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 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.
Standing at the intersection of George Street and Hanover Street stands a statue commemorating the visit to Edinburgh in August 1822 of King George IV by the English sculptor Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey.
In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the visit, Central Library is displaying an exhibition of items from their collections capturing how artists recorded this momentous occasion.
In an era of 24/7 multi-media news coverage, it can be hard for us to imagine the excitement that was brewing in Edinburgh in anticipation of the visit of King George IV in August 1822. No reigning monarch of Great Britain had visited Scotland since 1651 when Charles II attended his Scottish coronation. The King’s visit was recorded in detail by the London newspaper reporter Robert Mundie in his ‘A historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland’. This and other contemporary printed accounts including pamphlets, books, and ballads were brought to life by the pictorial records of the many artists drawn to capturing the pageantry and festivities around this historically significant event.
George IV arrived by way of his ship the Royal George at Leith on the Firth of Forth on the 15 August and stayed in Scotland till 29 August. This engraving by W. H. Lizars shows the King arriving at Leith and the throng of crowds waiting to welcome him. Delayed from disembarking by one day due to bad weather, George IV did not disappoint the throng of assembled crowds; he arrived wearing the full dress of a British Admiral and had a twig of heath and heather on his hat in deference to his Scottish subjects.
Tourists flooded to Edinburgh hoping to catch a glimpse of the monarch as he was ushered through the streets of Edinburgh following his arrival in a parade weighted with pageantry, regimental might and Highland chieftainship.
King George IV’s visit was largely orchestrated by the author Sir Walter Scott along with David Stewart of Garth. Spreading the spirit of romanticism throughout Scotland, Scott had carefully prepared an entire programme of pageantry. It was the display of tartan that was to have a lasting influence, with the kilt elevated to national dress and an essential component of Scotland’s national identity.
An enduring image of George IV’s visit captured in many contemporary newspapers is the monarch dressed in a kilt finishing above his knees with pink tights covering his bare legs! This is a contemporary caricature of King George IV in kilt during his visit. No pink tights but definitely fashioning the mini kilt now popular today!
The visit followed similar lines to a visit by the monarch today with a programme of visits and crowd-pleasing appearances. The weather was mostly terrible but despite the rain the people came out in their thousands to get sight of the King with a whole industry growing up of souvenirs and money paid to get the best viewing spots. The main events included the state entry into the city, courts held at Holyrood, a banquet and attendance at St Giles, attendance at a ball at the Assembly Rooms and a military review held on Portobello Sands where King George rode a grey charger along the lines while the military bands played God Save the King. Though it was undoubtedly the State Progress of the King from Holyrood to the Castle with the regalia of Scotland before him that provided a spectacle never seen before or since.
This watercolour by James Skene shows King George IV in the Castle of Edinburgh, 22 August 1822. The angle of the painting with the battlements of the castle rising steeply to the sky affirms the majesty of both King and Castle with the throngs of crowds lining the streets below hoping to catch a glimpse of the King.
Artists of differing capacities and ambitions who resided in, or came to Edinburgh were caught up in the heady atmosphere that August. To witness and record this historically significant occasion presented a rare artistic challenge and artists keen to make their mark included J.M.W. Turner who envisaged a major series of paintings ‘the Royal Progress’ inspired by the royal visit. The series never materialised but two pencil sketchbooks have survived. Selections of Turner’s sketches can be viewed at Tate online.
More locally, James Skene of Rubislaw, friend of Scott, W.H. Lizars and Sir David Wilkie recorded the visit. Other artists drawn to Edinburgh included William Turner of Oxford and J.C. Schetky and Denis Dighton, who held appointments as military and marine painters to the King. What an artistic melting point this must have been!
We are fortunate to hold in our Central Library collection watercolours and engravings by some of these artists that brilliantly capture the atmosphere of this most auspicious occasion.
