The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: the tradesmen who built Central Library

When the doors of Edinburgh Central Library were formally opened on Monday 9 June 1890, it was the fulfilment of many years preparation.

Selected design for Edinburgh Public Library, elevation to George IV Bridge and plans for third and fourth floors, by George Washington Browne, 1887

In our collections, we have two volumes of handwritten ledgers kept by the then Clerk of Works, William Bruce, which record in detail the building works as they progressed.

Clerk of Works’ record books for Edinburgh Public Library

We know from the record books that preparation work had begun as early as 1879 when it was recorded that “Official tests of Pentland Cement” were being methodically undertaken. The pages are filled with neat notes with details such as the amount of cement used, how many days the cement had been set for, and the amount of shrinkage.

On the 18 November 1887, the following words appear at the top of the page:
“The contractors began operations on the 17 Nov…. excavating area of site and carting away stuff”.
So began the building of Central Library.

In the 2 years and 7 months it took from start to finish, many different trades and tradesmen worked on the building. Thanks to the detailed notes by Bruce, we know that at times there were up to 137 tradesmen working on site each day. Building sites in the late 1800s didn’t conform to the same standards of health and safety as they do today. From newspaper reports and an entry in one of the volumes we know that serious accidents occurred. An article in the Edinburgh Evening News of 10 August 1889, describes how:
a plasterer engaged at work at a ceiling inside, fell off the scaffold on which he was working and sustained severe bruises to his back and arms”.

A volume entry dated 14 April 1888 records the tragic death of a workman on site:
a labourer fell from a scaffold about 11ft high in staff staircase, and was killed”.

Note (front) found on Central Library roof in 1974

Note (reverse) found on Central Library roof in 1974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Clerk of Works refers frequently to the architect, ‘Mr Browne’, in his record books, but few other tradesmen are named individually. However in 1974, while work was being carried out on the roof of the library, evidence was found naming 3 plumbers who worked on the building. A torn page from a diary dated September 1889 was found. On it, written in pencil, are the names of 3 plumbers, T. McLaren , Hugh Brown and G. Cairns. Clerk of Works, William Bruce noted that on 9 November 1889:
“The plumbers work is still delayed by the rubbish on the Reference Library floor”.
Perhaps while they waited to continue, the plumbers took the opportunity go and enjoy the view from the roof, leaving their signatures behind…

Edinburgh Castle and the Grassmarket from the roof of Central Library, 2008

Read all the articles in this series of ‘The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries’:

George Washington Browne: architect

Robert Butchart: City Librarian

Andrew Carnegie: steelmaker and philanthropist

Henry Dyer, engineer, educationist and Japanophile

William McEwan: brewer and philanthropist

David Mather Masson: scholar and biographer

Thomas Ross: architect and antiquarian

Charles Boog Watson: local historian and antiquarian

Green Pencil Award Ceremony 2018

There were smiles all round when finalists in the Green Pencil Award  collected their prizes with their families and teachers, at a ceremony hosted by Councillor Alison Dickie, Vice-Convener for Education, Children and Families on 22nd November at Central Reference Library.

The environmentally-themed creative writing competition, funded by Edinburgh Libraries, has been running for 11 years. This year’s competition was launched at the Queen’s Park Education Centre in August by children’s author Vivian French, who led a writing workshop for P6 pupils from Preston Street Primary.

To tie in with 2018 being the Year of Young People, the award was opened for the first time to S1-3 pupils, as well as P4-7 pupils from City of Edinburgh Council and independent schools across Edinburgh. Because of this, the theme was ’Young People and the Scottish Environment’. There was a record number of 1245 entries, from which 20 finalists and an overall winner were selected by a judging panel whose members came from the Scottish Book Trust, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Libraries and Schools and Lifelong Learning.

Generous prizes were donated by sponsors, including RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, Jupiter Artland, RSPB, Scottish Book Trust, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Bedlam Paintballing, Dynamic Earth,Camera Obscura, NTS and Historic Environment Scotland.

Green Pencil Award

This year’s overall winner Liam Guyatt, from St Margaret’s RC Primary is presented with the Green Pencil trophy along with a medal to keep by Councillor Alison Dickie.

The judges comments on Liam’s winning story ’Ferry Glen’, “What really struck the judges was the way that Liam’s story addressed the topic so well, giving a real sense of a young person enjoying the Scottish environment. Liam cleverly managed to create a wonderful picture of this beautiful place, with all its sights and sounds, in his own, very personal way. We were impressed with the humour and originality of the story which in no way took away from the depiction of the natural environment and Liam’s appreciation of it.’

All 20 finalists attended the event.

The 20 winning entries appear in a brochure which goes to all public libraries, sponsors and schools that submitted entries to the competition.

Digital drop-in

In addition to the regular Get Online groups run by the Libraries’, the Digital drop-in delivered in partnership with Edinburgh University has returned to the Central Library. It will run each week on Friday afternoons from 2 – 4pm with student volunteers on hand and offering you the chance to bring along your computing device (be that a laptop, tablet or smartphone) and get help to sort out any difficulties or issues you may be having. We will work with you 1:1 so it can be a very basic problem, like for example, how to send photos by email or text, or possibly something a bit more complicated like how you save and organise all those photos! If you do not have a computing device we can also offer general advice on what to look for or perhaps get you started on the library public access PCs. If you have attended a previous Get Online group or just have a digital issue you need help with, please just come along – you will find us on the Mezzanine level, Central Library.

Remember there are other digital ‘surgeries’ also offered at Central which are specifically about providing assistance with the Libraries’ e-book/audio and e-magazine/newspaper apps and services. These are again on the Mezzanine level, Central Library, every Tuesday 2 – 3.30pm and the first Thursday of the month 10.30am – 12.

Digital drop-in back at Central Library

In addition to the regular Get Online groups run by the Libraries’, the Digital drop-in delivered in partnership with Edinburgh University returns to the Central Library from this Friday, September 28th. It will run each week from 2 – 4pm with student volunteers on hand and offering you the chance to bring along your computing device (be that a laptop, tablet or smartphone) and get help to sort out any difficulties or issues you may be having. We will work with you 1:1 so it can be a very basic problem, like for example, how to send photos by email or text, or possibly something a bit more complicated like how you save and organise all those photos! If you do not have a computing device we can also offer general advice on what to look for or perhaps get you started on the library public access PCs. If you have attended a previous Get Online group or just have a digital issue you need help with, please just come along – you will find us on the Mezzanine level, Central Library.

Remember there are other digital ‘surgeries’ also offered at Central which are specifically about providing assistance with the Libraries’ e-book/audio and e-magazine/newspaper apps and services. These are again on the Mezzanine level, Central Library, every Tuesday 2 – 3.30pm and the first Thursday of the month 10.30am – 12.

Routes to Roots: adopting Scotland as a homeland exhibition

Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council’s Routes to Roots: Adopting Scotland as a Homeland project has been exploring the shared heritage of Scottish and diverse communities and mainstreaming the histories of minority ethnic communities in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Working with the South Asian, African, Polish, Spanish and Chinese communities in Edinburgh and the Lothians we have conducted and filmed interviews with 30 members of these communities about their experience of making Scotland their home and comparing cultures. These have all been compiled into a book, ‘Routes to Roots: Adopting Scotland as a Homeland’, and we have also produced a number of podcasts exploring the different heritage in the city and organised visits to various religious and heritage sites.

The multimedia exhibition shows photographs and extracts from these people’s stories of making Edinburgh and the Lothians their homes as well as a number of our videos and information about the communities. The exhibition, like the book, focuses on four distinct periods of their lives: their background and life before coming to Scotland, their arrival in Scotland and early experiences here, their current life in Scotland and, finally, their views on immigration as a general concept.

The exhibition will be on display at Central Library from the 2 to 30 June 2018.

