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.

Edinburgh composers

This is just a short and not at all comprehensive list of Edinburgh born composers. 

Edinburgh, the Athens of the north, an artistic oasis, is a home and birthplace for many great talents and we have chosen to highlight a precious few who provide the soundtrack to some of our lives.

Thea Musgrave    

Thea Musgrave 2010, photo © Kate Mount

Born in Barnton, Edinburgh and after a boarding school education, Thea returned to Edinburgh to the University to study Medicine but changed to Music. After a long career in Music and now in her 93rd year, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing. In an interview for the BBC in 2018, Thea Musgrave was asked about being a women composer. She responded by saying, 
“Yes I am a woman, and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”,
and asked in the same interview if she had any advice for young composers she said,
“Don’t do it, unless you have to. And if you do, enjoy every minute of it.”
A composer of over a dozen operas including Mary, Queen of Scots and Simon Bolivar, and a full list of works for solo instrumentalists, chamber groups and full orchestras including Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland (2012). 

Alexander Mackenzie 

Caricature of Alexander Campbell Mackenzie by Leslie Ward, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1847 in in the New Town, Edinburgh, Mackenzie was the fourth-generation musician in his family. His great-grandfather was an army bandsman, John Mackenzie, his grandfather was a violinist working in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Alexander’s father also an Alexander and also a violinist, was Leader and Musical Director of the orchestra of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Editor of the National Dance Music of Scotland. By the age of eight Alexander, already a prestigious talent, was playing in his Father’s orchestra at the Theatre Royal. Mackenzie went to study violin and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He studied violin with Prosper Sainton, who had taught his father. After the Academy he returned to Edinburgh to a very busy life composing, teaching, playing and conducting. In 1888, after the death of Sir George Macfarren, the Head of the Royal Academy of Music, Alexander Mackenzie was appointed its new head where he remained until his retirement in 1924, and in that time re-establishing its slightly tarnished reputation. On his retirement from the Royal Academy, Sir Alexander also retired from public life. He died in London in 1935 at the age of 87. 

Learmont Drysdale 

George John Learmont Drysdale was born in 1866 and brought up in Edinburgh. Drysdale went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music but a falling out with the afore mentioned Alexander Mackenzie, who was the then Head of the Royal Academy, forced Drysdale to leave before graduating and return to Edinburgh to try and pick up his career as a composer, teacher and conductor. 

Despite not have much of his music published in his lifetime, there is a record of a performance of one of his works at the proms in London. In Prom 55, on Saturday 8 October 1904 at the Queens Hall, London the programme included “A Border Romance” by Learmont Drysdale. 

During his brief life his work, the Kelpie – a dramatic cantata had been performed in Edinburgh, there had also been performances of his larger works, a musical Mystery play – The Plague – and an opera – The Red Spider. At his death in 1909 there were many works left in manuscript, including the almost complete opera Fionn and Tera. Drysdale’s manuscripts are held in the Glasgow University Library. 

Helen Hopekirk 

Plaque to Helen Hopekirk in Portobello,
Photo by gnomonic via Wikimedia Commons

Helen was born in Portobello in 1856, a Blue Plaque above the door of a close on Portobello High Street marking the place she was born and lived until she was 12 years old, the plaque was placed there on the 21 May 2006 by Portobello Community Council. Helen studied piano and composition with Alexander Mackenzie mentioned earlier. She made her debut as a soloist with the Edinburgh Amateur Orchestral Society. Hopekirk briefly relocated to Leipzig to study composition with Cark Reinecke. In 1882 she met and married Edinburgh Merchant and music critic he served as her manager. In 1883 after their move to America she made her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She continued to tour America and Europe as a soloist and retired in 1939 after a final performance in the Steinart Halls, Boston. She died six years later in 1945. Hopekirk was a respected and much sought after composer in her lifetime, but now her work unfortunately remains for the most part unrecorded and not concert repertoire.  She left a large collection of songs, works for piano, piano and orchestra, it is also unfortunate that some of her large-scale works are, as well as ignored, also lost. 

Shirley Manson 

Shirley Manson
photo by Zach Klein from New York, SA, via Wikimedia Commons

Lead singer and one of the main songwriters with the band Garbage, held largely responsible for their very successful second album Version 2.0. Shirley was born in Edinburgh in 1966. Before Garbage she wrote and sang with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish.   

