Postcards from Ukraine

Until 22 May, Edinburgh Central Library will be displaying an exhibition of photographs called “Postcards from Ukraine”. This project aims to record and demonstrate the damage caused to the Ukrainian culture because of the bombings and shelling of buildings during the war that Russia initiated against Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

Palace of Culture ‘Youth’ in Mariupol

Russian troops have destroyed many of Ukraine’s historical, architectural and archaeological monuments. Museums, memorials, university buildings, cinemas, churches, temples, cathedrals, TV towers and monuments have all been destroyed. In the process, Ukraine’s cultural heritage, which dates back thousands of years, is being destroyed.

The 23 images on display show buildings before and after they were destroyed.

The project was developed by the Ukrainian Institute with the support of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and in cooperation with the creative agency Green Penguin Media. You can find out more about the project and also see the images online at the Ukraine Institute, Postcards from Ukraine.

Edinburgh Libraries’ Terracotta Readers go on display at Central Library

As part of the Living Knowledge Network Chinese and British exhibition, we decided to celebrate our close links with Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Army, and the twinning of our cities in 1985 which coincided with the landmark cultural exhibition of the Terracotta Warriors visiting Edinburgh.

Terracotta Readers on display at Central Library

The Emperor under whose rule the terracotta army was created is a controversial figure. So, inspired by the artists’ craft and skill in the creation of these figures, we are reframing the terracotta army, to create an Edinburgh Libraries’ version of the terracotta army, with a monumental art display of terracotta readers celebrating Edinburgh Libraries’ close links with our Chinese community and beyond.

More reader warriors on display at Central Library

Our young and older library members came together to use their unbelievable talent and made some wonderful reader warriors. 

They are on display in the exhibition cabinets on the Mezzanine at Central Library until 22 April. Come along to see your Terracotta Reader on display!

Terracotta Readers on display at Central Library

Also included in the exhibition are three small replicas of warriors gifted to Museums and Galleries Edinburgh to commemorate the Terracotta Warriors exhibition held in the City Arts Centre in 1985.

Replica warriors that were gifted to Museums and Galleries Edinburgh in 1985

History of Printing exhibition

In support of the upcoming Rare Books Festival running from 16 to 25 March, we have an exhibition at Central Library relating to the history of printing.  The history of print is a vast and wide-ranging topic and the titles on show represent only a tiny fraction of the volumes about printing held by Edinburgh Libraries.

The Gutenberg Bible is widely accepted as the starting off point of printing in Western Europe.  Printing in England started with Caxton as the first English printer setting up business in 1476.  Then Chepman and Myllar were Scotland’s first printers, licensed in 1507.  The timeline of these famous printers shows the expanse and progress of printing history. 

The C.L. Psalmes of the Princelie Prophet David, printed in Aberdeen by Edward Raban in 1629

Whilst Central Library cannot claim to have original examples of these printers, it does hold works by the famous, infamous and the obscure.  Highlights include Scotland’s first complete Bible, the Bassandyne Bible, printed by the Edinburgh printer Bassandyne and finished by Arbuthnet in 1579, early works by the Aberdeen based printer Edward Raban, and ‘The Nuremberg Chronicle’ (Latin edition, 1493) printed by Koberger.  These are all available to consult.  Currently some early works are on display in our Reference Library.

The trade of printing flourished in Edinburgh and other towns and cities in Scotland.  The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection holds an array of material including the cheap, jobbing printing of posters, chapbooks, broadsides from early examples to modern times.  Some of these are highly collectable due to their ephemeral nature and often few copies have survived. 

We have on view a broadside from the printing house of Agnes Campbell. Unlike many of her fellow printers, Agnes Campbell made a fortune out of the trade, but for many profits were far from significant.

Sermon preached before the King, 1697 printed by “the Heirs and Successors of Andrew Anderson”, aka his widow, Agnes Campbell.

The art of the printer was and is a highly skilled trade encompassing all aspects from the paper to the embellishment.  Industrial techniques, new inks, papers and binding methods have changed the skills to be more computer and design based.  However, small and specialist presses have always existed through the decades and examples such as the artist’s book on display demonstrate the art of printing is far from dead.

Whether you are a bibliophile, a collector, a reader, or someone interested in all aspects of culture, visit the Edinburgh Rare Books Festival which is supported by many Edinburgh institutions through talks and exhibitions. 

Our exhibition can be found on the main staircase and in the Reference Library until 27 March at Central Library.

Music on the Mezzanine

How do you like to spend your Saturday lunchtime?

Well, if you’re anywhere near Central Library at around 1pm, every second Saturday from now until June, come in and come down to the Mezzanine where we will be hosting live music sessions.

The Accidentals guitar group
Clarsach player, Steph Humphreys

This year, so far, we have hosted two events, The Accidentals and clarsach player, Steph Humphreys.

The Accidentals are a local classical guitar group. Their programme was chosen from their repertoire of renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and 20th century music as well as a selection of Spanish and Latin American music. Steph Humphreys enjoys playing a variety of styles on her clarsach, from the very traditional to the more modern. This was reflected in her programming. Steph choose to feature three works by her teacher and fellow clarsach player, Savourna Stevenson.

Martina Petrova, the Singing Pianist

This coming Saturday, 18 March, we welcome singer and pianist, Martina Petrova. Bulgarian born Martina is in her third year at Edinburgh University, where she studies jazz piano and sings with the Edinburgh University Jazz Orchestra.

On the subsequent weeks we have programmes from guitarist Erin McGarry, cellist Anoukia Nistor, both students at Edinburgh University. After that we have a return visit from After The Rain, augmented by some guest instrumentalists for the afternoon. After The Rain’s guitarists appear two weeks later as the Duo Django’s Swing, with a programme of music inspired by the swing stylings of Django Reinhardt and Paris in the 1930s. For the moment, the last of the lunchtime music events is a quick return of Steven Morrison and a programme of lighter classics for the guitar.

