History of the house: Pear Tree House

A building known as Pear Tree House is situated at the western end of West Nicolson Street in Edinburgh. It has been there since 1749 and this is its story.

West Nicolson Street – south-west corner, 1912
by J. C. McKenzie

In the 1700s the population of the City was growing rapidly and in many areas had become unhealthy. By 1755 a census carried out by 802 Scottish Parishes gave a total of 57,195 people. This figure was analysed by Alexander Webster (1707-1784), a clergyman from Edinburgh, and was accepted as being reliable. It was to be the only count until the official census in 1801 with a total of 81,865 (+43%).

As a result of the growth by the mid 1700s, people were beginning to spread out beyond the old city Flodden Wall boundary and West Nicolson Street came into being.

Around 1746, a wealthy merchant named William Reid feud some land from Lady Nicolson and by 1749 had built a house with views over the Meadows. Not much is known about Mr Reid and in 1756, the house was sold to James Fergusson (Lord Kilkerran).

Sir James Fergusson, Lord Kilkerran (1688-1759) was the son of Baronet Sir John Fergusson whom he succeeded in 1734. He studied law and became an advocate in 1711.  He was MP for Sutherland from 1734 to 1735 when he became Lord of Session and adopted the title, Lord Kilkerran. In April 1749 he was made Lord of Justiciary, a post which he held until his death in1759.

The house continued to be occupied by his widow, Lady Jean Maitland until her death in 1766 when the title transferred to her son, Sir Adam Fergusson.

James Boswell mentions several visits to the house in his travel journals.

In 1770, ownership changed again.

Rev. Thomas Blacklock, D.D.
This is a 19th century engraving of an 18th century painting.

From 1770 to 1791 the two upper floors were occupied by Thomas Blacklock, the Blind Poet, who with his wife entertained many famous people including Robert Burns.

Burns was a frequent visitor to Blacklock partly because he came to see Agnes Maclehose, his inspiration for Ae Fond Kiss and the “Clarinda” of many love letters, who lived nearby.

His poems are in the main forgotten but there is a tale that he saved the life of Robert Burns. Burns had been due to sail to the West Indies but was persuaded by Blacklock to stay in Edinburgh to publish his poems instead. The ship that Burns would have sailed on was lost at sea.

Thomas died in 1791 and his wife relocated to nearby Chapel Street.

There is a gap in the ownership of 38 West Nicolson Street (Pear Tree House) until 1823 when the Usher Family took possession.

The Ushers have a long history which can be traced back to to the time of William the Conqueror, however, this story focuses on their involvement with the house.

John Usher had a large family and in 1782, Andrew, the third youngest of 12 children was born at Toftfield in the Borders. This Andrew was the founder of the world famous distillery company Andrew Usher & Co. in 1813 and the Usher Brewery. Our story continues with the distillery.

In 1823, the headquarters of the distillery, Andrew Usher & Co, moved to West Nicolson Street and occupied the house. There is a tale which suggests that the Pear Tree name originates here when Andrew planted some pear trees.

In 1840, a commercial agreement with the Glenlivet Whisky Distillery was responsible for a huge expansion of the company.

Andrew had 12 children and in 1831 he put his two eldest sons, James and Thomas, in charge of the brewery, Thomas Usher and Co. 17 years later, in 1848, he made his two youngest sons, Andrew and John, partners in the distillery. When Andrew Usher (senior) died in 1855, his son Andrew took control.

Andrew (junior), was a very wealthy man who worried about how to use this money. He decided that the city should have a magnificent arts centre for the benefit of the population and donated the funds to allow the Town Council to build what we know as the Usher Hall.

View of Usher Hall from Lothian Road, 1914
by Francis Caird Inglis

The Ushers continued to occupy Pear Tree House until 1919 when the distillery was sold to Scottish Malt Distillers and merged with a DCL subsidiary, J&G Stewart Ltd, and the premises, Pear Tree House and other buildings continued to be used for storage or other commercial activities.

Since then, the house has been at various times a pub and public events venue with the Blind Poet pub, no more, nearby.

The Pear Tree is today well-known in Edinburgh, a popular pub with a large beer garden.

Further information on the house in the period since the 1920s has been difficult to find. If any of our readers can help, please add a message in the comments.