Included in our display is an engraving of the landing of George IV at Leith, 15 August 1822, by W.H. Lizars, a watercolour by James Skene of King George IV in the Castle of Edinburgh 22 August 1822, and a lithograph by David Wilkie showing His Majesty King George IV received by the nobles and people of Scotland, upon his entrance to the Palace of Holyrood House, on the 15 August 1822. The illustrations show the pomp and ceremony and the great crowds gathered to catch sight of the King. We also include a selection of books from Central Library on some of the artists who recorded the visit of George IV as well as more general books on this monarch.
All prints on show in our display are reproductions with originals held in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library. All images are also available to view on Capital Collections, our image library at www.capitalcollections.org.uk. The display runs in Central Library through August and September 2022.
With the city ready to welcome visitors back again both from home and abroad for the Festival, our latest addition to Our Town Stories features some must-see performances from previous years and well-known faces who went on to become household names.
Did you know for example, that one of the smash musicals in recent years both in London and Broadway had its first production in a hotel in the Grassmarket?
Or that a TV programme that won a British Academy Award, three Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards started life in a small venue in the Cowgate?
And what do a parody about Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and one of Scotland’s best known comedians have in common?
On 15 August 1822 King George IV landed in Leith and began an historic visit to Edinburgh and the Highlands. The visit increased the King’s popularity in Scotland, and it was thanks in large part to Sir Walter Scott who stage-managed the event and promoted a romantic image of Scotland.
Our latest addition to Our Town Stories is all about Sir Walter Scott and follows him from his childhood spent with his grandparents in the Borders where he heard stories of folklore and traditions which were to have a profound effect on him.
After studying Law and becoming an Advocate, Scott started writing poetry and his early work consisted of poetic romances such as The Lady of the Lake which sold 25,000 copies in eight months, breaking records for poetry sales and brought its setting against the picturesque Loch Katrine to the attention of the newly emerging tourist industry.
In 1814 and already an established poet, Scott published the first Waverley novel, anonymously amid uncertainty over how it would be received. He needn’t have worried, it was a publishing phenomenon, with 1,000 copies being sold in the space of two days. It was the first of 27 novels which included classics such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, and The Heart of Midlothian.
Despite all his success he was heading for a tremendous crash. Read about what followed and some more stories of Sir Walter Scott in Our Town Stories.
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.
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.
A big thank you to everybody that came to see Central Library’s beautiful Edinburgh Women’s Mural while it was on display in the foyer, and another big thank you to the people that attended our short series of Mural Talks.
Here, below, are the wonderful Iffat Shahnaz and Roshni Gallagher in conversation last week, talking at a sold-out event about their life experiences and insights as women of colour living in Edinburgh.
Central Library says goodbye to the Edinburgh Women’s Mural as it embarks on a short summer tour of community libraries, where local people will be able to visit the Mural on display and take part in related events.
Alongside the British Library’s Breaking the News exhibition, pop-up displays are on view at 30 public libraries across the UK including Edinburgh Central Library. The displays draw upon each library’s individual collection and regional connections to celebrate the value of regional news in communities across the UK.
We have delved into Central Library’s newspaper and periodical collections, with the aim to celebrate the value of regional news and champion the personalities, journalism and stories that have made a mark through the years in our local area.
It is often the case that national news carries many negative stories, but this can sometimes be quite different when looking locally. Local and grassroots news publications have a wonderful variety of stories, they can speak truth to power and are often free from the restraints and impartiality that is evident in the large mainstream tabloids and daily publications.
Our exhibition space will be dedicated to Breaking the News through the following themes:
4 July – 4 August 2022, Edinburgh: a city of firsts
We are looking at the local achievements that have put Edinburgh on the map. From the pioneering women known as the Edinburgh Seven, who would not rest until they became the first females accepted into a UK university to study medicine, to modern scientific marvels such as God particles and cloned sheep. Edinburgh has been at the forefront of many significant achievements and breakthroughs, this is your chance to explore and see how these were reported at the time.
During this month we also have a showcase of the many and varied local news publications that have been produced over the years.
5 August to 29 August 2022 – Edinburgh: Festival City
During the exhibition’s second phase, we are ready to celebrate. It is the 75th anniversary of the world-famous International and Fringe festivals in Edinburgh, we are using this period to review our collection of material to discover some key moments and breakthroughs from the festivals’ history.