All of this is not to mention the other wonderful music events we have hosted this year, Steven Morrison gave a concert featuring three master works for guitar by Fernando Sor, Thea Musgrave, and a lute suite by J. S. Bach. We also had a first visit of the wonderful Tinderbox Orchestra, who played a programme of music penned by members of the orchestra, then hosted a very warm and friendly open mic session.

On the 21 June we will again be celebrating Make Music Day. All day in the Central Library and our libraries round the city there will be live music, with choirs and chorales, singers and soloists, folk groups and just folks enjoying some live music.

If you wish to join us on Make Music Day either by yourself or with your group or if you’d like to put together a programme of music for one of our Music on the Mezzanine events, or you’re just interested in coming along to watch, please contact us at the Music Library in Central Library on George IV Bridge.

We also have a musical instruments to borrow in libraries all across the city, so if watching one of our events has got you thinking about taking to the trombone, or made you think about finding a fiddle, come in and see us in the Music Library!
0131 242 8050
Central Library
George IV Bridge

CIRCLE – March exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The March exhibition in the Art and Design Library is “CIRCLE”, a thematic exploration using traditional photographic techniques by members of Edinburgh LoFi. The group were inspired by the recent Barbara Hepworth retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Some of Hepworth’s most recognisable works contain the circle motif – as a body, an eye, an aperture, and amongst the exhibits was an edition of the journal, CIRCLE, which touched the imagination of the members of Edinburgh LoFi.

Gregg McNeill “Tempus Fragmentum” (Wet Plate Collodion Tintype)

Edinburgh LoFi defines itself and functions as a social circle – with ideas, concepts and techniques circulating around the group, and the works displayed in the Art and Design Library this month are some of the visual reactions and expressions of members to the circular concept.

Alan Borthwick Untitled (Pinhole Camera)

While some of the works in this exhibition are inspired by the perfect form of the circle as described by geometry, others look to the myriad of meanings associated with the shape. Ending and beginning at the same place – the circular walking route followed in lockdown, a zen meditation around the centre. Enclosing and arranging – circles of friends and colleagues gathered for a purpose. Defensive, protective, time wasting, inescapable or complete – a circle can suggest all these concepts.

Elaine Robson “Coffee Rings” (Chemigram)

Edinburgh LoFi is a photography collective that has been running for 14 years. The group meets regularly to share their photography experiences across traditional, alternative and lomographic formats. They also run events, hold workshops and plan exhibitions. New members are always welcome. Visit Edinburgh Lofi online to find out more about the group.

Roddy Shippin “Microclimate” (Photomicrograph) 

CIRCLE runs throughout March in the Art and Design Library.

Did you know that the Art and Design Library hosts 12 exhibitions a year? We warmly encourage artists who are interested in exhibiting to contact us via for more information. 

Calling all musicians! Make Music Day 2023 is coming!

Make Music Day started over forty years ago in France and the day has grown to be a worldwide celebration of music and music making with over 126 countries now taking part.

In the UK, Make Music Day has three simple “rules” –

  1. Events and activities must be free to take part in and watch
  2. Events must take place or premiere on 21 June
  3. Events must involve music.
Clarinite, Make Music Day 2019

Edinburgh Libraries have been involved in Make Music Day since 2019. In that period, we have had a programme in the library in 2019 and 2022 and online in 2020 and 2021.

Last year, we were able to invite local musicians into libraries across the city to make music on Make Music Day. In four of our libraries approximately 161 musicians, played in 29 events to an estimated audience of 790 library users. Our libraries provided warm and welcome, safe spaces for performances from the Edinburgh Police Choir, The Rolling Hills Chorus, The Girls Rock School, The Edinburgh Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra, Drookit, The Tenement Jazz Band, Ana Filogonio, The Professors of Logic, Magnus Turpie and Tinderbox to name a few, performing all types of music from opera to jazz to rock to folk and much, much more.

Edinburgh Police Choir, Make Music Day 2022
Make Music Day at Stockbridge Library

This year, we are more open and more able to extend an invitation to the musicians of Edinburgh to come and entertain the readers and users of libraries across the city. Our libraries will again become informal performance spaces and hopefully resound to the music provided by as many different groups, duos, trios, choirs, ensembles and soloists as we can invite to join us. We are hoping to play host to more musicians, performing more types of music, and many more visitors to enjoy these performances.

Make Music Day at Craigmillar Library, 2019

This year, as was the case last year, all our events will be free to watch and free to take part in. The events will happen on 21 June, Make Music Day and in Edinburgh Libraries they will be all about the music.

Calling all musicians – come and join us!

If you are interested in performing, please contact the Music Library for more information on 0131 242 8050 or email

History of the house: Pear Tree House

A building known as Pear Tree House is situated at the western end of West Nicolson Street in Edinburgh. It has been there since 1749 and this is its story.

West Nicolson Street – south-west corner, 1912
by J. C. McKenzie

In the 1700s the population of the City was growing rapidly and in many areas had become unhealthy. By 1755 a census carried out by 802 Scottish Parishes gave a total of 57,195 people. This figure was analysed by Alexander Webster (1707-1784), a clergyman from Edinburgh, and was accepted as being reliable. It was to be the only count until the official census in 1801 with a total of 81,865 (+43%).

As a result of the growth by the mid 1700s, people were beginning to spread out beyond the old city Flodden Wall boundary and West Nicolson Street came into being.

Around 1746, a wealthy merchant named William Reid feud some land from Lady Nicolson and by 1749 had built a house with views over the Meadows. Not much is known about Mr Reid and in 1756, the house was sold to James Fergusson (Lord Kilkerran).

Sir James Fergusson, Lord Kilkerran (1688-1759) was the son of Baronet Sir John Fergusson whom he succeeded in 1734. He studied law and became an advocate in 1711.  He was MP for Sutherland from 1734 to 1735 when he became Lord of Session and adopted the title, Lord Kilkerran. In April 1749 he was made Lord of Justiciary, a post which he held until his death in1759.

The house continued to be occupied by his widow, Lady Jean Maitland until her death in 1766 when the title transferred to her son, Sir Adam Fergusson.

James Boswell mentions several visits to the house in his travel journals.

In 1770, ownership changed again.

