

We’ve been collecting material associated with the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since 1947. Here are some examples:

This poster, illustrated by John Byrne,  is for The Big Yin’s 1972 show, and the image below is from the programme for La Sonnambula at the King’s Theatre in 1957 featuring Dino Mantovani and Maria Callas.  This is the only performance Maria Callas ever gave in the UK outside of London.

In 1960 Oxbridge alumni Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller took Edinburgh by storm, and changed the face of British comedy.  Do you think those that went along to the show on Monday 22nd August 1960 could have guessed the significance of what they were going to see?

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection is the place to find out more about the history of Edinburgh and its festivals, where our team of experts are on hand to answer your queries and share their encyclopaedic knowledge. And if you’re interested in the theatre in general, ask about our larger Theatre Archive, which contains items dating back as far as the late 1700s.

Fringe 2011 programme cover

Easter holidays and Royal nuptials

Just a quick reminder that libraries will be closed on Good Friday (22nd April) and Easter Monday (25th April).  However, during the Easter weekend, libraries will be open on Saturday 23 April and Sunday 24 April if they are usually open on a Sunday.

We’ll also be closed for the Royal Wedding on Friday 29th April. To set the mood take a look our Royals in Edinburgh exhibition, featuring pictures of city streets and buildings festooned in decorations and bunting to welcome kings and queens to Edinburgh.

See the crowds thronging the streets to catch a glimpse of their monarch and check out some lovely pictures of a community in Gorgie celebrating the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 with a street party and dancing. There are also earlier images of the Queen, when as Princess Elizabeth, she visited the city with her parents in September 1945 to celebrate the victorious end of World War Two.