Kenneth Dempster 

Kenneth Dempster was born and educated in Edinburgh. He started his full time music studies at Napier College of Commerce and Technology before it became Edinburgh Napier University. Then went on to the Royal Academy of Music. Kenneth Dempster is Composer in Residence at Napier University.  He has had major commissions from, amongst others The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Scottish Chamber Choir, Mr McFalls Chamber, The Edinburgh Quartet, the Hebrides Ensemble and St Magnus Festival.  

Dempster’s works include Seven Fans for Alma Mahler for the SCO, a community Opera based on Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Ronald Kinloch Anderson  

Ronald Kinloch Anderson
by Howard Coster, 1933 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Ronald Kinloch Anderson was born in Edinburgh in 1911 and he died in London in 1984. 

A pianist and teacher, Ronald Kinloch Anderson studied in Edinburgh with Professor Donald Tovey. He taught at Trinity College of Music, London, from 1946 to 1963 and after a period as a freelance music producer with EMI became their Artistic Director. In his lifetime Kinloch Anderson was more known as a pianist and a harpsichordist, with the Bath Festival Orchestra and the Menuhin Festival Orchestra. At Dartington Hall he formed the Robert Masters Piano Quartet with Robert Masters – violin, Nannie Jamieson – viola, Muriel Taylor – cello and Kinloch Anderson – piano. In amongst the correspondence and manuscripts he left to Central Library on his death in 1984, are works for, and dedicated to, this Piano Quartet. 

Tommy Smith 

Tommy Smith recording his epic Modern Jacobite piece with The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
photo by DerekClarkPhoto via Wikimedia Commons

Tommy Smith was born in Edinburgh in 1967. Encouraged to take up music by his stepfather, Tommy began his musical education in Wester Hailes Education Centre. Shortly after recording his first album he was awarded a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, fund raising by friends, family and music teachers enabled him to take up this scholarship. This move shaped his musical life as a composer and educator. His long tenure with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and as Artistic Director of the first full time Jazz Course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His works as a composer are showcased on many of his recordings and his commissions like his piece for Sax and Orchestra – Jacobite for the BBC SSO. 

Craig and Charlie Reid 

Craig and Charlie Reid together known to the world as The Proclaimers are proud sons of Leith. The twins were born in 1962, in their early years moved from Edinburgh to Cornwall and then to Auchtermuchty in Fife where they were educated. They have both since returned to Edinburgh and never stray far from their beloved Hibernian Football Club. The pair first came to the world attention with the 1987 album, This is the story and the single from that album Letter from America. What for most can be the difficult second album, for the Proclaimers is for many their best work. Sunshine on Leith containing the hit single Sunshine on Leith generated a hit show and a film and is sung regularly at Hibernian Football Club. I am not originally from Leith or Edinburgh so my football allegiances lie elsewhere but standing in Easter Road Stadium listening to a capacity crowd singing Sunshine on Leith, it is difficult not to be moved, and believe me I have tried. 

The Proclaimers
photo by Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Their Albums are:
This is the Story (1987)
Sunshine On Leith (1988)
Hit the Highway (1994)
Persevere (2001)
Born Innocent (2003)
Restless Soul (2005)
Life with You (2007)
Notes and Rhymes (2009)
Like Comedy (2012)
Let’s Hear it for t he Dogs (2015)
Angry Cyclist (2018) 

In 2007, the single 500 miles, first out in 1988, was re-released as part of the Children in Need charity appeal and occupied the top of the charts in this second outing.  

Robert Crawford 

Born near Edinburgh in1925, Robert started composing at the age of fifteen, whilst still at school and studying privately with the Edinburgh resident Hans Gal. He went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music with Benjamin Frankel. On his return to Edinburgh in 1949 he completed his 1st String Quartet which was first performed in the 1951 ISCM Festival in Frankfurt and received a prize for a new Chamber work awarded by the Scottish Arts Council at the Festival of Britain. 

Never a prolific composer, after the completion of his 2nd String quartet in 1956, Crawford stopped composing almost completely, not starting again till 1986. Thirty years later, for some of that period Crawford was a Music Producer for the BBC retiring in 1985. 

