Julie Cortelli. This month’s Fine Art Library exhibition


Julie Cortelli’s work explores issues of contrast, permanence, fragility and vulnerability. See ‘A Gigantic Raft’ in the Fine Art Library until 30th March

Central Children’s Library closed

Due to a power outage the Central Children’s Library is temporarily closed. We’ll let you know when it reopens.

The story of Fountainbridge Library

Next week sees a significant anniversary of one of our most striking buildings, as Fountainbridge Library turns 75.

A library has in fact stood on the current site since 1897, when it became the first neighbourhood library, originally called the ‘West Branch’.

The building was funded from the estate of philanthropist Thomas Nelson who died in 1892 leaving £50,000 to build Nelson Halls in Edinburgh. As Edinburgh Libraries were looking to expand at this time the two aims were combined and the original library was constructed from this fund.

By the mid 1930s spiralling repair costs and shortage of space led to calls for the building of a new library.

And so, readers were advised to return their books by Saturday 9th Oct 1937, before the building was demolished the following month.

J A W Grant was appointed architect for the new library, with sculptor Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson commissioned to provide a carving for above the main doorway on the corner of Murdoch Terrace and Dundee Street.

Jackson’s original plans included ornate carvings of a fountain and bridge, so he was understandably dismayed when he learned of a planned change of name to ‘Dundee Street’ Library.

However, the advanced stage of the drawings and the approval of the committee led to a decision to proceed with the name of ‘Fountainbridge’ Library.

The good progress of the initial works was slowed by the outbreak of WWII. However following complaints by Councillors an opening date was finally set.

Fountainbridge Library was officially opened by Provost Henry Steel at 3pm on Monday 11th March 1940. The Provost promptly borrowed the first book from the library, choosing ‘Haunting Edinburgh’ by Flora Grierson.

As well as being home to over 30 000 books the library also housed a reading room, a games room with 30 tables, a children’s room and a reference room to sit 30.

In a sobering opening speech Treasurer Darling alluded to war-time restrictions by reminding the assembled company that ‘many of us would have found months of black-out intolerable had it not been for the consolation and comfort of books.’

By 1950 the library was issuing 260,000 books per year to the people of Fountainbridge and the surrounding area.

The building has in the past been home to the Scottish Book Centre, Edinburgh International Book Festival and Publishing Scotland. It still houses the Citizens Advice Bureau, an organisation also celebrating its 75th anniversary.

The games room, reference library and children’s library are now gone. The addition of a meeting room after a refurbishment saw the creation of a dedicated community meeting space named the Bainfield Room, named after the Bainfield Mansion which once stood to the south of the building.

This space is still in use, hosting a writers group, book groups, and educational classes and more including a recent a Harry Potter night that saw the Bainfield and beyond transformed into Hogwarts.

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We’re not sure what the next 75 years will bring (will people still be reading Harry Potter in 2090?) but we do know that the immediate future holds a series of celebratory anniversary events in the library, including a photographic exhibition showing images from throughout the library’s history.

You can view some of the items from the exhibition on Capital Collections.

We’ll also have a special book cafe, storytime and celebration day – see our events calendar for details.

And if you have any memories of Fountainbridge Library which you’d like to share please do leave a comment.

Forth Rail Bridge

March 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the Forth Rail Bridge. Currently awaiting the outcome of a UNESCO World Heritage site nomination, there is little doubt that the Forth Rail Bridge’s iconic status extends far beyond Scotland.

However, the Forth Rail Bridge may have looked very different.


In 1879 during a dreadful storm, the navigation spans collapsed on the Tay Bridge. A train had been crossing the bridge at the time and over 70 lives were lost. The Tay Bridge had been designed by Thomas Bouch, the engineer employed on the new Forth Rail Bridge and so, a decision was made to halt construction on the Bridge only shortly after it had begun.

To allay the fears of the public in the wake of the Tay disaster the revised structure of the Forth Bridge was designed to be both visually impressive and enormously strong. Work restarted on a new cantilever design by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker.


The creation of the monumental structure came at a heavy price. In addition to the high economic cost of roughly £2.5 million, more than 60 men lost their lives whilst working on the bridge. Our latest Capital Collections exhibition includes material from our Libraries’ collections and also from the Queensferry Museum. Browse awe-inspiring pictures of the Bridge in mid-construction, views from high amongst the girders and photos of some of the men who risked their lives to realise this feat of Victorian engineering.