Read other 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: North British Hotel
History of the house: Cammo House
History of the house: Newhailes
History of the house: Gladstone’s Land
History of the house: 4 Balcarres Street

Sources used:
A brief history of the house of Usher
ScotlandsPeople Valuation Rolls
Scottish Post Office Directories
The Godfather of Blending, article by Gavin D. Smith in Whisky magazine
The Pear Tree website – a history

Tumbledown Terrace – Ferniehill, Gilmerton

In early November 2000, a resident living in Ferniehill Terrace noticed a crack had appeared in her ceiling. By the next day, more hairline cracks had appeared. Council workers were notified and started to monitor the situation. By the following week, as property movement continued to be detected in the street, it was decided that residents needed to be moved out for their safety. Later in the month, there was a significant ground movement which affected more homes.

Subsided houses, walls and fences, Ferniehill Terrace, 2000 by Ann Sinclair via www.capitalcollections.org.uk

It was known that the houses had been built on the site of former limestone mines. The mines had been worked into the 1940s and records showed that there had been a cast limestone quarry near the houses to depths of between 15m and 20m.

During November and December 2000, 33 houses had to be demolished at Ferniehill and other nearby areas built on top of limestone mines were identified as being at similar risk of subsidence.

In 2022, Robert Carroll at Gilmerton Library undertook a local history project to record residents’ memories of the incident and how it affected local people. We’re grateful to Ann Sinclair who got in touch to share photos and her recollections of the time. In a new exhibition on Capital Collections, you can see her photos, official documents that were distributed to residents and hear her memories of the time in a specially recorded interview.

Hermitage of Braid

If you’re looking for a bit of history and geology together with beauty, then look no further than the Hermitage of Braid, the focus of our latest online exhibition on Capital Collections.

Hermitage of Braid by Kevin MacLean

Situated in the south of the city, here you will find Hermitage House, built in 1785 together with its Doocot which once contained nearly 2000 sandstone nest boxes. While further along beside the disused Blackford Quarry, you will come across Agassiz’s Rock, a site of Special Scientific Interest.

Hermitage House

Why not have a look at the exhibition on Capital Collections, it might make you want to visit this special greenspace for yourself!

Felix Yaniewicz and the first Edinburgh music festival

Felix Yaniewicz (1762-1848) was a celebrated violin virtuoso and composer who settled in Britain and co-founded the first Edinburgh music festival in 1815. 

Painted portrait of Felix Yaniewicz alongside his signature

He was born in Vilnius, and rose to prominence as a musician in the Polish Royal Chapel. His career took him to Vienna, Italy, and Paris before he fled the French Revolution and came to Britain. After spells in London and Liverpool, and touring concerts up and down the country in fashionable cities such as Bath, he made his home in Edinburgh. 

The Friends of Felix Yaniewicz have kindly shared the story of his life and times in Edinburgh in a new story on Our Town Stories. Read the story and find out about his role in Edinburgh’s first music festival!

Built on baskets – selling in the streets

When you go out to get your weekly shop, what do you do? Perhaps you shop at the local supermarket or have it delivered to your doorstep. It would have been a different experience in early nineteenth century Edinburgh where hawkers and weekly markets remained an important source of food for many residents. Their presence recorded in both songs, stories and images created in their wake forming a part of Edinburgh’s streets-life. The lives and work of these women are crucial to the daily routines of Edinburgh as described in a new story for Our Town Stories.

One such artist whose work frequently featured such characters was the London artist Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbreck. While not achieving wide fame, Swarbeck achieved moderate success with his watercolours and lithographic prints, exhibiting in the art societies and galleries of Norfolk, Liverpool and eight times at the National Academy and 14 times at the British Institution. His success lay in his architectural artwork, with the Morning Advertiser in 1856 describing that he “has much talent” in this particular genre. Yet his most enduring work was arguably his earlier collection of 26 lithographs of Edinburgh originally published at £4 4s in 1839, around £250 in today’s money. 

Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket by Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbreck

Despite Swarbeck’s focus on architecture, hawkers, fishwives and figures such as Highland soldiers abound in his works, depicted walking the streets of Edinburgh. With interest in romantic prints and images of Scotland fed by Queen Victoria’s love of the country and her almost annual trips, the presence of these figures acted as a clear indication of which city was being represented. The Newhaven fishwives known for their distinctive dress and their creel, ubiquitous and specific to Scotland and parts of northern Ireland, visually ground the images in Scotland.

The High Street, Edinburgh by Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbreck

Yet these works were exactly that, a romantic ideal. The hawkers with rosy cheeks and full lace bonnets and fishwives in their gala best were not a wholly accurate picture. They present a tidy, picturesque image of these workers glossing over the harder aspects of their labour. Women such as those recorded in the Edinburgh List of Poor Relief, namely Elizabeth Weatherley at 40, widowed with 5 children, hawked fruit to support her family. Or Margaret Davie who was also widowed at 50 with ill health and bad legs still hawked her wares in the street. These were the real women who fed Edinburgh. While Swarbreck’s work shows in many ways how crucial sellers were to Edinburgh’s streets, it does so very firmly through rose-coloured glasses.

