Christmas competition winners announced

We’re delighted to announce the lucky winners of our Nutcracker Quiz and Pantomine Fun Quiz held at Central Library over the festive period.

Congratulations to Henry aged 7, who won the Nutcracker Christmas Quiz competition.  Henry now has two tickets to see Jill Murphy’s ‘The Worst Witch’ at the King’s Theatre,  thanks to the generosity of Capital Theatres.

Congratulations also to Abby aged 5, who won the Pantomine Fun Quiz at Central Children’s Library and received her prize of a selection of picture books.

Thanks to everyone who took part.


History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket

Our house history spotlight falls on no.s 94 and 96 Grassmarket, now occupied by Biddy Mulligans Irish pub but which facade hides an interesting past.

First though, we need to set the scene and go back to the mid 19th century when the Grassmarket was a melting pot of activity and commerce.

East end of Grassmarket showing foot of West Bow, c1856

Using the old Edinburgh Post Office records we find in 1854, the occupations of Grassmarket residents included surgeon, draper, brewer and spirit dealers, baker, flesher (butcher), an Innkeeper at no 100, victual dealer, grain merchant, ropemaker, saddler, ironmonger, china merchant, stables worker and corn merchant.

By 1874 new occupations have appeared including horse dealer, tanner, tobacco manufacturer, wright, iron merchant, brass founder, cork cutter, sack manufacturer, clockmaker and saw maker.

In 1884, rag merchant, teacher, hairdresser, egg merchant are added to the variety or working lives in the Grassmarket area.

Let us look now at no.s 94 and 96.

The Grassmarket Mission was was founded by James Fairbairn in 1886 for the relief of those in need. It supported the local community by providing food and clothing, and fellowship through meetings and refuge.

Grassmarket Mission, c1920

With financial support, Fairbairn bought the site at 94 Grassmarket and in 1890 commissioned architect James Lessels to build the Mission Hall. Fairbairn was one of eight Trustees and also Superintendent of the Mission.

At this time many properties in the area were very dilapidated and could have been classified as slum dwellings. One study in the 1860s for the Canongate, Tron, St.Giles and Grassmarket  recorded that of the single room homes surveyed as many as 1530 had between 6 and 15 people living in them. This overcrowding was made worse by the practice of taking in lodgers, necessary to enhance meagre incomes.

Some people turned to drink to try to escape the harsh realities of their existence and environment. It was principally the children of these families and homeless people who the Mission sought to help.

A later survey in 1913 recorded that Edinburgh had 7106 one roomed houses where 94% shared a common WC and 43% a common sink.

In 1930 the Mission bought the building next door at number 96 and converted it to contain a new Mission Hall, an up to date kitchen, a clothing department and flats upstairs all of which allowed it to expand the services it could provide.

After World War Two the number of people requiring support and help fell due to the assistance provided by the agencies of the new welfare state and the rehousing of families from the city centre to new outlying council estates. As a result, the Mission reached the point of being underused and with costs increasing due to regulation changes, staffing and maintenance, in 1989 it was decided to sell the properties.

The important work of the Mission however continues with its involvement in the Grassmarket Community Project, a joint venture Charity with Greyfriars Kirk and New College Students.

Discover more about the Grassmarket Mission’s history and activity today.

View of Grassmarket and Hub from the Apex Hotel, 2007

During the 1990s the buildings at 94 and 96 became a pub and applications were made to alter and restore 101-107 West Bow to form an extension to the hotel at 96 Grassmarket.

Biddy Mulligan’s pub now occupies numbers 94 and 96 and continues the tradition of being a place where people come to meet and receive hospitality, albeit now on commercial terms. Next time you’re passing, look up, and you’ll see the ‘Mission Hall’ sign still visible above the door.

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


January’s Art Exhibition

The Free Personality Test, an exhibition of paintings by Brian Cheeswright opens on 5th January in the Art and Design Library.

Brian Cheeswright (b. Harrow, UK, 1978) is an artist who divides his time between Edinburgh, Scotland where he currently lives and Eastbourne on the South coast of England where he maintains a studio at his parents’ home. He completed an undergraduate degree in Fine Art (Painting) in 2004 at Brighton School of Art.

Although primarily a figurative painter, most of Brian’s work unfolds in free and open experimentation of the painting medium, and as a result many of his pictures move far off into the realm of abstraction. He considers all painting to be an abstraction from nature, but for this show Brian has chosen to put together those works which seem to have crossed completely over into this mysterious territory.  The paintings have an open-ended quality in which they could be on the verge of becoming something else: perhaps suggesting an emergent personality of their own.

