Celebrating 75 years of the Edinburgh Festivals with a temporary exhibition of archival film footage

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International and Fringe Festivals this year, we’re announcing a very exciting new exhibition on Capital Collections of archive festival film footage. The archive footage belongs to the BBC and is available to view on Capital Collections for a limited time only.

Image taken from archival film footage, reproduced by permission of BBC

The film clips show a 1960s Edinburgh in black and white, but alive with activity and excitement for festival shows and performers. View the hustle and bustle of festival preparations, residents and tourists, and famous faces including Marlene Dietrich arriving at Edinburgh Airport, Tom Courtenay performing Hamlet and Yehudi Menuhin receiving the freedom of Edinburgh.

Commentators reflect on the effects the festival’s first twenty years have had on the city and its citizens, its “cosmopolitanisation” and its new-found “creature comforts”, claiming a new status for Edinburgh as one of Europe’s cultural capitals.

This online exhibition of short film clips will be available to view until the end of August 2022 on Capital Collections. In true Festival spirit, catch it while you can!

This exhibition is part of a wider project in collaboration with the British Library and the Living Knowledge Network of libraries on the theme of Breaking the News. We’re grateful to the BBC for supporting the project and allowing us to host the film footage on Capital Collections.

James Good Tunny – 1850s photographs of Edinburgh

Our latest online exhibition features photographs held in our Edinburgh and Scottish Collection by Edinburgh-born photographer, James Good Tunny (1820-1887).

Tunny started his early career following in his father’s footsteps (quite literally) as a shoemaker, but by 1852 he changed career and became a very successful photographer with several photographic studios throughout the Southside of Edinburgh. At the peak of his career he had a studio on Princes Street.

The Grange Loan by James Good Tunny, 1854

Our exhibition of fourteen photographs are all dated 1854, in the early days of photography, when Tunny had not long started his professional career and show many familiar sites of Edinburgh which are still recognisable today. Some are less so, photographs of Grange Loan are very different to what we can see now.

Why not explore these wonderful images by visiting the exhibition on Capital Collections?

Edinburgh Women’s Mural online

Earlier this week we announced the unveiling of the Edinburgh Women’s Mural at Central Library which celebrates Edinburgh’s trailblazing women, past and present. The mural will be on display in Central Library until 2 July 2022.

But what if you’re unable to visit, or you simply want a sneak preview?

Stencilled portraits from the Edinburgh Women’s Mural

Well, you can find a selections of the pioneer’s portraits in a new mini-exhibition on Capital Collections and in a new story on Our Town Stories!

F M Crystal’s Union Canal

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Union Canal.

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections features some wonderful images taken in the early 1920s by Francis M Crystal, who although not a professional photographer (he was a doctor) captured many images of the canal and surroundings. We know that he lived for many years in Gilmore Place, so this area would have been very familiar to him.

Union Canal looking west to Viewforth Bridge with North British Rubber Works c 1920

F. M. Chrystal has captured the atmosphere and every day activity of life around the Canal. By the time the photographs were taken, the Union Canal had ceased to be the working canal it once was, although many factories and breweries were still located in the nearby areas of Fountainbridge and Slateford. Buildings and houses surrounding the Canal had fallen into disrepair and were starting to be demolished to make way for new streets.

Some of the images show the leisure side to the canal, where pleasure boat companies were starting to offer boat trips and rowing boat hire.

Take a trip back 100 years and see how life along the Union Canal has changed in the F. M. Chrystal’s Union Canal exhibition.

Most remarkable views of Edinburgh

A new exhibition on Capital Collections showcases the “most remarkable buildings of the city of Edinburgh”. The images are taken from a volume credited to the Honorable J. Elphinstone and dated around 1740.

Many of these highlighted buildings endure as iconic landmarks today, whilst others have since disappeared.

A view of St. Roques, image from Capital Collections

One lost to time, and already a ruin in the 1700s, was St Roque’s Chapel which stood close to Blackford Hill. It was dedicated to a saint associated with the prevention and cure of plague. Many victims of the disease visited the chapel hoping for divine assistance.

Another church still stands but has moved from its original location. In the Elphinstone print, Trinity College Church is located in grounds close to where Waverley Station is now. It was dismantled to make way for the station and after a delay, rebuilt on Chalmers Close, and known today as Trinity Apse.

A perspective view of the Trinity College Church with the adjoining buildings, image from Capital Collections

Elphinstone’s authorship of some of these images is uncertain. Some of the images appear to be of a slightly different artistic style. One image in particular raises questions. “A view of the new-bridge of Edinburgh” depicts the original stone-arched North Bridge. However construction on this first North Bridge began in 1765, many years after the dating of this volume and also after the death of John Elphinstone. You can read more about the puzzling provenance of these images by going to the exhibition on Capital Collections.