We’re grateful to Freya Purcell who has kindly contributed this blog post and the brilliant Built on baskets – selling in the streets story on Our Town Stories.

Freya Purcell is a historian of design interested in researching social history through material culture. She is currently a researcher in residence for the Archival Network Women Make Cities which looks to examine how women worked to shape urban spaces in Scotland.

John Groat family album on Edinburgh Collected

One of the great features of Edinburgh Collected is being able to create online scrapbooks. This is the opportunity to gather together images you have found or put on the website into one place to tell a story.

One of our latest contributions is from our friends at the Living Memory Association who have collated lots of lovely photographs to tell the story of John Groat (1924-2018) and his family.

John’s first job at 14 was as a “hammer boy” at Brown Brothers’ Engineering Works near Rosebank earning 8 shillings.

John Groat aged 3 years

In 1946 John joined the RAF, where he was posted to Egypt remaining there until 1950.

After leaving the RAF John joined the Nursing College in Castle Street where he met his future wife.

John continued his career in Edinburgh as a District Nurse, where he remembered that one of his patients used to keep a pony in the bathroom!

Take a look at the full John Groat scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected and if you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about John’s life and looking at some of his family photos, why not gather some of your own together and create your own scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected?

Recording the changing cityscape on Edinburgh Collected

One of the main purposes of our website Edinburgh Collected is to not only to help build our digital collections, but to give people the opportunity to add their own images and memories to the site.

People put on pictures of their ancestors, school and childhood photos, others put on images of the ever-changing surroundings of their own neighbourhood.

One of our members of staff has been out and about and has taken some great photos of the demolition of the former Royal Bank of Scotland building in Dundas Street. You can see them all in a new scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected.

Demolition of former Royal Bank of Scotland building -2022

This building built in the Brutalist architectural style in 1968, had lain unoccupied since 2018 and is now in the process of demolition as part of a new development.

As many of you know, Edinburgh is a constantly changing city and at any given time there are what seems like dozens of building projects going on. So – can you help us record the changes in your area on Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive? Have a look around at any changing shops, buildings and street scenes and help us capture these views before they are lost forever.

Breaking the News photography competition – the prize winners!

We’re delighted to announce the winners of the Breaking the News photography competition which invited people to submit photographs that told a story from their area or community.

We had dozens of fantastic entries and you can see them all in our special Breaking the News photography competition scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected.

Our three judges had a difficult decision but after careful deliberation have awarded the following three newsworthy entries as the winners.

1st prize – Fire on Calton Hill by soggybiscuit

Smoke rising from the fire on Calton Hill by soggybiscuit

2nd prize – Discoveries in Leith during tram works by bartles

Taken on Constitution Street, the picture shows an archaeologist working to exhume a skeleton during tram works by Bartek Les.

3rd prize – Swing Dancers At Pavillion Cafe, The Meadows by MartinaMac

Edinbop Swing dancers get together at The Pavilion Cafe for the first outside swing dance event since the Covid pandemic, by MartinaMac.

Congratulations to our winners and many thanks to everyone who entered the competition!

This competition was run as 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.

The royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh, 1822: making a city fit for a King

Today we hand over to Vicky, one of our colleagues from Museums & Galleries to tell us about a fantastic new story she’s contributed to Our Town Stories.

As a History Curator at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, I’ve been working for some months now on ways to mark the bicentenary of the royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. As part of the team looking after 13 venues and monuments across Edinburgh, I became intrigued by the way the city was altered in various places to make it ready for the King. I read that roads were changed to make processions easier and to enable good views of the King, while whole buildings were moved or even destroyed. When Clare at Libraries mentioned that there were images in the library collections of the weigh house on the West Bow that was demolished just before the royal visit, I knew we were onto something. Our Town Stories is the perfect way to show historic events and objects across the city, letting viewers browse different locations, events and objects. An story exploring how Edinburgh was made ready for the King was a perfect fit.

View of the grand procession to the castle, when his majesty had ascended the Half Moon Battery; 22nd August 1822, by William Home Lizars

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh care for lots of objects that show Edinburgh being altered for the Royal Visit. These include items of tartan clothing worn in 1822 to fulfil Sir Walter Scott’s instructions to Edinburgh’s inhabitants on the way they should dress for the King. The brightly coloured diced woollen trews supposedly worn by a seven foot tall Highlander would certainly have captured the King’s attention!

