Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig – before the War

15th December 2015 will mark the 100th anniversary of Field Marshal Douglas Haig taking command on the Western Front. Earl Haig’s role as Commander-in-Chief of the British forces during the Great War has been a topic of enormous discussion, analysis and interpretation.

Earl Haig

His life before the war however, has received less attention. Yet it was these years that moulded Douglas Haig into the man he was to become in the First World War.

The latest exhibition on Capital Collections showcases never-before-seen personal photographs from the Museum of Edinburgh’s collections. They show Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig’s formative years from child, to Oxford University student and through his rise up the ranks of the British Army.

Young Haig dressed in kilt

The images bear witness to the life and career of a man who rose through the ranks of both the military and the public systems of the Victorian/ Edwardian establishment.

Browse these unique photographs made public for the first time on Capital Collections.

You can also visit the Museum of Edinburgh to see a fascinating permanent exhibition on the life and career of Field Marshal Earl Haig.

In the night garden

Locked and secret, Night in the Garden is where the natural world forgets all about human interlopers and revels in starlit glory.

Malcolm Innes and Euan Winton, October 2014

These ethereal glimpses into the Botanics’ night garden were taken last year during their first sound and light show.

You can browse more on Capital Collections.

Botanic Lights are returning to the Royal Botanic Garden this autumn, so why not share your pictures with us on Edinburgh Collected?


The Church Hill Theatre at 50

September 2015 saw the 50th anniversary of the Church Hill Theatre. Take a look at this vibrant community theatre in our latest exhibition on Capital Collections.

Students from J R Tucker High School of The American High School Theatre Festival in rehearsal.

Students from J R Tucker High School of The American High School Theatre Festival in rehearsal.

The Church Hill Theatre opened in 1965 with a performance of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. The event is commemorated within Kenny Munro’s sculptural pillars that stand in the venue’s driveway. Look closely next time you’re passing and you’ll see Miss Prism’s bag amongst the symbols and motifs.

Many of the photos in this exhibition were taken during August when we gained privileged access to The American High School Theatre Festival’s technical rehearsals and to the final swashbuckling performance of ‘Zorro – the Musical’.  The photos show the theatre in action and as a hotbed of fresh talent.

Zorro - the Musical, performed by Chadwick School, of The American High School Theatre Festival.

Zorro – the Musical, performed by Chadwick School, of The American High School Theatre Festival.

You can also see lovely pictures from The Church Hill Theatre’s past  (including that inaugural performance and the very first panto) on Edinburgh Collected, where they’re inviting memories of this unique civic space – why not add yours?

Many thanks again to The Church Hill Theatre and The American High School Theatre Festival for all their help and support with this project. In particular, thanks to George Ranch High School, Texas, Poly Prep School, New York, J R Tucker High School, Virginia and Chadwick School, California.

Saughton’s glorious summer of 1908

The Scottish National Exhibition in Saughton Park ran for only six months, attracting nearly 3.5 million visitors. It began with a plan to repeat the success of an earlier exhibition at The Meadows in 1886. The Meadows was not available for this latest venture, but the council had just taken ownership of the sprawling Saughton Hall estate and the 42 acre site complete with mansion, offered the ideal location.

Gorgie Entrance

The scale was phenomenal; the mixture of entertainment astonishing. These were the days when spending a fortune on providing local people and visitors with an attraction that offered everything from a varied programme of music and dance to a village housing 70 French-Sengalese natives, and an enormous figure of eight rollercoaster to a replica Irish cottage – all to be torn down just six months later – was simply the done thing.

Things happened incredibly quickly too. By the time Prince Arthur of Connaught, a grandson of Queen Victoria, opened the exhibition on May 1st, a railway station had been built at the junction of the Corstorphine branch line to transport thousands of daily visitors from Waverley Station, and a bridge constructed across the Water of Leith.

Industrial Hall

Visitors were drawn to the Palace of Industries, an impressive Arabian style structure which cost £10,000 to construct and showcased the latest engineering innovations and techniques from around the world. The Machinery Hall, built at a cost of £3,000 and taking up an impressive 3100sq ft, was stuffed with examples of shipping, mining, printing, gas, steam and hydraulics.

Senegal Village and baby incubators

But perhaps the most intriguing of all the exhibitions were the beehive huts occupied by 70 French-Senegal natives, uprooted  and no doubt slightly bewildered, from Africa to make the corner of Saughton Park their home for six months. Every movement of the tribe’s men, women and children was viewed with curiosity by the exhibition visitors as they demonstrated their skills as goldsmiths, weavers, musicians and dancers to a fascinated public.

There was even an addition to the tribe, born in one of the huts and subsequently given the quite non-Senegalese name of Scotia Reekie!

Water chute

In the Amusement Park there were devices galore to loosen the purse strings. The Water Chute was a favourite with visitors of all ages and everyone saved their 2d for this spectacular ride. At the top of a wooden tower, the passengers were seated in a boat with a sailor standing at the back. The operator signalled release and off it went gliding down a long wooden ramp to hit the water with a large splash of water.

The exhibition was so successful, that when the time came to close in October, some visitors were less than happy. The final celebrations were soured as drunken yobs turned nasty, the ornate bandstand became a battleground of youths pitching chairs at each other while police waded in with batons drawn.

It was a bitter ending to what had been a roaring success. Soon the pavilions, funfair rides Sengalese village and restaurants were dismantled. And Saughton Park’s glorious summer was over.

See more amazing pictures of Saughton’s summer of 1908 on Capital Collections.


Seen much of the festival?