Rev. Thomas Blacklock, D.D.
This is a 19th century engraving of an 18th century painting.

From 1770 to 1791 the two upper floors were occupied by Thomas Blacklock, the Blind Poet, who with his wife entertained many famous people including Robert Burns.

Burns was a frequent visitor to Blacklock partly because he came to see Agnes Maclehose, his inspiration for Ae Fond Kiss and the “Clarinda” of many love letters, who lived nearby.

His poems are in the main forgotten but there is a tale that he saved the life of Robert Burns. Burns had been due to sail to the West Indies but was persuaded by Blacklock to stay in Edinburgh to publish his poems instead. The ship that Burns would have sailed on was lost at sea.

Thomas died in 1791 and his wife relocated to nearby Chapel Street.

There is a gap in the ownership of 38 West Nicolson Street (Pear Tree House) until 1823 when the Usher Family took possession.

The Ushers have a long history which can be traced back to to the time of William the Conqueror, however, this story focuses on their involvement with the house.

John Usher had a large family and in 1782, Andrew, the third youngest of 12 children was born at Toftfield in the Borders. This Andrew was the founder of the world famous distillery company Andrew Usher & Co. in 1813 and the Usher Brewery. Our story continues with the distillery.

In 1823, the headquarters of the distillery, Andrew Usher & Co, moved to West Nicolson Street and occupied the house. There is a tale which suggests that the Pear Tree name originates here when Andrew planted some pear trees.

In 1840, a commercial agreement with the Glenlivet Whisky Distillery was responsible for a huge expansion of the company.

Andrew had 12 children and in 1831 he put his two eldest sons, James and Thomas, in charge of the brewery, Thomas Usher and Co. 17 years later, in 1848, he made his two youngest sons, Andrew and John, partners in the distillery. When Andrew Usher (senior) died in 1855, his son Andrew took control.

Andrew (junior), was a very wealthy man who worried about how to use this money. He decided that the city should have a magnificent arts centre for the benefit of the population and donated the funds to allow the Town Council to build what we know as the Usher Hall.

View of Usher Hall from Lothian Road, 1914
by Francis Caird Inglis

The Ushers continued to occupy Pear Tree House until 1919 when the distillery was sold to Scottish Malt Distillers and merged with a DCL subsidiary, J&G Stewart Ltd, and the premises, Pear Tree House and other buildings continued to be used for storage or other commercial activities.

Since then, the house has been at various times a pub and public events venue with the Blind Poet pub, no more, nearby.

The Pear Tree is today well-known in Edinburgh, a popular pub with a large beer garden.

Further information on the house in the period since the 1920s has been difficult to find. If any of our readers can help, please add a message in the comments.

Read other articles in this ‘History of the House’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Milne’s Court
History of the house: Melbourne Place
History of the house: Falcon Hall
History of the house: North British Hotel
History of the house: Cammo House
History of the house: Newhailes
History of the house: Gladstone’s Land
History of the house: 4 Balcarres Street

Sources used:
A brief history of the house of Usher
ScotlandsPeople Valuation Rolls
Scottish Post Office Directories
The Godfather of Blending, article by Gavin D. Smith in Whisky magazine
The Pear Tree website – a history

What are you reading?!

We’ve recently refreshed the “Popular Magazines” collection on Libby. Previously this was made up of the magazines that we had on our RBdigital service, but we’ve now updated it to feature the top 150 magazines that our readers use on Libby.

So what are our reader’s top ten favourite magazines?:

1. HELLO! magazine
2.Good Housekeeping
3. New Scientist
4. BBC Good Food Magazine
5. Woman’s Weekly
6. The New Yorker
7. Radio Times
8. The Week
9. Woman
10. Woman & Home

HELLO! remains your most popular read, but perhaps a bit of a surprise appearance from The New Yorker! The Economist had also until recently featured at no.3, but has had to be removed from Libby due to the publisher’s new access rules. You can however still read The Economist on our PressReader service.

The most popular genre that people like to read is House & Garden, followed by Women’s titles and Crafts.

Interesting too, to find four foreign language titles in our top 150 –
Paris Match (French), El Jueves (Spanish), Elle France (French), L’Express (French). But theres also a rash of Scottish related titles that are really popular – Scotland Magazine, History Scotland and Homes & Interiors Scotland.

There are almost 3,000 magazines available through Libby. As well as our Popular Magazines collection you can browse through our great range of collections – Women’s & Men’s Lifestyle; Home & Garden; Arts & Crafts; Motoring; Health, Sport & Fitness; Cooking, Food & Drinks; Computing & Technology; Science & Nature; Travel & Hobbies; History & Literature and Non-English Language titles.

Scottish Loch Scenery

Another gem from our collections and the feature of our latest Capital Collections online exhibition is a small volume titled Scottish Loch Scenery. It contains a series of delightful coloured plates from drawings by A.F. Lydon and text by Edinburgh-born Thomas Allan Croal.

Published in 1882 it features 25 landscape views from across Scotland well before the time of mass tourism in remote areas of Scotland, with some views looking very serene.

Loch Katrine by A. F. Lydon
Is this the loveliest loch in Scotland?

Although, the book is a sort of Victorian travel guide with descriptive notes on the most picturesque lochside scenes and must-see sights along with practical information for the intrepid traveller.

Loch Katrine, author Croal declares to be:
“The most brilliant gem in the loch scenery of Scotland” and “the loveliest of them all”.

Loch Lomond, he names the “Queen of the Scottish Lochs”. “This magnificent sheet of water presents an almost infinite variety of scenery”. He recommends a steamer trip from the pier at Balloch, where readers could enjoy the charms of Highland scenery without the “fatigues” of travelling or the risk of sea-sickness!

But he also issues a stark warning to more adventurous travellers:
“At Rowardennan Inn are guides and ponies, and although the stalwart man may dispense with the latter, it is not safe to attempt the ascent of Ben Lomond without a guide familiar with the road, for sudden mists may envelop the climber, and a mistake on the road may lead to death”.

