Edinburgh Collected makes the Digital Leaders shortlist

Users of an online history tool designed by the City of Edinburgh Council are being encouraged to vote it to the top of a list of digital leaders from the UK’s public, private and non-profit sectors.

Edinburgh Collected has been selected as one of the Digital Leaders 100, a group of projects, initiatives and organisations across ten categories, as nominated by the digital community.

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Following the public vote, finalists will be ordered by the number of votes received, with the overall winner plus the winner in each category awarded at a ceremony in June.

Digital Champion, Councillor Frank Ross, said: “We are extremely proud of Edinburgh Collected, which allows residents and visitors to Edinburgh to build an online repository of original and fascinating memories and images.

“I would urge anyone who has used or contributed to the platform to vote for it in the Digital Leaders 100 to help it achieve the recognition it deserves.”

Launched in 2015, Edinburgh Collected facilitates the online gathering and sharing of pictures and stories of Edinburgh past and present.

Images and information about the capital are crowd-sourced by enabling users to share their personal photos and memories on a dedicated website available to the general public. The open source platform can also be re-used by any organisation or individual to create their own local digital heritage.

Working in partnership with innovation charity Nesta, the City of Edinburgh Council’s ICT and Libraries divisions aimed to develop a product to build the city’s digital heritage.

Voting for the Digital Leaders 100 closes on Friday, 27 May. Find out more and vote for Edinburgh Collected on the website.

This post originally appeared on the City of Edinburgh Council News Blog

When Yehudi Menuhin played the Embassy Cinema, Pilton

2016 marks the centenary of the birth of one of the 20th century’s greatest violinists: Yehudi Menuhin.

Born 22 April 1916 in New York City, Menuhin was a child prodigy who quickly established an international reputation.

But among his lesser known performances was an appearance at the Embassy Cinema, Pilton in 1958.

Menuhin was in Edinburgh to perform works by Mendelsohn and Beethoven at the Usher Hall as part of that year’s Festival.

But the great violinist was keen “to get acquainted with people who really belong to Edinburgh and have no opportunity to get to concerts” so he booked the Embassy Cinema for a concert along with colleagues Louis Kentner and Gaspar Cassado.

Charging an entrance fee of just a shilling the trio were just hoping to recoup their costs, but as they reached Pilton they found streets lined with crowds (library members can see a photo of these crowds on the Scran web site).

The concert, played to a packed audience. received warm and responsive applause. As one Piltonian matron called out to Menuhin as he was leaving “You’ll aye be welcome here”

The concert’s success led to other artists following suit with the Embassy becoming a venue for many other performances over the next decade.

Among his many awards, Menuhin gained the Freedom of the City in Edinburgh in 1965.

His legacy continues through his International Music School, the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation, and charity Live Music Now.

Find out more about Yehudi Menuhin in the Music Library, listen to his recordings on Naxos Music Library and browse our selection of books and recordings on and by Menuhin and some of his famous pupils.

Hit the Edinburgh Vintage Trail and win a 5-star experience!


The brand new Edinburgh Vintage Trail booklet was launched this afternoon at Central Library. Visit the accompanying exhibition at the library and you could win a luxurious afternoon tea for you and three friends!

The exhibition features many objects that will bring back memories for all you children of the 1970s, 1960s or earlier. And younger visitors will get the chance to see those things you’ve heard your granny talk about: radios, vinyl, clothes, household goods and an array of exciting collectibles.

Of course there is a huge range of books to look at and borrow covering iconic fashion, hits of the times and novels of the day.

To celebrate the launch of the 2016 edition of the Vintage Trail the luxurious 5-star G&V Royal Mile Hotel has donated a fantastic prize for our exhibition competition: afternoon tea for 4 people including a glass of champagne in the hotel’s iconic surroundings.

All you have to do is answer a simple question and then pop your entry in the box at Central Library Reception.  The competition closes on March 30th, 2016 and the winner will be notified by 8th April, 2016.


In the meantime remember to pick up your copy of the Edinburgh Vintage Trail booklet at your local library and explore vintage Edinburgh with its array of shops, markets, music venues and eating places.

Get inspired by the not so distant past!

left to right: Pedro Santiago Garcia Rubio (G&V Royal Mile), Lindsey Sibbald, models Annie Bell and Gilly Dennis, Bronwen Brown (Edinburgh Libraries) and Councillor Gavin Barrie

left to right: Pedro Santiago Garcia Rubio (G&V Royal Mile), Lindsey Sibbald (City Strategy and Economy, City of Edinburgh Council), models Annie Bell and Gilly Dennis, Bronwen Brown (Edinburgh Libraries) and Councillor Gavin Barrie (Convenor of the Economy Committee)


Wm. Cummings and Son and a lost industry of Leith Walk

We recently received a donation of some fascinating archive material relating to Wm Cummings & Son, who manufactured boxes on their premises at Murano Place.

