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!

In the garden – Walter Crane’s children’s books

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, In the Garden: Walter Crane’s children’s books, was created by Elizabeth Stevens an Art History postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. Elizabeth completed the online exhibition as part of her internship programme between the University and Central Library. The internship programme allows students to gain practical experience outside the typical academic setting and spend time researching an aspect of the Library’s Special Collections.

Elizabeth was drawn to the Library’s children’s illustrated books collection and in particular the work of Walter Crane (1848-1915). Crane was a draughtsman, illustrator, designer and socialist. In his time, he was regarded as one of the best illustrators of children’s books in Britain. Crane’s books include retellings of classics like Aesop’s Fables as well as his own stories, making for a diverse catalogue that sold extremely well to people of all classes.

Crane’s artistic style was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement and Aestheticism. Alongside these artistic influences, Crane was also an enthusiastic socialist, influenced by his close friend William Morris. The exhibition allows people to see a period of transformation, both within art and within society.

Child in the Garden

The image of the ‘Child in the Garden,’ while not the most innovative in style, illustrates an important aspect of Crane’s work. The child is in a natural setting, surrounded by nature, animals and a book which illustrates the changes in attitudes towards children in Victorian Britain. Judging by a large number of laws passed during the time, childhood was beginning to be something that was protected.

It is even possible to see a practical example of this change happening in Edinburgh around the same time in our Life History of a Slum Child exhibition also on Capital Collections, where pictures show children being taught in the open air.

Schoolchildren in St Saviour's Child Garden



Walter Geikie (1795-1837): An Artist of Character

Following the success of the recent City Art Centre exhibition ‘Walter Geikie (1795-1837): An Artist of Character’, our colleagues in Edinburgh Museums and Galleries have created a new complementary exhibition of Geikie’s art on Capital Collections.

Walter Geikie was a genre artist who lived in Edinburgh during the early 19th century.  A fine draughtsman and skilled printmaker, Geikie’s main focus was the portrayal of the city’s poor and working classes – subjects that he approached with honesty, empathy and wit.Drawing a Silhouette

The Capital Collections exhibition brings together a selection of his etchings and paintings from the City Art Centre’s collection. Images include depictions of itinerant pedlars, fairground crowds, agricultural labourers, and the fisherfolk of Newhaven.

You can also read Walter Geikie’s story on Our Town Stories to get his vivid impression of life in Edinburgh during the 1800s.

Belzoni : The giant archaeologists love to hate

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections records Giovanni Belzoni’s research whilst on expedition in Egypt and Nubia.

Belzoni’s introduction to the wonders of the ancient world could hardly have been less auspicious. Whilst in Cairo waiting for an audience with Mohammed Ali Pasha, the Italian monk-turned-peddler-turned-hydrologist-turned-circus impresario paid a visit to the Great Pyramid and became so tightly wedged his guides had to forcibly extract him!

Tableau representing the two niches supposed to include the names of the hero deposited in the Tomb

As an explorer Belzoni was motivated by finding hidden treasure to sell as artefacts to collectors. His methods were often destructive and quite unorthodox he was once called “the most notorious tomb robber Egypt has ever known” but his discoveries laid the foundation for the scientific study of Egyptology.

Our exhibition brings together some of the paintings from his adventures ……let’s explore!


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.

Field of Light

Our new Capital Collections exhibition documents the largest and one of the most important public artworks displayed in Edinburgh in recent years.

Field of light

‘Field of Light’ by UK artist Bruce Munro consists of 9,500 illuminated spheres on lighted stalks which gradually change colour and cast their undulating glow across the space. Visitors can wander through the square and enjoy the other worldly nature of the light and experience the grand Georgian architecture in a new way.

Although Field of Light has been installed in several prestigious locations before it came to Edinburgh, St Andrew Square is its first completely urban setting.

Visit the installation until 27th April, or browse our fantastic pictures online.

The Oriental Hotel in Kobe

Foreboding storm clouds gather in this atmospheric view of the Oriental Hotel, taken from our exhibition of Japanese postcards on Capital Collections.