Loch Lomond by A. F. Lydon

Explore the full set of beautiful views of Scottish Loch Scenery and be sure to click on the ‘About this image’ sections to read more of Croal’s accompanying text.

Library2go help sessions

Do you need help getting started with Edinburgh Libraries downloadable ebook, audiobook, magazine or newspaper services?

Or do you have a query about using any of the libraries online services?

Then come along with your device to one of our eresources help sessions. We can help get you set up and take you through using our services step-by-step. These happen on Tuesday afternoons in the Central Library.

To attend book a slot in advance by emailing: with your name and phone number and we’ll call you back to arrange a time.

Further details can be found at:

Edinburgh Urban Sketchers exhibition for February in the Art and Design Library

The Art and Design Library are very excited to host an exhibition by Edinburgh Urban Sketchers this month. The exhibition includes many and varied drawings of landscapes, street views and interiors around our beautiful city and beyond.

Edinburgh Landscape by Maggie Nisbet

Edinburgh Urban Sketchers is an affiliated chapter of, a worldwide organisation that boasts 120,000 members in 374 cities in 60 countries! They are a friendly group and invite people of all levels, from absolute beginners to accomplished artists to join them and to meet up for sketching. Edinburgh Urban Sketchers meets every Wednesday and Sunday with some ad hoc meet-ups in between. You can join them and learn more on the Edinburgh Urban Sketchers Facebook page.

Stockbridge Market by Alison Cook

Urban sketching is a great way to share a love of on-location drawing. It turns a solitary activity into a group event. Meet-ups are free and open to everyone, whatever their age or ability: people simply get together with sketchbooks at a chosen venue. The aim is to inspire and support one another and to celebrate the act of sketching. They usually sketch for a couple of hours and then head to a local cafe to chat and share their sketches with each other. They encourage all attendees to post their sketches on the group page.

Waverley Station by Cait Webb

Urban Sketchers chapters exist around the world, and the Edinburgh chapter shares their manifesto:

1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
6. We support each other and draw together.
7. We share our drawings online.
8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

The exhibition in the library showcases some of the artwork that features in their 2020 publication, “Edinburgh, One Drawing at a Time”.

The exhibition runs until 27 February in the Art and Design Library – we hope to see you there!

Green Pencil Award-winner 2022 is announced!

We’re delighted to announce the winning entry for the 2022, Year of Stories, Green Pencil creative writing competition is Lukas Bell of Boroughmuir High School with his poem, Foggy Bummer.

We invite you to listen to a special recording of Lukas’ poem read by poet, Roshni Gallagher –

Foggy Bummer by Lukas Bell from Boroughmuir High

You can hear all four of our finalists read their highly commended entries in yesterday’s blog post.

Green Pencil Award 2022

A big thank you to all the children and young people who entered the Green Pencil creative writing competition. We enjoyed reading all your writing.

For this year’s theme – Year of Scotland’s stories – P4-P7 aged children and young people in S1-3 were challenged to write a poem, piece of prose or story on the theme.

Once again, we were unable to hold an awards ceremony in Central Library, so here instead, you can listen to the finalists read their highly commended entries in these special Green Pencil videos.

Congratulations to all our talented finalists!

Hannah, St George’s: Can we stop it now?

Can we stop it now? by Hannah from St George’s School

Zara Shaw, Ratho Primary: The Difference We Can Make for Climate Change

The difference we can make for climate change by Zara Shaw from Ratho Primary School

Amber Rose Redpath, The Royal High: Mother Nature

Mother Nature by Amber Rose Redpath from The Royal High

Lukas Bell, Boroughmuir High: Foggy Bummer

Foggy Bummer by Lukas Bell from Boroughmuir High School

Come back tomorrow when the winner will be revealed…

Celebrating Robert Burns

Once again we hand over to Douglas from the Music Library, this time to tell us about the many composers who have been inspired by the works of Robert Burns.

Robert Burns – poet, lyricist, lover, fighter, farmer, exciseman – regarded by most as Scotland’s national poet. Burns was born 264 years ago on the 25 January 1759, a day celebrated near and far as Burns Night, with suppers given in his honour and much Irn Bru drunk and sugary tablet eaten, (or maybe that’s just my Burns Suppers).

Burns’ memory is toasted with the finest malt whisky and a dinner of haggis, tatties and neeps. The haggis is marched in, accompanied by a piper, and addressed by a guest speaker, before being served. Then songs are sung, dances are danced and the Bard’s poems are recited for the entertainment of the assembled diners.

The Music Library’s Burns display this year contains songs in settings Burns afficionados would perhaps not expect to see and hear. There are also settings that are perhaps less well known and a few select items from the collection of our neighbours, the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection.

Burns Night display in the Music Library
Music Library Burns Night display
Burns night display in cabinet in Music Library

The items in the cabinet are not normally the songs sung at a Burns supper – this small collection are a few of the less well-known settings of the ploughman poet’s work.

The cabinet contains settings by Pleyell, Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich. Of the composers represented in the cabinet, Pleyell, Haydn, Beethoven and Schumann never visited Scotland, although Clara Schumann, composer, gifted pianist and wife of Robert, visited Scotland in 1867 on tour with the celebrated violinist Joseph Joacim. Robert Schumann revisited the lyrics and poems of Robert Burns a few times, the great romantic composer setting the works of the great romantic lyricist. In 1840, Schumann set some of Burns poems in his song cycle Myrten Op25 which was dedicated to his beloved bride to be, Clara. In 1846, Schumann wrote Five songs for Choir Op55 all with words by Robert Burns. There is also a jaunty little setting of My Love is like a Red Red Rose.

Felix Mendelssohn was much taken by Scotland when he visited in 1829. The 20 year old composer “did Scotland” top to bottom. His trip produced the Hebrides Overture and the 3rd Symphony. It also produced some fascinating letters to his family and excellent sketches. Starting in Edinburgh on the 26 July, Mendelssohn set off with with Karl Klingemann a diplomat stationed in London and a close friend of the Mendelssohn Family.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, 1830
by Eckart Kleßmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Felix Mendelssohn had arrived in London on April 21 after a difficult channel crossing. He chose to initially perform only on piano and only in private houses at small functions. It was not until 25 May that Mendelssohn made his London concert debut with the RPO. He was to appear throughout the Summer as soloist in the Weber Concert-stuck and Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. He also premiered some of his own works. When the London concert season finished, he was free to travel with Klingemann to their walking holiday in Scotland.