Due to the closure of the Mezzanine area in Central Library for essential building works, we are relocating the British Library’s Breaking the News pop up display to the library’s front hall. This is where the festival material is featured also. (The display in the Mezzanine cabinets will be available to view until Saturday 13 August.)
Edinburgh Libraries are proud to partner with Edinburgh Zoo and City Fibre on the Giraffe about Town project.
Giraffe About Town is a free art trail featuring more than 40 magnificent giraffe sculptures that will take you on a journey across Scotland’s capital this summer from 1 July to 29 August.
In partnership with Wild in Art, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo is delighted to share this exciting trail with local people and visitors to help our city recover after lockdown and raise much needed funds for wildlife conservation.
Each incredible sculpture has been sponsored by amazing organisations and businesses. They have been decorated by artists, communities and school children to celebrate Edinburgh’s extraordinary heritage and cultural diversity, and to encourage everyone to explore our city’s hidden gems and iconic locations.
Edinburgh Libraries are hosting –
Edi-B in Balgreen Library
Richie in Craigmillar Library
Salam in Leith Library
Clovie in Oxgangs Library
Gemma in Piershill Library
Gertie-GiGi in Sighthill Library
Skittles in Westerhailes Library
Come along and visit our giraffe guests and keep an eye out on our Libraries’ Facebook pages for workshops and events to celebrate The Wee Herd during their stay in our libraries.
The Giraffe about Town website, has an interactive map and a host of information to help you discover where all the Giraffes are located in Edinburgh.
After the trail itself, there will be a fantastic ‘farewell’ weekend with the entire herd of tall and small giraffes together at the zoo. In October the giraffes will then be auctioned to raise money for wildlife conservation.
Edinburgh Libraries are proud to be part of the Living Knowledge Network with the British Library and are hosting various events and competitions across the city.
Everyone has a favourite lost shop, one that they remember fondly, but is no longer there. Maybe you have childhood memories of visiting Jenners at Christmas time and gazing upward to the massive Christmas tree that looked like it would poke through the roof.
Many of us can recall spending our pocket money buying pick ‘n’ mix in Woolworth’s and those of a certain age still talk affectionally of visiting the aviary on top of Goldberg’s. Perhaps you remember Grays of George Street or can still reel off your mother’s or grannie’s ‘divi’ number…?
In our latest offering on Our Town Stories you can step back and enjoy some of these shops and businesses that were scattered throughout Edinburgh. Some of the images are from a time when a trip to the shop was visiting the horse-drawn van that would come round on certain days of the week!
In the late18th century, Morningside was a rural, agricultural village to the southwest of Edinburgh. Located on the principal drove road into Edinburgh from the south, the village served farms and estates nearby, including Plewlands, Egypt, Comiston and Buckstone. From the early to mid 19th century, Morningside developed as a suburb of Edinburgh, attracting wealthy people who built large villas within private grounds.
Morningside expanded considerably between 1852 and 1877, merging with Newington to the east and Merchiston to the north, becoming a residential suburb of the city. Improvements in transport links, firstly by the introduction of a tram service after 1871 and secondly by the opening of a suburban railway line in 1884, accelerated the growth of Morningside.
Tenements started to appear throughout with the first ones appearing in Morningside Road and by the late 1800s they began to outnumber the large villas.
One of the tenement streets is Balcarres Street where construction began in 1884 and was completed in stages over 15 years. The first part to be built, originally called Balcarres Terrace, commenced at Morningside Station, opposite Belhaven Terrace. You can see how Morningside developed in this National Library of Scotland map.
We are highlighting one of the tenements, Number 4, which is the middle point of the small row of 7 tenements before it turns on a corner and continues along to Craighouse Gardens. Balcarres Street was almost directly opposite Morningside Rail Station which allowed very easy access across Edinburgh.
Findmypast has a very helpful tool when searching census returns. You can search by street name. On 5 April 1891 the census was taken, and on that night, there were seven households in the tenement. The ages of the occupants ranged from the youngest Henry Alstone who was 5 months old to the eldest 65-year-old Catherine Elliot. Occupations of the householders were varied. There was a grocer, a coal merchant, an insurance clerk and several who were living by ‘private means’ – indicating some kind of independent income, perhaps savings or shares, an allowance, rental income, a private pension or family support. The Alstones also employed a servant.