A view of the new-bridge of Edinburgh, image from Capital Collections

Regardless of the doubt over who created all of these images, they remain an interesting and valuable record of Edinburgh’s architecture and cityscape during the 1700s.

View the exhibition of the most remarkable buildings of the city of Edinburgh on Capital Collections.

What would make it onto a shortlist of the city’s “most remarkable buildings” today? Perhaps the Scottish Parliament building, or Dynamic Earth, or Fountainbridge Library?

Home improvements – 1927 style

Among our collections we have a vast number of images from the numerous Improvement Schemes that were carried out in Edinburgh.

By the late 1800s and early 1900s overcrowding and poor sanitation was proving to be the main problem for the Town Council who had gained powers to make substantial changes within the Old Town through the Edinburgh City Improvement Act 1867. Under this act tenements were improved, enhancing living conditions for residents.

The Edinburgh (Canongate, Corstorphine etc ) Improvement Scheme 1927 covered areas of the Old Town, Morrison Street, Broughton Road, Greenside and further afield to Corstorphine.

Many of the places we are familiar with now, looked very different in the 20s and 30s. If you watched Outlander you will be familiar with Bakehouse Close which was used for the location of Jamie’s Print Shop. Take a look at the close in 1927, and it doesn’t look that dissimilar to what it would have been it the 1800s.

Bakehouse Close – 1927, image from Capital Collections

Another well known building is Huntly House (now the Museum of Edinburgh) – how different it looks today!

Huntly House – 1927, image from Capital Collections

The image below is Morrison Street, where the Scottish Widows building stands now.

Morrison Street -1927, image from Capital Collections

See all of the images included in the Canongate and Corstorphine etc Improvement Scheme 1927 exhibition on Capital Collections.

Photographs in the vicinity of Lauriston Castle

The latest Capital Collections exhibition features a volume of 59 images dated between 1875 and 1900, but compiled in 1909. The photographs depict a variety of properties, mostly residential, in the area around Lauriston Castle. The book has the armorial bookplate of Macknight Crawfurd of Cartsburn, one of Lauriston Castle’s former residents!

Muirhouse – c1887

As the title suggests these photographs were taken in a relatively small area and highlight different properties that were in the area at that time. There is a variety of dwellings depicted, ranging from grand stately homes to workers’ cottages.

Many of these buildings still exist although their purpose may have changed. Others have since disappeared. You may be familiar with some of the place names which are still in use but some locations, such as Muirhouse, Pennywell and Royston look quite different today.

Silverknowes 1879

To see the complete collection, visit the Photographs in the vicinity of Lauriston Castle exhibition on Capital Collections.

James Ritchie and Son clockmakers

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections is quite unique. It is a family photo album loaned to us for digitisation by David Ritchie Watt a descendant of clockmaker, James Ritchie. The album is a great addition to our collections with a connection to a significant Edinburgh working family who put their mark on all areas of the city from swimming pools to parks and landmarks. Poring over the family photographs prompted us to delve deeper into the history of the well-known clockmaking family.

Everyone is familiar with the clock on the Balmoral Hotel and the floral clock in Princes Street Gardens. Some of you might be familiar with the clocks where you live, say in Morningside or Tollcross. All these clocks and many more across the city and further afield, have one thing in common, they were all made by clockmakers, James Ritchie & Son.

Balmoral Hotel clock tower, 2008, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

James Ritchie was born c1780 and although he was not born in Edinburgh, he started his career in watchmaking around 1799 when he was apprenticed to James Howden who had a successful business at 3 Hunter Square. He started his own business at 29 Leith Street in 1809 and in 1819 took over the business of Joseph Durnward at 2 Leith Street, who had qualified in his trade in 1775. And so began the start of the Ritchie firm.

James Ritchie and Son, clockmakers, 25 Leith Street, 1950, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

James Ritchie was admitted as a Burgess of Edinburgh on 18 April 1814, as his wife Sarah who he had married in 1804 was a native of Edinburgh. By 1838, the business had moved to 25 Leith Street occupying the shop at ground level and three basement flats which were used as the workshops for over 100 years.

In 1839 at the age of 11, his son Frederick was admitted as a partner and all their clocks were inscribed James Ritchie & Son.

The mechanical side of clockmaking gave way to the increasing use of electricity and the Ritchies were leaders in this new field. Alex Bain who invented the first electric clock and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, were among the Ritchies’ friends. Before Bell went to America, he fitted a communication system up in the family home allowing Mrs Ritchie when entertaining her lady friends to tea in the drawing room, to summon the maid from the basement. She didn’t require anything, she just wanted to impress her friends!