Described as inveterate reviser, the Hebrides Overture has several different names and a few different versions until Mendelssohn deemed himself “satisfied” with the work in 1832. The Scottish Symphony took longer to finish – a full 13 years, the same year as his Volksleid based on the poetry of Robert Burns.

Maurice Ravel,1912, unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Maurice Ravel wrote his Chanson Ecossaise in 1910 and eventually managed to visit Scotland two years later, perhaps this is some sort of pre-inspiration. At the behest of Russian singer Marie Olenine d’Alheim and her so called Maison du Lied which she founded in Moscow in 1908. The Maison organised concerts and international competitions for song arrangements. Ravel entered one of these competitions. Four of his Chansons Populaire won first place, whilst other Russian, Scottish and Italian songs were never published. This edition of the Chanson Ecossaise is reconstructed from existing sketches.

Portrait of Dimitri Shostakovich
Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Shostakovich’s visit to the 1962 Edinburgh Festival was heavily policed by Russian authorities with all that he said and did being monitored by his state minders. What actual picture or impression of Scotland he got from this visit we cannot tell. Dimitri seems to have been criticised on all levels for all things. His 1962 visit to Scotland to the Edinburgh Festival, allowed every critic and letter writer to “have a go”. If he had had a twitter account, he would have been trolled out of the country.  He was unequally lauded and vilified. Individual critics were torn between carrying him through the streets as one of the great Russian composers or trying to find room on his back for one more knife. His crime was to stay alive during the Stalin era, an era in which to fall out of step with Russia’s tiptop tyrant, meant disappearance, banishment, or death. Shostakovich suffered none of these fates despite almost falling out of line, he always managed to pull himself back from the edge by writing works to please the Party. It was this music, the safe party music which drew most criticism and the behaviour of being seen as a sycophant rather than being dead, which also brought disfavour from the amateur and professional critic, and all the outraged letter writers of Edinburgh. 

The Shostakovich Six Romances on English Folk Tunes Op 62 were premiered in 1943, a difficult time in Russia’s history, it is hard to see how this could be anything other than Shostakovich the patriot, writing music for Russia and the Russians.

Benjamin Britten by
Szalay Zoltán, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin Britten – A Birthday Hansell (‘hansel’ is an old Scottish word for a welcome gift or present) was written in 1975 for the Queen Mother’s 75th birthday in 1976. The piece was commissioned by the late Queen Elizabeth II and became Britten’s last song cycle. It was given its first performance by Peter Pears, tenor and the harpist Osian Ellis, whose advice Britten often sought for the harp arrangements. In 1973 Britten had had a failing heart valve replaced successfully but he was never the most robustly healthy man. It was clear by he middle of 1976 that he was unwell and unlikely to get better. His Scottish nurse Rita Thomson organised champagne receptions where the dying composer could say his goodbyes to his friends and family.  Britten died on the 4 December 1976 and was buried in his beloved Aldeburgh in the church graveyard, there he was joined by his partner, Peter Pears on his passing in 1986.

Ralph Vaughan Williams was a great champion of indigenous music, much of his work revolved around English Folk tradition, in amongst all his many works are settings and arrangements of folk songs from other lands. Ca the Yowes is from 1922.

The works by Beethoven, Haydn and Pleyell come from a lucrative arrangement entered in to by them and the Edinburgh based, clerk, businessman, musician and composer George Thomson (1757 – 1851). Thomson was an attendee, but not a member, at the Edinburgh Music Society in their home in the St Cecilia Halls in the Cowgate. Here, he heard the “tasteful” renditions of Scots songs by the Italian Castrato Tenducci, a visitor to the society. This gave Thomson the idea of publishing collections of Scots songs in “tasteful arrangements”.

George Thomson
by Henry Raeburn, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Spanning a period of over 40 years, Thomson published six volumes and employed the services of eight composers – Pleyel, Kozelich, Haydn, Beethoven, Weber (briefly), Hummell, H.R. Bishop and G. F. Graham. From various records, Thomson paid between 2/4 ducats for an arrangement. In the time that Beethoven worked with Thomson he produced between 125 and 179 arrangements which almost all were requested by Thomson. This was a favourable arrangement, but disagreements flared between Thomson and Beethoven over the difficulty of the accompaniments. The publisher claimed the arrangements were too hard for the people buying his collections, Beethoven refused to compromise, notoriously ill-tempered. This was when Thomson and Beethoven parted company and Thomson moved on to his next composer. Thompson’s starting point for his volumes of song had been existing works and only Scottish works along the way. Thomson now commissioned works for his collection and expanded the collection to include works from Ireland, Wales and England. Thomson commissioned Burns to write 170 new works and it was Burns who persuaded Thomson to include the work of the other home nations. 

Whether completely new tunes to familiar words or surprising arrangements of well kent tunes. It is always interesting to find how far and wide Robert Burns words travelled, all the way from England to Russian and many stops in between.

There are many more perhaps surprising Burns works at both Naxos streaming sites, Classical and Jazz. Both the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection and the Music Library have many more Burns volumes than can be listed here.

Tumbledown Terrace – Ferniehill, Gilmerton

In early November 2000, a resident living in Ferniehill Terrace noticed a crack had appeared in her ceiling. By the next day, more hairline cracks had appeared. Council workers were notified and started to monitor the situation. By the following week, as property movement continued to be detected in the street, it was decided that residents needed to be moved out for their safety. Later in the month, there was a significant ground movement which affected more homes.

Subsided houses, walls and fences, Ferniehill Terrace, 2000 by Ann Sinclair via

It was known that the houses had been built on the site of former limestone mines. The mines had been worked into the 1940s and records showed that there had been a cast limestone quarry near the houses to depths of between 15m and 20m.