How to get the most from your free subscription to Naxos Music

arvo part

Naxos Music Library is the world’s largest online classical music streaming library, offering over a million tracks of classical, world and folk music, with new titles added monthly.

And it’s free for library members! Get started now!

On top of this members get free access to Naxos Music Library Jazz, letting you stream albums from over 32 000 artists.nina

You can get started straight away, but we’re also offering regular help sessions in the Music Library, where we’ll show you how to get started.

The first session takes place on Thursday 12th March and will run on the second and fourth Thursdays of March, April, May and June, from 11am till noon. In the meantime if you do have any queries you can contact the Music Library anytime on central.music.library@edinburgh.gov.uk or call 0131 242 8050.

Remembering Sighthill’s industrial past

Food and Drink is the theme for this year’s Local History Week, which takes place from 7th to 14th March.

At Sighthill Library we’re asking people to share their memories of the three big food manufacturers who were based in the area.

These were Milanda the bakers, Golden Wonder Crisps and of course Burton’s Biscuits.  We have some photographs of each of these businesses, but we are aware that many local people worked there and perhaps there are other photographs yet to be discovered.

Do you have any you would like to share with us?

We are planning a photo display on the week but more importantly we wish to invite you to our reminiscence day on Tuesday the 10th of March. Come along and have a cup of tea or coffee and a munch on some biscuits whilst sharing your tales of the factories.

If you have any memories or photographs of working on the Sighthill Industrial Estate that you would like to share with us, please phone on 0131 529 5566 or email Sighthill.library@edinburgh.gov.uk

Keep an eye on our Facebook page as we will be posting snippets of memories in the run up to the big day.

Private Colin Rice, an Edinburgh soldier

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a collection of correspondence relating to Private Colin Rice [1880-1918], a soldier from Leith who served in World War One. The letters were kept by his family and we’re indebted to Ford Paterson, his great-nephew for donating the material to the library and sharing the story with us.

It's a long way to Tipperary

According to the census, Colin Rice was aged 30 in 1911 and living at Springfield Street in Leith with his father, mother, sister Jane and his nephew John Ford. Colin’s father worked as an iron moulder, his sister was a machinist for a waterproofs factory and Colin worked as a goods porter at the railway station.

In March 1916 the British Government introduced the Military Service Act, which meant compulsory enlistment for all eligible unmarried or widowed men without children between the ages of 18 and 41. We do not know when Colin enrolled in the army, but because of his age, and because the correspondence we have is dated from 1918, it is probable that he joined up after March 1916.

Unfortunately, the only messages written in Colin Rice’s own hand are the regulation postcards stating, “I am quite well”, and a “letter follows at first opportunity”, and so we can only imagine from other accounts of the time, the experience he endured in the trenches.

Postcard to Miss J Rice from WW1 frontline

It was in May 1918, that Colin’s sister Jane received a letter from an officer in his 9th Royal Scots battalion informing her that Private Rice had been wounded in a counter-attack on 24th March 1918. The short letter concluded:
“In all probability he will be a prisoner in the enemy’s hands.”

Another letter arrived for Jane in September confirming that Private Rice was still missing since the date on which he was ‘wounded’ on 24th March. An official leaflet entitled, ‘Missing Officers and Men’ was enclosed for her reference.

In June 1919, a memo was sent to Jane Rice regarding her missing brother:
“no further information has been received in this office, and it is to be feared that, after such a lapse of time without any information, he no longer lives…. As soon as he is Presumed Dead by The War Office you will at once be communicated with”.

In September 1919, a letter arrived for Jane confirming that Colin was now missing, presumed dead. Private Rice’s battalion had been holding trenches in the front, near to St Quentin, (the Somme) when the Germans had “opened their great offensive in overwhelming force” in March 1918.

The collection of documents also contains a note of sympathy from Winston Churchill and a note thanks from King George V:
“I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War.”

Note of thanks from King George V

The collection tells a story of love and loss repeated in thousands of households across the country. The official starkness of the military correspondence makes the story seem all the more poignant when we’re left to imagine the missing side of the story: the family’s enduring hope and resilience in the pursuit of answers.