Advert for James Ritchie and Son, c1881, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

The company flourished under Frederick’s leadership and the firm gained a worldwide reputation in 1861 for their construction of the One O’clock Gun time system. A master clock on Calton Hill was linked by an overhead electric cable to a clock at Edinburgh Castle. This enabled the One O’clock gun to be fired automatically at one o’clock. The electric cable linking the cable to Calton Hill was 1,225 metres long. It passed over the Waverley Valley without any support at a height of 73 metres. (Find out more about the history of Edinburgh’s impressive time service on Our Town Stories.)

One o’clock! (time ball), 1861, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

Frederick died in 1906 and the business continued with William his eldest son managing a new branch shop at 131 Princes Street. Two other sons of Frederick, James and Leone continued working in the main shop in Leith Street. Leone continued to run the business until retiring in 1953. With the sale of the shop in Leith Street, his nephew, Bertie Mitchell continued the business from a shop in Little King Street. Later the firm moved to larger premises at 56 Broughton Street.

Bertie was the last family member to run the company. It continues, still bearing the name and in 2019 moved to new premises in the Drum Estate on the outskirts of the city.

View of the foot of Morningside Road with Morningside Clock, 2014, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

If you haven’t done it before, why not explore Capital Collections, our online image library? With over 20,000 pictures to explore, you’re sure to discover something new.

David Ritchie Watt’s family album

A while ago, we were asked if we’d like to digitise a family album. The album contains many wonderful candid views of family life between 1919 and 1947, photos of a type and era not well represented in our collections. However, this wasn’t the only reason we were interested.

The family album belonged to David Ritchie Watt, a name perhaps not instantly recognisable, but one which has a connection with many areas and landmarks across the city.

David’s mother was Catherine Ritchie, a member of the well-known Edinburgh clockmaking family. David was born in 1927, and in this photo album are gathered hundreds of images spanning through the years from c1919 to c1947, including pictures with his grandfather Leo, who ran the James Ritchie & Son business until his retirement in 1953.

Throughout the album we see photos of family holidays in the days before staycations became the thing to do. We see children building sandcastles and playing on the rocks in North Berwick and Dunbar, and families posing for the camera.

Seaside group – c1930

David’s Aunt “Nannie” and Uncle George Scotland lived in India for a while where George was the manager of a coffee plantation. Their three daughters, David’s cousins, were born in India and there are several photos of the time the family spent there, including a visit from Santa!

Santa visit, India c1930

David’s childhood was spent in the family home in Willowbrae Road before moving to nearby Durham Road in Portobello where he started school at the fee-paying Royal High Preparatory School aged 5. In 1939 he was due to be transferred to the Senior Royal High School but the outbreak of war in September 1939 saw him being evacuated to Buckie in the north-east of Scotland.

David left school in July 1944 aged 17 and started to work at the wholesale printers and stationers, Blair & Davidson where his father was a director and where he had worked part-time from 1940 delivering parcels at a penny a time. Conscription for military service continued and in early July 1945 he reported to Dreghorn Military Camp to start training in the General Service Corps. After three years’ service he returned home and continued to work at Blair & Davidson. Attending classes while working full-time, David was accepted to study for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at Edinburgh University, where he graduated in 1952.

David R Watt, West Africa 1947

David married Elaine in 1964. He continued his career at Blair & Davidson becoming a director and worked there until it ceased trading in 1997.

Explore all the lovely photographs from the album shared by David Ritchie Watt in our new Capital Collections exhibition for a glimpse into family life in Edinburgh in the first half of the 20th century.

Mary Stewart’s panoramic views of Edinburgh

Mary Stewart was born in Castle Stewart, Wigtownshire, Scotland in 1773. Mary was well educated and had ample leisure and talents to pursue her interests in landscape painting and sketching.

Two volumes of her panoramic sketches are featured in our latest Capital Collections exhibition, ‘Four panoramic views of Edinburgh and the surrounding country’ and ‘Panoramic views of Edinburgh’, both published in 1822. They are both highly detailed and give an almost 360 degree landscape panorama, divided into 4 sections looking north, east, south and west, one, a view from Calton Hill and the other from Blackford Hill. The sketch from Calton Hill has particular historical significance as it records a military encampment on top of Calton Hill and the Royal Squadron anchored at Leith during George IV’s visit to Scotland in August 1822.

Zoom into the detail on Capital Collections (www.capitalcollections.org.uk)

Shortly after these sketches were published, in 1823 Mary married aged 50 and became the second wife to the fifth baronet, The Reverend Sir Abraham Elton. Mary and Sir Abraham moved to Clevedon in Somerset. There they developed Clevedon as a seaside resort. They laid out walks and provided shaded seats in the two copses that later became the Pier Copse and Alexandra Gardens.

The hillsides of Clevedon were planted with shrubs and trees, and vistas were created for foot and road travellers through the village. Mary sketched these and numerous churches and buildings of note in the area and had then engraved for lithographs. Many were included as prints in the Covedon guidebooks of the time.