By the time of the next census taken on 31 March 1901, only one family, the McGalls were still living there, all the other flats had new occupants. Again, occupations were varied, and once again several were living from ‘private means’. The place of birth section of the census shows that all but two residents were born in Scotland. A James A (Angus) Fowler was born in America. Looking up his birth record on Findmypast, we are able to see a copy of his original birth registration in Boston, Massachusetts where he was born on 18 June 1873. Both his parents were born in Scotland, and his father who was a slater had perhaps emigrated to America to seek work.
With the 1911 census as yet not available in Scotland we have to look at other ways of finding out who lived at number 4 Balcarres Street in the following years. Post Office Directories are a good way of finding out. They don’t list everyone as you had to pay to be included. But it’s a good start. I’ve jumped forward a bit and in the 1959/1960 directory I have found a listing for a A.R. Stewart, who just happens to be my grandfather, there in the flat that I was brought up in and spent my childhood.
If you’re interested in doing some research into the history of the property you live in, our library service has many resources you can use whether online or in person. Make a start with our local and family history page on the Your Library website or drop into the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library for some friendly advice.
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?
During Women’s History Month in March this year, Central Library began work on creating a public mural celebrating Edinburgh’s trailblazing women, past and present. This was inspired by another project entitled ‘Work in Progress’ by the artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake which has been running in the USA since 2016.
We had a fantastic response from the local community, and we’d like to say a big thank you to everybody that contributed, whether you provided nominations for our list of unsung heroines, or helped spread the word, or attended one of our stencil workshops. Thanks also go to Creative Scotland, who awarded us funding for the project, and to local artist Madeleine Wood and graphic designer Greg Stedman.
The Edinburgh Women’s Mural is now finished and ready to display, at Central Library! See below for a sneak peek of one of the eight panels. How many people can you recognise?
Please come in to visit us and have a look at the full mural. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback, and if any portrait on the mural inspires you to learn more about a particular individual or subject, staff will be on hand to signpost you to relevant books and other resources from our collections. There will also be a “who’s who” to help you identify each of the women depicted, and a supporting display of interesting material about the women of Edinburgh.
Check out this short video about how we made the stencilled portraits:
As you will see, one of the women featured prominently on the full mural is the Rector of Edinburgh University, Debora Kayembe. She kindly took the time to speak to us about her inspiring life and varied career. Watch her video here:
We look forward to seeing you at Central Library, and if you are interested in attending one of our upcoming mural-themed free talks and events, please watch this space, or keep an eye on social media channels!
The Edinburgh Women’s Mural is on display at Central Library from 23 May to 2 July 2022.
This year marks 200 years since the opening of the Union Canal, linking a waterway from Edinburgh to Glasgow. As printed in The Caledonian Mercury dated, Monday 6 May 1822, “On Saturday the first boat, since the junction, arrived at Port Hamilton, with flag stones from Denny….”
As well as transporting goods back and forth, a passenger service between the two cities operated using fast boats called Swifts carrying passengers on a six and a half hour journey averaging nine miles per hour.
However, the introduction of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Railway only twenty years later meant the once busy passenger service was effectively finished.
The decline in commercial use was slower but eventually led to the Canal’s closure in the 1960s.
A new millennium saw the Union Canal revitalised by funding which financed the closed section at Wester Hailes to be dug out, new bridges and walkways and the route reopened.
Help us celebrate by viewing a brief history of the Union Canal and the many industries that flourished on its banks by visiting Our Town Stories where you’ll also find many fantastic historical images.
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.
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.
Many of these highlighted buildings endure as iconic landmarks today, whilst others have since disappeared.
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.
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.
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.
Our latest story on Our Town Stories highlights authors who have helped put Edinburgh on the literary map through their own connections to the city or because the city plays a central role in their stories.
We feature Jenni Fagan, Quintin Jardine, Doug Johnstone, Alanna Knight, Alexander McCall Smith, Ambrose Parry, Aileen Paterson, Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Sara Sheridan, Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh.
The changing face of the city is captured in its various guises from the dark Victorian streets of Inspector Jeremy Faro to the genteel private school of Miss Jean Brodie to the stark realities of Renton’s 1980s Edinburgh.
So, if you’d like to know a wee bit more about the people who created these books and characters closely connected with the city, and perhaps discover some reading gems you’re not so familiar with, take a look at Writers of Edinburgh on Our Town Stories.
The story is part of a wider project with the Living Knowledge Network Libraries for Breaking the News. Look out for other activities, exhibitions and events happening across our Libraries soon.
Edinburgh Libraries are celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with a public mural project!
You’ll have noticed how few public monuments to women there are in Edinburgh, despite the tireless efforts of local groups such as the Elsie Inglis Campaign. Yet there are literally hundreds of notable women, past and present, whose contributions to our shared history and our city deserve greater recognition. At Central Library, we’ve decided to redress the balance by creating out own public monument to Edinburgh’s female pioneers and trailblazers. We put out a call to local women’s groups, charities, and organisations such as the National Library of Scotland, and asked for nominations for our mural. We asked local academics and campaigners to help us uncover the lives and stories of many of Edinburgh’s unsung heroines, and we did some digging into the Library’s own resources.
Particularly useful was a book by local author and activist Sara Sheridan, ‘Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland’ (2021) which describes an alternative cultural landscape, where streets, buildings, monuments and landmarks are all dedicated to women. Sara’s immense amount of research added many names to our list.
Sara kindly took the time to speak to us about a few of her favourite figures from Edinburgh’s history. Watch the video (subtitles available) here:
The mural project – what is it?
We have taken inspiration from a wonderful project which has been running in the USA since 2016. “Work in Progress” seeks to shine a spotlight on female pioneers across many fields and was devised by artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake. See a detail here, courtesy of Granary Arts, Utah:
Edinburgh Libraries have been granted permission to create our own version, and this is where you can help!
We are aiming to produce stencilled portraits of as many women as possible from our nomination list. Some of these are already being produced by students at participating Edinburgh high schools, and we invite Edinburgh residents to come to the Library and help us create more!
The workshops – what will we do?
Participants will come into Central Library on one of several dates for an afternoon’s guided stencilling session. No artistic experience is necessary, and the process will be fully explained. There will be over 100 head-and-shoulders images of nominated women ready printed, for people to select, cut, and stencil – resulting in beautiful, unique portraits. Library staff will then gather and collate all the portraits, using them to create a ‘crowd-scene’ mural. We aim to have this finished and ready to exhibit at Central Library and online by early May. Some linked activities, such as live talks, will also follow.
Who would you choose….?
If you would like to take part, please book a place at one of our Saturday afternoon workshops.
Please note, due to the use of sharp tools, this event is offered to over-18s only and due to Covid precautions, each event is limited to 15 participants.
Workshops will take place on Saturday 12, 19 and 26 March, with some potential for further sessions to be added.
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.
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.
Another well known building is Huntly House (now the Museum of Edinburgh) – how different it looks today!
The image below is Morrison Street, where the Scottish Widows building stands now.
Edinburgh Central Library are celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March with a focus on the women of Edinburgh. We’re exploring women who have made contributions to various professions and fields of learning as well as the experience of ordinary women living in Edinburgh. We’re also celebrating Women’s History Month, by creating a stencilled monument to the trailblazing women of Edinburgh. Central Library will be offering guided workshops where members of the public can contribute to this celebratory mural in honour of our city’s women.
Stop by our Central Library Staircase display to view items from our collections and read about a selection of women represented in our collections.
Thea Musgrave – composer Born 1928 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 composing classical music and operas and as Distinguished Professor at Queens College, City University of New York, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing. In an interview for the BBC in 2018, Thea Musgrave was asked about being a woman 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).
