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

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,

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,

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 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.

Celebrating Leith Library’s 90th Birthday

From bombs to visiting elephants, Leith Library has seen its fair share of events.

This month marks the 90th anniversary of the library opening and we celebrate the anniversary with a new exhibition on Capital Collections of photographs going back to 1932.

Leith Library, 1932

The exhibition features among many fascinating images, one of the original architect’s plan, dated from 1927. The library was badly damaged in an air raid in April 1941, but was restored and reopened in 1955.

Elephant visit, The Scotsmans Publications Ltd., 1976

Why not have a look at the Leith Library online exhibition and find out exactly why an elephant made a visit!

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?

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.

Extra, extra! Read all about it!

Everyone likes a good story, right? Well, how would you like to have access to over 50 million, yes million, pages of newspaper stories?

One of our online resources, the British Newspaper Archive celebrated publishing it’s 50 millionth page a couple of months ago, so already that figure has been surpassed.

We’ve been delving in and finding some articles that are close to home. The Royal Highland Show celebrates its 200th year later this week and we’ve managed to find an article of the very first show which was held in 1822 in the grounds of Queensberry House in the Canongate. It describes the “Fat Stock Show” where between sixty and seventy fine cattle were exhibited on a day when the weather was “most favourable”.

The Scotsman 28th December 1822

In a couple of months, the Edinburgh Festival will be with us again, and when searching for the very first Festival in 1947, we came across a picture of the city in preparation for the event showing city gardeners putting finishing touches to the clock at the West End of Princes Street.

So why not have a look and see what you can find? After all, there’s over 50 million pages of historic newspapers from all over Britain and Ireland to explore!

British Newspaper Archive is available to search for free from within any of our libraries.

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

On 11th May…

Music Library, Central Library

Central Library is undergoing some repair works, some of which has meant having to close for a couple of weeks, but tomorrow, we will be back open. 

Tomorrow is 11 May, and here are a few bits and bobs about 11 May. Firstly May, May is the fifth month of the year, likely named after Maia Goddess of Spring, embodying growth and fertility. May has 31 days and in the northern hemisphere is the last month of spring, ushering in the summer. 

11 May is the 131st day of the year, with 234 days remaining till Christmas, if Christmas is what you look forward to. If this were your birthday, your star sign would be Taurus. Salvador Dali was born in 1904, the IBM computer Deep Blue beat Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov in the final match of a six-game series in 1997. Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister ending Labour’s 13-year run in power. In Vietnam it is National Human Rights Day, India celebrates National Technology Day and it is Statehood Day in Minnesota, USA. 

These are a few things that happened in the music world on 11 May. 

Way back in 1963 the Beatles started a 30-week run at the no. 1 slot in the UK album Chart with their debut album “Please Please Me”. They were knocked off the no. 1 slot by themselves and their second album, “With the Beatles” which stayed at the top slot for 21 weeks. Looking at the history of the UK album charts, the Beatles are the only band holding four of the top slots in the run-down of most weeks at no. 1. Those four albums being Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, A Hard Day’s Night and the two previously mentioned, Please Please Me and With the Beatles.

Roger Miller had recorded King of the Road in 1964 and released it as a single in January of 1965. It eventually reached no. 1 on 11 May. I spent some time trying to check this information was true and it is but according to different chart histories, websites, and books there is a slight difference in when in May and for how long it stayed at number one. What we do know is that it has been covered by many different, disparate groups from REM’s shameful shambolic, drunken version to the Proclaimers chart-topping 1990 version. It has spawned comedy versions and an answer called the Queen of the House by country music star Jody Miller (no relation), who wrote a new lyric to Roger Miller’s music. 

According to The Top of the Pops Archive, The Bee Gees first ever performance on the programme was on 11 May 1967. Broadcast on a Thursday and presented by Pete Murray, the Bee Gees performed “The New York Mining Disaster 1941”. This was the first of 89 appearances on the programme. 

Born on 11 May in 1888, composer Irving Berlin came into the world as Israel Beilin, one of eight children, thought to be born in Byelorussia, the family immigrated to New York in 1893. Berlin had his first hit in 1911 with Alexander Ragtime Band. Variously described as “The Greatest Songwriter who has ever lived” by George Gershwin or by Jerome Kern “Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American Music.”  Berlin lived to the age of 101, dying in in 1989. 

Irving Berlin
Samuel Johnson Woolf, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Still rocking and rolling Eric Burdon of the Animals, famous for their hit “The House of the Rising Sun,” was born, or you could say – the son rose in the Burdon household – in Newcastle on 11 May 1941. 

Eric Burdon interviewed by Judith Bosch after performing in the Dutch TV programme Fanclub, 1967
Photographer: F. van Geelen, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL via Wikimedia Commons

On 11 May 2006, the late, great George Michael was discovered “tired and emotional” behind the wheel of his car and then was involved in his second small car smash in as many days, trying to evade the pestering paparazzi. 

Richard Harris
City of Boston Archives, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Dumbledore (Richard Harris) recorded and had a hit with the enigmatic Jimmy Webb song MacArthur Park, in 1968. Richard Harris could only magic up a number nine place in the charts. Ten years later Donna Summer had a no. 1 with her disco version. Bass trombonist and arranger Adrian Drover, who played with the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra, scored a massive hit with his arrangement of MacArthur Park for the great Canadian trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and his band. There are several recordings of his arrangement at our Jazz streaming service Naxos Jazz.

Donna Summer performing at the inaugural gala at the Convention Centre in Washington DC, 19/1/1985
President (1981-1989 : Reagan). White House Photographic Office. 1981-1989 (Most Recent), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reggae Legend Bob Marley passed away in 1981 from cancer. Exodus by Bob Marley and the Wailers was voted best album of the 20th century by Time Magazine. A 1984 compilation Album “Legend” became the best-selling reggae album ever with sales of over 20 million. 6 February, the day of Bob Marley’s birth, was made a national holiday in Jamaica in 1990. 

Bob Marley live in concert in Zurich, Switzerland, 1980
Ueli Frey, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are reading this on 12 May, then you can celebrate with us the birth of French Composer Jules Massenet known mainly for his work in opera but probably most famous for the Meditation from Thais. This piece written for solo violin and orchestra is an entr’acte or intermezzo between scenes one and two in Act 2 of the opera. This work has a life of its own and has become the chosen encore of many of the world’s greatest violinists. It perhaps overshadows the opera it came from and probably all of the composer’s other works. Massenet was born in 1842 and died in Aug 1913.  

Jules Massenet in 1880
Pierre Petit (d. 1909). Tim riley at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are reading this on 13 May then we can all celebrate the 81st birthday of the wonderful Joe Brown, entertainer, rock ‘n’ roller and ukulele player. His version of “I’ll see you in my Dreams” (written by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn), is the reason I took up the ukulele. 

Access our catalogue and search for books and music of The Beatles, Massenet, Donna Summer, The Animals and much more. Stream and download music from our two online collections: 
Naxos Music Library
Naxos Jazz.

Watch music documentaries, concerts, operas including 3 versions of Werther by Massenet and one production of his Manon, ballets, and masterclass at Medici TV

Welcome back (for tomorrow), come in and see us soon. 

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?

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.

Wester Hailes Library – Holocaust Memorial Day 2022

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Thursday 27 January 2022, children, young people, and families visiting Wester Hailes Library made a special memorial flame display to ‘Shine A Light’ in the Library window.

Wester Hailes community Memorial Day Flame made by children, young people & families.

We organised a special craft event for children, families, and members of our youth group to decorate handprints symbolising those who have lost their lives through genocide. We also talked about what HMD is and discovered the experiences of some people who were affected using this year’s theme of ‘One Day’ – to ensure that we both learn from and remember the past. Children and young people used pink and purple (the colours of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s emblem), and tissue paper to create their designs.

Children & families decorating handprints.

We also had some drop-in engagement encouraging all visiting children and young people to add to our community memorial flame collage.

For book displays, we promoted relevant themed non-fiction and fiction for children, young people, and adults as well as using information booklets and resource materials from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2022 displays

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.

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!

Once and future LGBT history: celebrating life stories with Bob Cant’s ‘Footsteps and Witnesses’

In 1957, in the Meffan Institute Library in Forfar, 12-year-old Bob Cant learned a new word.

He enjoyed reading and learning, but he had probably never expected to read anything like this. There in the Dundee Courier was a story about the Wolfenden Report on homosexual law reform, as it was called in those days. He had never seen the word homosexual before.

Wolfenden Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution

In 1957, sex between men was a crime. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were among thousands who had suffered severe penalties under the law. Many others escaped prison, but lost their jobs or were publicly disgraced.

The government was discussing changes which, years later, led to decriminalisation – for some. Bob Cant didn’t know any of this history, but he sensed the word had something to do with feelings of his own which he had not been able to name before.

He also knew that he could not mention what he had read to anyone.                                      

Today, he says he’s glad he made his discovery in a library – a place where he could read uninterrupted and unobserved. ‘[The story] contains a message about the power of public libraries,’ he says – which ‘circulate ideas which might not otherwise have seen the light of day.’ And the chance discovery of the headline during his school lunch break helped lead him to a life as a gay writer and trade unionist, who fought to secure the right for LGBT people to live open lives at work.

Bob Cant became fascinated with other LGBT people’s stories. How had they survived? How did they ‘make sense’ of lives and feelings which were supposed to be kept dark? He began to collect stories – at first, from friends and co-workers. 35 years after he read the headline in the Forfar library, he published Footsteps and Witnesses: Lesbian and Gay Lifestories from Scotland, based on 22 interviews from all over the country.

Footsteps & Witnesses book cover, edited by Bob Cant

‘Lesbians and gay men are, for the most part, invisible in Scotland,’ he wrote in the 1993 preface. ‘…This book is part of a process which began in the late 1960s, to end that invisibility. …This book, by bringing together diverse life stories, is a kind of coming out.’

The title came from a poem by Glasgow writer Edwin Morgan, who told his story in the book’s first interview. Iona McGregor, an Edinburgh young people’s writer and teacher, also told her story – closeted at her school, she spent evenings helping the Scottish Minorities Group organise Glasgow discos. ‘There are nurses, poets, youth workers and teachers,’ Bob Cant wrote of the other interviewees. ‘There is a bowling alley manager, a farmer and a taxi driver’. There were four unemployed people, Catholics and Protestants, incomers and native-born Scots, people from rural areas as well as Scotland’s cities. Several were unable to use their own names.

It was not always easy to find interviewees, and only one review of the book, by Sarah Nelson of The Scotsman, was ever published. But Polygon put the book into print and it was launched in Edinburgh by West & Wilde, successor to Scotland’s first lesbian and gay community bookshop, Lavender Menace. The launch took place at the Linden Hotel, a well-known gay venue in the New Town.

Bob Orr, co-owner of West & Wilde, still has a copy of Footsteps signed by Bob Cant and of some of the interviewees on the night. When Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen came together to collect and preserve LGBT books for Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive two years ago, they thought of Bob Cant’s anthology and decided to approach him for a film interview during Book Week Scotland – part of their Conversations with Writers series. Working with Edinburgh Libraries, they asked him to tell the story of the book’s creation, made short film clips of some of the interviewees today, and searched out illustrations of places, books and people in the story.

Conversations with Writers: Bob Cant

In the film interview, Bob Cant talks about Footsteps and Witnesses and the moments in his life which led up its creation. ‘This book hopes to let the world know that [our] communities have histories,’ he wrote in the 1993 introduction. ‘This book is only a beginning.’

And it was. 15 years later, the book took on a new life: by 2008 it had gone out of print, but customers at Word Power Bookshop in Edinburgh were still asking for it so often that the bookshop offered to publish a new version. There were 11 new interviews along with 11 of the original ones. At the end was a section called ‘Next Steps’ which included books and films about LGBT people and history – including new projects such as OurStory Scotland, which records LGBT people’s oral history, and LGBT History Month, dedicated to celebrating the past with a look toward the future.

Edinburgh Libraries and Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive will be presenting the film, followed by a panel discussion about the future of queer oral history in Scotland. At the end of his interview, Bob talks about his ideas of the future of telling our stories in a world where openness is more possible, but challenges and silencing are still with us. The panel, Jaime Valentine of OurStory Scotland, Ann Marriott of LGBT Youth Scotland, and Rowan Rush-Morgan, an archivist now conducting oral history interviews, will continue the conversation with each other, and the online audience.

You can see Bob Cant’s interview and the panel discussion online at 6.30pm on Thursday 18 November – please register through Eventbrite for this free event.

Like Footsteps and Witnesses, libraries and archives aren’t only records, they are beginnings.