Forth Rail Bridge

March 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the Forth Rail Bridge. Currently awaiting the outcome of a UNESCO World Heritage site nomination, there is little doubt that the Forth Rail Bridge’s iconic status extends far beyond Scotland.

However, the Forth Rail Bridge may have looked very different.


In 1879 during a dreadful storm, the navigation spans collapsed on the Tay Bridge. A train had been crossing the bridge at the time and over 70 lives were lost. The Tay Bridge had been designed by Thomas Bouch, the engineer employed on the new Forth Rail Bridge and so, a decision was made to halt construction on the Bridge only shortly after it had begun.

To allay the fears of the public in the wake of the Tay disaster the revised structure of the Forth Bridge was designed to be both visually impressive and enormously strong. Work restarted on a new cantilever design by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker.


The creation of the monumental structure came at a heavy price. In addition to the high economic cost of roughly £2.5 million, more than 60 men lost their lives whilst working on the bridge. Our latest Capital Collections exhibition includes material from our Libraries’ collections and also from the Queensferry Museum. Browse awe-inspiring pictures of the Bridge in mid-construction, views from high amongst the girders and photos of some of the men who risked their lives to realise this feat of Victorian engineering.



Private Colin Rice, an Edinburgh soldier

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a collection of correspondence relating to Private Colin Rice [1880-1918], a soldier from Leith who served in World War One. The letters were kept by his family and we’re indebted to Ford Paterson, his great-nephew for donating the material to the library and sharing the story with us.

It's a long way to Tipperary

According to the census, Colin Rice was aged 30 in 1911 and living at Springfield Street in Leith with his father, mother, sister Jane and his nephew John Ford. Colin’s father worked as an iron moulder, his sister was a machinist for a waterproofs factory and Colin worked as a goods porter at the railway station.

In March 1916 the British Government introduced the Military Service Act, which meant compulsory enlistment for all eligible unmarried or widowed men without children between the ages of 18 and 41. We do not know when Colin enrolled in the army, but because of his age, and because the correspondence we have is dated from 1918, it is probable that he joined up after March 1916.

Unfortunately, the only messages written in Colin Rice’s own hand are the regulation postcards stating, “I am quite well”, and a “letter follows at first opportunity”, and so we can only imagine from other accounts of the time, the experience he endured in the trenches.

Postcard to Miss J Rice from WW1 frontline

It was in May 1918, that Colin’s sister Jane received a letter from an officer in his 9th Royal Scots battalion informing her that Private Rice had been wounded in a counter-attack on 24th March 1918. The short letter concluded:
“In all probability he will be a prisoner in the enemy’s hands.”

Another letter arrived for Jane in September confirming that Private Rice was still missing since the date on which he was ‘wounded’ on 24th March. An official leaflet entitled, ‘Missing Officers and Men’ was enclosed for her reference.

In June 1919, a memo was sent to Jane Rice regarding her missing brother:
“no further information has been received in this office, and it is to be feared that, after such a lapse of time without any information, he no longer lives…. As soon as he is Presumed Dead by The War Office you will at once be communicated with”.

In September 1919, a letter arrived for Jane confirming that Colin was now missing, presumed dead. Private Rice’s battalion had been holding trenches in the front, near to St Quentin, (the Somme) when the Germans had “opened their great offensive in overwhelming force” in March 1918.

The collection of documents also contains a note of sympathy from Winston Churchill and a note thanks from King George V:
“I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War.”

Note of thanks from King George V

The collection tells a story of love and loss repeated in thousands of households across the country. The official starkness of the military correspondence makes the story seem all the more poignant when we’re left to imagine the missing side of the story: the family’s enduring hope and resilience in the pursuit of answers.

How archives can help YOU

archiveAre you interested in finding out more about the history of your family, area or business?

Well you’re in luck. We’re hosting a series of drop-in sessions where you can pick the brains of a city archivist.

Learn how archives can help you find out more about the history of your family, business, neighbourhood or whatever it is you want to investigate.

The sessions take place in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central Library on the last Mondays of February, March, April and May from  10.30am – 12.30pm.

There’s no need to book, just turn up on the day. If this time is not suitable, email us on or call 0131 529 4616.

Portobello Baths



The story of Robert Burns in Edinburgh

When the Ploughman Poet arrived in Edinburgh to try and publish a second edition of his book of poetry, he was welcomed into the homes of Edinburgh’s high society as well as the Old Town taverns.

Robert Burns

Our latest story on Our Town Stories gives a flavour of the Edinburgh that Burns experienced, tells of his connections to the poet Robert Fergusson and a young Walter Scott and of course, his short-lived love affair with the woman who inspired, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, his ‘Clarinda’.

Remembering Greyfriars Bobby

Edinburgh’s best known pooch is commemorated tomorrow at a special service at Greyfriars Tolbooth and the Highland Kirk in Greyfriars Place, from 12.50pm.

Following the sounding of the one o-clock gun, local schoolchildren will lay flowers on the Skye Terrier’s grave.

Greyfriars Bobby  anniversary event

Remembering Greyfriars Bobby

Also in attendance will be Laurie Aitken from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who will say a few words about the fire which destroyed Old Greyfriars 170 years ago.

You can find out more about the history of Edinburgh’s Fire Service, and take a trip round Greyfriars Bobby’s favourite haunts, on Our Town Stories.

On a related note, representatives from the Edinburgh Cat and Dog Home will be along the road on at Central Library George IV Bridge from 10am – 2pm.

An unusual scene on Leith Walk

Here’s a view of Leith Walk, with McDonald Road Library in the background.

nowHere’s the same view in 1890.


The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that this is no ordinary Victorian street scene. The elephants are a bit of a giveaway for starters.

In the 19th century there were hundreds of circuses operating in Britain and Sanger’€™s was one of those that travelled from town to town. ‘Lord’ George Sanger was the most successful circus owner of Victorian times. He was known for being a smart dresser, instantly recognisable by his top hat and diamond tie pin.

These images are one of the many “then and now” scenes you can explore on Our Town Stories, which brings Edinburgh’s past to life in a unique way. You can fade between “then” and “now” to get some interesting effects like the one below.

then and now

Other recent ‘then and now’ additions to the site include:

The Royal Arch on Newington Road

The Meadows Pavilion

South Queensferry High Street

The Shore, Leith

The Velodrome at Meadowbank

And many more. Take a few minutes to see our city as you’ve never seen it before.

The story of the Union Canal

The Union Canal opened in 1822, running from Edinburgh to Falkirk, linking the Capital To Glasgow. It was constructed to bring coal to the city and many industries thrived along its banks.

View of Port Hopetoun

However, the introduction of the railways led to its slow commercial decline in the 1930s until it was closed over in the 1960s. Revitalised by Millennium funding, the Canal reopened in 2001 and is now a bustling thoroughfare for cyclists, commuters and cruisers as well as an area of redevelopment.

Our latest story on Our Town Stories takes you along the stretch of the Union Canal from Ratho to Fountainbridge and tells its story from its beginnings in the early 19th century to present day. You’ll discover the hidden history of the Canal’s connection to body snatchers, slaughter houses and rubber boots!