Her philanthropy was evident in the village. She had the first Parish School built in 1834. In 1846 she had an Infant School built, and this remained a school for 150 years.

Sir Abraham died in 1842 aged 87. A house had been built in 1844 for the use of Mary, the dowager Lady Elton, and she lived there with her sister and niece until she died in 1849.

See Mary’s stunning early 19th century cityscape panoramas of Edinburgh on Capital Collections.

Mary Webster retold

In 2019, Tales of One City posted a blog about an amateur artist named Mary Webster and a collection of her lovely pencil drawings and watercolours of Scottish landscape scenes which we hold.

Kelso Abbey [Jedburgh Abbey]

At that time and after a fair bit of research trying to find out more about the artist, we had come up with little. Mary Webster had became a mystery woman.

Jump forward to 2021, and out of the blue we received an email from Christine McCracken who had come upon our blog and who happened to be a relative of Mary’s.

Christine was emailing from Australia and had grown up hearing about Mary who was her Mother’s grandmother’s aunt. Mary was described as a woman who was talented, travelled widely, wrote and painted en plein air.

Thanks to Christine we have been able to learn a lot more about Mary. Firstly, that she was in fact born in Scotland and one of 11 children. Her father was minister of the Parish Church of Inverarity. When her father died in 1807 the family moved to Carmyllie in Angus to stay with her grandparents.

We passed the email on to our volunteer John who had previously spent a long and fruitless search trying to track down Mary. Christine’s information reignited his determination to piece the puzzle together. He was then able to trace Mary in the census from Scotland to London and back again, and draft the birth and death dates of her siblings.

In our original blog we wondered if the seventeen year break in the paintings we had in our collection from 1830-1847 had been due to perhaps bringing up a family or if there were more paintings out there somewhere. We now know that Mary never married and there are paintings that cover the ‘missing years’. When Christine visited relations here in Edinburgh, she was shown Mary’s desk which was covered in small paintings and her sketchbooks of 1839, 1841 and 1842 completed while Mary travelled through England.

After Christine initially contacted us, she emailed back to say that her brother and herself had been inspired to do more research and a family member in Edinburgh had had a rummage and had found a photograph of Mary. We do not know how old Mary was when this photo was taken, but we now even know what Mary looked like!

Studio portrait of Mary Webster

Mary died on 5 April 1883 at 9 Queen Street , St Andrews where she lived with her sister Elizabeth.

Follow Mary’s Webster’s travels through 19th century Scotland in her watercolour paintings.

Edinburgh through the decades

Our new exhibition features images from our collections of Edinburgh through the decades from the early 1700s.

Vue du Château d’Édinbourg – 1790

The earlier images are engravings and drawings with the first photographic image a salted paper print of the construction of the Scott Monument by pioneer photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson dated 1847.

Most of the places you will still recognise today, while others no longer exist. Some, like Whitehorse Close and Ramsay Gardens, look quite different to how they look now.

The Heart of Midlothian – 1883

As the decades move forward, we see Edinburgh recovering from two World Wars and beginning to emerge as the vibrant city it is now. Traditional tenement housing in disrepair at the end of the 50s was replaced by high rise flats and estates on the city outskirts.

Edinburgh was soon becoming the host to major events. As well as the internationally acclaimed festivals and Tattoo, sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games and Tall Ships Race have been hosted in our city.

BMX Biker, Wester Hailes – 1983

To discover how much, or how little, you think Edinburgh has changed through the years, take a look at the Edinburgh through the decades exhibition.

Go outdoors to Edinburgh’s parks and greenspaces this Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week runs 10-16 May and this year’s theme is nature. During the Covid pandemic many of us have turned to nature as never before enjoying our local green spaces for exercise, for sustenance and to meet friends outside in a socially distanced way. Research on the mental health impacts of lockdown have shown that going for walks has been one of our top coping strategies. 

Edinburgh has many greenspaces with a wide variety of both managed and natural heritage environments to enjoy. Connecting with nature is central to our emotional and psychological wellbeing and we want to inspire you with some of our favourite greenspaces managed by the City of Edinburgh Council to get out and open yourself up to connecting with nature.  

Where can I go? 

What’s your favourite park in Edinburgh? Are you looking for new ideas of where to go? Search the directory of parks and greenspaces to find a space or just trawl through the A to Z of records. It’s amazing the variety of size, shape and location of places to visit. Below are some of our favourites. 