This donation came to us from our friends at the Living Memory Association, and we were especially grateful because it adds to a collection of material on the firm which was already held by Edinburgh City Archives. The story is still, however, incomplete – and we’re hoping that’s where you come in!

More of that later. First, here’s a quick history of the company:

William Cummings founded his box making business in 1876. The enterprise had expanded by 1888 to premises covering an area of 80 feet by 80 feet and buildings four stories high. The ground floor was taken up with the sawmill machinery – numerous circular saws of all different types. Once cut to size, the prepared boards were taken to the second story by a steam-powered hoist where the boxes were formed using a box-nailing machine.

Sawmill department of Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd

Sawmill department of Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd, c1898

Also on the first floor was a machine invented by Mr Cummings for ‘dressing off’ the finished box. It was reported in the Timber Trades Journal of 1889 that Mr Cummings was ‘ever at work devising means for the saving of labour and producing work of greater efficiency, and thereby enabling his manufactures to be produced at a minimum of cost’.

On the 3rd floor the boxes for export were given their metal lining and the top floor was used as a store area for drying and seasoning the turned and finished goods. All the machines across the building were driven by a 40 horse power engine. The premises also included offices, stables and a work yard piled high with stocks of raw materials. The company benefitted from its close proximity to Leith Docks were supplies came and went.

Group portrait of female staff workers at Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd

Female workers at Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd. box makers, c1900

The 1891 census shows William living with his family at Rosslyn Street (now Crescent), a short walk from Leith Walk. He’s aged 40 and widowed, the head of a family of 3 sons and 4 daughters. His eldest son, Andrew is 16 and working as an apprentice clerk (presumably in the family business) and his youngest child is Minnie aged 2. The next year, William Cummings has died leaving his son, Andrew to look after the practicalities of running the business at only 17 years of age.

In 1900, Andrew Cummings formally took responsibility for the firm and changed the name to Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd. In 1907 there were 150 employees across the different departments of sawmill, home and export case, confectionery box, tin lining, fancy paper box, leatherboard box and turning department. Under the direction of Andrew Cummings the firm continued to apply mechanical innovations and labour saving devices to improve efficiency.

Wm. Cummings & Son delivery van, Palace of Holyrood

Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd delivery van at gates to Palace of Holyrood, 1949

The company was still in operation into the late 1960s but we’re not sure when the business folded. Maybe you can help us? Do you remember the factory on Murano Place or know someone who worked there? We’d love to hear from you if you can tell us more.

You can browse all the amazing pictures of this bygone era of working life on Capital Collections.

The Wm. Cummings & Son collection is now being kept securely altogether at Edinburgh City Archives.

Could this be the first ever panoramic view?

Sometime in the mid-1780s, Robert Barker was out for a walk on Calton Hill when it occurred to him how it might be possible to record the cityscape – the entire 360 degree view from one spot. The idea was to use a fixed square frame, and to draw the view seen through it, rotate the frame and draw the next section and so on until returned to the starting point. And so, he instructed his 12 year old son, Henry Aston to draw the scenes.

Panoramic view from Calton Hill (section 6)

Barker discovered that the viewing experience was to be as important as the picture itself. He devised a circular viewing space which would display a large-scale painting made from Henry’s drawings. The space would be lit from above, with a fixed viewing platform in the middle accessed from below. He took a patent out on this ‘entire new Contrivance’.  At the second attempt, he secured financial backing for the project and a larger version of the image was painted on canvas measuring 25 feet in diameter. It first went on display in 1788 and was exhibited in different locations in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The principal established and patent acquired, this new way of seeing the world had arrived!

Barker turned his sights on London, where he hoped to establish a long-term enterprise. He sent Henry to draw the view of the city from a roof on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. This time the depiction was to be bigger and better.

The London viewings were very successful and it was only then that friends of Barker coined the word panorama to mean ‘all embracing view’ and the invention was fully fledged.  In 1792, Barker built a rotunda according to his patent design, named the Panorama. It was able to exhibit two panorama paintings, one 90 feet in diameter on the ground floor and another 50 feet in diameter on the upper level. Spectators were charged one shilling per panorama. To a general populace unfamiliar with visual imagery or travel impact of the all-encompassing view must have been spellbinding.

The business thrived and Henry Aston, who was the chief artist for the panoramas made several trips abroad to record panoramic views of cities and depictions of battle scenes.  When Barker’s patent expired in 1801, other businesses were able to spring up and panoramas were exhibited in London, and other large towns and cities and toured to the United States. Henry Aston took over the business when his father died in 1806. He focused when possible, on topical scenes and his depiction of the Battle of Waterloo was so successful that it contributed to his early retirement at the age of 48.
Zoom into Panorama The version we have of the panorama from Calton Hill is a six part reproduction of the painting aquatinted by J. Wells dating from 1790. With the aid of 21st century technology our photographer has stitched the panorama sections together so that you can traverse the city scene from over 200 years ago! Zoom into the detail (by clicking on the picture with Capital Collections) and see if you can spot the women drying their washing on Calton Hill, the Botanic Cottage on Leith Walk, the pottery kilns at Leith and the strangely Modernist structures and neatly kept garden of the City Observatory.

Browse the sections and the complete panorama on Capital Collections.

Discover more about Barker’s Panorama phenomenon at The Regency Redingote blog.

An Edinburgh home guard mystery

When Marjory Langdon was sorting through her possessions in preparation for moving house she was not expecting to unearth a mystery hidden for over 70 years. In a spare bedroom cupboard she found a framed drawing of an exotic looking lady. She thought she’d check if there was any information about the sitter on the back of the drawing. What she found instead though, tucked behind the portrait, was an Edinburgh newspaper from 1940 which concealed a hand-drawn map of Edinburgh relating to the Second World War.
Local Defence Volunteers posts and road blocksThe map of the Mortonhall area was a detailed plan of Local Defence Volunteer (LDV) posts and road blocks. The LDV or Home Guard as they are better known had a strong presence throughout this city, but the map focussed on two platoons based at Mortonhall. It may have been felt that there was a greater need for the LDV to be based around this area as there was an army camp built here. The camp may have been a prisoner of war camp, but it is more likely that it was for displaced Europeans.

Home Guard 1940 Home Guards patrol a section of canal in Edinburgh in a motor boat armed with rifles and a mounted Lewis gun, 19 October 1940.

Home Guard 1940, patrolling the Union Canal. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museums – http://goo.gl/pXTQdr

Mrs Langdon was kind enough to donate her discoveries to Edinburgh Libraries along with some family photographs of Home Guard battalions. This sparked our imagination to find out more about Edinburgh’s own Dad’s Army. By 1940 4000 men had volunteered in Edinburgh and although often the butt of jokes i.e. that LDV stood for the Look, Duck and Vanish Brigade, they did serious work in Edinburgh such as creating the first Home Guard Anti-Aircraft rocket batteries and bringing down a German plane.

Edinburgh's 1st Battalion Home Guard, 1944

Edinburgh’s 1st Battalion Home Guard, 1944

See our Capital Collection’s Edinburgh’s Home Guard exhibition to read about what it was like to be a member of the LDV in Edinburgh and and to see the full suite of images including the mystery lady in the drawing.

Shakespeare Square: a long gone corner of Edinburgh

As you probably know, 2016 will see a host of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

But did you know that a corner of Edinburgh city centre, now long gone, was named after the bard?

Shakespeare Square, ‘mean in architecture and disreputable in character’, housed the Theatre Royal from 1769 until its demolition in 1859.

Grieves’ 1784 plan of Edinburgh, which you can view in more detail on Our Town Stories, shows exactly where Shakespeare Square was located.

1784 mapWe have several images of the Theatre Royal itself on Capital Collections. This engraving by Thomas Shepherd shows the building as it looked up until 1830. The statue on the point of the roof is of Shakespeare himself.

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John Le Conte’s watercolour below shows how the facade of the theatre was rebuilt and shows a little more of the surrounding area.

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Walter Scott was closely linked to the theatre. A a young advocate he was caught up in a riot when some members of the audience refused to stand for the national anthem, and later on his operatic version of Rob Roy became one of the theatres’s greatest successes.

Thomas Begbie’s photograph dates from 1852:

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By this time the theatre’s best days were behind it, and several years later was demolished to make way for the grand Victorian Post Office building, which still stands there today.

Post Office, 1880. George Washington Wilson

The foundation stone was laid on 23rd October 1861 by Prince Albert. On the same day he laid another foundation stone at what would be the site of the museum on Chambers Street.