This is a nearly complete list of compositions by Robert Crawford from 1949 to his death in 2012. A lot of these works were commissions:

Elegiac Quintet for Recorder and String Quartet
Hammered Brass 
Piano Quintet
Piano Sonata No. 2
Octet “Ricercare”
Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet
Saltire Sonata for Piano
Six Bagatelles for Piano
Sonata Breve
String Quartet No. 1
String Quartet No. 2
String Quartet No. 3
Three Two-part inventions for Recorder and Clarinet
Variations on a Ground, Three Two-part Inventions 
Symphonic Study Lunula for Orchestra 

As a composer there a few things which strike notes of difference from a common path, Crawford made his name as a composer of chamber works, mostly the string quartet, and his choice to live and work in Edinburgh, when his peers may have chosen London or Glasgow or even further afield. 

Robert Crawford died in Edinburgh in 2012 at the age of 86. 

Stuart Mitchell 

Stuart Mitchell composer
photo by Stuart7m via Wikimedia Commons

Stuart was born in Edinburgh in 1965 and died in 2018 at the age of 52. 

Stuart is perhaps best know for the work the Seven Wonders Suite written in 2001 and recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Stuart and his father Thomas Mitchell caused much media interest when they claimed to have deciphered the musical code adorning the walls of the Roslyn Chapel. 

Stuart formed a company producing music based around a DNA profile. He produced works based on the DNA profiles of Beethoven and Elvis Presley. 

We have put together some examples of the work of the people featured here in playlists that you can find on Naxos Music Library and Naxos Jazz.  
All you need is your library card number to login and enjoy the enormous Naxos music library online.

Edinburgh composers playlist on Naxos Music Library Classical
Edinburgh composers playlist on Naxos Jazz

Patrick Geddes and Edinburgh

In another addition to Our Town Stories we feature a noted biologist and botanist who went on to be a pioneer in the field of town planning – Patrick Geddes.

Geddes’ work in Edinburgh brought about the redevelopment of a number of parts of the Old Town which were abandoned as slums in the late 1700s when the New Town was developed. Geddes believed that in order to understand and improve conditions it was necessary to share a community’s experience. With his wife, he chose to live in James Court in the Lawnmarket which at the time was considered housing for the poor.

They started cleaning and painting their new home, encouraging their neighbours to do the same. Working with the residents he transformed spaces he had cleared into community gardens.

Geddes worked with Edinburgh University to produce a series of halls of residence, the most striking of these being Ramsay Gardens which was a mixture of student accommodation and private flats.

Drawing of University hall extension at Castle Hill
University hall extension, Castle Hill, 1893

Geddes was involved in the improvement of Moray House, Huntly House and Whitehorse Close. Another project involved transforming Short’s Observatory on Castlehill into the ‘worlds first sociological laboratory’, The Outlook Tower, now the Camera Obscura.

His work in improving slums in Edinburgh led to him travelling to India at the invitation of the Governor of Madras to advise on urban planning issues. He subsequently held a position in Sociology and Civics at Bombay University.

Sir Patrick Geddes, by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd) half-plate nitrate negative, 30 December 1931. Given by Pinewood Studios via Victoria and Albert Museum, 1989 © National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x47992), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Geddes’ health began to deteriorate in 1924 and he left India to settle in Montpelier in the South of France.

He was knighted in 1931 and died in Montpelier in 1932.

Find out more about the celebrated environmentalist and sociologist and his lasting legacy on the city in our Patrick Geddes and Edinburgh story on Our Town Stories.

The ReDrawing Edinburgh project needs your help!

ReDrawing Edinburgh project logo

Do you live in Cramond, Corstorphine, Colinton, Liberton or Leith? Or, have you lived there in the past?

We’d love to hear from you!

We are looking for pieces about what this area means to you. Is there a word that captures this place to you? Do you have any particular fond memories from growing up or living there?

Your piece can be a poem, a short essay, spoken word, or a song.

The ReDrawing Edinburgh project, in collaboration with Cinescapes, are working on a multimedia installation to mark the centennial commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act.

This multimedia installation will showcase an anthology of images, words and music that celebrate the identities of these areas over the past 100 years since their amalgamation into Edinburgh.

If you’d like to be part of the soundscape for this exhibition, send us your piece:

  • you can send a written text, an audio recording or a video of your BSL-signed piece
  • for written pieces we’re looking for 50-100 words
  • for recordings or videos, the limit is 2 minutes.

Please send in your submission to redrawingedinburgh@gmail.com by Friday 23 April 2021.

If you have any questions, please email redrawingedinburgh@gmail.com

One year on

A year ago, our Libraries closed their doors, joining the effort to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. None of us expected the ‘stay at home’ message to last so long or that libraries would be closed again one year later.

We did realise we were living through a momentous and strange time. We wanted to record the effects of the pandemic and Edinburgh Collected gave us the means to gather images from across the city. With your help, we recorded the changes to normal life and the visual signs of the pandemic – rainbows, chalk drawings, supermarket queues, facemasks – the sights now commonplace, that last Spring and early Summer were new and alien.

Dinny visit yer Granny! shared by Carol

We’re tremendously grateful to all those who helped us record this past strange and difficult year on Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive.

Cleaning Mania, shared by reignlea – “Before we knew it would last forever.”

We continue to welcome contributions to our Coronavirus collection on Edinburgh Collected so that we can record history today, for the future.
You can view the submissions so far in our online scrapbook, Edinburgh 2020-2021 – coronavirus pandemic.

Oh, I wanna dance with somebody! shared by Will o’ the Wisp

Short back and sides

We are going to open the pages of a brilliant new scrapbook from our Edinburgh Collected website – “The 69 year old story of the history of “Bobs” the famous Family Hairdressing Dynasty”. This scrapbook was put together by Patrick McCole and features an Edinburgh barbers through the years from its opening at 116 West Port right up to 2020 when the then current owner retired.

First Barber Shop-West Port

The barbers opened at 116 West Port by Bronislav (Bob) Malinowski in 1951 with just 3 Barbers chairs. When that shop was due to be demolished as part of redevelopment, they set up business at 13a Brougham Place in 1963. Bob was killed in an accident in 1968, and the business was carried on by his 2 sons Ben and Robin in premises at 99 Lauriston Place and 69 Comely Bank Road. Ben retired from Lauriston Place in 2019 and Robin from Comely Bank in 2020 after 48 years at that location.

Promotional poster for Bob’s

Famous Edinburgh hairdresser Charlie Miller served his apprenticeship in the West Port shop and went on to build up his own hairdressing dynasty.

Take a look at the history of “Bobs” scrapbook, and browse eighty picture memories from the collection.

Maybe you have photographs of places or industries in Edinburgh where you worked that you could share on Edinburgh Collected to help record the city’s past?

Lights, camera, action!

The last few months of closed cinemas have been a melancholy sight in Edinburgh. Our latest story on Our Town Stories offers the chance to reminisce about going to the pictures, with a hope that we’ll be able to return to them again soon.

From the first purpose-built cinema built in 1912 to the new Everyman Cinema which will be part of the new St James Quarter development, Edinburgh has a long history of going to the cinema.

We have also produced some very famous faces of the silver screen. We all know about Sean Connery, but we highlight some other familiar faces born in Edinburgh too.

Cameo Cinema

Our newest story on Our Town Stories takes you on a virtual tour of Edinburgh’s cinemas past and present, taking in some famous Edinburgh film locations along the way.

Discover the history of Portobello on Our Town Stories

Portobello is Edinburgh’s bustling seaside town, well known for its beach and views over to Fife.

A new story on Our Town Stories uncovers some facts about the area you might be less familiar with.

Did you know that it was once home to many industries, including a chocolate factory?

Where were the Marine Gardens, home to the Empress Ballroom, speedway racing, a zoo, ornamental gardens and maze?

Can you name which of Scotland’s most famous entertainers was born in Portobello, or which resident was the first Scot to swim the Channel?

Why not delve into Our Town Stories and dip your toes into some fascinating facts about Portobello’s history and landmarks?

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

Edinburgh’s water supply

A new story on Our Town Stories describes how a clean and safe water supply was brought to the city.

Edinburgh grew up around the Castle Rock with little provision for sanitation. For hundreds of years, residents were dependent on unreliable private and public pump wells, most having to collect water from the communal well.

Waiting at the wells, engraving, 1890

In the 1670s, the first sources of water which came into the city from springs in the Pentland Hills were piped into a reservoir on Castle Hill which in turn, supplied the street pumps. However, by 1817, faced with growing discontent from the populace about the insufficient supply, the Town Council needed to find another solution.

In 1819, approval for the construction of a reservoir at Glencorse was granted.

Glencorse Reservoir, c1879

Read further on Our Town Stories to find out how Edinburgh’s water supply has expanded over the subsequent two centuries and to see amazing photographs of feats of engineering.

Tower Mains Farm, Liberton

According to The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845), Liberton was one of the most important agricultural parishes in Scotland. The cultivated land was divided into thirty-four farms varying in size from 40 to 268 acres. One of these farms was Tower Mains Farm.

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a selection of images of farming life at Tower Mains Farm dating mostly from 1917.

Tower Mains Farm – Liberton

During World War One, when most of these photographs were taken, Liberton was part of Midlothian and the farm belonged to a Brigadier General Robert Gordon but had been farmed by the Monteith Family for at least two generations. In 1917, the farmer was Bryden Monteith who together with his wife Margaret lived at Tower Mains. Bryden Monteith was born in 1861 at Tower Mains when his father, also named Bryden, was the occupier.

Harvesting, Tower Mains Farm

According to Valuation Rolls from 1915, the land that Bryden Jr rented was quite substantial. Apart from Tower Mains Farm itself, which had an additional six farmhouses, Bryden was tenant of Liberton Farmhouse where there were also six farmhouses which were rented out to various people including farm workers, a teacher, and a printer.

Haystacks, Tower Mains Farm

Farming must have provided a rather comfortable life for Bryden as, according to passenger lists found on Findmypast, in 1909, he embarked from Liverpool on the S.S. Medic heading for Sydney, Australia. In 1925 he boarded the S.S. Aguila and made a round trip to Lisbon, Maderia and the Canary Islands. Finally, he is recorded in 1929 on the S.S. Patuea heading for Kingston, Jamaica. On all these trips Bryden travelled First Class.

Horse and Cart, Tower Mains Farm

We know that Margaret Monteith died in 1928 and Bryden died on 11 September 1930 at Tower Mains aged 69. What we are not sure of, is whether the farm continued under the Monteith family. A search of Valuation Rolls of 1935 and 1940 has Bryden Jr’s son, also named Bryden Monteith, at Spottiswoode Road in Marchmont.

Tower Mains is now a mixture of residential and commercial premises.

Browse the full Tower Mains Farm exhibition for a glimpse into Edinburgh’s agricultural past.

The Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company

A new scrapbook of images on Edinburgh Collected (www.edinburghcollected.org) shows the history of the Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company which was founded in 1750 and used continuously for 210 years.

Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcoth Company booklet published for the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1906-1907

The company in Bath Street, adjacent to Leith Links was founded by a small group of local ropemakers and other tradesmen and by 1914, it employed over 1,000 people.

The factories produced many different materials initially for outfitting sailing ships. By 1922 they were producing ropes for steamers and trawlers, ropes for railways, fishing lines and twine for agricultural use in Canada. Then sailcloth production also developed and after steamers replaced a lot of sailing vessels, they produced canvas and other work fabrics.

Bleaching department, drying green of Leith Roperie, c1906

The Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth was bought over by British Ropes Ltd in 1925 and continued manufacturing opening a new weaving mill for synthetic cloth in 1950.

Feeding sisal for rope-making into machine, 1960s

The factories closed in 1960, as British Ropes moved all their manufacturing to London.

The former Leith site is currently under development for housing called The Ropeworks.

View more images from this past industry in the Leith Roperie scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected. The pictures were all added to the site by The Living Memory Association, who have shared over 3500 images from their picture archive on Edinburgh Collected so far.

Do you have a story to share on our community archive? Anyone can add their pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected and at the same time, contribute to the City’s growing digital heritage collection for all to enjoy.

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

Who was William Creech?

William Creech was well known in his time, something of a mover and shaker, you might say, but today his name is hardly known. A new story on Our Town Stories describes the man and his legacy.

The story includes images depicting the Edinburgh he knew, when he sold his books from one of the luckenbooths beside St Giles Cathedral and then when his fortunes grew and he moved to the New Town to reflect his new found status.

A view of the Old Town, by A. Kay, engraved by I. Clark, 1812

The story also includes little-seen and very special material from our collections – excerpts from Creech’s personal letter copybooks and accounts giving a true insight into his character and life.

Best remembered for being the first person to publish Robert Burns’ poems, he was highly influential in Edinburgh society and served as Lord Provost.

Read more about William Creech and his publishing legacy on Our Town Stories.