Anne Redpath – artist Although born in Galashiels and spending much of her life in the Borders, Anne Redpath OBE ARA (1895-1965) is associated with Edinburgh through her study at Edinburgh College of Art (1913-1917) and her association with a pivotal group of artists known as the Edinburgh School. Anne Redpath lived in France from 1917 to 1934 and on her return lived first in Hawick and from 1949 in Edinburgh. Redpath is probably best known for her vividly painted domestic still lifes featuring familiar objects like a chair or a cup and using textiles like tablecloths and a scarf to add pattern and colour. As the daughter of a tweed designer she made a connection between her father’s work and her own, “I do with a spot of red or yellow in a harmony of grey, what my father did in his tweed.” Redpath was President of the Scottish Society of Women Artists 1944 to 1947 and was admitted as an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1947.
Sara Sheridan – author and activist Born 1968 in Edinburgh Sara Sheridan is a Scottish author and activist with a particular interest in female history. She has written more than 20 books. Sara Sheridan is most famous for her two series of historical novels: one, the Mirabelle Bevan novels, noir mysteries set in 1950s Brighton, and the other exploring on real lives of late Victorian adventurers. Sara Sheridan’s first book Truth or Dare was nominated for the Saltire Prize and in 2015. Sara was named one of the Saltire Society’s 365 most influential Scottish women, past and present. Of interest is Sara Sheridan’s book `Where are the women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland (Historic Environment, 2019) This is a fascinating book that re-imagines Scotland’s built environment bringing the women that have been ignored or side-lined by men to a different Scotland where women are commemorated in plaques, buildings and road names. This is a guide to that alternative vision where fictional streets, buildings, statues and monuments are dedicated to real women, telling their often-unknown stories.
Sophia Jex-Blake – doctor Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912) led the campaign to secure women access to a University education when she and six other women, collectively known as the Edinburgh Seven, began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. At this time English universities didn’t let women study medicine. Unfortunately Edinburgh reneged the places they had offered female students in 1873, so she completed her studies in Berne. Following qualification as a doctor, Sophia returned to Edinburgh and became the first practising female doctor in the city. She believed that poorer women and children needed access to medical services delivered by women and so opened a dispensary in Grove Street. She also established the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1886.
Emmeline Liillian Vyner – poet, psychic, dog -lover It’s not just famous women who have led extraordinary lives. It is particularly interesting and rare to learn about the lives of so-called ordinary women as they often leave little trace of their experiences and personal insights. The Central Library holds archives of Emmeline Lillian Vyner (born around 1876 in Halifax and died 1947 in Edinburgh) consisting of papers, diaries and scrapbooks which show a fascinating glimpse into how an ordinary person lived through two world wars. Emmeline settled in Edinburgh with her husband and first daughter, she had five children altogether, She liked to write poems some of which were placed in Edinburgh and Leith newspapers featuring natural and romantic subjects but later moving on to first world war poems and the experience of women left behind to cope. Her papers also document her activities attending psychic sessions in various houses in Edinburgh and Leith. What also shines through all her journals and scrapbooks is her delight in children and dogs and in her job as a cinema pianist she took particular pleasure in playing her piano for the children’s features.
Susan Ferrier – author Sometimes likened to Jane Austen Susan Ferrier (1782-1854) spent her life living in Edinburgh coming from a family well known in Edinburgh society. She wrote three acclaimed novels ‘Marriage’, ‘The Inheritance’ and ‘Destiny’ providing lively accounts of Scottish life and presenting sharp views on women’s education. Susan Ferrier kept her authorship a secret, at this time it was not considered appropriate for women to have a public role in their own right and women were expecting to play a supportive role to the men in their family. Ferrier’s work ‘Marriage’, published 1818, is hilarious – it recounts the story of an English heiress, Lady Juliana, who elopes with an impoverished Scot, Henry Douglas, and has to adjust to living in a run-down castle in the Highlands. Life for Lady Juliana is far from what she expected and the novel portrays with humour the gap between her expectations and reality. Susan Ferrier’s work remained popular throughout the 19th century and deserves to be better known today.
