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

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!

Edinburgh Women’s Mural

During Women’s History Month in March this year, Central Library began work on creating a public mural celebrating Edinburgh’s trailblazing women, past and present. This was inspired by another project entitled ‘Work in Progress’ by the artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake which has been running in the USA since 2016.

We had a fantastic response from the local community, and we’d like to say a big thank you to everybody that contributed, whether you provided nominations for our list of unsung heroines, or helped spread the word, or attended one of our stencil workshops. Thanks also go to Creative Scotland, who awarded us funding for the project, and to local artist Madeleine Wood and graphic designer Greg Stedman.

The Edinburgh Women’s Mural is now finished and ready to display, at Central Library! See below for a sneak peek of one of the eight panels. How many people can you recognise?

Edinburgh Women’s Mural – detail

Please come in to visit us and have a look at the full mural. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback, and if any portrait on the mural inspires you to learn more about a particular individual or subject, staff will be on hand to signpost you to relevant books and other resources from our collections. There will also be a “who’s who” to help you identify each of the women depicted, and a supporting display of interesting material about the women of Edinburgh. 

Check out this short video about how we made the stencilled portraits:

As you will see, one of the women featured prominently on the full mural is the Rector of Edinburgh University, Debora Kayembe. She kindly took the time to speak to us about her inspiring life and varied career. Watch her video here: 

We look forward to seeing you at Central Library, and if you are interested in attending one of our upcoming mural-themed free talks and events, please watch this space, or keep an eye on social media channels! 

The Edinburgh Women’s Mural is on display at Central Library from 23 May to 2 July 2022.

The 200th anniversary of the Union Canal

This year marks 200 years since the opening of the Union Canal, linking a waterway from Edinburgh to Glasgow. As printed in The Caledonian Mercury dated, Monday 6 May 1822, “On Saturday the first boat, since the junction, arrived at Port Hamilton, with flag stones from Denny….”

As well as transporting goods back and forth, a passenger service between the two cities operated using fast boats called Swifts carrying passengers on a six and a half hour journey averaging nine miles per hour.

View of Port Hamilton – c1920

However, the introduction of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Railway only twenty years later meant the once busy passenger service was effectively finished.

The decline in commercial use was slower but eventually led to the Canal’s closure in the 1960s.

A new millennium saw the Union Canal revitalised by funding which financed the closed section at Wester Hailes to be dug out, new bridges and walkways and the route reopened.

Help us celebrate by viewing a brief history of the Union Canal and the many industries that flourished on its banks by visiting Our Town Stories where you’ll also find many fantastic historical images.

F M Crystal’s Union Canal

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Union Canal.

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections features some wonderful images taken in the early 1920s by Francis M Crystal, who although not a professional photographer (he was a doctor) captured many images of the canal and surroundings. We know that he lived for many years in Gilmore Place, so this area would have been very familiar to him.

Union Canal looking west to Viewforth Bridge with North British Rubber Works c 1920

F. M. Chrystal has captured the atmosphere and every day activity of life around the Canal. By the time the photographs were taken, the Union Canal had ceased to be the working canal it once was, although many factories and breweries were still located in the nearby areas of Fountainbridge and Slateford. Buildings and houses surrounding the Canal had fallen into disrepair and were starting to be demolished to make way for new streets.

Some of the images show the leisure side to the canal, where pleasure boat companies were starting to offer boat trips and rowing boat hire.

Take a trip back 100 years and see how life along the Union Canal has changed in the F. M. Chrystal’s Union Canal exhibition.

Most remarkable views of Edinburgh

A new exhibition on Capital Collections showcases the “most remarkable buildings of the city of Edinburgh”. The images are taken from a volume credited to the Honorable J. Elphinstone and dated around 1740.

Many of these highlighted buildings endure as iconic landmarks today, whilst others have since disappeared.

A view of St. Roques, image from Capital Collections

One lost to time, and already a ruin in the 1700s, was St Roque’s Chapel which stood close to Blackford Hill. It was dedicated to a saint associated with the prevention and cure of plague. Many victims of the disease visited the chapel hoping for divine assistance.

Another church still stands but has moved from its original location. In the Elphinstone print, Trinity College Church is located in grounds close to where Waverley Station is now. It was dismantled to make way for the station and after a delay, rebuilt on Chalmers Close, and known today as Trinity Apse.

A perspective view of the Trinity College Church with the adjoining buildings, image from Capital Collections

Elphinstone’s authorship of some of these images is uncertain. Some of the images appear to be of a slightly different artistic style. One image in particular raises questions. “A view of the new-bridge of Edinburgh” depicts the original stone-arched North Bridge. However construction on this first North Bridge began in 1765, many years after the dating of this volume and also after the death of John Elphinstone. You can read more about the puzzling provenance of these images by going to the exhibition on Capital Collections.

A view of the new-bridge of Edinburgh, image from Capital Collections

Regardless of the doubt over who created all of these images, they remain an interesting and valuable record of Edinburgh’s architecture and cityscape during the 1700s.

View the exhibition of the most remarkable buildings of the city of Edinburgh on Capital Collections.

What would make it onto a shortlist of the city’s “most remarkable buildings” today? Perhaps the Scottish Parliament building, or Dynamic Earth, or Fountainbridge Library?

Writers of Edinburgh

Our latest story on Our Town Stories highlights authors who have helped put Edinburgh on the literary map through their own connections to the city or because the city plays a central role in their stories.

We feature Jenni Fagan, Quintin Jardine, Doug Johnstone, Alanna Knight, Alexander McCall Smith, Ambrose Parry, Aileen Paterson, Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Sara Sheridan, Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh. 

The changing face of the city is captured in its various guises from the dark Victorian streets of Inspector Jeremy Faro to the genteel private school of Miss Jean Brodie to the stark realities of Renton’s 1980s Edinburgh.

Advocates Close by Alexander Adam Inglis, c1890

So, if you’d like to know a wee bit more about the people who created these books and characters closely connected with the city, and perhaps discover some reading gems you’re not so familiar with, take a look at Writers of Edinburgh on Our Town Stories.

The story is part of a wider project with the Living Knowledge Network Libraries for Breaking the News. Look out for other activities, exhibitions and events happening across our Libraries soon.

Public mural project to celebrate women of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Libraries are celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with a public mural project!

You’ll have noticed how few public monuments to women there are in Edinburgh, despite the tireless efforts of local groups such as the Elsie Inglis Campaign. Yet there are literally hundreds of notable women, past and present, whose contributions to our shared history and our city deserve greater recognition. At Central Library, we’ve decided to redress the balance by creating out own public monument to Edinburgh’s female pioneers and trailblazers. We put out a call to local women’s groups, charities, and organisations such as the National Library of Scotland, and asked for nominations for our mural. We asked local academics and campaigners to help us uncover the lives and stories of many of Edinburgh’s unsung heroines, and we did some digging into the Library’s own resources.

Particularly useful was a book by local author and activist Sara Sheridan, ‘Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland’ (2021) which describes an alternative cultural landscape, where streets, buildings, monuments and landmarks are all dedicated to women. Sara’s immense amount of research added many names to our list.

Borrow Where are the Women? via Libby

Sara kindly took the time to speak to us about a few of her favourite figures from Edinburgh’s history. Watch the video (subtitles available) here:

The mural project – what is it?

We have taken inspiration from a wonderful project which has been running in the USA since 2016. “Work in Progress” seeks to shine a spotlight on female pioneers across many fields and was devised by artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake. See a detail here, courtesy of Granary Arts, Utah:

Edinburgh Libraries have been granted permission to create our own version, and this is where you can help!

We are aiming to produce stencilled portraits of as many women as possible from our nomination list. Some of these are already being produced by students at participating Edinburgh high schools, and we invite Edinburgh residents to come to the Library and help us create more!

The workshops – what will we do?

Participants will come into Central Library on one of several dates for an afternoon’s guided stencilling session. No artistic experience is necessary, and the process will be fully explained. There will be over 100 head-and-shoulders images of nominated women ready printed, for people to select, cut, and stencil – resulting in beautiful, unique portraits. Library staff will then gather and collate all the portraits, using them to create a ‘crowd-scene’ mural. We aim to have this finished and ready to exhibit at Central Library and online by early May. Some linked activities, such as live talks, will also follow.

Who would you choose….?

If you would like to take part, please book a place at one of our Saturday afternoon workshops.

Please note, due to the use of sharp tools, this event is offered to over-18s only and due to Covid precautions, each event is limited to 15 participants.

Workshops will take place on Saturday 12, 19 and 26 March, with some potential for further sessions to be added.

Book for workshop on Saturday 12 March

Book for workshop on Saturday 19 March

Book for workshop on Saturday 26 March.

Home improvements – 1927 style

Among our collections we have a vast number of images from the numerous Improvement Schemes that were carried out in Edinburgh.

By the late 1800s and early 1900s overcrowding and poor sanitation was proving to be the main problem for the Town Council who had gained powers to make substantial changes within the Old Town through the Edinburgh City Improvement Act 1867. Under this act tenements were improved, enhancing living conditions for residents.

The Edinburgh (Canongate, Corstorphine etc ) Improvement Scheme 1927 covered areas of the Old Town, Morrison Street, Broughton Road, Greenside and further afield to Corstorphine.

Many of the places we are familiar with now, looked very different in the 20s and 30s. If you watched Outlander you will be familiar with Bakehouse Close which was used for the location of Jamie’s Print Shop. Take a look at the close in 1927, and it doesn’t look that dissimilar to what it would have been it the 1800s.

Bakehouse Close – 1927, image from Capital Collections

Another well known building is Huntly House (now the Museum of Edinburgh) – how different it looks today!

Huntly House – 1927, image from Capital Collections

The image below is Morrison Street, where the Scottish Widows building stands now.

Morrison Street -1927, image from Capital Collections

See all of the images included in the Canongate and Corstorphine etc Improvement Scheme 1927 exhibition on Capital Collections.

Women of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Central Library are celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March with a focus on the women of Edinburgh. We’re exploring women who have made contributions to various professions and fields of learning as well as the experience of ordinary women living in Edinburgh. We’re also celebrating Women’s History Month, by creating a stencilled monument to the trailblazing women of Edinburgh. Central Library will be offering guided workshops where members of the public can contribute to this celebratory mural in honour of our city’s women.

Stop by our Central Library Staircase display to view items from our collections and read about a selection of women represented in our collections.

Thea Musgrave, Chamber works for oboe, borrow from the Music Library

Thea Musgrave – composer
Born 1928 in Barnton, Edinburgh and after a boarding school education, Thea returned to Edinburgh to the University to study Medicine but changed to Music. After a long career in music composing classical music and operas and as Distinguished Professor at Queens College, City University of New York, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing. In an interview for the BBC in 2018, Thea Musgrave was asked about being a woman composer. She responded by saying, 
“Yes I am a woman, and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”,
and asked in the same interview if she had any advice for young composers she said,
“Don’t do it, unless you have to. And if you do, enjoy every minute of it.”
A composer of over a dozen operas including Mary, Queen of Scots and Simon Bolivar, and a full list of works for solo instrumentalists, chamber groups and full orchestras including Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland (2012).

Listen to Thea Musgrave’s compositions on on Naxos Music Library or search for sheet music, books and CDs.

Anne Redpath – artist
Although born in Galashiels and spending much of her life in the Borders, Anne Redpath OBE ARA (1895-1965) is associated with Edinburgh through her study at Edinburgh College of Art (1913-1917) and her association with a pivotal group of artists known as the Edinburgh School. Anne Redpath lived in France from 1917 to 1934 and on her return lived first in Hawick and from 1949 in Edinburgh. Redpath is probably best known for her vividly painted domestic still lifes featuring familiar objects like a chair or a cup and using textiles like tablecloths and a scarf to add pattern and colour. As the daughter of a tweed designer she made a connection between her father’s work and her own, “I do with a spot of red or yellow in a harmony of grey, what my father did in his tweed.” Redpath was President of the Scottish Society of Women Artists 1944 to 1947 and was admitted as an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1947.

Find out more about Anne Redpath’s life and work.

Sara Sheridan – author and activist
Born 1968 in Edinburgh Sara Sheridan is a Scottish author and activist with a particular interest in female history. She has written more than 20 booksSara Sheridan is most famous for her two series of historical novels: one, the Mirabelle Bevan novels, noir mysteries set in 1950s Brighton, and the other exploring on real lives of late Victorian adventurers. Sara Sheridan’s first book Truth or Dare was nominated for the Saltire Prize and in 2015. Sara was named one of the Saltire Society’s 365 most influential Scottish women, past and present. Of interest is Sara Sheridan’s book `Where are the women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland (Historic Environment, 2019) This is a fascinating book that re-imagines Scotland’s built environment bringing the women that have been ignored or side-lined by men to a different Scotland where women are commemorated in plaques, buildings and road names. This is a guide to that alternative vision where fictional streets, buildings, statues and monuments are dedicated to real women, telling their often-unknown stories.

Find books by Sara Sheridan available to borrow from Edinburgh Libraries.

Sophia Jex-Blake – doctor 
Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912) led the campaign to secure women access to a University education when she and six other women, collectively known as the Edinburgh Seven, began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. At this time English universities didn’t let women study medicine. Unfortunately Edinburgh reneged the places they had offered female students in 1873, so she completed her studies in Berne. Following qualification as a doctor, Sophia returned to Edinburgh and became the first practising female doctor in the city. She believed that poorer women and children needed access to medical services delivered by women and so opened a dispensary in Grove Street. She also established the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1886.

Find out more about Sophia Jex-Blake and fellow doctor Elsie Inglis

Emmeline Liillian Vyner – poet, psychic, dog -lover
It’s not just famous women who have led extraordinary lives. It is particularly interesting and rare to learn about the lives of so-called ordinary women as they often leave little trace of their experiences and personal insights. The Central Library holds archives of Emmeline Lillian Vyner (born around 1876 in Halifax and died 1947 in Edinburgh)  consisting of papers, diaries and scrapbooks which show a fascinating glimpse into how an ordinary person lived through two world wars. Emmeline settled in Edinburgh with her husband and first daughter, she had five children altogether, She liked to write poems some of which were placed in Edinburgh and Leith newspapers featuring natural and romantic subjects but later moving on to first world war poems and the experience of women left behind to cope. Her papers also document her activities attending psychic sessions in various houses in Edinburgh and Leith. What also shines through all her journals and scrapbooks is her delight in children and dogs and in her job as a cinema pianist she took particular pleasure in playing her piano for the children’s features.

Find out more about Emmeline Lillian Vyner.

Robert Thorburn, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Susan Ferrier – author
Sometimes likened to Jane Austen Susan Ferrier (1782-1854) spent her life living in Edinburgh coming from a family well known in Edinburgh society. She wrote three acclaimed novels ‘Marriage’, ‘The Inheritance’ and ‘Destiny’ providing lively accounts of Scottish life and presenting sharp views on women’s education. Susan Ferrier kept her authorship a secret, at this time it was not considered appropriate for women to have a public role in their own right and women were expecting to play a supportive role to the men in their family.  Ferrier’s work ‘Marriage’, published 1818,  is hilarious – it recounts  the story of an English heiress, Lady Juliana, who elopes with an impoverished Scot, Henry Douglas, and has to adjust to living in a run-down castle in the Highlands. Life for Lady Juliana is far from what she expected and the novel portrays with humour the gap between her expectations and reality. Susan Ferrier’s work remained popular throughout the 19th century and deserves to be better known today.

Find out more about Susan Ferrier and read her novels.

Flora Stevenson by G. Watson,

Flora Stevenson – social reformer
Born in Glasgow in 1839, Flora Stevenson moved with her family to Edinburgh in 1854, Flora spent most of her adult life living at 13 Randolph Crescent along with her three sisters. Flora Stevenson was an active supporter of the suffrage and women’s rights movements along with her sisters. Even as a young girl, she recognised the importance of education and equality, teaching messenger girls reading, writing and arithmetic. She was an active member on several educational committees, eventually serving as chairperson on the Edinburgh School Board. Flora’s dedication to Edinburgh’s education system was respected and acknowledged. In 1899 a new primary school in Craigleith was named after her, In 1903 she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, and two years later she was given the Freedom of the City in recognition of her service to Edinburgh’s philanthropic institutions and the school board. When Flora died in 1905, over two thousand schoolchildren lined the route of her funeral to the Dean Cemetery.

Read about the women’s suffrage movement.

Naomi Mitchison by MacRusgail at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Naomi Mitchison – author and social activist

Born in Edinburgh in 1897 into a wealthy family Naomi Mitchison was brought up in Oxford where her physiologist father, John Scott Haldane, was a Fellow. In 1916 she married the Labour politician Dick Mitchison, later Baron Mitchison, QC, and during their years in London she took an active part in social and political affairs, including women’s rights and the cause of birth control, joining the Labour party in 1930 and becoming active political campaigner throughout the 1930s. She took part in a Fabian Society expedition to the Soviet Union, and in 1934 went to Vienna to assist the socialists who were being persecuted by the Austrian government. In 1939, she moved to Carradale, Scotland, and became involved in the Scottish Renaissance. During her life Naomi Mitchison wrote some 90 books of historical and science fiction, travel writing and autobiography. She also wrote poetry. much of which is rooted in her Scottish background. She died in 1999 aged 101. 

Read some of Mitchison’s writings.

Elsie Inglis – medicine
No selection of women of Edinburgh would be complete without Edinburgh doctor, Elsie Inglis (1864-1917). She made her name as a pioneering surgeon and as a suffragette, and did much to improve medical care for women. Born in India where her father was in the service of the East India Company, Elsie on his retiral returned with the family to Edinburgh. Inglis went on to study medicine at the (then) revolutionary Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women under Dr Sophia Jex-Blake. After three years she went on to study under Sir William McEwen at the University of Glasgow. Here she first developed her interest in surgery qualifying as a licentiate at the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1892. 

“The Chief” Dr. M. Elsie Inglis from Ethel Moir diary on

Unhappy with the standards of care for female patients in hospitals, Inglis decided that the way forward was to have hospitals run by women.

In 1894 she established a medical practice with a fellow female physician and in 1904 she set up a small maternity hospital for Edinburgh’s poor in the city’s High Street, staffed entirely by women. This later became the Elsie Maude Inglis Memorial Hospital.

Inglis had for some time been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Women’s Suffragette Federation.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Inglis suggested the creation of medical units staffed by women which could provide aid to British forces on the Western Front, founding the Scottish Women’s Hospitals Committee and by December 1914, Inglis’s first medical unit staffed wholly be women was setting up the 200 bed Abbaye de Royaumont hospital.

In early 1915 Inglis accompanied a women’s medical unit to Serbia. She was taken captive by Austrian forces, but later released after the intervention of the United States Government, at that point still a neutral power. After being returned to Britain in 1916, Inglis immediately began raising funds for a hospital in Russia. She went to Russia later in 1916, and began her medical work in support of Serbian troops there, often having to flee advancing German forces. Inglis continued to work in Russia during 1917, but was becoming increasingly ill herself. Poor health forced Inglis to return to Great Britain and she died the day after the ship carrying her home docked in Newcastle. 

Find out more about the remarkable life of Elsie Inglis.

Women of Edinburgh are continuing to make their mark in Edinburgh particularly in the field of medicine and public health with University of Edinburgh staff Professor Linda Bauld and Professor Devi Shidhar contributing to the handling of the Covid pandemic.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this selection. Tell us, who are your women of Edinburgh?

Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums and Galleries Edinburgh

For LGBT History Month Scotland this February we’ve collaborated with colleagues from Museums to highlight a selection of items from the collections of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh which chronicle the LGBTQ+ story in Edinburgh.

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a sample of the different type of items held by the city’s Museums and Galleries which record LGBTQ+ history. Our sample selection of archive material represents significant local, national and international moments and movements in LGBTQ+ history.

Cake topper made for a same sex wedding
Photo: Geoff Gardner

Although many people from the LGBTQIA+ communities may continue to face routine discrimination, harassment or persecution, their sexuality is no longer illegal in the UK. It may be hard for younger people to appreciate the relatively recent changes to legislation which have occurred to allow LGBTQIA+ people to live their private lives equally to heterosexual people.

Laws had been in place as far back as the reign of Henry VIII which criminalised homosexual acts between men and under the law, convictions were punishable by death until 1861. It was in 1957 that the Wolfenden Report recommended changes to (English) law on male homosexuality. (Female homosexuality was never explicitly targeted by any legal legislation).

And it was only in 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act brought about the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between two men, both over the age of 21, in private. It was not until 1980 that Scottish law was brought into line with England and Wales by the Criminal Justice bill decriminalising homosexual acts.

You can read about the background and instigation for the Wolfenden Report via the British Library.

Booklet, International Gay Rights Congress 1974
Photo: Russell Clegg

Our exhibition focuses on more recent times, starting in 1974 and the programme for the first International Gay Rights Congress held in Edinburgh. The conference aimed to facilitate a sharing of international experience, enabling delegates to learn about the social, political and legal situation for men and women in other countries. 1974 also saw the launch of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard which was established to offer assistance and information to anyone who had experienced difficulties as a result of their own homosexuality or someone they knew.

We include a “Gay is Good” badge from the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (which was a later iteration of the Scottish Minorities Group recognising the important role that campaigning and activism played in the fight for equality in the second half of the 20th century. There is a badge from Pride 1994, declaring “twenty years out and proud” referencing the first Pride march in New York in July 1970 held in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising. Pride is now an annual event and a global movement to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities.

The exhibition includes material relating to the promotion of sexual health, the necessity to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and a ‘Coming out’ guide for young men.

The local gay social scene in Edinburgh is recorded through the Edinburgh Gay Scene Guide booklet, 1999 edition which listed bars, cafes and clubs which no longer exist in Edinburgh but were stalwarts of the gay scene in the 1980s and 1990s including The New Town Bar, The Claremont Bar, The Blue Moon Café, many which were centred around Broughton Street and the Greenside area east of the city’s centre. The iconic original shop sign from renowned lesbian and gay community bookshop, Lavender Menace situated at nearby Forth Street and a postcard invitation to their first birthday party, promising “readings, music, wine and quiche (if you’ll eat it)” is included. So too, a poster from Edinburgh University Lesbian & Gay Society, or LAGS, which at some point around 1991 or 1992 became ‘BLOGS’, Edinburgh University Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Society and also a flyer from a 2008 Loud and Proud Choir festive concert.

T-shirt fragment, “Love is not a crime”
Photo: Suzy Murray

Campaigning for equality continued into the 21st century and our exhibition includes the remains of a campaign t-shirt from the NUS Scotland Lesbian and Gay Campaign with the slogan, “Love is not a crime”.

In a joint initiative, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh and the Living Memory Association, undertook the Remember When project, an oral and community history project which documented the lives of Edinburgh’s LGBT people, past and present, whose contributions and achievements had previously tended to be overlooked or ignored. The project resulted in the Rainbow City exhibition held at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre in 2006.

This century has seen improvements for LGBTQ+ communities in gaining equal rights. Notably, the controversial ‘Section 28’ introduced in 1988 which forbade local authorities from “intentionally promoting homosexuality” was repealed by the Scottish Parliament in 2000.

Other legislations included prevention of discrimination in the workplace; to give trans people legal recognition for changes of gender; to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment; allowing same-sex couples to adopt; protection against discrimination when accessing fertility treatment.

Perhaps, most prominent of all the campaigns and gains in equal rights was the campaign for equal marriage. The Civil Partnership Act allowing same-sex couples the right to register civil partnerships came into law in 2004 but it was ten years later in Scotland when same-sex partners were permitted to marry. In February 2014, the Scottish Parliament passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, with 105 votes in favour and 18 votes against and the bill came into effect on 16 December 2014. Our exhibition includes postcards produced by the Equality Network for the campaign for equal marriage and a wedding cake topper of two brides in celebration.

View the full Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh exhibition on Capital Collections.

We recommend the digital version of Museum and Galleries’ exhibition ‘Proud City’, a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and asexual people living and working in Edinburgh, which was updated in 2020 in collaboration with LGBT Youth and the Queensferry youth group, Polari.

Explore too, OurStory Scotland, a charity organisation who collect, archive and present the life stories and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland.

If you have any queries or comments about the LGBTQ+ material at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh please contact:

Photographs in the vicinity of Lauriston Castle

The latest Capital Collections exhibition features a volume of 59 images dated between 1875 and 1900, but compiled in 1909. The photographs depict a variety of properties, mostly residential, in the area around Lauriston Castle. The book has the armorial bookplate of Macknight Crawfurd of Cartsburn, one of Lauriston Castle’s former residents!

Muirhouse – c1887

As the title suggests these photographs were taken in a relatively small area and highlight different properties that were in the area at that time. There is a variety of dwellings depicted, ranging from grand stately homes to workers’ cottages.

Many of these buildings still exist although their purpose may have changed. Others have since disappeared. You may be familiar with some of the place names which are still in use but some locations, such as Muirhouse, Pennywell and Royston look quite different today.

Silverknowes 1879

To see the complete collection, visit the Photographs in the vicinity of Lauriston Castle exhibition on Capital Collections.

Edinburgh’s brewing heritage

We’re indebted to the Scottish Brewing Archive Association who have contributed a brilliant new story about the history of brewing in the city to Our Town Stories.
Read the story and discover how Edinburgh became the brewing capital of the world!

Barrels of McEwan’s beer being loaded onto horse-drawn drays, late 19th century
Copyright: Scottish Brewing Archive Association

The story tells how Edinburgh once boasted over 40 breweries with the vast majority in and around the Canongate area. It starts with the monks at Holyrood Abbey who sank a well and used the water to brew their ale.

Follow the story and you’ll be able to spot the tell-tale signs from this important industry from Edinburgh’s past as you walk the city’s streets today.

Brewery related street names, 2015
Copyright: Scottish Brewing Archive Association

Discover how the development of transportation enabled the market place to expand and how automation was introduced to the workplace to increase productivity. As time passed, many of the smaller breweries were taken over by the larger companies and the story highlights several significant breweries which have since disappeared but remain familiar names.

Read the full story on Our Town Stories.

If you want to find out more about Edinburgh or Scotland’s brewing history, contact the Scottish Brewing Archive Association.

What have you been reading?!

Our downloadable library has proved a lifeline to many during the pandemic and Edinburgh Libraries has seen usage of its ebook, audiobooks, newspaper and magazine services grow over this period. But, what have you all been reading over the last year and is it any different from anywhere else in the UK?!

You have borrowed over 205,000 ebooks from our Libby by OverDrive service this year! Surprisingly only three* of the titles on our top ten loans match those of the rest of the UK. Many of our top lenders have a decidedly Scottish theme or author –

  1. A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone – 1,050 loans
  2. The Thursday Murder Club* by Richard Osman – 938 loans
  3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 689 loans
  4. The Hoarder by Jess Kidd – 652 loans
  5. In Dark Water by Lynne McEwan– 642 loans
  6. What He Knew by Marion Todd– 497 loans
  7. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming – 432 loans
  8. The Sentinel* by Lee Child – 411 loans
  9. The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson – 407 loans
  10. The Coffin Maker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride – 402 loans

You read over 2.3 million newspaper copies last year through our PressReader service, making newspapers by far our most popular downloadable resource. The Scotsman however is our run-away favourite newspaper read –

  1. The Scotsman – 441,021 loans
  2. The Guardian – 161, 162 loans
  3. Daily Telegraph – 144,243 loans
  4. The Herald – 122, 476 loans
  5. Scottish Daily Mail – 91,279 loans
  6. Daily Mail – 74,421 loans
  7. The Independent – 61,467 loans
  8. Daily Record – 60,645 loans
  9. Daily Express – 44,670 loans
  10. The Observer – 25,510 loans

Again only four* of the national top issuers make it on to our Libby list with Scottish themes again dominating some of the top spots. Crime and thrillers also feature strongly. This selection comes from Libby, but we offer three audiobook services with a different range of titles on each –

  1.  Klara and the Sun* by Kazuo Ishiguro – 518 loans
  2.  A Song for the Dark Times* by Ian Rankin – 497 loans
  3.  Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan – 426 loans
  4. The Coffinmaker’s Garden* by Stuart MacBride – 383 loans
  5. The Cut by Chris Brookmyre – 335 loans
  6. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn – 329 loans
  7.  Lockdown by Peter May – 321 loans
  8.  Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie- 289 loans
  9. The World’s Worst Parents by David Walliams – 285 loans
  10. Cold Mourning* by Brenda Chapman – 281 loans

Our top magazines on Libby are pretty much the same as everywhere else except for the inclusion of The Week and surprisingly The New Yorker! Both our Libby and PressReader magazine services have over 3,000 magazines in them each. Top magazines on PressReader include the TV Times and Auto Express –

  1.  HELLO! – 2,831 loans
  2.  The Economist – 2,050 loans
  3.  New Scientist – 1,557 loans
  4.  Good Housekeeping – 1,432 loans
  5.  Woman’s Weekly – 1,368 loans
  6.  BBC Good Food Magazine – 1,283 loans
  7.  The New Yorker – 1,211 loans
  8. The Week – 1,052 loans
  9.  Radio Times – 987 loans
  10. Woman – 832 loans

Find out how to use our downloadable services at

Photographing Edinburgh

A new story on Our Town Stories tells the history of photography in Edinburgh using images from Central Library’s unique and world-class photographic collection.

Newhaven fishwives, c1845 by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson

Starting with the mesmerizing pictures by the pioneering photographers of the Edinburgh Calotype Club and the remarkable partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, this history takes you through the early days of commercial landscape and studio photography.

Family studio portrait, 1905, from Bill Hall’s Family Album
Reproduced by kind permission of William J. Hall

The story moves from the Box Brownie to the digital age and the camera firmly established as an intrinsic part of everyday life. 

New Year’s Day family gathering, 1964
Living Memory Association via Edinburgh Collected (

Read our Photographing Edinburgh story and take a look at Edinburgh through the lens of time!

Download a walking route and discover literary Edinburgh

This Book Week Scotland take a walk with Our Town Stories and discover things you never knew about Edinburgh’s literary connections.

Choose to read either the UNESCO City of Literature famous locations trail or the UNESCO City of Literature hidden gems trail and you’ll be able to set off with your downloadable map and follow the story on foot!

Simply click on the green ‘Download Walk’ button from the story webpage to view, download or print the pdf walking route.

This feature is being rolled out to more of the stories on Our Town Stories so keep posted for more downloadable historical walking routes coming soon!

It pays to ‘Persevere’

One of the great features of Edinburgh Collected is that you can arrange photographs you put on the website into scrapbooks. This brings together images that are in someway related. It could be a day out, a place you have visited or as in this case, recording family history.

Photo shows Albert, George, James and John Dick images. Albert’s ‘dog-tags and ‘that’ bullet. War medals of William (left) and John (right). John’s ‘Dead Man’s Penny’

Andrew Grant started researching his wife’s family who had for many years resided in Leith.

I discovered that one of my wife’s uncles – John Dick – was killed during the First World War some four days before the Somme offensive on 26th June 1915. This intrigued me so I decided to see what I could discover about him. At first this was very little.

Andrew has created a scrapbook dedicated to John Dick’s wartime story. He has not only included photographs in the scrapbook, but medals and newspaper cuttings of articles he had been able to find while doing his research. He has even included an extract from a war diary.

John Dick’s obituary
15th July 1916

To read the full story, view Andrew’s ‘It Pays to Persevere’ scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected.

And as you can see it’s not only photographs that you can include on Edinburgh Collected. Why not try it out? Add some memories to Edinburgh Collected and create a scrapbook to tell a story in pictures.

Jane Stewart Smith watercolours

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition highlights some more gems from our collection. The images are taken from 2 volumes of watercolours by Jane Stewart Smith.

Edinburgh based artist, Jane Stewart Smith was born in London in 1839. She principally produced scenes of Edinburgh’s streets and buildings in oil and watercolour.

She was the author of two books, ‘The Grange of St Giles’ (1898) and ‘Historic Stones of Bygone Edinburgh’ (1924).

She worked as a governess before she married Edinburgh framer and picture dealer John Stewart Smith in 1864, at the age of 24.

Antique buildings opposite Mint Close, Cowgate, 1868

Her paintings were a valuable record of areas that might be demolished, and their importance was evident later to those who had seen many changes in the city. As well as recording architectural landscape and detail, the pictures are full of atmosphere, with street life closely observed. We see traders, carters and washing hanging from the upper windows.

Stewart Smith would rise early to draw and paint these scenes before there were many people around. It was unconventional, daring even, for a women to work alone outdoors in the poorest and less salubrious parts of the town.

College Wynd, 1870

Her landscape paintings were included in almost every Royal Scottish Academy exhibition from 1865 to 1887.

As well as scenes of Edinburgh she also painted in Fife and East Lothian as well as other areas of Scotland. Other pictures shown at the RSA featured scenes of Shrewsbury, Chester, Rouen and Genoa.

When World War One broke out the Stewart Smiths had been married fifty years. They helped with fundraising with the Belgian relief effort through the Edinburgh French Protestant Church which they were both involved with.

Old Ecclesiastical House in Canongate, 1868

John Stewart Smith died in 1921. At that time, they had been living in Portobello together with a friend named Catherine Roberts, a retired dressmaker. Jane Stewart Smith died on 1 December 1925, aged 86.

Browse more of Jane Stewart Smith’s brilliant depictions of old Edinburgh on Capital Collections.

Find more information about Jane Stewart Smith on Edinburgh Footnotes.