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.

Auld Reekie Retold: New stories of an old city

Our colleagues over in the city’s museums are launching their biggest collections project yet. Over the next 2 years, the Auld Reekie Retold team will be working through over 200,000 objects in stores across the city, checking records, photographing objects and researching the stories which bring the city’s collections to life.

The Auld Reekie Retold team explain more about their extensive and exciting project:
“The aim of the project is to better understand these objects so that we can preserve them for the future and find new ways to interpret them, with and for you, the people of Edinburgh. The objects are connected with the whole group of the city’s museums, from the Museum of Childhood to Lauriston Castle.

Keep checking the Auld Reekie Retold project page to see what we have discovered. Over the coming months, we will be hosting a range of interactive events online so that you can get involved with the collections, share your knowledge and add your family stories to their histories.

You can also see some of the most exciting or unexpected discoveries on Capital Collections in the first Auld Reekie Retold online exhibition.

A curator examining an archival object in a museums collections store room.

Earlier this year, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh stood in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and pledged to play an active role in standing up to racism.  Auld Reekie Retold is an important opportunity for us to understand the origins of the collections and the way they have been catalogued. Throughout the life cycle of the project, the impact of Colonialism will be highlighted, seeking to educate and bring new perspectives and hidden stories to light. Future phases of the project will involve working with diverse communities across Edinburgh to record objects in new ways that better reflect today’s world.

Current Covid-19 restrictions mean that our team is working from home, sharing stories and organising events online. We will be hosting real-life exhibitions and events in the museum venues and stores as soon as it is safe to do so. We look forward to welcoming you.

Please follow us on Social to hear the latest about the work we are doing and how to get involved:

Facebook: @MuseumsandGalleriesEdinburgh
Instagram: @museumsgalleriesedinburgh
Twitter: @EdinCulture

Please tag us in your posts: #AuldReekieRetold

What is Auld Reekie?
Auld Reekie is a nickname for Edinburgh. It’s a Scots phrase meaning “Old Smokey”, and refers to the thick smoke from coal fires in the Old Town tenements. There is no agreement about the first use of the nickname, but it seems Edinburgh was overcrowded, stinking and smoky from at least the 1600s. The early 18th century poets Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson both use the phrase, and Fergusson’s poem “Auld Reekie” in particular is a vivid, colourful depiction of a day in the life of the city.”

“We never realised we were making memories – we were just having fun.”

Today’s blog is written by Stuart Laidlaw who over the past few months has added hundreds of images of Sighthill to Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive.

We’re incredibly grateful to Stuart for uploading his wonderful pictures and memories of growing up in Sighthill during the late 1940s to mid 1960s to Edinburgh Collected so that this area of Edinburgh and this time of huge change in the city is better represented in our collections.

We never realised we were making memories – we were just having fun.

Stuart with his cousins in the back garden of the prefab at 11 Calder Drive, 1955

Back in 1930, a walk along the Calder Road from Longstone to the Union Canal would have meant a stroll past farms and fields on both sides of the road.

By 1950, the Broomhouse, Parkhead, Sighthill, Calders Prefab Estates and the Sighthill Industrial Estate had replaced most of them.

By 1970, the prefabs were gone, replaced by high rise flats.

I lived in the prefabs at 11 Calder Drive from 1949 until it and all the other 536 were demolished in 1965/66.

The prefabs on Calder Drive, Sighthill, 1949

Childhood was a time of walking safely the mile or so to and from school up to four times a day.

We could play happily in the streets or surrounding fields.

We went to Sunday School or Band of Hope.

We attended Cubs, Brownies,Scouts ,Girl Guides or the Boys Brigade.

Life was almost pollution free.

In the prefabs we had our own gardens.

So much happened that is now forgotten.

So much now disappeared without a trace.

Section of street plan showing Sighthill Prefabs and Industrial Estat 1965

I was inspired to contribute to Edinburgh Collected when I discovered that so little information about the area was available on the Internet.

With the help of the ex-pupils of Murrayburn Primary School from the 1940s,50s and 60s, I have gathered together photographs and memories of that era, many of them never before seen in public.

I hope that the Scrapbooks will bring alive the atmosphere of the times, and will prove both enjoyable and informative to present and future generations.

Stuart Laidlaw

View Stuart’s page on Edinburgh Collected to enjoy his wonderful collection of picture memories and scrapbooks depicting life in Sighthill during the post-war years.

Edinburgh at play, 1910-1930

As we’re able to enjoy getting out and about more, we’re looking back to the beginning of the last century in our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, ‘Edinburgh at play’, to see how people enjoyed their leisure time.

The images come from a set of glass negatives which were kindly donated to Edinburgh Libraries for digitisation for our digital collections. The glass negatives are dated approximately between 1910 and 1930.

Scenes at Portobello show girls in their best clothes waiting patiently for the Carousel to start. In others, we can see children on the beach building sandcastles, all suitably wrapped up for a Scottish summer!

Image of children in their Sunday best clothes and hats sitting on carousel horses.

Portobello – c1920

Edinburgh Zoo features too, although images taken of visitors and animals at Edinburgh Zoo show a very different view of the zoo than what you would see today.

A zookeeper leads a group of four children on a camel ride.

Camel ride, Edinburgh Zoo – c1920

Two images from the 1930s show the Royal Company of Archers, The Queen’s Bodyguards in Scotland, practising on the Meadows.

A group of uniformed archers practice archery in a park.

Royal Company of Archers, the Meadows – c1930

To enjoy more of these wonderful images, visit the complete exhibition on Capital Collections.

Redrawing Edinburgh event: Edinburgh Boundary Extension 1920 – in the papers

Edinburgh Libraries have been working with colleagues from City Archives and Museums and Galleries and community representatives on an outreach project to mark the centennial commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act.

The Act meant that the city boundaries were extended in November 1920 to incorporate 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. This was a huge change for the city and for these parishes as the expansion saw the city grow from 17 square miles to 53 square miles and increased its population from 320,000 to 425,000.

The project entitled ReDrawing Edinburgh aims to bring together the communities which came into the City of Edinburgh one hundred years ago to commemorate the event, celebrate the diverse history of each local area and to raise awareness of the heritage of each area amongst the city as a whole.

ReDrawing Edinburgh plans have had to adapt to the impact of the coronavirus restrictions. At present, activities are focused online and we are using Facebook presentations to delve into the history of this momentous change for the city. We hope to expand the programme further over time and with activities from community groups.

Our next talk will be Edinburgh Boundary Extension 1920: In the papers next Thursday 30 July at 6.30pm on Facebook. Join Iain from Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection as he gives a broad overview of the events of Edinburgh’s Boundary Extension in 1920. He will attempt to bring alive the voices and opinions of the time by looking through what was written in newspapers of the era to discover what was being said and written about these events.

Advert image for Edinburgh Boundary Extension 1920: In the papers Facebook event

Newspapers of the time were of course the major way people discovered information, fact and opinion. It was how authorities communicated their programmes and developments, as well as being a space where the public could make their views heard. A look back at the papers now reveals a rich historical resource that helps to bring fascinating aspects of this story to life.

You can catch up with the first presentation in the ReDrawing Edinburgh programme on YouTube. The first talk was an introduction to the history and debates surrounding the Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramway Act 1920 which led to ‘The Birth of Greater Edinburgh’, given by Henry Sullivan from Edinburgh City Archives.

Our Town Stories website gets a fresh new look and enhanced features

We’re delighted to let you know that our heritage website, Our Town Stories (www.ourtownstories.co.uk), for exploring Edinburgh’s history has a refreshed vibrant design, improved functionality and additional features.

We’ve focused on making sure the website provides enhanced functionality whilst retaining the look and feel (and of course all the wonderful pictures and stories) from the previous website. Our Town Stories is a fantastic resource for education, researchers and anyone interested in discovering a little more about the history of our beautiful city in a fun and interactive way.

We’ve retained:

  • the web-friendly stories curated by library staff and partner organisations telling all aspects of the city’s past
  • hundreds of fantastic images from Central Library’s heritage collections
  • the intuitive map-based search
  • search by timeline and by content type
  • and the ever-popular Then & Now images.

The new Our Town Stories also has:

  • a search function
  • mobile responsive design so that you can enjoy the website on computer, tablet or mobile phone
  • audio and video content
  • 7 extra historical maps.

We’d love to hear what you think of it.

We’ll be adding more new stories over the coming months and we’d be really interested to know what stories of Edinburgh’s past you’d like to see.

Discover Our Town Stories online.