Flora Stevenson – social reformer Born in Glasgow in 1839, Flora Stevenson moved with her family to Edinburgh in 1854, Flora spent most of her adult life living at 13 Randolph Crescent along with her three sisters. Flora Stevenson was an active supporter of the suffrage and women’s rights movements along with her sisters. Even as a young girl, she recognised the importance of education and equality, teaching messenger girls reading, writing and arithmetic. She was an active member on several educational committees, eventually serving as chairperson on the Edinburgh School Board. Flora’s dedication to Edinburgh’s education system was respected and acknowledged. In 1899 a new primary school in Craigleith was named after her, In 1903 she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, and two years later she was given the Freedom of the City in recognition of her service to Edinburgh’s philanthropic institutions and the school board. When Flora died in 1905, over two thousand schoolchildren lined the route of her funeral to the Dean Cemetery.
Born in Edinburgh in 1897 into a wealthy family Naomi Mitchison was brought up in Oxford where her physiologist father, John Scott Haldane, was a Fellow. In 1916 she married the Labour politician Dick Mitchison, later Baron Mitchison, QC, and during their years in London she took an active part in social and political affairs, including women’s rights and the cause of birth control, joining the Labour party in 1930 and becoming active political campaigner throughout the 1930s. She took part in a Fabian Society expedition to the Soviet Union, and in 1934 went to Vienna to assist the socialists who were being persecuted by the Austrian government. In 1939, she moved to Carradale, Scotland, and became involved in the Scottish Renaissance. During her life Naomi Mitchison wrote some 90 books of historical and science fiction, travel writing and autobiography. She also wrote poetry. much of which is rooted in her Scottish background. She died in 1999 aged 101.
Elsie Inglis – medicine No selection of women of Edinburgh would be complete without Edinburgh doctor, Elsie Inglis (1864-1917). She made her name as a pioneering surgeon and as a suffragette, and did much to improve medical care for women. Born in India where her father was in the service of the East India Company, Elsie on his retiral returned with the family to Edinburgh. Inglis went on to study medicine at the (then) revolutionary Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women under Dr Sophia Jex-Blake. After three years she went on to study under Sir William McEwen at the University of Glasgow. Here she first developed her interest in surgery qualifying as a licentiate at the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1892.
Unhappy with the standards of care for female patients in hospitals, Inglis decided that the way forward was to have hospitals run by women.
In 1894 she established a medical practice with a fellow female physician and in 1904 she set up a small maternity hospital for Edinburgh’s poor in the city’s High Street, staffed entirely by women. This later became the Elsie Maude Inglis Memorial Hospital.
Inglis had for some time been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Women’s Suffragette Federation.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Inglis suggested the creation of medical units staffed by women which could provide aid to British forces on the Western Front, founding the Scottish Women’s Hospitals Committee and by December 1914, Inglis’s first medical unit staffed wholly be women was setting up the 200 bed Abbaye de Royaumont hospital.
In early 1915 Inglis accompanied a women’s medical unit to Serbia. She was taken captive by Austrian forces, but later released after the intervention of the United States Government, at that point still a neutral power. After being returned to Britain in 1916, Inglis immediately began raising funds for a hospital in Russia. She went to Russia later in 1916, and began her medical work in support of Serbian troops there, often having to flee advancing German forces. Inglis continued to work in Russia during 1917, but was becoming increasingly ill herself. Poor health forced Inglis to return to Great Britain and she died the day after the ship carrying her home docked in Newcastle.
Women of Edinburgh are continuing to make their mark in Edinburgh particularly in the field of medicine and public health with University of Edinburgh staff Professor Linda Bauld and Professor Devi Shidhar contributing to the handling of the Covid pandemic.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this selection. Tell us, who are your women of Edinburgh?
For LGBT History Month Scotland this February we’ve collaborated with colleagues from Museums to highlight a selection of items from the collections of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh which chronicle the LGBTQ+ story in Edinburgh.
A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a sample of the different type of items held by the city’s Museums and Galleries which record LGBTQ+ history. Our sample selection of archive material represents significant local, national and international moments and movements in LGBTQ+ history.
Although many people from the LGBTQIA+ communities may continue to face routine discrimination, harassment or persecution, their sexuality is no longer illegal in the UK. It may be hard for younger people to appreciate the relatively recent changes to legislation which have occurred to allow LGBTQIA+ people to live their private lives equally to heterosexual people.