Princes Street Gardens 

An ornate fountain is surrounded by flowers in the park beneath Edinburgh Castle.
Ross Fountain and Edinburgh Castle, image from Capital Collections

Don’t we all just love Princes Street Gardens? Nestling in a valley between the Old and the New Town this beautifully manicured garden with floral clock, welcome benches and gentle slopes for sitting out on, shaded with trees, provides welcome respite from the usual hustle and bustle of the city centre and plenty of space for friends and family to meet and walk.
Admire the floral clock – did you know it was first planted in 1903 and each year the planting scheme commemorates a special anniversary? You can enjoy the gardens from home by looking at the Libraries’ collection of images on our online Capital Collections Princes Street Gardens exhibition

Saughton Park and Gardens

A mass of daisies in a formal garden and the roof of a bandstand is visible in the distance.
Saughton Park and Gardens

Situated in Balgreen in the south west of Edinburgh, Saughton Park and Gardens is a hidden gem of a park. Saughton Park combines formal classical gardens featuring Edinburgh’s largest herbaceous border, flower and heather beds and a Scottish Physic garden with playing fields, an athletics track and the biggest skateboard park in Scotland.  There really is something for everyone! If you want to get more involved in the park, join the Friends of Saughton Park and Gardens

Leith Links

Information board at entrance to a park.
Leith Links entrance at Links Gardens. Image from Capital Collections

Situated in the north of the city, Leith Links provides a large open space with tree-lined avenues and walkways well used by families, joggers, dog walkers and the whole community besides! Leith Links is steeped in history as the site of the Siege of Leith in 1560 and during the 17th and 18th centuries was a premier place to play golf. Leith Links became formalised as a public park in 1888 and today is very much a central park for the local community with the Edinburgh Mela and Leith Festival sited there. Enjoy the community orchard, tennis courts, play area or just take a seat and watch the world go by. Search for images of Leith Links on the Libraries’ Capital Collections image gallery. 

Water of Leith

Red painted sign on stone pillar at entrance to a wooded walkway beside a river.
Water of Leith Walkway plaque, Coburg Street. Image from Capital Collections

If you’re looking for a walkway taking through different areas of Edinburgh explore the Water of Leith Walkway. Starting in Balerno at Bridge Road, the walkway winds its way to Leith passing through Balerno, Currie and Juniper Green before reaching Colinton and Craiglockhart Dell. The Dell is a wooded gorge and haven for wildlife. Beyond the Dell the river passes the Water of Leith Conservation Trust before hitting Gorgie, Saughton, the Dean Bridge, Stockbridge and onto Leith. There are plenty of access points to the Walkway along the path of the river. A place of history the river once powered 90 water mills providing paper, snuff, linen and flour and the remnants of these activities can be seen in the weirs and buildings along the river.  Explore on foot and find images of the Walkway illustrating its history on the Libraries’ Capital Collections image gallery. 

Cramond Foreshore

A view of a row of white houses. Large stones and boulders line the road in front.
The foreshore, Cramond, c1895.
Image from Capital Collections

From Joppa to South Queensferry there are many places along the Firth of Forth to enjoy coastal walks and breathe in the sea air. Cramond Foreshore accessed from Cramond Glebe Road takes you down to the shoreline where you can look across to Fife and across to Berwick Law. There’s a café, toilets, an outdoor gym and seating but you can walk along the shoreline or out to Cramond Island at low tide. Cramond is one of Edinburgh’s oldest villages and longest known period of human settlement. Back from the shore you can also explore the more secluded Crammond Walled Garden where you’ll find seating and play equipment for both toddlers and teenagers. Enjoy the exhibition of some 100 photographs illustrating the history of Cramond during the 19th and 20th centuries on Edinburgh Libraries Capital Collections image library.  

Cammo Estate Local Nature Reserve

Steps lead up a grassy slope to a stone wall and the remnants of doorway.
Cammo Local Nature Reserve

Not far from Crammond is the natural heritage site Cammo Estate Local Nature Reserve on the western fringes of the city. Cammo is a large estate with woodlands, mature trees, open grassland, a walled garden and ruins of buildings that once formed part of the Estate. There’s a lot of interest in terms of both wildlife and fauna with plenty of space for people to spread out and for dogs to enjoy running about. Cammo House has an interesting history: bequeathed to the National Trust in in 1975 following the death Percival Maitland-Tennant, the last occupier of Cammo House. In 1977 the house was partly destroyed by two separate fires which left only the chimney stack and outside walls standing. The house was considered unsafe and partially demolished. The National Trust feud the estate to the City of Edinburgh Council. Read more about the history of Cammo House and its owners on Edinburgh Libraries Tales of One City blog. 

There is much to do at Cammo with a permanent orienteering course, a QR trail, seating to stop and admire the views and designated walks.  

If natural heritage sites are what you enjoy why not visit the Hermitage of Braid Local Nature Reserve on the southern side of the city?
Or use the Edinburgh Outdoors website to find greenspaces near you.  