If you can’t make it to the exhibition, you can watch some of the project interviews and podcasts online via Capital Collections.

Jenners: 180 years on Princes Street

On 1 May 1838, Kennington & Jenner opened its doors for the first time. Now 180 years later, Edinburgh’s famous department store still sits proudly on the corner of Princes Street and St David Street.

The business was founded by Charles Kennington and Charles Jenner, who had been dismissed by local drapers W.& R. Spence for taking the day off work to go to the Musselburgh races. Their advertisement in The Scotsman claimed that their establishment would offer the discerning customer, ‘every prevailing British and Parisian fashion in silks, shawls, fancy dresses, ribbons, lace, hosiery, and every description of linen drapery and haberdashery’.

View of Jenners Department Store, (later destroyed by fire in 1892) from East Princes Street Gardens

The original building that formed the department store was destroyed by fire on 26 November 1892. In 1893 Scottish architect William Hamilton Beattie was appointed to design the new store which opened in 1895.  Charles Jenner became the driving force behind the reconstruction and it was at his insistence the building’s caryatids – sculpted female figures – were to show symbolically that women are the support of the house. The new store also included technical innovations such as electric lighting and hydraulic lifts. Unfortunately, Charles Jenner died in 1893 and did not live to see the new store completed.

Jenners Department Store, view from Princes Street Gardens, c1900

The store continued to grow during the 1900s and by the 1920s it had cemented its reputation as the number one place to shop, becoming a local byword for extravagance and opulence. In 2005 it was taken over by House of Fraser. While other acquisitions by House of Fraser have been renamed, Jenners has managed to keep its identity.

In 1995, the Central Library acquired an archive of material from Jenners, including sales catalogues, photographs, news cuttings, invoices and correspondence.

A selection of material from the Jenners Archive is on display on the main staircase of the Central Library until 31 May.

Jenners Archive display, Central Library until 31 May 2018

 

Catching up with the BookCafé

Central Library’s BookCafé is a regular, women-only, shared reading group. Each month (on a Wednesday, 1 to 2pm) a short story by a woman writer is read out whilst the group drink tea and coffee or eat their lunch, then chat about whatever themes the story offers. There is no preparation required, no homework and no pressure to speak. The BookCafé is a welcoming and thriving group initially set up by the Glasgow Women’s Library at Central Library and is continued by staff member Sarah and volunteer Ro.

The intention of the group is to share writing from worldwide authors to find connections within women’s experiences – we have more in common than divides us – and introduce new writers to our group.

Sarah and Ro tell us that despite the lingering winter, the BookCafé has continued to thrive, bringing quality literature to this ever popular lunchtime group. With only a couple more dates left in the BookCafé calendar before the summer break they thought it was time to have a wee catch-up with this year’s readings and share some of their plans for the future.

“Since September the group has looked at traditional storytelling forms (some of which had very dark themes), more modern magical realism with respectful nods back to that tradition, and stories from other countries with familiar themes and emotions. We’ve had spooky stories, humorous stories, heart-warming stories and inadvertently topical stories. Authors have included Muriel Spark, Sophie Kinsella, Catherine Lim, Sarah Dyer, Alissa Nutting, Tove Jansson and Andrea Levy. Despite the diverse nature of the settings, we found women’s experiences to be similar or familiar at the very least, across time, age and geography, and it’s a joy to discuss the connections our members find with the texts.

We’ve had a couple of exciting meetings planning the group into next year. We’ve ordered some cracking anthologies from worldwide writers, looked into author visits, discussed non-fiction in the form of poetry and articles, and hope to set up a ‘BookCafé Recommends’ display in the library”.

Join them for the next sessions on 16 May and 20 June in the George Washington Browne Room at Central Library. Book your place if you can (so they know how many cups for coffee/tea to have ready) or just turn up. They look forward to welcoming you and discussing whatever the text brings to your experiences.

The BookCafé will then break for the summer and return in September 2018.