The Oriental Hotel, KobeThe Oriental Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Japan. It also has one of the most bizarre and difficult histories.

The hotel opened in 1870 in the Kobe Settlement, a self-governing district. Kobe was the area where foreigners stayed and settled; the Japanese could not enter. Kobe Settlement was designed by British civil engineer J.W. Hart and constructed on the basis of modern European city planning. It was praised as the most beautiful and well-planned area in Asia.

The hotel was first built at number 79, then moved to number 80 in 1888. The building was burned down by fire in the 1890s but rebuilt at number 6 on the seafront, (as shown in the postcard dated 1907). This building was destroyed by a bomb attack during World War II in 1945, before being reconstructed at the same place.

The hotel moved to number 25 during the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. Disaster struck again in 1995 when the building was destroyed by a huge earthquake . However, it was once again rebuilt and reopened in 2010.

The postcard offers a nostalgic view of the past to foreign eyes but for the Japanese, who could not enter this area, the hotel represented a different world from their daily lives.

Discover many more fascinating views of Japan during the first half of the 20th century in our Japanese Postcards exhibition.

A souvenir from between the wars

Capital Collections’ new mini exhibition provides an interesting snapshot in time of one of the most important places in the political landscape of 20th century Europe:  the Armistice Clearing deep in the Compiegne Forest in France where it was decided the hostilities should cease on the Western Front.

The happenings there in the early hours of 11th November 1918 brought peace to Europe but ultimately set into motion a series of events which would scar the face of the continent for years to come.

As it became clear the Allied Forces were to be victorious in the Great War the question of where to negotiate and ultimately sign an armistice became a pressing one. The responsibility for obtaining an armistice agreement was entrusted to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief of the Allied armies.

It was decided that negotiations would take place on a remote railway line in the Forest of Compiegne in Picardy.  This lonely outpost was chosen to maintain secrecy as the armistice was pressing yet fragile and if negotiations failed fighting would continue.  Moreover, Foch knew that public opinion may be against the move. Many saw it as weak and unnecessary to give any concessions to an all but defeated German force. The Armistice Clearing, Compiegne Forest, general view

The opposing delegations met in Foch’s luxury railway carriage.  Terms were offered which would be devastating to Germany. Amongst other sanctions, Alsace and Lorraine were to be handed to the French, the entire naval fleet was to be surrendered to the allies and Germany was commanded to pay huge monetary reparations to France. In short, Germany was to accept all responsibility for the conflict. Just after 5 am on the morning of November 11th 1918 it was done.

Foch, without shaking the hand of his opponents, left immediately to take the armistice to Paris. He would later say ‘This is not Peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.’ This statement proved prophetic as it was in 1939 that World War Two broke out to devastate Europe anew.

After peace returned to the French countryside the once inconsequential clearing in Compiegne became an important location for the French people. It became a memorial to the deed. Monuments were erected to Foch himself, to the peoples of Alsace and Lorraine and to the destruction of the German power. The site on which the train stood that fateful day was marked out for posterity.  Later the carriage itself was returned to the spot and an ornate carriage house was built around it to serve as a small museum.Foch's railway car, in which the armistice was signed, The Armistice Clearing, Compiegne Forest

However the clearing’s role in history was not over.  In 1940 France was once again threatened by German Forces and quickly fell to the might of the Reich. Hitler, who had been a soldier in WW1, sought to humiliate the French at the very place Foch had humiliated the German people in 1918. The French surrender was signed in the carriage which was then taken to Germany as a victor’s trophy.  The monuments were dismantled and the carriage house razed to the ground. All that remained was the sculpture of Foch to eternally survey the desolation of the shrine to his greatest achievement.

Today the Armistice clearing has been restored to some of its former glory. Monument stones stolen by the Nazis have been returned and a new carriage house encloses a perfect replica of the original train, which was burned by SS soldiers in 1945.

View the full exhibition on Capital Collections. 

Ayako Kobayashi’s internship at Central Library

Last year, Japanese student Ayako Kobayashi was studying Italian Renaissance Art at the University of Edinburgh. She loved European art so much, that she had decided to quit her job to study in the UK. Edinburgh was an ideal place for her to both study art history and enjoy student life and she soon fell in love with the beautiful city.

For one part of her course, she had the chance to have an internship but she worried about her English skills and whether she could fulfil her work responsibilities in a foreign environment. (On returning to Japan, she’s since noticed that she is sometimes viewed as a foreigner in her own country!)

The Central Library offered her the chance to research a particularly prized item in their Special Collections – an old album, filled with Japanese postcards printed almost 100 years ago.

Fuji from Fuji-kawaShe did not imagine that she would see such an old Japanese thing in Edinburgh. It aroused her curiosity because the album was full of mysteries. For example, it was believed that it belonged to the Henry Dyer Collection, but there nothing to suggest why this assumption had been made. Ayako enlisted the help of many people to help her catalogue the album and find out the true owner.

You can see the results of her research in an exhibition on Capital Collections. Ayako has chosen beautiful postcards so that viewer can enjoy seeing Japan like a traveller 100 years ago.


Ayako would like to thank Dr. Claudia Hopkins, Hil Wiliamson, Brenda Woods, Clare Padgett and Dr. Rosina Buckland and staff of the Art Library who gave her the chance to research the album. She is also grateful to Professor Hiromich Hosoma, Kjeld Duits, Izumi Ito and Professor Kaoru Kojima who advised her about old Japanese postcards. She would also like to extend her thanks to Professor Masami Kita and Robin Hunter who helped her research Henry Dyer and his children.

The National Covenant

364 years ago, King Charles I was executed for treason. England and Scotland were shocked at what was seen as the murder of their king. But what role did Scotland play in the wars which led to the abolition of the monarchy?
National Covenant on Capital Collections

Edinburgh in the mid 17th century was a hotbed of religious and political dissent, and you can still see some of the key sites in the city centre which were stages to some gruesome and turbulent events. Our friends in Edinburgh Museums and Galleries have added a fascinating new exhibition to Capital Collections where you can find out all about the National Covenant – the people’s petition against the King’s changes to their religion.
Or visit the Museum of Edinburgh to see the real thing for yourself!

A new online library for Edinburgh

Introducing Your Library, a brand new online library for Edinburgh

YL screenshot

Your Library has been designed for you to find what you need as easily as possible, whether you’re looking to learn Spanish, research your family tree or download the hottest new fiction.

Most of the web sites and apps featured on Your Library are exclusive to library members, and all of them are free.

These are world class resources you won’t find on Google. Take a look round Your Library and see what it can do for you.

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. 

Name that toy

How many toys from the Museum of Childhood’s collection can you identify from these close-ups?

For complete pictures of these and many other toys visit Capital Collections, the online image gallery of Edinburgh Libraries, Museums and Galleries.

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!

The last dance

A skeletal figure appears in front of a blind man. It cuts the man’s dog lead and takes hold of his walking stick, leaving the blind man to step straight into his own open grave.

In the shadows of a nun’s bedchamber another bony figure snuffs out the woman’s candlelight. The nun doesn’t notice as she’s distracted by the musical male visitor perched at her bedside.

A young child waves to his distressed mother and older brother as he’s led by a skeleton out of his home. The skeleton hold aloft an hourglass; the child’s time, though short, is up.

A group of drunkards in a tavern over-indulging to the point of sickness are oblivious to another menacing visitor serving the alcohol.

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The message? Death comes to us all.

Over the next month, Central Library offers a rare opportunity to see one of our most fascinating (and grotesque!) holdings: the Dance of Death Collection. Emily Wilkinson, a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, has been researching the Dance of Death Collection for the past year, and her work has culminated in both a physical and a virtual exhibition on the subject.

