Back to school with Our Town Stories

Whether you went to school in Edinburgh or not, you can’t help but be aware of the city’s long educational history. Its streets are lined with buildings that were involved in Edinburgh’s educational past.  In the latest Our Town Story we investigate the history of schools in the Capital and discover the hidden past of some of the city’s buildings.

Bonnington Academy IV & V classes

Find out how Edinburgh has one of the oldest schools in the world and where the poor were educated in the early eighteenth century. Learn about the intriguing monotorial system and the Ragged Schools Movement.  See which schools haven’t survived and which are still around today.

Our Town Stories provides a unique, interactive look at Edinburgh’s history. It blends images, maps and information from the collections of Edinburgh Libraries into online stories about the city’s places, people and events that appeal to both young and old. Log on today to see what you can find!

Where to find the best collection of Festival memorabilia

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.

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection is the place to find out more about the history of Edinburgh and its festivals.

It’s also the perfect location to come in to for some peaceful contemplation before heading back out into the chaos!

Edinburgh during World War One

Our latest story on Our Town Stories describes the impact of World War One on the people at home.

Find out about the zeppelin raid, the Gretna Rail Disaster, the city’s footballing heroes, recuperating war poets and pioneering female doctor, Elsie Inglis.

The war that was meant to be over by Christmas lasted over four years and touched the lives of all communities across Britain.

Camerons leaving for the Front, 1914

If you’re interested in discovering more about World War One, Edinburgh Libraries has many more resources for research and reflection. We’ve created a new page on our Your Library website where you can explore a growing collection of material related to the conflict.

Meadowbank and the Commonwealth Games

Edinburgh has hosted the Commonwealth games twice, an honour awarded to no other city. This unique relationship with the competition has left its mark on the Capital both architecturally and in the choice of leisure facilities available to the people of Edinburgh.

Meadowbank Stadium was built to accommodate the 1970 Games. It has a 400m running track, 100m sprint track, pitches for football and hockey, a velodrome, numerous sports halls and gym facilities available for use to the general public. The games for which the stadium was produced are to this day considered the most successful in the history of the competition. The stadium once again held the games in 1986 and although these were less successful due to political and financial issues at the time, the stadium was still a worthy centre-piece for such a prestigious international spectacle.

Meadowbank Stadium

As the Commonwealth Games return to Scotland for Glasgow 2014, and with some events taking place in Edinburgh, our latest Capital Collections exhibition on Meadowbank Stadium looks to paint a picture of the beloved stadium from its brush with Commonwealth glory to the present day.

Track cycling at Meadowbank Velodrome

On a beautiful balmy evening late last summer, we were privileged to attend one of the regular track cycling training sessions at Meadowbank to enhance our library archive’s collection of sport images. The images and film clips show cyclists taking to the boards to train and race on the steep wooden slopes of the Velodrome.

Track cyclists, Meadowbank Veldrome

Meadowbank Stadium and Velodrome were built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and both hosted the Games again in 1986 when they returned to the city. The training venue has been home to a number of Olympians, world and European champions over the years, including notably Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, former world gold medallist Craig MacLean and former world champion Graeme Obree.

See Edinburgh’s current track cyclists in action in our latest Capital Collections exhibition!

The secret history of Edinburgh’s hospitals

New on Our Town Stories, the remarkable story of Edinburgh’s hospitals.

Discover the link between Sherlock Holmes and the Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children, the story of the world’s first bionic arm, and the humble origins of the Royal Infirmary, which started out with only four beds!

The colourful world of Ned Holt

To coincide with the Museum of Edinburgh’s latest exhibition, ‘Street Life in Victorian Edinburgh: The colourful world of Ned Holt’, a new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together all of Edward P. Holt’s character paintings from a bound volume held by Edinburgh Libraries.

Holt began his working life as an apprentice baker but gave that up for a career as a showman and then as an actor. His painting seems to have been a sideline, often it’s claimed, merely a means of paying for a drink in one of Edinburgh’s Old Town taverns.

His paintings depict the people he encountered in daily life, those who lived or made their money on the streets of Edinburgh. Through them we have a vivid and remarkable record of the people who roamed the city’s streets 150 years ago.Edinburgh characters at St Giles

The Holt artworks in the Museum of Edinburgh exhibition are accompanied by poetry by Donald Campbell and we’re delighted to include some of his poems alongside the characters on Capital Collections.

Donald Campbell’s emotive vignettes bring the characters further to life. Here is Donald Campbell’s poem to the artist himself:

Ned Holt

In his studio and on stage
At Connor’s or the Hallow Fair,
The talent he possessed was rare
And would be so in any age.

But in Auld Reekie, as elsewhere
The Arts were sorely in decline.
The hey-day of the philistine
Caused all our people to despair.

And yet Ned Holt, he paid no mind
To fashions that were like to kill
The calling that he need fulfil;
To paint the portraits of his kind
From Canongait to Castlehill.

And – through his eyes – we see them still.

Don’t miss the exhibition of paintings and poetry at the Museum of Edinburgh on show until 29th June 2014.

A new look for the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection

The newly refurbished Edinburgh and Scottish Collection opened its doors to the public this morning.


This is the place to find out about Scotland and its capital. Fantastic heritage collections cover history, maps, literature, local and family history as well as up to date information about your local area.

Work is continuing on the new Music Library, which will be located on the mezzanine level above the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection. This will open on 15th May, along with the brand new Children’s Library, bringing all Central Library services and collections under one roof.

See more images of the new look Edinburgh and Scottish Collection on Flickr.


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!


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!