Edinburgh is full of parks and greenspaces including those managed by other organisations which are also free to access including Holyrood Park and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  

One tip for enjoying a deeper connection with nature, try taking your shoes and socks off and feel the grass or the sand underneath your feet. Walk about barefoot. This practice of earthing connects us to the Earth’s surface electrons transferring energy from the ground to a body. How good does sand feel beneath your feet and to walk barefoot along the sea shore? 

What’s your favourite park or greenspace?  

Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool

Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool famous for its Art Deco design, large diving boards, artificial waves and chilly water was one of Portobello’s main attractions for over 40 years. Opening in 1936, it was the largest outdoor pool of its kind in Europe.

The pool was enormous, 330 ft long by 150 ft wide. The one and a half million gallons of water required to fill the pool was filtered from the sea and heated by steam from the adjacent power station.

One of the main attractions was the wave making machine which was the first to be installed in an outdoor pool in the UK and could generate waves up to 3ft high.

Completed open air pool -1936

The pool closed for six years during the Second World War and had to be camouflaged to stop it being used as a landmark for enemy planes.

Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool – 1936

By the end of the 60s Portobello’s popularity waned as cheap package holidays became readily available. The pool fell into decline and with the closure of the power station in 1978, removing what little heat there was for the water. The 1979 season was to be its last and the pool was finally demolished in 1988.

We have just published images on Capital Collections recording the pool’s construction. See these fascinating images in our new exhibition on Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool.

Castles and mansions of the Lothians

Our new Capital Collections exhibition features two photograph volumes, copies of which are held both in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection and the Art and Design Library within Central Library, titled ‘Castles and Mansions of the Lothians‘.

There are over a hundred photographs and judging by the style of the images, we think they were all taken by the same photographer.

The Grange House which was demolished in 1936.

The mansions are situated throughout the Lothians from Linlithgow in the west to many in East Lothian. Some will be easily recognisable by their names. Most people who live in Penicuik will recognise the name Beeslack, and many might remember when the name Dalhousie Castle meant one thing, Medieval Banquet!

We think that the photographs were taken between 1875-1883. The photographs feature grand houses built in an age that allowed owners to display how well they were doing for themselves alongside older ancestral homes that had been passed down from generation to generation.

Bonaly Tower is now self contained flats.

Sadly, not all these buildings still exist. The ones that do are mostly now events venues, hotels or B&Bs or have been converted into residential apartments. There are one or two that remain private residences and continue, to show off their original splendour to this day.

To see the complete collection, view the Castles and Mansions of the Lothians exhibition at Capital Collections.

A sketchbook of Randolph Caldecott – a new exhibition on Capital Collections

The featured exhibition on Capital Collections presents an example of illustration work by the artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) taken from a series of sketches collated into the publication `A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Couples walking under umbrellas in a rain shower

April from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

This volume of sketches captures everyday life in the countryside through the passing seasons. Each sketch has a narrative quality with scenes of people – young and old – partaking in different activities, enjoying the natural scenery around them, as well as scenes of various animals interacting with humans. This sketchbook contains a mixture of vibrantly coloured and monochrome sketches with each image exemplifying Caldecott’s dedication to depicting detail and his clear fondness for depicting his subjects as they were, in their natural environment.

As the collection progresses through the seasons Caldecott reminds us all through these playful images of the circle of life and how the seasons will return one after the other.

The spectators from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Caldecott is best known for his illustrations of nursery rhymes which brought him international acclaim. Despite his relatively short lifetime, Caldecott’s work is considered to have transformed children’s books during the Victorian era, a period which is considered the ‘Golden age’ of illustration with the influence of artists like Caldecott still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

Quite a small party from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and makes our photographs, illustrations and books much more accessible to a wider audience.

There are two other exhibitions displaying Caldecott’s illustrated story books to enjoy on Capital Collections:

The house that Jack built
and
A Frog he would a-wooing go.

Many thanks to our Art & Design Library volunteer Emilie Brown for curating this and other Caldecott exhibitions. For more information on our collections of illustrated books by Randolph Caldecott email the Art & Design Library.

Celebrating Burns and the Scots language with Edinburgh Libraries

Join Edinburgh Libraries in celebrating Scotland’s national poet, Rabbie Burns this week. Born in 1759 in Ayrshire, he was the son of a tenant farmer who went on to become one of Scotland’s greatest heroes. To celebrate his literary legacy and lasting impact we have a range of resources for you to discover and enjoy.

Robert Burns – Poet, by Alexander Nasmyth, 1839

Burns Night Quiz
Each year on the 25 January, Burns night is celebrated across Scotland and the world. Despite the lockdown, this year should be no different! Please join Carol from Stockbridge Library as she presents to you a Braw Burns Quiz. Test your knowledge of Scotland’s Bard and the Scots language on Monday 25 January at 7.30pm on the Stockbridge Library Facebook page.