The exhibition runs from 5th January to 30th January 2019

Some of our favourite books of 2018

Once again we asked our library staff to let us know which books they’ve read and particularly enjoyed over the past year. Here’s what they told us –

One of Susan’s favourite books of 2018 was This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.
“It’s a rare book that makes you laugh, cry and consider big political and social issues of the day all within the space of a page. Kay wrote a series of very witty diaries during his years as a junior doctor, laying bare the daily work and trials of the NHS. Now published for us to share, they are a real eye opener to just how valuable our health service is and how lucky we are to have it. It is also a shocking and revelatory depiction of how the people who work for the NHS are treated and the affect that this could have on our care and their lives.”
Available as an ebook

Clare chose Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
“The Carnegie Medal winning book is a powerful and gripping adventure based on a true story.  A birding party from the St Kilda island of Hirta are seemingly abandoned to the elements and fate on a desolate sea stack. As time passes and the return boat each day fails to appear, the small group of men and boys must work together if they are to survive the coming winter. The island birds play a central role in the narrative and I loved the illustrations of the birds at the back of the book which made it easy to picture their place in the story.”
Available as an ebook

Stewart enjoyed The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack
“This is a wonderful book, which I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in contemporary Scottish fiction. Set in Shetland, it beautifully describes the sometimes challenging day to day existence of a modern island community. Tallack’s sense of place – especially the interwoven freedoms and limitations of insular life – is very keen and he has a marvellous way with language, creating characters who are utterly believable, each one of whom speaks with an individual voice.”

Sarah suggests Chemistry by Carol Shields
“It’s really hard to choose as we’ve had so many wonderful short stories from different anthologies at the Central Library BookCafé this year, BUT it really has to be Chemistry by Carol Shields. In this short story, Shields writes with remarkable understatement which catches the reader by surprise. She has a delicate touch coupled with a genius turn of phrase that displays such love of her characters. She elevates the mundane to the extraordinary. Possibly the best writer we’ve had this year.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, perhaps unsurprisingly, got two votes!
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Janette says:
“Here on the back cover we get out first introduction to Eleanor Oliphant. I had picked this book up on several occasions thinking that it would be, dare I say it, a bit depressing? I’m glad I finally did, because you know what? I liked Eleanor!
She’s quirky, solitary and doesn’t fit in well with the world, but makes no bones about who she is. Her life changes completely when she meets Raymond from IT at work, and when they save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the pavement, the three become the kind of friends who rescue one another from the isolation they have all been living.
There is a particular “Oh, no” moment about three quarters of the way through, but without giving too much away, things end up ok.
Give it a go, as the title says Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine!

Nicola also recommends Eleanor’s story:
“An uplifting read, which restores your faith in humanity! I really enjoyed this book which was set in Glasgow, with believable and well developed characters. Whilst following the life and goings on of the main protagonist Eleanor, you truly understand what it means to feel lonely and isolated, and how it feels to not understand the ‘protocols’ of society around you. Although at odds with the norms, she is a fantastically lovable individual. You will laugh out loud at some of her misunderstandings and quirks, and definitely be rooting for her!! Hope that there’s a follow-up. This would make a fantastic movie, just hope it stays true to the book and isn’t set in LA instead of Glasgow.”
Available as an ebook

Bronwen told us:
“One of my library colleagues once said to me that once you reach your 50s you enjoy a good murder story and this seems to have been the case for me this year with two crime stories that both centre around the theme of murder and have both drawn on the landscape of their settings as a key element of their narrative structure”.

Bronwen’s first choice is Broken Ground by Val McDermid
“I’m a great Val McDermid fan and particularly enjoyed the latest `Broken Ground’ in her DCI Karen Pirie series investigating historic cases. Set in both Edinburgh and the remote West Coast, McDermid vividly conveys these contrasting places pitching remote settlements and the inherent properties of peat bogs for preservation against the hipster multicultural yet alienated city life. It’s an easy read, it’s a thriller, but be warned it’s compulsive reading and will keep you awake at night”.
Available as an audiobook

and her second choice is Darkness by Ragmar Jonasson
“Ragmar Jonasson is an Icelandic crime writer and having read her new book Darkness this year I’ll be searching out more books by this author. Although based around the resolution of a crime this narrative presents more of a psychological portrait of a woman detective in her 60s struggling with the prospect of impending retirement, loneliness, and a terrible sense of loss. As the story unfolds we learn more about why this woman holds the attitudes she does and the actions she takes as a result. I would never have guessed the ending. It’s truly gripping.”
Available as an ebook

Carol recommends Dirt Road by James Kelman
“Kelman shines in this one as a master storyteller who draws you into the narrative with a familiarity of conversation. The story is based around 16 year old Murdo who travels from rural Scotland with his father to visit relatives in Alabama. Their journey is prompted by the recent death of his mother. What is instantly attractive about Murdo’s story is his love of music, and playing of the accordion, an unlikely instrument for a teenage boy. But it’s his love of music which provides a catalyst for adventure and a way of coming to terms with his own loss and passage into adulthood. It’s a great interplay of music, place and people by one of our best known Scottish authors.”
Available as an ebook

Nikki enjoyed Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 
“After reading ‘Of Mice and Men’ last year and really enjoying it, I decided to try something else by Steinbeck. This book follows the fortunes of the Joads, a family of farmers from Oklahoma’s dust bowl, as they travel west in search of work during the great depression. The Joads struggles are explained with so much compassion. You are just rooting for them to all make it out in one piece. The descriptions of their small cotton farm and the arid desert they travel through to California feel very real. I found this book hard to put down, and kept wondering what would happen to the characters next.”
Available as an ebook 

If one of your resolutions is to read more in 2019, why not join others to enjoy and discuss great writing at your local library’s book group or drop into the Central Library BookCafe?


Thank you Santa (and Edinburgh Libraries!)

Did Santa give you a lovely techie present for xmas? Well, if you did receive a new tablet or phone for Christmas, you can give yourself a further gift of free ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers!

Your Edinburgh Libraries membership card allows you to access an amazing range of downloadable services that will save you money and enhance your free time.

Add the Libby app from OverDrive to your new device for the easiest access to thousands of quality, free ebooks for the whole family.





Don’t sign up for expensive audiobook services – use our free ones instead! We have four brilliant apps giving you access to thousands of bestselling audiobooks.




You’ll find it hard to leave your armchair after you discover our amazing range of downloadable magazines!




Read a huge range of daily newspapers for free with PressReader including Scottish, national and international titles.




You’ll find full instructions on how to get started on our Your Library website. Want a hand getting your device set up for using these services? Then pop in to one of our eBook Drop-in sessions on Tuesdays from 2-3.30pm or the first Thursday of the month from 10.30am-noon on the Mezzanine in the Central Library.

‘The Nutcracker’ Christmas quiz for children

Central Library is delighted to offer the chance to win tickets to see ‘The Worst Witch’ at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre on Tuesday 7 May 2019.  2 pairs of tickets have been generously donated by Capital Theatres for this family-friendly show based on the book by Jill Murphy. Definitely something to look forward to in 2019!

The performance is suitable for children 7+ so you must be aged between 7 and 11 to enter the competition.

To be in with a chance of winning, complete The Nutcracker Christmas Quiz at Central Library. Pick up your quiz sheet from the Children’s or Music Library and remember to hand back your completed sheet before your leave the library. All the answers can be found in The Nutcracker display which is on view on the Mezzanine level at Central Library.

The competition runs until 31 December. Remember to include parent/carer contact details so that the lucky winner can be contacted on 11 January 2019.

Good luck!

A stitch in time – WEA tapestry commemorates Central Library’s history

Today at Edinburgh Central Library, we are celebrating the completion and display of a tapestry marking our 125th anniversary. The Workers’ Educational Association Stitching Times group embroidered the tapestry. They began work in the autumn of 2015 – the 125th anniversary year of the opening of the library.

Central Library – 125 years in stitch

Founded in 1903, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is a charity dedicated to bringing high quality, professional education into the heart of communities. WEA are the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. Their goal is to widen participation in education and they are committed to education with a social purpose.

Archie Campbell, WEA Area Education Manager says:

“The WEA’s Scottish headquarters is in Edinburgh and we have been very fortunate to have built up a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with Edinburgh Central Library. This partnership goes back several decades and is one WEA feel privileged to be involved in and are keen to nurture and develop. Learners circumstances, learning requirements and the ways they learn (in particular the use of I.T.) change over the years but the WEA will always look to work closely with Central Library to ensure learners are able to access high quality adult education opportunities in a friendly and welcoming environment. The beautiful tapestry the WEA Stitching Times group have produced is fitting testament to this and we are absolutely delighted it is to take pride of place at the library and be viewed by so many library users and visitors.”

Rebecca Mackay, who leads the Stitching Times group added:

“The WEA Stitching Times group began about six years ago with a project for the Museum of Edinburgh, and we call ourselves Stitching Times because our community projects over the years have had an historic connection which we not only stitched into a visual expression but also researched. Our group has its work in the collections of the Museum of Edinburgh – notably in conjunction with their Maude Pentland archive – and on display at Riddles Court. Our commemoration tapestries for the Women of World War One have been exhibited across the country at numerous Library and WEA events. It was a great honour when the Central Library and the WEA approached us with a request to develop an embroidered tapestry celebrating 125 years of Edinburgh Central Library. We are delighted with its completion. It has been a labour of love by many hands.”

‘EPL’ detail taken the gates at main entrance

The tapestry is on display on the main staircase at Central Library. It shows some fantastic details from the library’s history including Daisy Carnegie, the library cat, and the only baby born in the library.