Tartan trews supposedly worn by a Highlander during the King’s visit

In addition to people wearing new or modified dress for the visit, they were also instructed to alter their homes by hanging lamps on their facades, and attaching candle holders between the stones, illuminating a city that was also alive with bonfires and fireworks to celebrate the visit.

A painting from the City Art Centre collection shows people crowding Leith docks to catch a glimpse of the King on board his ship, while a theatre bill for the play ‘Rob Roy Macgregor’ highlights one of the many entertainments laid on by Edinburgh to keep the King amused and provide opportunities for the public to see him.

You can see these and other objects and find out more about how Edinburgh changed its appearance in readiness for the first visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch in nearly 200 years on Our Town Stories – The royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh, 1822: making a city fit for a King.

Celebrating 75 years of the Edinburgh Festivals with a temporary exhibition of archival film footage

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International and Fringe Festivals this year, we’re announcing a very exciting new exhibition on Capital Collections of archive festival film footage. The archive footage belongs to the BBC and is available to view on Capital Collections for a limited time only.

Image taken from archival film footage, reproduced by permission of BBC

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 online exhibition of short film clips will be available to view until the end of August 2022 on Capital Collections. In true Festival spirit, catch it while you can!

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.

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in art

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.

Statue of George IV, George Street
by Andrew J L Ansell www.capitalcollections.org.uk

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.

The landing of King George IV at Leith, 15th August 1822 by W. H. Lizars, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

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!

George IV in kilt caricature,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

King George IV in the Castle of Edinburgh, 22 August 1822 by James Skene, www.capitalcollections.org.uk

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.

Available from the Art and Design Library is a publication by Gerald Finley studying Turner’s intentions for ‘the Royal Progress’ entitled Turner and George the Fourth in Edinburgh, 1822.

Turner and George the Fourth in Edinburgh, 1822 by Gerald Finley

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.

Famous faces of the Edinburgh Festival

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?

The Underbelly, Cowgate 2013

And what do a parody about Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and one of Scotland’s best known comedians have in common?

You’ll find all the answers and more by reading the Famous Faces of the Edinburgh Festival on Our Town Stories.

This project 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.

The life and times of Sir Walter Scott

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.

Sir Walter Scott in his study (Castle Street, Edinburgh), by John Watson Gordon, 1830

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.

James Good Tunny – 1850s photographs of Edinburgh

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.

The Grange Loan by James Good Tunny, 1854

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.

Why not explore these wonderful images by visiting the exhibition on Capital Collections?

The Edinburgh Women’s Mural goes on tour!

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. 

The itinerary is as follows:
Wester Hailes Library: 4-16 July
Blackhall Library: 18 – 30 July
Stockbridge Library: 1 – 13 August 
Oxgangs Library: 15 – 27 August 
Craigmillar Library: 29 August – 11 September 

Then it’s back to Central Library in mid-September where we hope to run a short series of school events. 

Watch this space for updates!

Breaking the News at Central Library

Read all about it! Currently underway at the British Library is the Breaking the News exhibition.

Photo of new exhibition welcome panel in the Mezzanine area of Central Library

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. 

Photo of glass display case containing newspaper exhibition material

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.

Examples of local news publications included in the display

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.

Display of festival material in Central Lending Library cabinets, until 29 August 2022.

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.)

Pop into Central Library during August to have a look!

Breaking the News festival display in the front hall, until 29 August 2022.

Breaking news! Giraffe about Town!

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.

Skittles at Wester Hailes Library

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.

Richie at Craigmillar Library

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.

Gertie Gigi at Sighthill Library
Edi B at Balgreen Library

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.

Edinburgh shops remembered

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.

Ground Floor sales department, Grays of George Street

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…?

St Cuthbert’s horse-drawn van -1918

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!

Explore Edinburgh shops remembered on Our Town Stories and see how many you recall.

History of the house: 4 Balcarres Street

In the late 18th 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.

Balcarres Street map courtesy the National Library of Scotland.

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.

4 Balcarres Street, May 2022 by Jinty G via www.edinburghcollected.org

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.

The National Library of Scotland has Edinburgh and the whole of Scotland covered with their brilliant digital map resource.

Read other 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: North British Hotel
History of the house: Cammo House
History of the house: Newhailes
History of the house: Gladstone’s Land

Edinburgh Women’s Mural online

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?

Stencilled portraits from the Edinburgh Women’s Mural

Well, you can find a selections of the pioneer’s portraits in a new mini-exhibition on Capital Collections and in a new story on Our Town Stories!