Scots language collection of ebooks and audiobooks
The Mither Tongue’ collection is a new selection of titles we have chosen for our ebooks and eaudio service, OverDrive/Libby app. The collection goes beyond Burns to also celebrate the best of modern writing in Scots, including newly crowned Booker Prize winning title ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart.

Further fantastic resources from Edinburgh Libraries
The Robert Burns in Edinburgh story on Our Town Stories describes Burns’ time in Edinburgh and his connections to the city.

Also on Our Town Stories, is the story of William Creech and his publishing legacy. Creech was a significant member of Edinburgh’s society during the Enlightenment and is best remembered today for publishing Robert Burns’ poems.

Robert Burns on Capital Collections – this exhibition represents some of the Burns related artworks available in Edinburgh Libraries.

Burns’ Objects and Images on Capital Collections – an exhibition of portraits, documents and personal objects including Burns’ own writing desk and a plaster cast of his skull from the collections of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries housed at the Writer’s Museum on Lady Stair’s Close.

The Cotter’s Saturday Night by Robert Burns – in another Capital Collections exhibition browse John Faed’s illustrations which vividly depict the story of Robert Burns’ poem, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’. The poem was written over the winter of 1785 – 86 when Burns was 26 years old.

The Cottar’s Saturday Night, illustration for verse 2 by John Faed, 1853

Ode to a Mouse – Sean Kane reads one of Robert Burn’s most famous and best-loved poems in Edinburgh Central’s Reference Library.

Immortal Memory: A Burns Night Celebration – just one of the fantastic Burns music titles we have on the music streaming service Naxos and available for free with your library membership.

David T. Rose’s pictures of Edinburgh

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition showcases the beautiful watercolour paintings by Scottish artist David Thomas Rose held by Central Library.

Cockburn Street, c1942

David T. Rose was born, grew up and studied in Scotland but his working life as a civil engineer took him further afield including to Malta, Yorkshire, Wales and London. However, he regularly returned for family holidays visiting his sister in Edinburgh and other relatives in Fife. It’s believed the watercolours of Edinburgh and environs in this collection were painted on these trips. The exhibition features scenes of city life encompassing diverse areas including the Old Town and Craigmillar, Joppa and Leith.

Calton Hill, looking west, c1942

To view the complete set of 70 artworks, visit the wonderful David T. Rose’s pictures of Edinburgh exhibition on Capital Collections.

Craigmillar Castle, c1942

Black Lives Matter protest placards – a new exhibition on Capital Collections

In early June of this year, Edinburgh, along with other towns, villages and cities across the world, held large protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Museums & Galleries Edinburgh acquired a large donation of placards, banners and signs from the protest, to add to our permanent museum collection and many of these are now available to see in a new exhibition on Capital Collections.

“I don’t want to get political, your ignorance kills real people” – one of the placards collected from the Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.

The protests held were in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a US police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 25 May 2020. His death was not the only example of police brutality witnessed by the public, but was the catalyst for a collective reckoning in our understanding of systemic racism.

‘You’re beautiful for a black girl’ – one of the placards collected at the Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.

The protest in Edinburgh was organised as a static demonstration, held in Holyrood Park on Sunday 7th June. Thousands of people attended, and many more who could not attend in person watched along from home via social media. All attendees were encouraged to wear a mask and ensure a safe physical distance between themselves and other attendees. High-profile speakers were invited to address the crowd on the day, to rally support for the movement and generate greater understanding for the wider societal issues.

“I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand!” – one of the placards collected at the Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh have an extensive collection of protest material relating to social and political causes covering hundreds of years. These Black Lives Matter placards will proudly exist alongside them as part of a permanent record of the city’s history. The Black Lives Matter exhibition on Capital Collections shows some of the placards and signs made for this protest and the stories they represent. They demonstrate the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement to the people of Edinburgh and the wide-ranging impact the movement is having in the city. 

The images in the Black Lives Matter exhibition have all been taken whilst working from home, so image quality will be improved as and when staff are able. 

Please note that the exhibition contains language that some people may find offensive.

For any queries please contact curator Anna MacQuarrie: anna.macquarrie@edinburgh.gov.uk

ReDrawing Edinburgh: Edinburgh in 1920

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, ReDrawing Edinburgh: Edinburgh in 1920 is part of a wider and ongoing project to commemorate the anniversary of the Boundaries Extension & Tramways Act of 1920. The Redrawing Edinburgh project is a collaboration between Edinburgh City Archives, Libraries, Museums and Galleries and representative groups from the local communities of Bridgend, Colinton, Corstorphine, Cramond, Gilmerton and Inch, Leith, Liberton and Longstone.

Since the creation of the New Town in 1767, the City of Edinburgh has steadily grown in response to housing, utilities and transport demands. However, the changes brought about by the Edinburgh Boundaries Extension & Tramways Act were different. The city became the largest municipal area in Scotland, expanding in size from 17 to 53 square miles and increasing its population from 320,000 to 425,000. The boundary extension took in the Burgh of Leith in the north and the Midlothian parishes of Cramond, Corstorphine, Colinton and Liberton to the west and south of the city.

Edinburgh Castle from the Cowgate, 1926 by George Malcolm

Widely known as the ‘amalgamation’, the Act was, and even now remains, a contentious issue. The opposition to the amalgamation from Leith Town Council is widely known, but there were 39 separate petitions lodged in Parliament against the proposal from public authorities, companies and organisations and individuals. Objections ranged from the Duke of Buccleuch’s concerns for his rights over Granton Harbour to the Midlothian Pig Trade Association’s concerns about stricter animal welfare standards. Yet all but the Leith petitioners had dropped their opposition by the summer of 1920 through negotiations with the Edinburgh Town Clerk. A key moment came in May when the proposal was revised to exclude the Burgh of Musselburgh, where the anti-amalgamation faction had finally won the argument within the local council.

The Leith Town Council argued passionately in the local press, and eloquently in Parliament through Captain William Wedgewood Benn, Liberal MP for Leith, against the amalgamation on the grounds of historical precedent, democracy, and local services. The Leith ‘Lightning Plebiscite’ where the vast majority of ratepayers voted against the Act has entered the collective memory of Leith as a seminal moment of its history.

There was resistance from voices across the areas of proposed extension. People in the outlying areas asked how could one town council equally serve, or even understand, the very different issues and priorities across the varying areas? There was a mismatch between residential Edinburgh, rural Midlothian and industrial Leith they argued.

There were equally those in all the areas who argued in favour the amalgamation. The proponents argued for it primarily on grounds of progress – both in terms of what amenities, infrastructure, and services a larger authority could support but also in terms of efficiency of governance. The amalgamation proposal would reduce the existing 17 separate public bodies to just 3 – the Education Authority (schools), the Parish Council (health and social work) and the Town Council (everything else).

A large crowd gathers around a tram on Leith Walk at junction with Pilrig Street (1922), probably to witness the first through electric tram travelling from Leith into Edinburgh and replacing the so-called ‘Pilrig Muddle’ where commuters had to shift between Leith’s electric system to Edinburgh’s cable tramcars.

Edinburgh Town Council committed in their proposal to investing in the amalgamated areas to bring them up to a common standard across the city. These totalled £122,880 (approx. £5.53 million in today’s money) and included standardised lighting, a new public hall for Leith, bowling greens for Corstorphine and Liberton, park improvements for Leith and Colinton and new gymnasia spread across all amalgamated areas.

There was another argument that was in Edinburgh’s favour – that of geography. Leith had nowhere to expand in 1920. To meet growing Leither demands around health and sport, the town council was required to rent land off Edinburgh to build both a new hospital at Seafield in 1906 and a golf course in Craigentinny in 1908. Leith already had a population density twice as high as Edinburgh’s and struggled to find suitable land in its boundaries to build any substantial further accommodation.

While the Midlothian parishes were not surrounded by Edinburgh, their designation as the ‘suburban district’ implied recognition of their ties to the city. The growth of public transport and the spread of utilities during the 19th and early 20th centuries had brought more middle-class residents. They worked in the city and used its services but returned home to the rural periphery.

Colinton Station, c1920

During the 19th century, Edinburgh Town Council had sought minor extensions to its boundaries in a piecemeal fashion. The 1920 amalgamation proposal would provide the city with space to keep on top of the continued population drift and enable it to undertake future ambitious housing schemes, which came about in the 1930s (e.g. Craigmillar and Stenhouse), 50s (e.g. Inch, Oxgangs and Silverknowes) and 70s (e.g. Wester Hailes). The proposed new expanded city would be able to undertake town planning in a more strategic way and also bring its more rigorous standards in housing and industry to the outlying areas.

With the arguments laid before it, Parliament considered the matter and approved the proposal, turning the bill into the Edinburgh Boundaries Extension & Tramways Act of 1920.

The ReDrawing Edinburgh: Edinburgh in 1920 exhibition attempts to give a glimpse into what 1920 Edinburgh looked like, to show the differences and similarities in character of the various areas affected and to see how much city life has changed in the past 100 years.

You can find out much more about the 1920 Boundaries Extension & Tramways Act and the history of the affected areas by watching videos in the ReDrawing Edinburgh playlist on Edinburgh Libraries YouTube page.

Visit the City of Edinburgh website to keep up with the ReDrawing Edinburgh project activities and to find out how to get involved in your area.