Our photographer has been mingling with the tourists and performers on the High Street to capture more fantastic pictures for our Library archive. He also pitched up early and managed to get a ringside seat for the awesome Harmonium Project performance which kicked off the Edinburgh International Festival.

We’ve been at the Church Hill Theatre in Morningside too, documenting the activity of fringe residents, the American High School Theatre Festival. The American High School Theatre Company were wonderful hosts and we were allowed access to their technical rehearsals and a superb swashbucking performance of ‘Zorro – the Musical’ by Chadwick School.

Here’s a couple of our favourite pictures from Zorro which ended with a deserved standing ovation for the cast and crew.

Zorro - the Musical at Church Hill Theatre

Chadwick School perform Zorro – the Musical

Chadwick School perform Zorro - the Musical

Chadwick School perform Zorro – the Musical

The Church Hill Theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary as a community theatre venue next month and there’ll be more to come on Capital Collections soon….

Have you seen anything worth talking about? Share your picture memories of festival 2015 on Edinburgh Collected!

Two WW1 scrapbooks, some dogged determination and a phone call from the Netherlands

A little while ago we stumbled over two uncatalogued scrapbooks which had been donated to the library and dated from World War One.

Front cover from World War One scrapbook (vol 1)

They were compiled by a Thomson Family living at Glengyle Terrace in Edinburgh and give a remarkable insight into Edinburgh’s WW1 home front. This was all we knew about the family’s donation.

The scrapbooks are jam-packed with all kinds of ephemera – newspaper cuttings, leaflets, photographs, tokens. There are also personal articles, such as letters and a ration book, which give clues to the family who made them. Many of the letters are sent to a Thomas Thomson. At first, we assumed that Thomas must have been primary school age to have been interested in maintaining the scrapbooks for the duration of the long war, but the 1911 census confirmed he would only have been 3 years old at the outbreak. We deduced that Thomas’ mother and father must have collated the scrapbooks on his behalf.

Scrapbook page: unknown soldier, stickers & scraps

But who were the Thomson family? And what happened to Thomas? Thomas’ father was an investment secretary and actuary married to Barbara who was born in South Africa. (This explained why so many articles and news clippings in the scrapbook related to South Africa.) With the help of family historian and volunteer John, we tried various searches to try and find out if young Thomas ever had any descendants. We found out that Thomas had married Jean in 1938 but we couldn’t find a birth record for any offspring. John doggedly searched passenger lists online and amazingly found records for a Thomas Thomson, colonial administrative officer of the right age travelling with his wife and a young son to Nyasaland (now Malawi) in the 1950s. But the wife wasn’t Jean. We couldn’t be sure we’d found our man.

Thomas D Thomson, photograph reproduced by kind permisson of Thomson family.

Thomas D Thomson, photograph reproduced by kind permisson of the Thomson family.

The only way to piece the puzzle together was to pay a visit to the ScotlandsPeople Centre on Princes Street. Here we were able to view full records of entries we’d found only as indexed versions online. Over the course of a morning, everything started to fall into place. Thomas Thomson had married three times, first to Jean, then to Margaret and finally to Kathleen. However, we still couldn’t find a birth or marriage certificate for Thomas’s son, Master ‘D’ who had appeared in the passenger lists. We found Thomas’ death certificate, giving his residence in the borders, but there was no mention of any descendents. ‘D’ had disappeared.

It seemed as though we’d hit a dead end. After months of searching and having come this far, there was nothing more we could do. Except well, we could try one of those google search things…

…and bingo, buried a couple of webpages down was a link to a discussion forum. And within it – an email address for a D Thomson, who spoke about his late father’s connection to the Borders. However, it was a Dutch email address. Could it possibly be the person we were looking for?

Within hours of sending an email, we received a phone call from Dave Thomson in the Netherlands! Understandably more than a little surprised, Dave was also curious about the scrapbooks and the family history trail that had led us to him. He had been completely unaware of the family scrapbooks lying on the shelves of Central Library in Edinburgh. We’re indebted to Dave for kindly giving us permission to publish volume 1 and volume 2 of the WW1 scrapbooks on Capital Collections so that this remarkable piece of social history is now available to all.

Do you have a story lurking in the family closet? Go online and find all the local and family history resources that Your Library has to help. And if you discover something worth talking about, why not share it on Edinburgh Collected?

Post script
Dave and John are due to meet in the Netherlands later this month. Inspired by our scrapbook mystery, further family history investigation is on the agenda…


Victorian travels in the Middle East

Fancy a trip back in time to the Middle East of the late 1800s? Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections is a stunning collection of early travel photographs capturing these exotic lands which were far beyond the imagination of the British public of the time.

Mosque of Sultan Ahmed

Mosque of Sultan Ahmed, Istanbul

By the 1860s, British tour operators such as Cook’s Tours were offering package tours to the Middle East encompassing destinations such as Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. Wealthy gentlemen (including King Edward VII) embarked on these tours to learn about the ancient cultures, history, and religions of these mysterious faraway lands.

Parthenon, Athens

Parthenon, Athens

As the tourist trade grew, photographers from all over Europe flocked here, keen to document this different world. Some set up studios to produce prints specifically for the tourist trade, much like a modern travel postcard, many of which can be seen in this collection.

View of the bridge in Istanbul

View of the bridge in Istanbul

Did you know the Great Sphinx of Giza was not fully uncovered until the 1930s?

The Sphinx and the pyramids, Egypt

The Sphinx and the pyramids, Egypt

Browse this wonderful travel album and you’ll trek though the ancient ruins of some the world’s earliest civilisations, get lost in the bustling streets of old Constantinople, and escape the heat whilst marvelling at the exquisite interiors of the ancient mosques.