During November and December 2000, 33 houses had to be demolished at Ferniehill and other nearby areas built on top of limestone mines were identified as being at similar risk of subsidence.

In 2022, Robert Carroll at Gilmerton Library undertook a local history project to record residents’ memories of the incident and how it affected local people. We’re grateful to Ann Sinclair who got in touch to share photos and her recollections of the time. In a new exhibition on Capital Collections, you can see her photos, official documents that were distributed to residents and hear her memories of the time in a specially recorded interview.

Get an Instant Digital Card

Do you know someone who would benefit from free access to ebooks, audiobooks and magazines, but who are not a member of the library? This New Year you can get free instant access to Edinburgh Libraries Libby service without a library card. Thousands of best-selling titles for adults, teens and children are available to read on your phone, tablet or computer. It’s a fantastic way to make the most of your electronic Christmas presents and to save money. Please spread the word to relatives and friends!
No library card? No problem! From the 10 January – 9 February 2023 if you are over 16 years old you can sign up for an Instant Digital Card in seconds. All you need is a mobile phone number and the access code – Library2go. To find out how to get started go to
The Instant Digital Card gives you access to Libby for three months. However, you can keep on using the service for free by joining the library and receiving a permanent membership card. Join online through
Contact if you have any questions about our downloadable services.

Tinderbox Orchestra launch We Make Music Instrument Libraries

Want to borrow a violin? Or perhaps you’d prefer a guitar or a clarinet?

We Make Music Instrument Libraries is a brand new initiative to get musical instruments into public libraries across Scotland. People can borrow these instruments for free, just like taking out a book. The programme is launching with nine libraries in Fife, North Ayrshire and Edinburgh, with the intention that it spreads further across Scotland in future.

Tinderbox Orchestra

Edinburgh Libraries currently hold collections of instruments in Craigmillar, Drumbrae, Moredun, Muirhouse, Wester Hailes and the Music Library at Central Library. We have a wide variety of instruments from guitars, keyboards and ukuleles, to violins, trombones and orchestral instruments. The Music Library also has two digital pianos, a full-sized keyboard and a drum kit available to use in the library.

We are working in partnership with Tinderbox Collective to deliver this initiative and what better way to launch this new service than to welcome Tinderbox Orchestra to perform in the library! Join us on the Mezzanine at Central Library on Saturday 28 January. Tinderbox Orchestra will play from 1:30 to 2:15pm and if you’ve been inspired, join us for an open mic session running afterwards from 2:30 to 3:30pm hosted by Tinderbox Collective.

Get your free ticket to see Tinderbox Orchestra on Saturday 28 January or drop in for a jam on the day.

Scottish literary prize winners past and present

Today, with thanks, we hand over to departing member of staff, Lauren from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection and Reference team at Central Library, who writes about holiday limbo and Scottish prize winning books.

The Christmas rush is over – presents have been unwrapped, turkeys get a second lease of life as leftovers and stomachs and hearts are full. Now the lull of the no man’s land between Christmas and New Year is upon us and all plans have been abandoned. Now is the time, at least in my house, for ‘picky bits’ dinners, sinking into that new book and not having anywhere to be. Above all though, this limbo week is a time for reflection on the year just passed.

In the literary world, towards the latter stages of the year is often when the last of the book prizes announce their winners. No doubt whilst Christmas shopping in your local bookshop, you will have seen those little stickers shining out from the front of covers. ‘Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize’ states ‘A Shock’ by Keith Ridgway, ‘The Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner 2022’ features on ‘Deep Wheel Orcadia’ by Harry Josephine Giles and, perhaps most coveted of all, ‘Winner of the Booker Prize 2022’ sits proudly on the cover of ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ by Shehan Karunatilaka.

Scotland has a long and storied history with prizewinning literature, from her authors to books about Scotland, set in Scotland and even literary prizes aiming to find the next best thing in Scottish writing. So, in the spirit of reflection, the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection decided to look back on some highlights of the Scottish prizewinning best of past and present.

Wind back all the way to 1937 and the very first Saltire Society Literary Awards were launched, the first awards ceremony since the society’s inception the year before. Scottish novelist Neil M Gunn’s fourth novel, ‘Highland River’ won the inaugural Scottish Book of the Year Award. The title also won the James Tait Black Prize in the same year. Gunn wrote many other novels, including his first novel ‘The Grey Coast’ (1926), ‘Morning Tide’ (1931) and ‘Silver Darlings’ (1941).

Jumping forward 51 years, the Saltire Society Literary Awards introduced the First Book of the Year Award, presented to an author for their debut published book. The inaugural winner was Arbroath-born poet Raymond Vettese for his book ‘The Richt Noise and Ither Poems’ (1988), written in the Scots dialect and compiled of both new poems and ones that had previously been published in popular poetry periodicals such as Lallans and Chapman. His second collection, ‘A Keen New Air’, was published by the Saltire Society in 1995.

In 1994, Scots writer James Kelman won arguably the most esteemed literary prize, the then-named Man Booker Prize (now Booker Prize), with his Scots dialect novel ‘How Late It Was, How Late’. This caused huge controversy and uproar due to its extensive use of expletives, with one judge calling it a ‘disgrace’ and ‘completely inaccessible’. The novel however would go on to become one of the most celebrated books in the Scottish literature canon. An article from The Times (available to view via the British Newspaper Archive e-resource) featured an interview with Kelman (the first Scot to receive the prize) after his win, in which he admitted to journalist Julia Llewellyn Smith that he was unsurprised with the outcry: “I’m very glad it wasn’t a unanimous decision,” he says in his soft, Scots monotone. “Very pleased indeed, ye know. If it had been, I would have to examine what I was doing.’’

Although published in 1994, Christine De Luca’s debut poetry collection ‘Voes and Sounds’ won the Shetland Arts Trust Literary Award two years later in 1996. The collection was celebrated as ‘one of the best collections of poetry to come out of Shetland for 20 to 30 years’, by one of the judges. Since then, she has become an important contemporary voice for Shetlandic literature. The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection holds both the print collection and the audiobook cassette, read in Christine’s native Shetlandic dialect.

Coming into the 21st century now, Edinburgh played host to two literary prizes. The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, laterally known as the Commonwealth Book Prize, came to Scotland for the first time 20 years ago in April 2002, with events held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and attended by Princess Anne. Author William Muir was one of the winners for his novel, ‘The 18th Pale Descendant’ (2001), a psychological tale that explores the implications of the death penalty.

As UNESCO’s first City of Literature, Edinburgh hosted the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in June 2005 and many events were planned in the city, alongside the official prizegiving ceremony itself. The prize was won by Albanian writer Ismail Kadare for his body of work, however bookshops struggled to buy his novels in for the prizegiving as Kadare’s work had previously been banned in his home country of Albania and had to be smuggled out of his country while under Stalinist regime.

Moving into 2020 and the shadow of the pandemic meant that Scottish writer Douglas Stuart became the second Scot to win the Booker Prize, in a ‘ceremony without walls’ that was broadcast online. Stuart’s autobiographical debut ‘Shuggie Bain’ is based on his own upbringing in 1980s Thatcherite Glasgow, and the novel was deemed ‘a book both beautiful and brutal’ by The Times. Stuart himself credited inspiration to the first Scottish Booker winner James Kelman for depicting the Glaswegian people and dialect on the page. In November 2022, it was announced that ‘Shuggie Bain’ would be adapted for a television series on BBC One.

In 2021, Maria Hayward’s ‘Stuart Style’ won the Saltire Society History Book of the Year in 2021, with her research book that looks at how the fashion of the 17th century Scottish royal Stuart family influenced the courts of England. It is the first detailed analysis to be published on elite male clothing in the 1600s in Scotland and centres on James VI and I, Prince Henry, Charles 1 and 11 and James VII and II.

Finally arriving in 2022, Billy Connolly’s much anticipated biography ‘Windswept and Interesting: My Autobiography’ was shortlisted for the British Book Awards Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year 2022. It is the first full-length memoir from the famous Scottish comedian and sits alongside his other books such as ‘Made in Scotland: My Grand Adventures in a Wee Country’ (2018) and ‘Tall Tales and Wee Stories’ (2019). Connolly has retired from live comedy due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2013 and can now be found presenting travel documentaries and books on Scotland, still with the flair for storytelling that shone through his stand-up comedy.

So it is then, in this suspended period between Christmas and New Year, that I can be found nestled into the sofa with a cup of tea and the recently announced 2022 Saltire Society History Book of the Year, ‘Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean’ by David Alston, now looking forward to the literary year ahead. Who knows what 2023 will bring, except exciting new Scottish books deserving of those little prize stickers.

Discover these and more prize worthy Scottish books in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library.

Some of our favourite books of 2022

Edinburgh Libraries staff tell us which were their favourite books of the past year.

Alannah from Wester Hailes Library recommends not a book of the year, but a trilogy!
The Hell’s Library series by A. J. Hackwith is an incredible journey that deals with budding friendships, coping with loss, and choosing your own family in this crazy, messed up world. The stories are written from the perspective of multiple characters, so you really get a good feel for the world Hackwith has created and the complex relationships that develop throughout the trilogy. I initially picked the first book as it was advertised as an LGBTQ+ novel, and the sincerity with which queer and questioning characters are portrayed is incredibly refreshing. If you’re looking for a series to make you laugh with joy, cry in despair, and bite your nails in suspense – sometimes within the span of a few pages – this is an adventure you will want to embark on.
The Hell’s Library series by A. J. Hackwith –
1st Library of the Unwritten (2020) is available to borrow in print
2nd Archive of the Forgotten (2021) is available to borrow in print
3rd The God of Lost Words (2022) is available to borrow in print

Enya from Newington Library would like to recommend I’m glad my mom died by Jennette McCurdy
The reason I picked this book up is the same reason most people do – I was intrigued by the title and cover. That has got to be one of the most intelligently provocative marketing I’ve ever seen! As someone who grew up watching iCarly on Nickelodeon I was familiar with Jennette McCurdy, but wouldn’t necessarily have been interested in picking up her memoir if it weren’t for that title. Celebrity memoirs can be a bit hit or miss, but luckily this one lived up to the expectations it raised! I could not put it down at all, the audiobook was beautifully narrated by the author and the writing style was clear and concise. She perfectly illuminates her complex relationship with her family, especially her mother and the volatile home environment she had to navigate as a child. Even if the title takes you aback at first, by the end of it, you’ll come away thinking “I would be glad, too”.
I’m glad my mom died is available to borrow as an ebook, audiobook and in print.

Roshni from the Resources Team recommends Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
My favourite read of 2022, Cold Enough for Snow is a beautiful, evocative book that captures the small details of life and holds them up to the light. It follows a mother and adult daughter on a trip to Japan in the Autumn – exploring the daughter’s longing for connection and the subjectivity of their shared experiences. I love how atmospheric and textured the writing is. Au’s well-observed images stick with you – ferns through a thick mist of rain, light shifting through an art gallery, streets lit up softly like lanterns. It’s a thoughtful book filled with memory, art, and dream.
Cold Enough for Snow is available to borrow in print.

Heather from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries says she’s a big fan of Scottish fiction and one of her favourites this year was Hear No Evil by Sarah Smith.
Historical fiction’s not a genre I’d usually go for, but this book is based on the true story of a landmark Scottish legal case, so I was intrigued to read it.
The book begins in Glasgow, 1817, where a woman is witnessed throwing a child into the River Clyde.  Jean is deaf and struggles to communicate with the authorities to tell her side of the story.  Robert Kinniburgh, a teacher from the Deaf and Dumb Institute in Edinburgh is called upon to translate and becomes involved with investigations.  He listens to Jean’s story at a time when the authorities are quick to dismiss those with disabilities.  I was fascinated by the way the author depicts the conversations between Jean and Robert in the early days of BSL.   
Sarah Smith paints such a vivid picture of Glasgow and Edinburgh that I felt like I’d been pulled right into the past!  A really interesting and important read.
Hear no Evil is available to borrow in print.

Susan from the Digital Team highlights The Edinburgh Skating Club by Michelle Sloan
I love a book set in Edinburgh, there is something that elevates the experience of reading for me when I know the streets and buildings that are described. This year I have finished the latest Ambrose Parry novel set in Victorian Edinburgh and devoured all four of the fabulous contemporary-set Skelf’s series by Doug Johnstone.
My last foray into the literary capital however was for Michelle Sloan’s The Edinburgh Skating Club. It is a gentle, enjoyable romp set in the contemporary city and in Enlightenment Edinburgh with something for everyone – romance, history, mystery, women’s rights and a very famous painting!  Sloan has taken real people for the historical sections of the book and created an interesting series of “what-ifs”, where the main character Alison Cockburn is able to break free from the social norms of the day in a very unexpected way.
The Edinburgh Skating Club is available to borrow as an ebook, audiobook and in print.

Clare from the Digital Team recommends A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
My most memorable book of the year began as a stop-gap read in between reservations. I was browsing the Libby catalogue and came across several titles by Bill Bryson, an author I’d not read in years. I decided on A Walk in the Woods, an account of Bryson’s attempt to hike the Appalachian trail, with his old friend, Stephen Katz. It’s rare for a book to make me laugh out loud, rarer still to find myself crying with laughter.
The Appalachian trail is more that a walk in the woods, it is almost 2200 miles of remote mountain wilderness. Together, Bryson and Katz faced scary animals, weather extremes, other hikers, tantrums and endless noodles. The book is a testament to enduring friendship, an inspiration for all armchair travellers and in parts, very funny.
A Walk in the Woods is available to borrow as an ebook, audiobook and print.

Mel from Corstorphine Library sneaks in two books of the year!
She recommends The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
This was such a fun read. The book is set in an alternate Victorian Britain where there are pirates and assassins who just so happen to belong to a not-so-secret society of ladies who pull off heists and robberies in between attending balls and tea parties. The world that the author created was really interesting and the book had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners. There is kidnapping, skulduggery, flying houses and a love story – it kind of has everything to keep you entertained!

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna
This children’s book was an engrossing tale right from the start when the young protagonist Cassie runs away from her boarding school, is nearly kidnapped by goblins and then finds out that she is part of a family of witches who have been guarding the town of Hedgley and the border with Faerie.
I thought this book was exciting and a real page-turner. Cassie was such a likeable protagonist, and the story has broom-flying, talking cats, creepy forests, and a terrific band of friends. The second book in the series is out early in 2023 and I can’t wait to see what happens next to Cassie and her friends.
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is available as an ebook and in print.
Hedgewitch is available to borrow in print.

Doris from Central Lending says one of her favourite books of 2022 is At the Table by Claire Powell.
The novel focuses on the lives of the Maguire family and how they interact over the course of a year over a series of lunches, drinks and at times, awkward get togethers. Nicole is the daughter of Linda and Gerry and is the heart of the family, while her brother Jamie is the soul. Both react differently to the separation of their parents as they navigate their own lives and question the choices they make and the consequences of these decisions. The razor sharp dialogue is a joy to read and is a highlight of the novel.
At the Table is available to borrow in print.

Nicola from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries book of the year was Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura.
I love Japanese books and find them to be fantastical and whimsical and this book did not disappoint.
This book is about a group of teenagers who are united by not being able to attend school, and are facing their own unique challenges and struggles. This storyline really resonated with me and had a personal connection, which made it an emotional and thought-provoking read. The teenagers are brought together through the magical portal of the mirror into another realm where they can leave their insecurities and anxieties behind and not be judged.
It has a lot to say about loneliness and anxiety and about the importance of being authentic and of reaching out to others. An unusual and captivating fairy tale, which is moving and unusual.

My favourite children’s book this year was Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll. Elle writes about neurodiverse characters in an empowering and positive way. This is a wonderful story set in a magical hidden world within Edinburgh, and I can’t wait to read the follow up which is coming out in February 2023.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror is available to borrow in print.
Like a Charm is available to borrow in print.

Bageshri from Stockbridge Library puts forward The Marmalade Diaries: The True Story of an Odd Couple by Ben Aitken as her book of the year.
I got attracted to the title of the book in the first place. It’s a charming book about a young man in his 30s and a lady in her 80s living together under the same roof during the strange period of Covid lockdown!
Although it doesn’t look like this inter-generational friendship is going to work at the beginning; but they end up having a heart-warming relation between them. The book is a light read full of warmth and humour. It speaks about the lockdown and the effect it had on people’s lives. You will relate to this story if you have or ever had an elder person in your life!
The Marmalade Diaries is available to borrow in print.

What was your favourite book of the year?

Hogmanay cheer

As we come to the end of another year, we’ve been looking through the pages of the wonderful resource, the British Newspaper Archive to see how Hogmanay was celebrated in the past.

Nowadays, New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay here in Scotland, is full of big street parties and top line entertainers, but looking back things were on a much smaller scale.

Of course, you could still celebrate in style by attending a Grand New Year’s Eve Ball at The Palais de Danse. Where for a 10/6 admission you could dance in Scotland’s largest and most beautiful ballroom and listen to “Our Two Celebrated Novelty Jazz Bands” and compete for the prize for best ladies’ or gents’ costumes.

Edinburgh Evening News, Tuesday 28 December 1920 taken from the British Newspaper Archive

Or maybe you were staying in and having your own celebrations, in which case you’d need “delightful and seasonable party records that everyone enjoys…” from Beltona Records.

Evening Telegraph, Thursday 24 December 1936 from British Newspaper Archive

No Hogmanay party would be complete without New Year Cakes… currant buns, shortbread or rich cakes.

Linlithgowshire Gazette, Friday 29 December 1937 from British Newspaper Archive

And unlike today, trains ran over New Year. You could take advantage of “Cheap Day Excursions” to many different destinations!

Scottish Border Newspaper, Thursday 24 December 1925 from British Newspaper Archive

Take a look at all the millions of historical newspaper pages available from the British Newspaper Archive, accessible for free in all our libraries.