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!

A pictorial history of cycling in Edinburgh

With Edinburgh’s Festival of Cycling almost upon us we thought it might be a good idea to plunder Capital Collections for bike-themed photographs – and we’ve found some real beauties.

For starters, here are the members of the Edinburgh University Cycling club making their way down George Street on their ‘penny farthings’ on the morning of Saturday 18th June 1884.

No helmets or lycra for the ladies and gentleman of the Leith Licensed Victuallers Cycling Club, pictured below. This is Edinburgh Cycle Chic, 1895 style.


On the other side of town, almost a century later, this BMXer gets rad.


See more, including a tricyle cum fire engine and the fist-pumping socialist cycling club of Musselburgh on our special online exhibition.

Ten years that changed Edinburgh

An event at Blackhall Library shines light on a decade of change.

The birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the growth of consumerism, and the coronation of a young Queen…

Great change was taking place in 1950’s Britain, and Edinburgh was right at the heart of it. After the ravages of war it was time for the city to start again.

Proposed Dumbiedykes development, 1952 (

Grandiose recommendations were made in the Civic Survey and Plan, the International Festival and Military Tattoo were introduced as an antidote to post-war austerity and trams were usurped by buses and cars.

In “Edinburgh in the 1950’s: ten years that changed a city” Jack Gillon, David McLean and Fraser Parkinson show how Scotland’s capital embraced massive social change while maintaining its traditions.

And we’re delighted to say that the authors will be at Blackhall Library on Monday 30th June at 6.30pm to talk about the book and the issues surrounding it.

To book your place at this free event email or call 0131 529 5587.

Picture quiz!

mystery pic

This fine looking gentleman came to Edinburgh from Italy around 1900 and set up a much-loved family business which endures to this day. Can you guess who it is?

(If you can’t you’ll find the answer on Capital Collections).

There’s more Italian-Scots history on the Italo Scottish Research Cluster Archive – the first site of its kind in the UK.

The archive feature letters, films and personal objects from one of the country’s largest immigrant communities, as well as some bellissime photographs.

Trams are on the move…. again!

Our special story on Our Town Stories takes you on a quick trip across the city by tram and through time!
North BridgeIt was in 1871 that trams first appeared on the streets of Edinburgh. They were unrecognisable from today – double-deckered and pulled by horses.

The hills of Edinburgh proved too much for the horses and cable cars were introduced on the steeper routes. Cable cars weren’t without problems though, as they were prone to breaking down and causing traffic jams.

Neighbouring Leith, skipped cable cars and went straight from horses to an electric system. Edinburgh introduced their electric models from 1919.

When motorbuses arrived in force on the scene in the 1930s the years of the tram were numbered in Edinburgh and across Britain. It was on 16th November 1956 that large crowds gathered on Princes Street to say a fond farewell to the city’s trams.

Almost sixty years on, Edinburgh welcomes our new 21st century trams.

Planes, trains and horse-drawn trams

Trams have once again been sighted on the streets of Edinburgh and so, what better opportunity to delve into our archives to find out how the citizens of Edinburgh got about town in centuries past.
Corporation Bus Princes StreetNot so very long ago, our ancestors had to rely on their own two feet or horse-power to travel. A succession of developments in transport benefited not only trade and industry, but also gave people the means to escape the city to the seaside, countryside or suburbia.

Our latest story on Our Town Stories, Edinburgh by road, rail and waterway, is your historical passport to getting around town.

Online exhibition tells the story of the Usher Hall

Our new online exhibition tells the story of Edinburgh’s landmark concert venue.

In 1896, Andrew Usher, a member of the distilling and brewing family with a passion for music, gifted £100,000 to the city of Edinburgh for the purpose of building a music hall.

Usher wanted to put quality concerts within the reach of people from all classes – but he would die in 1898, never to see his generosity and vision realised.

It was only in 1911, after several sites and designs were considered, that the foundation stone was finally laid by the King and Queen.

Three years later, on March 6th 1914, The Usher Hall opened its doors for its first ever concert.

Visit Capital Collections to discover the proposed site at the west end of the Meadows and the school that was demolished to make way for the concert building.

Concert programmes and leaflets give a flavour of the performances and star turns that have appeared over the years.

Images of City Organist John Kitchen and choir rehearsals give a glimpse behind the scenes at the present-day Usher Hall.

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!

Ten things you never knew about Edinburgh

Our Town Stories brings Edinburgh’s history to life with maps, photographs and (of course) stories. Here are ten surprising facts about our city taken from the site.

1. Edinburgh is home to the world’s first municipal fire service.

2. 200 000 people travelled on the Union Canal in 1836

3. Agatha Christie got married in Edinburgh

4. The one o’clock Gun is the legacy of a complex time service which entailed a 4,000 foot long cable being hung across the city.

5. The Sea Serpent Rotary Boat, Velocipede Merry-Go-Round, and the Planetarium Swing were among the rides enjoyed by Victorian Edinburgh’s pleasure seekers.

6. The character of Long John Silver was inspired by a patient at the Royal Infirmary.

7. In 1916 a polar bear escaped from his enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo, climbing into a paddock with buffaloes and bison. They promptly made an attack and he fled back to his own enclosure.

8. Arthur’s Seat has prompted unusual building schemes including a heather-roofed tea-room.

9. Edinburgh was home to a bagpiping nine-year old suffragette.

10. Charles Darwin was among the Edinburgh University Students taught by a freed slave.

Find out more about the hidden history of our city on Our Town Stories.

The Green Pencil Award goes to…

Congratulations to Leith Primary School’s Jack Elliott, winner of this year’s Green Pencil Award for creative writing on an environmental theme.

Twenty finalists attended the awards ceremony at Central Library, where Jack was presented with the overall prize by Edinburgh Makar Ron Butlin.

Green Pencil Award Finalists

And here’s the poem that beat off more than 800 other entries from schools across Edinburgh to claim the coveted trophy.

Weather Banter

My cousin said

“It’s raining cats and dogs”

(Why doesn’t it rain ferrets?)

Dad mutters,

“It’s the fine rain that gets you wet”

(Yeah yeah, how does that work?)

Mum moaned

“It might be an Indian Summer this year”

(What about our summer?)

The old lady croaked

“It’s bucketing down son”

(Um, ok?!)

My Granny laughed

“It’s awfy muggy”

(You have lots of mugs already Gran!)

The Green Pencil Award is run by Edinburgh City Libraries and Eco-Schools in Edinburgh with sponsorship from Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature, Scottish Book Trust,  Scottish Poetry Library, Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Seabird Centre, SEPA, Camera Obscura  and The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland who provided prizes for all the winners.

See the full list of finalists and find out more about the Green Pencil Award.

Edinburgh: A New Approach

James Skene (1775-1864), advocate, antiquarian and confidant of Sir Walter Scott, had a profound sense of Edinburgh as a changing city. In the early 19th century, he witnessed, at first hand, the demolition of parts of an increasingly unfashionable Old Town as it made way for the New Town of Edinburgh. He remembered the opening of the South Bridge which had dramatically altered the character of the Cowgate, and, later, observed the new western development of the Old Town – and with it, the partial destruction of the Old West Bow and the construction of Johnston Terrace.

The imposing outline of Edinburgh Castle, “overtopping the whole city… and dominating for miles on every side on every side” is at the centre of this water colour drawing by James Skene. Formation of the new west road under Edinburgh Castle by James Skene At the top right hand corner, the semi-circular half-moon battery is plainly visible.  The battery was built in 1588 as part of a new defence system following the destruction of David’s Tower during the course of a two year siege – the Lang Siege – by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, and Regent of James VI of Scotland. Immediately beneath castle rock, at the bottom left, there are signs of engineering work.  The beginnings of a new Edinburgh approach road are being cut out of the castle rock.  The road, contouring the southern flanks of the Castle and connecting the Lawnmarket with the King’s Bridge (crossing King’s Stables Road) is now known as Johnston Terrace.

Skene was an inveterate draughtsman who had an eye for architectural detail.  He recorded the changing face of Edinburgh in a series of over 200 watercolour drawings, and, following an abortive collaboration with Sir Walter Scott, an accompanying journal, known as Reekiana.  These now form part of the Special Collections of Edinburgh Libraries.

Over the past year, Alastair Learmont, a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh – and a former practising advocate himself– has been researching the background of James Skene’s Reekiana.  His work has culminated in a story using Skene’s own words and paintings to provide a remarkably vivid account of Edinburgh during the 19th century. Read it on Our Town Stories: James Skene’s Reekiana: a Changing City

Coming soon… Previously

Now in its third year, Previously…the festival of Scottish History, just gets bigger and better. Here are four ways you can get involved:

1. Share your memories of Corstorphine

Corstorphine residents past and present are invited to the library at 6.30pm on Wednesday 20th November, for an illustrated talk on the history of the village followed by your opportunity to share a Corstorphine memory or anecdote. If you’ve got something you’d like to share contact Corstorphine Library in advance so we can make sure there’s time to fit everyone in. 

2. Celebrate one of Edinburgh’s most famous sons

UN739 RLS Day 2012 Block

Mark Robert Louis Stevenson Day on 13 November with walks, talks and afternoon tea.

3. Join The Big Book Club

Join the biggest Book Club ever as we discuss ‘The Glorious Thing’ by Christine Orr. Set in Edinburgh in 1916, this funny, sometimes tragic, beautifully written novel centres on a group of young people trying to find their place in society. Orr examines the changing role of women, politics and religion against the backdrop of the First World War. Contact for your free copy of the book in advance of the event and book online to reserve places for your book group.

4. Explore Edinburgh’s hidden past

Our Town Stories brings the hidden stories from Edinburgh’s past to life with some amazing photographs. Find out about the country’s oldest fire brigade and read the story of the nine-year-old suffragette.

There are well over 200 other events to choose from – visit the Previously… site for details

Time to get up and go!

It’s that time of year again when the much in-demand Get Up and Go brochures, listing activities for over 50s in Edinburgh, start appearing in your local library.

But did you know that you can access the full Get Up and Go programme online via Your Edinburgh, Edinburgh Libraries’ community information portal?

Search by location or keyword to find out what’s happening in your neighbourhood. The Get Up and Go information on Your Edinburgh is updated throughout the year, so it’s well worth bookmarking

The art of Walter Geikie

Walter Geikie was deaf, dumb and colour blind. He was also a very gifted artist with a keen sense of humour and a talent for conveying expression, as this 1841 Grassmarket scene shows.

Through paintings, etchings and drawings Geikie captured both the city and its people as they went about their daily business. His portrayals of the poor are more sympathetic than typical representations of ordinary people at the time, which tended to be grotesque or moralising.

The importance of Geikie’s work is recognised in a major new exhibition at the City Art Centre.

If you’re unable to attend you can still get a close-up view of Geikie’s work via the online exhibition on Capital Collections and read more about his life in an illustrated biography on Our Town Stories.

The City Art Centre exhibition runs until March 2014.

Edinburgh and the slave trade

Port of Leith 1843

Port of Leith 1843

Edinburgh’s links with the slave trade are perhaps not as well documented as those of some other British cities, but Our Town Stories shines a light on this oft-neglected aspect of the city’s past.

Discover the significance of Jock’s Lodge and find out which major historical figure was taught by a former slave at Edinburgh University.

There’s also a fascinating overview of Edinburgh’s anti-slavery movement. Read about the infamous case of Joseph Knight and learn which major Edinburgh landmark commemorates a man who did his best to delay the abolition of slavery.

South Queensferry’s War

Here in South Queensferry we’re gearing up for a series of talks on different aspects First World War.

These will take place at Queensferry Community High School from 6.30 – 7.30pm  – email or call 0131 529 5576 to book a place.

Researching your World War One Family (9 October)

Using your own family history to help uncover details about your World War One family and discovering what local and web based resources are available to help you in your research.

A World War One Overview (23 October)

An overview of the First World War, covering the causes, main events and its aftermath. Highlighting Scotland’s role and shifting the focus away from the Western Front to include the theatres in a global war.

Scottish émigrés in World War One (13 November)

Thousands of Scots émigrés or their sons and daughters enlisted in the Forces of Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, and registered in the 1917-1918 United States Draft. It is now recognised that significant numbers made the journey back to Scotland to enlist.

Medical and Nursing Management of WW1 Casualties (27 November)

The work of the army medical and nursing service in relation to the care and evacuation of casualties from the fighting front to Home Front hospitals.