Laws had been in place as far back as the reign of Henry VIII which criminalised homosexual acts between men and under the law, convictions were punishable by death until 1861. It was in 1957 that the Wolfenden Report recommended changes to (English) law on male homosexuality. (Female homosexuality was never explicitly targeted by any legal legislation).
And it was only in 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act brought about the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between two men, both over the age of 21, in private. It was not until 1980 that Scottish law was brought into line with England and Wales by the Criminal Justice bill decriminalising homosexual acts.
You can read about the background and instigation for the Wolfenden Report via the British Library.
Our exhibition focuses on more recent times, starting in 1974 and the programme for the first International Gay Rights Congress held in Edinburgh. The conference aimed to facilitate a sharing of international experience, enabling delegates to learn about the social, political and legal situation for men and women in other countries. 1974 also saw the launch of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard which was established to offer assistance and information to anyone who had experienced difficulties as a result of their own homosexuality or someone they knew.
We include a “Gay is Good” badge from the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (which was a later iteration of the Scottish Minorities Group recognising the important role that campaigning and activism played in the fight for equality in the second half of the 20th century. There is a badge from Pride 1994, declaring “twenty years out and proud” referencing the first Pride march in New York in July 1970 held in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising. Pride is now an annual event and a global movement to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities.
The exhibition includes material relating to the promotion of sexual health, the necessity to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and a ‘Coming out’ guide for young men.
The local gay social scene in Edinburgh is recorded through the Edinburgh Gay Scene Guide booklet, 1999 edition which listed bars, cafes and clubs which no longer exist in Edinburgh but were stalwarts of the gay scene in the 1980s and 1990s including The New Town Bar, The Claremont Bar, The Blue Moon Café, many which were centred around Broughton Street and the Greenside area east of the city’s centre. The iconic original shop sign from renowned lesbian and gay community bookshop, Lavender Menace situated at nearby Forth Street and a postcard invitation to their first birthday party, promising “readings, music, wine and quiche (if you’ll eat it)” is included. So too, a poster from Edinburgh University Lesbian & Gay Society, or LAGS, which at some point around 1991 or 1992 became ‘BLOGS’, Edinburgh University Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Society and also a flyer from a 2008 Loud and Proud Choir festive concert.
Campaigning for equality continued into the 21st century and our exhibition includes the remains of a campaign t-shirt from the NUS Scotland Lesbian and Gay Campaign with the slogan, “Love is not a crime”.
In a joint initiative, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh and the Living Memory Association, undertook the Remember When project, an oral and community history project which documented the lives of Edinburgh’s LGBT people, past and present, whose contributions and achievements had previously tended to be overlooked or ignored. The project resulted in the Rainbow City exhibition held at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre in 2006.
This century has seen improvements for LGBTQ+ communities in gaining equal rights. Notably, the controversial ‘Section 28’ introduced in 1988 which forbade local authorities from “intentionally promoting homosexuality” was repealed by the Scottish Parliament in 2000.
Other legislations included prevention of discrimination in the workplace; to give trans people legal recognition for changes of gender; to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment; allowing same-sex couples to adopt; protection against discrimination when accessing fertility treatment.
Perhaps, most prominent of all the campaigns and gains in equal rights was the campaign for equal marriage. The Civil Partnership Act allowing same-sex couples the right to register civil partnerships came into law in 2004 but it was ten years later in Scotland when same-sex partners were permitted to marry. In February 2014, the Scottish Parliament passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, with 105 votes in favour and 18 votes against and the bill came into effect on 16 December 2014. Our exhibition includes postcards produced by the Equality Network for the campaign for equal marriage and a wedding cake topper of two brides in celebration.
We recommend the digital version of Museum and Galleries’ exhibition ‘Proud City’, a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and asexual people living and working in Edinburgh, which was updated in 2020 in collaboration with LGBT Youth and the Queensferry youth group, Polari.
Explore too, OurStory Scotland, a charity organisation who collect, archive and present the life stories and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland.