History of the house: King’s Wark

In a new series, we investigate the city’s past city through the history of a ‘house’ (or property).

The spotlight falls first on the King’s Wark, a well-known watering hole that sits in a prominent position on Leith’s picturesque Shore. But what is the history of the site? And where does the name come from?

The Shore in Leith, c1884

Work started on the King’s Wark (or fortification) building in 1434 and was to be a residence, store-house and armoury for James I.

In 1477, James III granted an annuity of 12 Scottish merks from it to support a chaplain in the Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Restalrig.

During the English Invasions of 1544 and 1547 the building was practically destroyed. It was rebuilt by Queen Mary of Scotland in 1564 and leased to John Chisholm, the comptroller of the Royal Artillery recognising that the building held a strategic position on the approach to Leith.

From 1575 the building even served as a plague hospital for some years.

Around 1613, James VI (and 1st of Britain) granted possession to one of his royal household, Bernard Lindsay, the King’s Wark and the neighbouring land and buildings. He was instructed to keep four taverns on the site and granted the taxes from the wine sold to pay for a merchants’ exchange within the complex. Lindsay’s name lives on in the adjacent Bernard Street.

In 1649, the King’s Wark was taken into the possession of the Magistrates of Edinburgh and converted into a weigh-house. In 1690, the building was destroyed by fire and subsequently replaced by another using the same name.

Between 1799 and 1822 the building was occupied by Ramsay Williamson & Co, merchants for continental suppliers.

Rutherford & Co, a wholesale and retail wine and spirit merchants owned and occupied the building from around 1855. Rutherfords owned many other licenced premises in Edinburgh. They can be traced at the King’s Wark for almost a century, first in the Valuation Rolls from 1855 to 1900 and then in the Post Office Directories from 1911 to 1950.

‘Old Corner’, the Shore, Leith, 1958

For a time, two doors along, at no. 40, was R&D Slimon, an Ironmongers and Ships Chandlers, illustrating the area’s maritime heritage.

The Post Office Directory of 1959 shows that the King’s Wark had been taken over by E Cranston, another Wine and Spirit Merchant, who also had other premises in the City.

Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your home? Edinburgh Libraries has many online resources and physical collections to help you!

Get in touch via informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk if you want to find out how to get started.


Stockbridge Library celebrates LGBT History Month

Stockbridge Library is delighted to be hosting Edinburgh City Museum’s Proud City exhibition. This celebrates LGBTQIA+ lives in Edinburgh. It incorporates material from the 2006 exhibition Rainbow City: stories from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Edinburgh which opened at the City Art Centre.

The current exhibition revisits these collections, plus some new material has been added. Museums working with LGBT Health and Wellbeing chose objects for the new display, and some of the participants gave interviews for a film about their lives in Edinburgh in 2016.

Many thanks to Diana Morton, Outreach and Access Manager and her colleages from the City Art Centre. The exhibition runs through LGBT History Month until the end of March where Stockbridge Library also have a great selection of books on display too.



The Edinburgh Town Guard

Our colleagues in Museums have published a fantastic exhibition on Capital Collections about The Edinburgh Town Guard.

The Town Guard was founded in the late 17th century to keep the peace within the Old Town, and was disbanded in 1817 when the modern police force took over. The Guard was a familiar part of life in the city, and although poets and authors like Robert Fergusson and Sir Walter Scott were far from complimentary, they were seen as an effective way of deterring petty criminals in the wynds and closes of the Royal Mile.

A Member of the Edinburgh Old Town Guard by William Home Lizars, 1800

The Museum of Edinburgh has a collection of items relating to the Town Guard which includes a set of 28 muskets. Curators at the museum have carried out research on the muskets with weapons experts, and by looking at other items in the museums and libraries’ collections, have been able to piece together the story of the Town Guard during the 1700s, a time when Edinburgh saw a lot of unrest with riots and rebellions.

Find out more about Edinburgh in the 18th century at the Museum of Edinburgh and People’s Story Museum, where, if you time it right, you may even see the Edinburgh City Guard, a mid-18th century living history group, bringing the red-coated civic defence force to life!


Five reasons to use Your Edinburgh

Your Edinburgh (www.youredinburgh.info) is Edinburgh Libraries’ community information directory. It’s a very handy website to have at your fingertips. Here’s why:

1 Easy search by keyword or category

2 Or search via geographic area of Edinburgh or postcode to find out what’s happening in your area

3 Information is updated and reliable. If information is not updated regularly, it is removed.

4 You’ll find entries for partnership libraries from the Edinburgh Library and Information Services Agency (ELISA) and highlighted Online Collections

5 Also, unique to Your Edinburgh, is the complete Get Up and Go programme activities online.


Five reasons to join Your Edinburgh

Your Edinburgh (www.youredinburgh.info) is Edinburgh Libraries’ online community information directory where you could advertise your community group, club or activity.

1 It’s free!

2 It’s quick and easy to add a listing

3 You can login and make changes to your listing at any time

4 A listing could increase your group’s membership or widen your reach

5 People can find your listing by keyword, category, postcode or geographic area (e.g. Craigmillar, Morningside)

Contact youredinburgh@edinburgh.gov.uk if you’ve any queries about adding an entry to Your Edinburgh.


Calling concert programmes!

The Music Library has an enviable collection of programmes and ephemera from music festivals, competitions and concerts, providing a snapshot of Edinburgh’s rich concert going and music making, from the early 1800s to the very recent past. Many of our concert programmes are available to view on Capital Collections.

Sir Harry Lauder headlines the Grand Scottish Concert on 23 February 1940.

We collect programmes, handbills and flyers to record as much of Edinburgh’s rich musical life as we can. We are unable to collect our programmes digitally, so we ask you, each time your group performs during the year, to deposit a programme and some handbills with the Music Library for our collection.

Concert programmes can provide a rich source of historical information on musical taste and the wealth of musical participation by both professional and amateur groups. Contribute to our archive and 50 years from now your programmes could be a valuable resource for researchers!

A 2001 programme for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

If you are involved in more than one choir or orchestra, please pass on the word that we wish to find a home for their programmes, and, because we have gaps in our collection, we would love to be offered back copies of your groups’ programmes. Or, if you have a growing archive, which is perhaps growing too large for your premises, we would happily consider housing it within our collection.

For more information on donating material, email central.music.library@edinburgh.gov.uk, phone 0131 242 8050 or drop into the Music Library.


Elsie Maud Inglis, (1864–1917)

26 November 2017 marks the 100th Anniversary of the death of one of Scotland’s most famous doctors and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, Elsie Inglis.

Dr Elsie Inglis

Elsie Maud Inglis was born in India on 16 August 1864 where her father was employed in the Indian Civil Service. When he retired they returned to their former home where Elsie studied in the Edinburgh School of Medicine. After qualifying she worked in London returning to Edinburgh in 1894 where she established a medical practice with a fellow female physician. In 1904, she set up a small maternity hospital in the High Street staffed entirely by women.

For many years Inglis had been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Suffrage Federation.

When war broke out in August 1914, the people of Britain responded. Men volunteered for the army and others set about establishing relief units to help the army or provide assistance to civilians and refugees. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were one of those – yet they were also very different, because they were set up with two specific aims: to help the war effort by providing medical assistance, and to promote the cause of women’s rights and by their involvement in the war, help win those rights.

Dr Elsie Inglis – Serbia

She set up a field hospital in Serbia, where she was captured by Austrian forces in 1915, but released after the intervention of the US. On returning to the UK she raised funds for a hospital for Serbian forces in Russia and went there in 1916, but she became ill and died of cancer on her return to Britain in 1917.

Dr Elsie Inglis and “Matie”

In one of these Serbia units was nursing orderly Ethel Moir, who served 2 tours of duty as part of the SWH. As noted in one of 3 volumes of diaries and photographs in our collections and written a few months after her death, we can see how proud and honored she was to serve “The Chief” :

“Dr Elsie Inglis and some of us”

“A red-letter day in the history of the S.W.H. – & especially in the history of “The Elsie Inglis Unit”. How proud we were of our dear old Chief, as the King told us of his admiration for her, oh, to have her with us now! We carry her name forever with us & may we carry it nobly & may we work as she would have us work & do, may “The Elsie Inglis Unit”, prove itself worthy of the noble name it bears”.

To read more about Ethel Moir and her time serving in the Scottish Women’s Hospital, catch up with our earlier posts:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our Search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)