George Fennel Robson’s Outlines of the Grampian Mountains

Another of Central Library’s Special Collections ‘hidden treasures’ is a large green volume containing 40  hand coloured engravings called Outlines of the Grampian Mountains published in 1819 by landscape painter and poet George Fennell Robson.

Loch Lomond

Fennell was born in Durham in 1788 and displayed an early enthusiasm for drawing, acquiring his artistic skills through practice and whatever instruction he could find. He moved to London in 1804 to pursue his career as an artist and made a meagre living selling his work from a carver and gilder’s shop in Holburn. With the profits from the publication of a print A View of Durham, he travelled to the Highlands of Scotland where he spent a year painting landscapes.

Ben Venue

The result of his year long trip is the volume we have in our collection . These were all engraved and painted with the artist’s romantic eye, so some of the views may be recognisable to you now, others not so much.

Shichallien [Schiehallion]

 Although some of the engravings have been painted in very dark colours, look closely and you can see soldiers in their bright red uniforms defending Stirling Castle, cattle grazing on the hills above Loch Katrine, herons on the side of Loch Tummel and even  a woman riding side saddle on a bridge over Loch Tay.

Ben-Na-Muich-Duidh [Ben Macdui]

You can view all the engravings from this amazing book in our Scenery of the Grampian Mountains exhibition on Capital Collections.

Advertisements

Comely Bank 1817-2017

The current exhibition in the Edinburgh & Scottish Collection was created by a group of interested residents into the history of the unfinished terrace of Georgian houses at Comely Bank.

2017 was the bicentenary of the architectural drawings made by Thomas Brown for William Fettes’ speculative venture for a major Georgian suburb. This spectacular scheme was to radically extend Edinburgh’s residential boundary to the north and west of Henry Raeburn’s development in Stockbridge into the surrounding countryside.

Today, Sir William Fettes is well known as the founder of Fettes College, a leading independent boarding and day school in Edinburgh. Some perhaps know of him as the one-time Provost of Edinburgh. In fact, his bequest to this area is greater than he may ever have anticipated or comprehended.

The exhibition tells the story of Sir William Fettes’ rise from humble beginnings as a grocer and wine merchant in the Old Town of Edinburgh to a prominent businessman and philanthropist. It also charts the history of the area, the prominent individuals who were involved in the growth and development of Comely Bank, and finally, the drastic plan to build a ring road through Edinburgh in the 1960s which would have cut through the areas of Inverleith, Warriston and Comely Bank, and would have left very different vistas to those we know today.

Comely Bank 1817-2017 is currently on display in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library until 31 May.

John Smith’s Houses and Streets in Edinburgh

For those of you who like looking at images of Edinburgh’s not so distant past, this volume of photographs from our Edinburgh & Scottish Collection will be of interest.

They are taken from a volume entitled ‘Origin, Nomenclature, and Location of Various Houses, Streets and Districts in Edinburgh’ by John Smith which was donated to the library in 1938 by his family.

John Smith spent his entire life in Edinburgh and dedicated most of his leisure time to the research of his home city. He was a carpenter’s son and started in his father’s business, but later pursued a career with the Royal Bank of Scotland where he remained until retirement. However, it is for his pastime that he is most remembered. He wrote the publications ‘Hammermen in Edinburgh’ and ‘Old Scottish Clockmakers‘. He researched and wrote on several Edinburgh topics including the Watson’s of Saughton, a history of the Lambs of Tollcross and produced a pictorial record of the tombstones in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard. Smith died in January 1938 aged 82 years old.

John Smith

The photographs in the volume date between 1920 and 1935, presumably taken by Smith himself, and show the varying styles of building and types of residence in Edinburgh, including notable buildings no longer in existence.

The volume was started long before the days of microfilm and computers, so every property description and detail included, has been meticulously copied by hand on to the pages. He probably spent many a long day, possibly here in Central Library, copying from the original pages of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, to whom most of the details are credited, and then re-writing them again into this volume. A true labour of love!

In one of the pages there is a description of Princes Street Gardens and its future use dated from 1832, stating that the “intention is to lay out the grounds with pleasure walks and ornamental shrubbery and throw them open to the public for a small sum annually”. In another from 1781 and describing St James Square, “the situation of this square is dry and healthy. It is sheltered by the buildings of the New Town from the west wind which is well known there to blow with uncommon violence….It is out of reach of the stench of the butchers shambles so intolerable to the neighbourhood in the summer months”.

Delve into the pages of this fascinating volume in our online exhibition John Smith’s Houses and Streets in Edinburgh, available to view in full on Capital Collections.

History of the house: Bowhead House

The West Bow used to be the main entrance to the city of Edinburgh from the West. After passing through the Grassmarket the zigzag road climbed steeply to the Lawnmarket and the Castle. The tenement at the top was long known as the Old Bowhead or Bow Head House.

When the Town Council drew up plans for a new road, the middle section of the West Bow was demolished to make way for it. The new Victoria Street was established in 1829 cutting across the former West Bow and connecting George IV Bridge to the Grassmarket.

The West Bow, from the Lawnmarket by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1829

Bowhead House stood firm at the top of the Bow and had many occupants during its long life, some of whom will remain unknown as there are few records available.

The Thomas Nelson bookshop and publishing company have connections with the site. Under the original name of Thomas Neilson, the company began by selling second-hand books before expanding into publishing. The firm was sited at the West Bow for many years, where they even incorporated an image of Bowhead House within their publisher’s imprint. The business moved to custom-built premises in Edinburgh’s southside around 1845.

Edinburgh company, William Waugh, who have been involved in the recycling industry since the middle of the 19th century, were at Bowhead House around 1870.

J Waugh’s Woolen and Rag Store, Lawnmarket and head of West Bow, c1870

Bowhead House had survived the changes to the road layouts round about it, but was demolished in 1878-79. The demolition is described in James Grant’s Old and New Edinburgh:
“One of the finest specimens of the wooden-fronted houses of 1540 was on the south side of the Lawnmarket and was standing all unchanged after the lapse of more than 338 years, till its demolition in 1878-9.”

West Bow, Bowhead House (demolished) c1878

The Scotsman edition of 8 February 1878 also noted the demise of the distinctive ‘inverted pyramid’ building:
“… in a few days modern improvement will lay its remorseless hand upon the well known tenement at the corner of West Bow and Lawnmarket. This latter house whose gables and eaves are richly carved has long been regarded as a most characteristic relic of old Edinburgh. Its quaint timber framed facade, irregular dovecot gables and projecting windows have been a favourite subject of study alike for the architect and artist’.

Head of the Bow and the Lawnmarket, c1950

Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your home? Edinburgh Libraries has many online resources and physical collections to help you!

Get in touch via informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk if you want to find out how to get started.

Read other articles in this ‘History of the house’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark

 

The Picturesque Antiquities of Scotland – an early travel guide

As you can imagine, we have thousands of books in our collections in Central Library. Most are on the shelves ready to be picked up and read or just looked at. However, there’s a large part of our collection which is kept behind the scenes to protect from too much handling.

The downside of this is that few people get to see them, and so now and again we like to show off some of these hidden gems from our collections.

Strathaven

One of these is a small half leather bound volume titled Picturesque Antiquities of Scotland which was published in 1788 by the British engraver and archaeologist Adam de Cardonnel. Inside the book which contains part one and two of a four part set, we find a preface by de Cardonnel himself where he states,

the work was at first intended to have been on a much larger scale, and I had finished several of the plates; but at the particular desire of a learned author, I reduced the size, and altered my plan, as better adapted to the convenience of travellers, who wish to be acquainted with a few circumstances relating to the ruins they may chance to visit”.

So, this was a sort of early travel guide, small enough to be packed in the traveller’s bag and filled with information relating to the sites that were at the time of writing, mostly in ruins. De Cardonnel had served as curator of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1782 to 1784, and being both an engraver and an archaeologist, he was well suited to produce such volumes.

Tantallon

Why not have a look for yourselves and explore the contents of this book online – you’ve probably even visited a few!

You can view all the engravings from this delightful 18th century book on Capital Collections.

Roslin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History of the house: King’s Wark

In a new series, we investigate the city’s past city through the history of a ‘house’ (or property).

The spotlight falls first on the King’s Wark, a well-known watering hole that sits in a prominent position on Leith’s picturesque Shore. But what is the history of the site? And where does the name come from?

The Shore in Leith, c1884

Work started on the King’s Wark (or fortification) building in 1434 and was to be a residence, store-house and armoury for James I.

In 1477, James III granted an annuity of 12 Scottish merks from it to support a chaplain in the Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Restalrig.

During the English Invasions of 1544 and 1547 the building was practically destroyed. It was rebuilt by Queen Mary of Scotland in 1564 and leased to John Chisholm, the comptroller of the Royal Artillery recognising that the building held a strategic position on the approach to Leith.

From 1575 the building even served as a plague hospital for some years.

Around 1613, James VI (and 1st of Britain) granted possession to one of his royal household, Bernard Lindsay, the King’s Wark and the neighbouring land and buildings. He was instructed to keep four taverns on the site and granted the taxes from the wine sold to pay for a merchants’ exchange within the complex. Lindsay’s name lives on in the adjacent Bernard Street.

In 1649, the King’s Wark was taken into the possession of the Magistrates of Edinburgh and converted into a weigh-house. In 1690, the building was destroyed by fire and subsequently replaced by another using the same name.

Between 1799 and 1822 the building was occupied by Ramsay Williamson & Co, merchants for continental suppliers.

Rutherford & Co, a wholesale and retail wine and spirit merchants owned and occupied the building from around 1855. Rutherfords owned many other licenced premises in Edinburgh. They can be traced at the King’s Wark for almost a century, first in the Valuation Rolls from 1855 to 1900 and then in the Post Office Directories from 1911 to 1950.

‘Old Corner’, the Shore, Leith, 1958

For a time, two doors along, at no. 40, was R&D Slimon, an Ironmongers and Ships Chandlers, illustrating the area’s maritime heritage.

The Post Office Directory of 1959 shows that the King’s Wark had been taken over by E Cranston, another Wine and Spirit Merchant, who also had other premises in the City.

Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your home? Edinburgh Libraries has many online resources and physical collections to help you!

Get in touch via informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk if you want to find out how to get started.

Mystery images from the past

In 2016, a former colleague, John, latterly Team Leader at Oxgangs Library, mentioned to us that he had ‘inherited’ some large glass negatives. They had been found in a cupboard in his flat in Claremont Crescent a few years earlier. He didn’t know anything about where the negatives had come from or even what they were of, but their size suggested they must be quite old. Some were broken and he offered us the opportunity to digitise them before they deteriorated further. We’ve brought them together in an exhibition on Capital Collections.

At first glance they didn’t give away any obvious clues. There were several images of gentlemen posing proudly with trophies, others of Army units and nondescript rows of houses.

Bowler with Steeples Trophy

When zooming in on the images small clues began to emerge. A gentleman poses proudly with a trophy, and on it you can just make out the words Musselburgh, Steeples and shield. As there were other images of bowlers, could it be a bowling trophy? Looking up bowling clubs in Musselburgh we discovered that at one time there had been four bowling clubs in Musselburgh. We took a chance and emailed Musselburgh Bowling Club to see if they could help. We received a reply from the club secretary and he confirmed that there was a Steeples Trophy competed for by clubs in the Musselburgh Local Bowling Association. Looking further there was other connections to Musselburgh. One was an image of what we’d thought was a large house or school. A colleague who knows the area saw the image and said “that’s Crolla’s!” A wee bit more digging and we found out that it had once had been Stuart’s Net Mill, situated beside the River Esk and a company which at one time, had employed over 800 people in cotton processing and rope manufacturing.

Stuart’s Net Mill, Musselburgh

There were two other images that looked like they might be of Army units. However, looking closer, you can make out the collar badge and so after a bit more investigation, we discovered that it was a Police unit, the East Lothian (Haddingtonshire) Constabulary.

East Lothian (Haddingtonshire) Constabulary.

Although some of the images have been identified, many haven’t. Some of the group images have the same background, so we assume that they were all taken in the same studio. Although, some like this one below, are taken outside.

Unidentified wedding party

This is where we need your help. You can view all the images, both identified and mystery ones, in an exhibition on Capital Collections.

Do you recognise any of the people or places in the photographs?
If so, please get in touch. You could help us fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle by contacting informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk