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.


Getting to grips with finding my past

Bronwen from Central Library’s Art and Design and Music team offers an insight into her first steps in family history…

“One of the great offers from the Library’s eresources over the lockdown period has been the opportunity to search the genealogy site Findmypast from outside the Library’s computer network. The site has always grabbed my attention but I’ve always been too busy… well, now’s the time and the opportunity.

With help and encouragement from the Library’s Digital Team guidance posted on Stay at home family history help, I’ve been dipping into this fantastic resource on family history. I’ve been focusing my search on one of my relatives.

Clarice Mary Watkins was my maternal grandmother. She later became Clarice Mary McGregor after she married my grandfather Michael Joseph McGregor in 1924 in Monmouthshire, Wales. Clarice died when I was 17 and for my part I knew her to be kind, softly spoken, an abstainer of alcohol and very good at making apple charlotte. After my own parents died I was passed down some of my grandmother’s writings and diaries. Married to an army school teacher she’d lived in Egypt, India and Germany at significant stages in the history of these countries and she’d written down much of her impressions of these experiences. I was fascinated to know more about this lady.

Clarice Mary Watkins

To begin with I found it quite difficult to find much information on Clarice. I was jumping in at the deep end wanting to insert a name and find records pinging back at me in a matter of seconds. It’s not as easy as that and takes a bit of patience.

Findmypast has some really good advice on how to start your family tree journey, writing down what you think you know, and asking relatives for information. There’s lots of advice on how to start creating and building a family tree should you wish to record this. For myself, I needed to go back to the basics.

I started off with the obvious – putting in the name Clarice Mary Watkins. I was fortunate to know my grandmother’s full name but you can use wildcards if you don’t know someone’s full name or the spelling, for example I could have searched for Clar* Watkins but I’d need to wade through more results. I knew she was slightly older than my grandfather who was born in 1900, so when some results came back with records dating 1896, I thought I’d struck lucky. I found a record for what was my grandmother’s birth and also a record for her in the 1911 Census but the dates of birth were out by a year. I knew the Census was a correct record because the names of her parents’ occupations and her brothers and sisters were correct. I’d learned a valuable lesson; not all dates, names, places etc are transcribed correctly in records at the time or later.

I started searching under my grandfather’s name to look for more information that might lead me back to Clarice. I was more sure of my grandfather’s birth and death dates but the only information I could find initially was an entry in the 1901 Census, and to me more interestingly, the record of his marriage to Clarice.

Findmypast includes information taken from many sources of records. This includes census returns, birth, death and marriage certificates and parish records but also some more unusual records, for example, passenger lists of people leaving the UK. Searching again under Clarice’s married name of Clarice Mary McGregor I found her bound for Port Said, Egypt in 1933: one of the clever features of Findmypast is that it lists other people with the same surname on the ship and there was my grandfather’s name Michael Joseph and my mother and her elder sister, so I knew for certain this was the right Clarice. Her date of birth on the passenger list was different to the earlier Census return and birth certificate so I now had her date of birth listed variously as 1898, 1897, and 1896 – and they say ladies don’t always tell the truth about their age!

Rather frustratingly I could never find my grandmother’s death dates nor my grandfather. I knew the dates of their deaths and also that they both died in Cupar, Fife. However, what I’ve learnt is that although Findmypast is a brilliant resources, it doesn’t have all the answers. With guidance from my library colleagues I was referred back to ScotlandsPeople where I was able to track down confirmation of Clarice’s death in 1980 and my grandfather a little later on.

I’m just on the start of my family history journey here. What I’ve learnt is this journey takes persistence but also patience and that you need to look at various sources and records. Different websites offer access to different sets of information and records from Scotland can be different from the rest of the U.K. A good starting point is to quiz relatives and stretch your own memory, gather together what you know, and be prepared to search records in different ways. But it’s addictive and I’ve discovered a brother to Clarice, a Benjamin Llewellyn Watkins, born 1895, who I’d never heard of before … he was never mentioned by the family … now that’s another story and given the timeframe I’m guessing one that didn’t end well.”

Find out more about how to gain temporary access to Find my Past from home and go to the Library’s Family Tree guide providing information on Library resources to help you trace your family tree.

Local and family history enquiries with the team from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection

Over the past few weeks, members of Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection team have been busy trying to solve various family and local history queries that members of the public have been sending in by email.

Examples of the kind of questions asked have ranged from the straightforward to the devilishly tricky. So far, staff have fielded questions about whether the Library holds Edinburgh Electoral Rolls for the year 1845 and copies of the Evening News for 1959. (‘Yes’ was the answer to both questions). They’ve helped trace ancestors by finding birth, marriage and death certificates. And really got their thinking caps on when asked – what influenced 19th century emigrants to the US and Canada to choose one town over another in where they eventually settled! There have been some great questions about the local area too, from helping to date a school building in Leith, to finding resources on who was working as a pharmacist in Edinburgh in the early 1800s (and under what conditions).

Answering enquiries in the Edinburgh Room, 1954. Image from Capital Collections.

With only having online resources to access currently and sadly, not the full library collection there are limits to what can be answered. However, if you do have your own local or family history query, please send it to central.edsc.library@edinburgh.gov.uk and they will do the best they can to help out.

Here are some links to great history and heritage resources that may begin or continue your own research journey and assist with enquiries also.

Recording history today for the future

Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection have a long history of collecting material relating to the changing life and times of the city.

Today, we also collect digital submissions from people who can upload their own pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive (www.edinburghcollected.org).

During these strange times of lockdown living we are asking the public to help us record the visual signs of how life in Edinburgh has changed so that these momentous times are preserved for history.

Saturday at the Grassmarket, shared by Sufly9 on edinburghcollected.org

We’re particularly keen to see the little acts of creativity and messages of thanks and positivity that are helping us all to keep smiling.

We’ve received some lovely picture memories so far but we’d like to capture a complete picture of Edinburgh at this time. Do you have any photos of your neighbourhood that you’ve taken whilst out for your daily exercise or going to the supermarket that you could share?

Anyone can create an account and add pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected. Once added, we’ll add your contributions to the ‘Edinburgh 2020 – coronavirus pandemic’ scrapbook.

Stay home, shared on edinburghcollected.org by jintyg

Our colleagues in Museums and Galleries and in the City Archives are also collecting material related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Museums and Galleries Edinburgh are looking to collect objects for their museum collections which represent experiences of people in Edinburgh during the pandemic. They’re hoping for donations of everyday objects that have helped you get through the lockdown, e.g. certain equipment you’ve used to keep you safe, a note from your neighbour or the rainbow you made for your window.

If you have something to offer, please email anna.macquarrie@edinburgh.gov.uk. Explain what the item is, what it means to you, and include a photo if you can. (Please note, staff won’t be able to physically collect any material until it is safe to do so and venues reopen.)

Edinburgh City Archives are collecting diaries and journals covering this period. They will collect these in various forms; whether that is paper or digital, text or audio-visual, published on a website/social media or kept privately in an app, book, or document.  If you keep any of these and would be willing to donate it to the Archives for posterity please visit their webpage for more information: www.edinburgh.gov.uk/archives/edinburgh-city-archives-1/2

New ways of working with Fiona from the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Here at Edinburgh Libraries’ Children and Young People’s services, we are finding new ways to work with our partners during lockdown.

Last year the theme of the children’s Summer Reading Challenge was ‘Space Race’ so some Edinburgh Libraries staff prepared by attending outreach and storytelling training provided by the Royal Observatory, getting us ready to share the story of how 50 years ago Apollo 11 landed on the moon. These sessions were run all over the city, including at the Discover initiative.

This year, things need to be different, so we are working on being able to deliver online sessions to our Chatterbooks and school library groups. Watch this space…

Fiona, who works at the Royal Observatory has shared with us the changes to her working day.

“Hello! My name is Fiona and I am part of the Public Engagement Team at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Our small team can usually be found in the Visitor Centre, which is part of the original Victorian buildings on site. My day-to-day job is organising a public programme of events that aim to inspire, engage and involve people in the amazing technology and science that happens at the Observatory.

Before the lockdown, I would start my day with a long walk up the steep road to the top of Blackford Hill. I had always felt so lucky to be able to look out across Edinburgh every morning: ‘best view in the city’ I would tell my friends and family.

The East dome at the Royal Observatory, with a view of Arthur’s Seat in the distance.

After the lockdown, I now start my day with a short walk downstairs to my ‘home office’ in the dining room. Unfortunately, not the ‘best view in the city’ but it does the job! Myself and the team (including Ivor, my new feline assistant) have been working hard to make sure we can still share the wonders of the universe with you all.

Working from home with Ivor the cat

The first events to make the move online are our Astronomy Talks. Although we can’t invite you in person to the Observatory there is room for people to join from all corners of the world. The record so far is someone watching all the way from New Zealand! If you are interested in astronomy and want to find out more, please join us!

Visit our website to register for free upcoming talks. Talks are most suitable for an adult or young adult audience, but everyone is welcome to tune in and there is always time for questions at the end.

For the younger space fans in your family, we are currently putting together fun interactive sessions for uniformed groups and school aged children. We are also working to create some short videos and easy to follow activity ideas to keep you busy at home.

As we look to an uncertain future, we hope that we can find new unique opportunities to work together. If you represent a local community group or school and have an idea of how you would like to work with us then please get in touch via email vis@roe.ac.uk, we would love to hear from you.”

You can follow Royal Observatory Edinburgh on Twitter to keep up to date @RoyalObs and follow the #STFCScienceAtHome for lots of free STEM activities for the whole family.

With many thanks to Fiona from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh team for sharing an insight into her working from home day.

My happy childhood memories living in the Dean Village – Gail’s story

Following on from Patrick’s blog post yesterday, this second article from the Dean Village Memories group on Edinburgh Collected features one wee girl that spent her childhood in Dean Village.

Many people will be familiar with the picturesque images of Dean Village with its bridges and housing and with the Water of Leith flowing below.

It wasn’t always like that, at one time there were no fewer than 11 working mills there fuelled by the waters below. Due to the development of larger and more modern flour mills in Leith, Dean Village’s trade diminished for many years and the village became associated with poverty and decay, reaching a low point around 1960. The community was predominantly working class. Times were very hard for families struggling to bring their children up in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s with poor social and economic conditions prevalent, with Village families having very little money and home comforts. Some of the Dean Village housing could best be described as Dickensian, in that they housed large families, in small rented rooms, with many families having outside toilets.

Thanks to one young girl growing up in Dean Village, we have a snapshot of what it was like during the 50s and 60s and her story has been shared on Edinburgh Collected.

Born in her granny’s home in 33 Dean Path in 1944, her name was Gail Featherstonehaugh. Together with her father, mother and older sister Avril, she lived in “the Village”. Luckily for us Gail was given her first camera when she was 7 and throughout her childhood and adult life took many photos of the Dean Village. Because of these images we can see what “village” life was like.

Gail, her mother,and sister Avril – 1945

The community of Dean Village has always been a strong one, with generations of families either living with each other or very close by. The village had its own school (Dean School which Gail started in 1948, aged 5), a Mission Hall and grocers (Burnside’s). The village was also home to several larger premises. There was Mutries, a Costume and Theatrical Hire warehouse, that burned down in 1957. Legget’s Tannery, who’s Clydesdale horse, Prince, Gail looked after. A Bottle Exchange (which paid money for handing in empty bottles) and a Stick Factory where Gail’s mother used to get kindling for the fire.

Life as a child growing up in the village seems to have been quite idyllic, with their playground the large green place that surrounded them. Gail has shared with us memories of family days out at Cramond and later as a teenager, of listening to Winifred Atwell on Radio Luxembourg with her sister Avril.

Dean Village children playing in the Auld Ducks Damside – 1954

When Gail left Bellvue Secondary school “for 1 year I walked the road from my house in Dean Path to train as an Electronic Assembler in Ferranti’s Technical College” which was now based in her old Dean School.

In 1962, aged 18, Gail joined the Red Cross and volunteered in the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and the following year she became engaged to Robert Haldane. They married in 1964 and became parents to twins Gillian and Paul.

Gail (left) and friend Helen pictured in their Red Cross uniforms – 1962

1965 found Gail still with Ferranti’s, now based at their Sub Station at West Granton Road. Also, in that year, STV were filming a documentary about Dean Village and Gail was asked if she would walk up Dean Path pushing her twins in their pram. She recalls that her mother watched it when it was aired.

Twins Gillian and Paul – 1966

Gail left the Dean Village in 1966, but she continues to keep the community of it alive. In 2013 she attended the 1st Dean Village Ex Villagers Reunion, which has been an annual event ever since. Her visits to the village continue, visiting on her 60th birthday in 2004 with her daughter and grandchildren, and latterly on Remembrance Sunday in 2019.

Group photo taken on the 6th Dean Village Reunion – 2017

We hope you have enjoyed reading Gail’s story. You can browse her complete scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected as well as many more memories from the Dean Village Memories group.

History of the house: North British Hotel

Standing at the East End of Princes Street is the imposing building known today as The Balmoral Hotel. Owned by Sir Rocco Forte since 1997, the building has been completely refurbished and now enjoys a worldwide reputation as a luxury hotel.

But this has come at end of a long and interesting journey. Let us go back in time to explore the history and development of the building.

Edinburgh New Town development took place from 1760 until 1830 with the Nor Loch being largely drained in the 1760s and the remaining West Gardens by the 1820s. The Mound formed from the earth and rubble of the New Town construction work was started in 1781 and hard surfaced and landscaped by 1830.

Princes Street looking east, probably taken from Scott Monument, c1858. Image from Edinburgh Museums and Galleries collections.

In the 1840s three stations were built on the site of the hotel and the present Waverley Station. The first was the terminus for the North British railway from England; the second, the Edinburgh Perth and Dundee Railway was routed via a tunnel under Princes Street and the New Town to meet the ferry at Granton to cross the Forth and then on to Perth and Dundee; the third and last, was the Edinburgh to Glasgow Railway which after much debate ran through the Gardens via a tunnel under the Mound and on to Glasgow. In 1854 the name Waverley, after Sir Walter Scott’s novel applied to all three stations. The North British Railway Company took over the other two and from 1868 gradually transformed the structure of the site as demand for travel and accommodation increased.

Waverley Station and Princes Street, c1882

The building and improvement of the North and Waverley Bridges between 1892 and 1902 made for easier access from the Old to the New Town and contributed to the East End growth, as did the significant railway developments.

Waterloo Place looking towards North Bridge, showing the buildings on the site where the Balmoral Hotel now stands, c1885

The drainage of the Nor Loch encouraged the building of properties at the junction of  North Bridge and Princes Street, i.e. the current site of the Balmoral. There were early disputes as owners who had built on the North side protested that their view was being spoiled which was only settled after many court cases. The agreement allowed for properties already built or nearing completion to remain but any others further West had to be below street level to protect the view across to the Old Town. To gain some insight into the previous occupants of the Balmoral site, we’ve turned again to the old Edinburgh Post office Directories which show a history of hotels and travel companies on the site:

No 1  Steam Packet and Coach Office and Kerr, Wine and Spirit Merchant
No 2 Morrison City Tavern and Jas Campbell Coach Office
No 3 A Murray Turf Hotel
No 4 Croalls Coach Office (also at No 10)

No 1 W Kerr Wine and Spirit Merchant
No 2 John McLaren Refreshment Room
No 3 John Donald Hotel
No 4 Croalls Coach Office

No 1 Thomas Johnston and Alex Mctavish Bridge Hotel
No 2 A John McLaren Refreshment Rooms No 2 Wm Crawford and Sons, Bakers
No 3 Gladstone Hotel Thos Jardine
No 4 North British Railway Office

No 1 Thomas Johnston Bridge Hotel
No 2 Refreshment Room
No 4 NB railway Office and NB Steam Packet

No 1 Thos Cook and Son Waverley Station Hotel buildings
No 2 Waverley Station Hotel

A photograph in our collections, dated 1895, shows the former buildings where the Hotel now stands and shows the offices of Thomas Cook Travel Agents.

In 1889 to raise finance, The North British Railway Bill came before a committee in the House of Lords. There were objections to part of the capital raised being used to build a hotel. The main opposition to the scheme came from those who already owned or had some interest in existing hotels on Princes Street and some of the exchanges are reported to have become very personal. When all sides had presented their case the Lordships after a few minutes deliberation announced that they had decided to allow the Bill to proceed.

In 1895, an open competition to design the new North British Station Hotel was won by W. Hamilton Beattie and A.R. Scott. William Hamilton Beattie specialised in designing hotels. The son of George Beattie an architect and builder in Edinburgh. William designed the Clarendon Hotel Edinburgh (1875), the Braid Hills Hotel (1876), and in 1893, was commissioned by Charles Jenner to design a replacement for Jenners Department Store on Princes Street which had been destroyed by fire. This was opened in 1895 and is modelled on the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.  He did not live to see the new North British Hotel as he died in 1898.

North Bridge showing North British Hotel under construction, 1901

Following William Beattie’s death the task of completing his North British Hotel design fell to his assistant Andrew Robb Scott.

North British Station Hotel, Princes Street, 1937

The new hotel opened in October 1902 as the North British Railway Hotel and started a tradition of setting their clock three minutes fast so that people would not miss their train.

Over the years the Railway Company changed structure and name but The North British Railway Hotel remained unchanged. However, in 1983, Gleneagles Hotel Company acquired the famous hotel and in 1988 closed it for major refurbishment. In 1990, it was acquired by Balmoral International Hotels who completed the refurbishment and in 1991 reopened as The Balmoral Hotel.

In 1997 the building was bought by the present owner Sir Rocco Forte to start his Rocco Forte Collection and there have been changes and refurbishments to the building since.

Large Dining Hall in North British Station Hotel, 1902

Over the years the hotel has played host to many important and famous visitors.

In 1918 the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, was a guest at the hotel whilst in Edinburgh to receive the Freedom of the City and an honorary LL.D from the University.

On 24 July 1919, HRH The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor) came to Edinburgh to receive the Freedom of the City. The Scotsman newspaper reported that he used the Hotel as his base until his departure the following morning.

In July 1932, Hollywood legends Laurel and Hardy stayed at the Hotel whilst on a promotional tour and their movie ‘The Music Box’ sceened at the Playhouse.

King Haakon of Norway was in residence for a few days in 1942 during which he opened Norway House, a residential club for Norwegians.

During the 1960s, glamorous celebrities such as Sophia Loren,  Elizabeth Taylor and Paul McCartney stayed at the hotel.

The Queen Mother was a regular visitor during the 1970s. Prime Ministers Edward Heath and Harold Wilson also visited.

And in 2007, J K Rowling completed the final novel in the Harry Potter series while residing at the hotel for a few months. This was a well kept secret and the author signed an antique bust in her room.

View from the Scott Monument of the Balmoral Hotel, Waverley Market and Calton Hill, 2010

Are you interested in discovering the history of your home? The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library has a vast collection of material which can help you.

Read more articles in this ‘History of the house’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Milne’s Court
History of the house: Melbourne Place
History of the house: Falcon Hall
History of the house: Cammo House

Take a step back in time with Edinburgh Collected to the 1960s National Coal Board Computer Centre

Back in May 1963, the National Coal Board opened a state-of-the-art Computer Centre at Sighthill featuring the latest technology. It’s no longer there but thanks to photographs taken on the day we can see just what that technology looked like, and how much it has changed!

National Coal Board , Sighthill – Official Opening, 1963

The photos show massive big pieces of machinery, churning out reams of paper. Operators sitting in front of machines featuring rows and rows of switches. Computer equipment that is taller than those standing next to it. One thing you do notice, is that most of the equipment is being operated by women.

Staff member operating computer at the official opening of the National Coal Board Scotland Computer Centre

The images have been added to our Edinburgh Collected website where we encourage anyone to upload their photographs. Anyone can share their pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected whilst contributing to the City’s digital heritage collections.

Although the Coal Board photos were most probably taken by a professional photographer, the bulk of photos on Edinburgh Collected have been taken by amateur photographers. They offer a more personal perspective on the past but can still capture areas of Edinburgh, or perhaps industries, factories and activities that no longer exist.

The images in this scrapbook were all added to the site by The Living Memory Association, who have shared over 3000 images on Edinburgh Collected so far.

Nowadays everyone takes photos on their phones, and that’s where they stay. So why not have a look and put some on Edinburgh Collected?

Blair’s Edinburgh Views

Our current exhibition on Capital Collections is a collection of atmospheric scenes of late 19th century Edinburgh landmarks and landscapes, taken from watercolour paintings by artist John Blair.

The Old Town from the Waverley Bridge

The images are taken from a volume of loose lithographic prints dated 1892 which were printed in Paris and published by Aitken Dott of Castle Street. Many of the pictures contain moonlight or fading light and evocative weather conditions. The views are scenes of Edinburgh’s famous streets populated with typical residents of the time or picture postcard vistas looking from different geographic points towards the city’s famous skyline.

There is one picture however, which sits apart from the rest. It is a view of the Scott Monument looking east along Princes Street. The street characters seem in this view more defined and there are three men walking in a line towards the viewer each wearing sandwich board advertisements. On closer inspection, the signs are promoting a Castle Street exhibition of watercolours by John Blair – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the artist himself and his publishers.

The Scott Monument and Princes Street

View the full set of thirteen plates on Capital Collections.

Libraries Week focus: Edinburgh Collected

Join in this Libraries Week by sharing your pictures and memories of Edinburgh on Edinburgh Collected!

Edinburgh Collected (www.edinburghcollected.org) is a community archive for the city where everyone can browse and enjoy this growing online collection of pictures and memories.

Venchie Fun, 1983 from the Sentinel newspaper, picture memory shared by From There To Here

However, if you sign up for an Edinburgh Collected account, you can upload your own written or picture memories and save your favourite memories to scrapbooks. By joining Edinburgh Collected you’ll be contributing your memories to the city’s heritage collections and helping us to preserve and make history for the future.

My Brother Alec, aged 5 years old, is amongst these 30 children photographed, 1934, picture memory shared by Dean Village Memories

Memories could be from childhood or from yesterday. They all combine to create an online living history for the city.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Edinburgh Collected or need a helping hand to get started, contact the Libraries’ Digital Team via informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk or 0131 242 8033.

Libraries Week focus: Capital Collections

Where can you find a Dalek alongside The Fonz?

A record of the changing face of the city and a view of the castle from all angles?

Or a teddy bear named Gilmour and a half-completed Scott Monument?

Family histories and sporting moments?

Vintage children’s book illustrations and a priceless Japanese scroll?

Fashion tips from the Georgian Lady’s Monthly Museum and a pair of early eighties platform shoes?

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And quite possibly, the best online collection of photographs of old Edinburgh?

You’ll find all this and much more on Capital Collections, Edinburgh Libraries and Museums and Galleries online image library. There are over 20,000 digitized images and dozens of online exhibitions to explore. What will you find?


History of the house: Milne’s Court

In the 1540s, Henry VIII mounted a military campaign to intimidate the Scots into agreeing to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to Henry’s son, Edward. Henry’s troops had instructions to ‘put all to fire and sword’. This so-called ‘rough wooing’ did not succeed but at the beginning of the 1600s, the city of Edinburgh was still recovering from the damage caused by the English forces.

The land available for building was constrained by the city walls and the answer was to build upwards, resulting in buildings of 8 to 12 storeys appearing on the slopes down to the walls. During the 1600s, the city also had a series of major fires and in 1700 a huge fire in Parliament Close spread up the High Street destroying some 15 storey buildings.

Perspective view of the Castle and City of Edinburgh, with the towns of Leith, Burntisland and Kinghorn. (Click to zoom in.)

At the same time, the population was increasing and the demand for housing was rising. In 1700, Edinburgh had some 25,000 citizens, a populace which grew to 50,000 by the middle of the century and to over 80,000 by 1800. (To give some contemporary context to these numbers, Murrayfield Stadium can accommodate 67,000 people.)

Milne’s Court, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, c1910

Many of the old houses were in a state of collapse, streets and closes were dirty and in need of maintenance. New regulations were introduced to widen and improve entry to the closes and wood could no longer be used for the framework of buildings. The Council used its powers of compulsory purchase to acquire land for new developments. They intended to imitate the style of one of the Old Town’s more desirable locations: Milne’s Court.

Milne’s (or Mylnes) Court was built in 1690 by Robert Milne of Balfarg, the Royal Master Mason, and the 7th member of his family to hold the title. The development had an open central court instead of narrow closes and was the first of its kind in Edinburgh.  (You can see the date 1690 above the entry to the court from the Lawnmarket.)

At the time the building was an example of the best in desirable accommodation and the 1694 Poll Tax return indicates that many of the residents were middle-class professionals. James Court, built between 1723 and 1727 by James Brownhill was intended to imitate the style of neighbouring Milnes Court, offering exclusive apartments round a courtyard.

Some Milne’s Court residents of that time also have a connection with the ill-fated Darien Company. In the 1690s, Scots were buying goods from the East valued in today’s prices at more than £10 million. Seven residents, James Balfour, Merchant, Cunningham, Solicitor, McLurgg and Allan, Deans of Guild, Alexander Gibson and Milne, and James Byers in 1695 were among the original investors in the Darien Company to trade with Africa and the Indies from Panama. The venture, however, was doomed from the start due to a lack of knowledge of the requirements to operate in the region.  A mixture of inadequate supplies, tropical diseases, hostile local tribes and Blockades by the English and Spanish Navies resulted in the total collapse of the Company. The failure had a severe effect on the Scottish economy which was reduced by around 25%.

However, by the mid 1800s, Milne’s Court had lost its middle-class residents and was a far less desirable place to live. The last person of rank to be recorded as living at Milne’s Court was Lady Isabella Douglas in 1861. The 1871 Census described it as  ‘a densely populated square… very dirty’.

Entrance to Milne’s Court, Lawnmarket, c1903. On the left of the picture above, taken at the entrance to Milne’s Court, is Blake and Co., a plumbers and gasfitters at no. 519 Lawnmarket and on the other side is J. Gilchrist, greengrocer at no. 515.

If we examine part of the Public Census for 1901, around the time the above photograph was taken, we discover how diverse the occupants were. Looking at 17 of the properties at no. 1 Milne’s Court, 14 have only one outside window while the other three have two.

The ages of the residents vary from 8 months to 72 years. There 22 males and 29 females. Looking at a few of the residents in more detail –

Marie Balie (22) and her sister Catherine (18) live together with no other family members and work at a cone factory.

Jane Williamson is a widow aged 67 living alone and she works as a hardware hawker.

George Mackay (34) lives with his wife Caroline (31) and children, Thomas (7), George (4), and Catherine (1). He is a furnace man.

Margaret McGabie (46) a widow lives with her daughter (19) and a boarder Annie Warrington (20). Margaret and Annie are rubber shoe makers and Mary is a machinist in the rubber industry.

William Tullis (56) is a house painter living with his wife Isabella (49). The members of their family are Robert (22), a plasterer, George (20), a vanman and Isabella (17) a painter’s machine girl, John (15), a message boy and Agnes (12 ), a scholar.

Andrew Jack (68), a self employed vermin exterminator lives with his wife Helen (64) and two boarders, James Tait (16), a message boy and James Logue (7), a scholar who was born in Lanark.

The state of the buildings continued to worsen and in 1960 the City Engineer declared the north-east part to be unsafe and issued a 21 day warning for its demolition.

The University of Edinburgh expressed an interest in acquiring the building leading to plans to stabilise it being drawn up and passed by the Council Planning Committee in only 10 days. Aided by donations from Harold Salvesen and Philip Henman, Milne’s Court was restored as student accommodation which opened in 1969 and remains as such today.

Read more articles in this ‘History of the house’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Melbourne Place
History of the house: Falcon Hall
History of the house: North British Hotel
History of the house: Cammo House

Are you interested in discovering the history of your home? The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library has a vast collection of material which can help you.

Craigmillar Steam Laundry

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition showcases a wonderful collection of photographs of The Craigmillar Steam Laundry.

Initially formed as the Edinburgh Steam Laundry Company, when a property was bought in West Craigmillar on West Saville Terrace, the laundry opened in July 1883 as the Craigmillar Steam Laundry.

Craigmillar Steam Laundry, Edinburgh – ironing and finishing department

By 1891 the laundry was handling over 30,000 articles of clothing a week. It was described as “the largest, best arranged, and most perfectly equipped establishment of its kind in Scotland”. The laundry used state of the art equipment including steam driven washing machines and hydro extractors which were a type of spin drier. In addition to cleaning, ironing, and finishing the clothes, the laundry dealt with a whole range of materials including carpets and curtains. All finished goods were dispatched in the company’s horse drawn vans. By the late nineteenth century, the laundry employed over 130 people.

Craigmillar Steam Laundry, Edinburgh – delivery cart

As the twentieth century progressed, the company began buying up other laundries, and the original Craigmillar site was redeveloped. In 1951 the company took over the Caledonian Laundry, and in 1958 opened a petrol station on the Craigmillar site, which was later followed by a car showroom in 1960.

By the early 1970s the company had 6 laundries around the Edinburgh area all using automatic coin operated machines.

Craigmillar Steam Laundry, Edinburgh

The West Saville Terrace property was sold in 1978, and the remaining buildings were let to their tenants as the company became a property letting agency. The company was then sold to Cala Homes in 1986.

View the full collection of images of this remarkable snapshot into past working lives on Capital Collections.

Stepping out exhibition from Museums and Galleries collections

Slip on your dancing shoes and head to Capital Collections where over a hundred years of footwear are explored in a new exhibition…

The Museum of Edinburgh curated exhibition, Stepping Out: Shoes from the collection of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh uses shoes from the City’s important costume collection to tell people’s stories. Nights on the dancefloor, days in the factory, serving the City and working for your country are all explored through twelve extraordinary pairs of shoes.

Pictures of these evocative shoes are now available to view in an online exhibition on Capital Collections. The shoes date from the 1870s to the 1980s, and include infants’ bootees, children’s fashionable boots, men’s and women’s glamorous evening styles and Women’s Land Army issue lace-ups.

Men’s platform shoes, Schuh, early 1980s

The earliest pair of shoes in the exhibition are a pair of glazed blue leather women’s slippers with silk rosettes, which date from the 1870s. Made in France, they would have been the height of indoor chic. Their use of natural materials and hand craftsmanship is contrasted by a pair of patent plastic knee high boots from the 1960s, which exemplify a move towards synthetic materials and high fashion styles. Their yellow and black colourway and stacked heels conjure up images of London girls dressed in Mary Quant mini skirts.

Girl’s plastic knee-high boots, 1960s

The Stepping out exhibition will appeal to those with an interest in fashion history, local Edinburgh history buffs, or anyone who’s ever had a favourite pair of shoes.

Unfortunately, the costume gallery at the Museum of Edinburgh is currently closed for essential maintenance work. Please keep an eye on www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk for information on its reopening and when you can view these fabulous footwear in person.

Edinburgh Festival, 1949

We’ve published some wonderful pictures of the early days of the festival on Capital Collections. This mini-exhibition is a set of black and white promotional images dated 1949, when the festival was still in its infancy.

In 1947, following the devastation of World War Two, the International Festival of Music and Drama in Edinburgh aimed to unite people through a shared experience of art and culture, to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”. The city staged a major international cultural event, showcasing first-rate performances of classical music, dance, opera and theatre.

Since this time, the original festival has grown and flourished and spawned and inspired other festivals held during August and throughout the year.

Seventy years later, Edinburgh continues to welcome the world to the greatest arts festival.

View the full set of Edinburgh Festival 1949 photographs on Capital Collections.

All aboard…. 100 years of Lothian Buses

Over the years we have probably all had our favourite buses. Possibly it was the double decker with the driver and conductor or “clippie”. Many a story has been told of being able to jump on… and off while the bus was still moving! Maybe you remember fondly the bus and route through Edinburgh you used to travel to work every morning, and back home every evening. Or the bus taking you into town on a Saturday night to go dancing…

This year 2019, marks the centenary of Lothian Buses. Originating in 1871 as the Edinburgh Street Tramways Company, it operated a horse-drawn tram line from Haymarket to Bernard Street in Leith, which was then a separate burgh from Edinburgh. Through several changes the Corporation of the City of Edinburgh introduced a motor bus service in July 1914. However, this service was short-lived, with the buses being requisitioned for wartime use, and services did not resume until after World War One.

Edinburgh & District Tramway Co. Horse Bus

The City Corporation took over Edinburgh and District Tramways on 1 July 1919, forming Edinburgh Corporation Tramways. The first post-war regular bus service began on 2 December 1919. The route ran between Ardmillan Terrace and Abbeyhill via Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile and the Castle.

Waverley to Comeley Bank omnibus at its terminus in East Fettes Avenue

From that one bus route, today over 700 buses cover over 70 routes across Edinburgh and the Lothians, carrying 120 million passengers annually.

See more fabulous pictures in a special exhibition on Capital Collections commemorating Lothian Buses centenary anniversary. Happy 100th Birthday Lothian Buses!

Corporation buses Waverley Bridge



Goal! Edinburgh women’s football heritage

With the Women’s World Cup underway in France, we thought we’d look at the heritage of women’s football in the city. We found some fabulous images of the Edinburgh Dynamos which have been added to Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive by The Living Memory Association.

The Edinburgh Dynamos played in the late 1940s and early 1950s and were revived again in the 1960s winning the Scottish Women’s Cup in 1972.

Edinburgh Dynamos Ladies Football Club Team c.1950

Edinburgh Dynamos Ladies Football team c.1950s, Living Memory Association

They were even effectively banned by Edinburgh when in 1946, councillors of the General Purposes Committee voted 8-4 against allowing them to play a match at Old Meadowbank. This was because the Scottish Football Association had decreed that “all grounds which allowed women’s football would be banned” and so the councillors feared allowing women to play could have a potential detrimental impact on Hearts or Hibs.

Edinburgh Dynamos Ladies Football Club Team In Away Strip, mid -1950s

Edinburgh Dynamos Ladies Football Club team in away strip, mid -1950’s, Living Memory Association

These days there are half a dozen or more women’s football teams in Edinburgh, with Hearts, Hibs, Hutchison Vale and Spartans all in the Scottish Women’s Premier Leagues, and Hibs securing the Scottish Cup for the 4th year in a row this season.

Edinburgh Dynamos Ladies Football Club Team, mid-1950s

Edinburgh Dynamos Ladies Football Club Team, mid-1950s, Living Memory Association

William Channing’s lost closes of Edinburgh

Central Library holds three bound volumes of William Channing’s ‘Sketches in Edinburgh‘ which give his artist’s impression of tenement life in the mid 19th century. His drawings are glimpses into the past down the narrow closes and alleyways of the city’s streets and Old Town. We see higgledy-piggledy houses and tenements towering skywards, laundry hanging from windows across the walkways and local characters talking in the streets.

Brodies Close, High Street

William Channing is a little-known artist today, although it’s thought he worked as a professional theatre scene painter. Some of his drawings give an insight into his drawing technique with guidelines still visible on the paper. Many views are duplicates with first the initial sketch followed by the finished watercolour drawing. Although it’s clear the images were sketched from life over 150 years ago, there is a freshness and contemporary feel to many of his drawings.

Henry Gray’s Close, Leith

Channing’s beautiful sketches are particularly valued for their representation of the architectural elements and details of buildings and closes now much changed or long since disappeared.

You can view all three volumes of the sketches on Capital Collections :
Wm. Channing’s Sketches in Edinburgh – volume 1
Wm. Channing’s Sketches in Edinburgh – volume 2
Wm. Channing’s Sketches in Edinburgh – volume 3.