The story of Edinburgh Libraries. Part 2 of 3

In 1922 Dr Ernest Savage took over as principal librarian and transformed the service in almost every aspect.  He introduced direct access to the books for the public (something previously forbidden). The Library of Congress Classification system was introduced and the specialist departments of Music and Fine Art were established.

Other branches continued to appear across the city with Leith opening in 1932, Colinton in 1934 and Corstorphine 1936.

Leith Library

Leith Library, 1932

Central Library, Reference Department

Central Library, Reference Department, 1932

Libraries took to the roads with the introduction of the first mobile service in Scotland in 1949 serving areas without permanent library buildings.

The reach of the library also increased with the introduction of a housebound service in 1964 through cooperation with WRVS volunteers. A library link service was launched in 1992 providing transport to and from the library for users who, due to physical constraints, would be otherwise unable to visit.

Mobile library at Clermiston_ Morris 5 tonner

Mobile library at Clermiston circa 1955

Housebound readers service inauguration

Housebound readers service inauguration, 1964

Over the years the library service has maintained an archive of its own history and development. Numerous photographs depict the staff at work and also off duty. Plans, drawings and staff registers all help paint a vivid image of the libraries’ history.

Member of staff at the information desk in Central Library

At the information desk in Central Library, 1934

Members of staff pose for a photograph at Central Library's annual staff dance

Central Library Staff Dance, 1936

At work in Edinburgh Public Libraries' Bindery Department

At work in the Bindery, 1955

Find out how much you know about Edinburgh Libraries with this quick, fun quiz

masthead quiz

How we’re rescuing our photograph collection with a hairdryer

IMG_4429Edinburgh Libraries is home to a collection of around 100 000 photographs.

We want these pictures to be seen by as many people as possible, so back in 2007 we started digitising photos and uploading them to the Capital Collections website.

But would you believe the everyday hairdryer has become an integral part of the process? Here’s how.

We discovered that many of the images had been mounted using sticky tape and in some cases the glue was starting to mark the image.

Around 80% of the collection was affected, many more than we could ever afford to have conserved by a professional.  Fortunately the glue had not yet seeped through to the image on most of the items but we needed to take action quickly.

Working with EDFAS (Edinburgh Decorative Fine Art Society) we recruited a dedicated team of volunteers who have been using a relatively low-tech tool to help remove the glue and help save the images. That tool being a hairdryer.

IMG_4424

Edinburgh Libraries’ Janette Gollan explains the process: “We are working on prints that belong to the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central LIbrary. The prints haven’t been mounted very well  in the past so we take off the tape and remove the glue. The  hairdryers are used to soften the glue first then we can rub off the residue.   

The vastness of the collection means it’s a task we’d never be able to complete ourselves so the volunteers have been very valuable to us. It’s allowing us to preserve these prints for posterity and digitise them for public access.”

Volunteer Trina adds: “Some photos had quite a bit of residue on them so it could take a while. It’s a fairly intricate process as well and some days you could spend all morning on one photograph.”

So far they’ve got through about 4000 prints, helping save our collection for future generations and in the process of doing that they get a sneak peek at some wonderful shots of Edinburgh’s past.

“Some that stuck in my mind were the ones of Leith during blitz” Trina says. “None of us had realised just how badly Leith had been bombed. It’s photos like this that remind you of the importance in preserving  these moments of history for future generations”

Bomb damage on Portland Place

Bomb damage on Portland Place

Hilary agrees that the history they uncover to be very engaging: “ We’ve had great fun looking on websites locating photographs and finding out about places we didn’t know about.”

“One of the things I’ve just discovered is Sciennes Hill House where the historical meeting between Robert Burns and Walter Scott took place.  It was a house in the country with a long drive and now you can’t see the front of it unless you peer over a wall as it’s been built around so much. It’s lovely discovering things like that.”

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At the moment the hairdryers have been put to one side and the group are working on mounting photographs and adding relevant information to them.

When asked about the size of the collection, Irene laughs, joking that maybe Janette’s been keeping that from them.  “I’ve a feeling there’s some way to go yet” she says.

Once the photographs have been cleaned up and remounted they make their way to our photographer for digitisation. Images can then be viewed at capitalcollections.org.uk

Bertram Ltd. of Sciennes

Bertram Limited, Sciennes was founded in 1821 in Edinburgh and soon developed into a major manufacturer of papermaking machinery.

Brothers George and William Bertram set up a workshop near Sciennes with a few machines and a small forge, later moving to new, larger premises around 1859 to a site which it was to occupy for over a century.

St Katherine's Works

Bertrams was a very family orientated company where you’d find several members of the same family working alongside each other. They produced The Bertrams Family Magazine where in each issue, were published photos and articles about the company’s many social activities and sports teams.

Bertram Family Magazine

Our collection has been made possible thanks to Bill Hall who followed his father and uncle into the Bertrams workplace and who shared with us many of his own personal photographs taken throughout his family’s time there.

Staff on roof of Bertrams

Bill’s father, Joe (top row centre) and Uncle Willie (top row right) with colleagues on Bertrams roof.

See the full Bertrams exhibition online at Capital Collections.

Forth Rail Bridge

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Private Colin Rice, an Edinburgh soldier

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

It's a long way to Tipperary

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

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

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

Postcard to Miss J Rice from WW1 frontline

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

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

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

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

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

Note of thanks from King George V

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

How archives can help YOU

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

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

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

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

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

Portobello Baths

 

 

The story of Robert Burns in Edinburgh

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

Robert Burns

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