The Dance of Death Collection was donated to Central Library in the 1940s by one of our patrons, Charles Boog Watson. The collection is incredibly diverse and includes over forty books dating from 1542 to 1934. Volumes are illustrated with woodcuts, etchings, or engravings designed or executed by one of a number of artists including Hans Holbein the Younger, David Deuchar, Wenceslaus Hollar, Matthäus Merian and Christian de Mechel.

In spite of their differences, however, the books are united thematically; they all relate to a medieval artistic tradition, the Dance of Death. They depict members of society from all strata being met by Death and thus by their demise, reminding us all that ultimately we share the same fate.

Visit the Dance of Death exhibition on the Mezzanine at Central Library from 2nd to 30th October 2013 and view the online version at Capital Collections.

Edinburgh’s Pioneer Photographers

Edinburgh Libraries is home to a wonderful collection of early photography featuring work by pioneers of the form such as Hill and Adamson and Thomas Keith.  Over the summer we put together a series of films highlighting some of the hidden gems in this collection.

The first film features a volume of work by the Edinburgh Calotype Club from 1842, a club who listed  William Fox Talbot, the pioneer of the Calotype process, as one of its members.  The Edinburgh Calotype Club is the oldest photographic club in the world and we have one of only two photograph albums known to have been produced by the group.   The film goes on to explore some of the photos taken David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson including a fantastic picture of the half-completed Scott Monument taken around 1845.

The second film takes a look at the work of Thomas Keith and Archibald Burns.  In this film we’ll see how Edinburgh’s early photographers took inspiration from their city. It also shows how photography was being used as a tool to record social change and was becoming a way to earn a living by fulfilling the tourist demand for souvenir pictures.

Through the work of David Doull and George Morham,  film 3 explores the Victorian fascination with studio photography and the camera’s role in family memento.

David Doull was born in Edinburgh in 1831 and was one of the founder members of the Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1861.  Doull specialised in studio portraiture and the portraits in this film were taken at his studio in Lauriston Place between 1865 and 1867.

George Morham was an amateur photographer and Central Library is home to one of his family albums which dates from the 1880s.  The photos were all taken by Morham, father and head of the household.  Through his pictures we have a unique and unusually informal insight to Victorian family life.

Of the films Clare Padgett of Edinburgh Libraries commented: “We wanted to let more people see these amazing early photographs from our collections. And we realised that by making a narrative of the pictures through film, they could tell the story of the birth of photography, its use in social history and the camera’s role in recording everyday life. They offer a unique view of Victorian Edinburgh and the architectural and social change taking place at the time. But more than anything, they’re just wonderful pictures that are now available to everyone online.”

Explore this topic further by visiting Capital Collections and Our Town Stories.

The architecture of Italy

Fresco decorations and stuccoes of churches & palaces in Italy’, the newest addition to our Capital Collections site shows the work of engraver Lewis Grüner and gives a glimpse inside (and out!) of some of the finest buildings in renaissance Italy.

If you are interested in architecture, hoping for a few interior design ideas or are simply intrigued to see what the inside of Pope Clemens VII bathroom looks like, then this is an exhibition you won’t want to miss.

Zoo(m) lens at the ready

We visited our friends at Edinburgh Zoo recently to add to our bank of images recording the history of the zoo and its inhabitants. The full archive is on Capital Collections but here’s a sneak preview, just for you.

It’s been that kind of summer hasn’t it? The greater one-horned rhinocerous has the right idea – a nice snooze in a cool pool.

“Yes this is my best side”. This meerkat knows how to strike a pose.

We couldn’t leave out the pandas could we? Here’s Yang Guang smiling for the camera while snacking on some bamboo.

Loads more like these on Capital Collections. Enjoy, and look out for more Zoo history later this week…

A postcard from Central Library

Next time you’re in Central Library look out for our range of postcards. There are 15 designs to choose from and each design is taken from our extensive image collections. They range from the exquisite….Humming-Birds

… to the iconicScott Monument, Edinburgh

…and to the slightly curious…Charade at AbercairnyThere’s one for every occasion! Postcards are on sale for 50p each from Central Library’s Art, Lending, Music and Reference departments.

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.