Dickens and the Victorian Christmas

Central Library has a new display entitled ‘Dickens and the Victorian Christmas’. Here’s a taster of the exhibition which you can visit until the end of December.

It’s hard to imagine, but at the beginning of the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated. Many shops and businesses did not even consider it a holiday.

It was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who popularised most of the aspects of Christmas we recognise today. In 1848, The Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating round a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition carried on from Prince Albert’s childhood in Germany. Soon, many homes in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, homemade decorations and small gifts.

A very merry Christmas, c1900

The first Christmas card appeared in 1843 with an illustration showing a group of people round a dinner table and a Christmas message. By the 1880s sending Christmas cards had become hugely popular. 11.5 million cards were produced in 1880 alone!

Crackers first appeared in 1848 when a British confectioner, Tom Smith, invented a bold new way to sell sweets. Inspired by a trip to Paris where he saw bon bons – sugar almonds wrapped in twists of paper – Smith created a simple package filled with sweets that snapped when pulled apart. The sweets were replaced by small gifts and paper hats in the late Victorian period.

Christmas for the Victorians was a festival for the family and a time to gather in the best room in the house and play parlour games. Some, such as Blind man’s Buff, Charades and Twenty Questions, are still played today.

The Young Folks by Randolph Caldecott

The custom of decking the walls and windows with sprigs and twigs took on a more elaborate affair with homemade paper decorations and colourful paper chains appearing in homes.

While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book ‘A Christmas Carol’ is credited with helping to popularise the traditions of the festival. Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, and happiness encapsulate the spirit of the Victorian Christmas and remain central to the Christmas we celebrate.

Between 1843 and 1848, Dickens published five Christmas novellas, one of which was to become one of the most oft filmed, staged, read, sung, repeated, copied, adapted Christmas stories. A Christmas Carol’ was written in October to November and published in December of 1843. By January of 1844 it was on its third edition. In February, the first theatrical production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ took place with a further eight productions appearing in quick succession. In the years that followed Dickens published ‘The Chimes’ in 1844, ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’ in 1845, ‘The Battle of Life’ in 1846 and after a break of a year which he is said to have regretted, ‘The Haunted Man and the Ghost Bargain’ in 1848.

As well as being a prodigious talent, Dickens was a canny businessman and for all the later Christmas novellas, the theatrical production opened on the same day as the book publication.

Dickens was the owner and editor of two literary magazines, ‘Household Words’ and then ‘All the Year Round’, where serialisations of his stories appeared along with contributions by other writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins. In both magazines, Dickens regularly wrote Christmas stories and special Christmas issues were produced.

There are many Christmas tales in the Library by Dickens and others, why not borrow one today?

 

With thanks to our colleagues in Museums and Galleries Edinburgh and Information and Learning Resources for lending us the many curios included in the display.

 

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Calling concert programmes!

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

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

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

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

A 2001 programme for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

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

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

Elsie Maud Inglis, (1864–1917)

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

Dr Elsie Inglis

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

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

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

Dr Elsie Inglis – Serbia

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

Dr Elsie Inglis and “Matie”

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

“Dr Elsie Inglis and some of us”

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

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

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

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

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

Our Search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

Chocks away!

We thought we’d end our short series on early flight pictures with a quick fly-by over Edinburgh. Our journey takes in Calton Hill, the New Town, travelling west over the West End and Water of Leith to Craigleith Quarry before looping back to the docks at Leith.

Enjoy these simply breath-taking views of 1930s Edinburgh from the air.

Calton Hill from the air. Click on the picture to zoom in!

Castle Street and George Street.

Castle Street and George Street from the air. Click on the picture to zoom in!

West End of Edinburgh and Water of Leith

West End and Water of Leith from the air. Click on the picture to zoom in!

Craigleith Quarry (aerial view)

Craigleith Quarry from the air. Click on the picture to zoom in!

Leith Docks from the air

Leith Docks from the air. Click on the picture to zoom in!

To view more great pictures of early flight in Edinburgh and beyond and to zoom into the incredible detail browse the full exhibition of early aviators and their flying machines on Capital Collections.

Catch up with the other blog posts in this short series on early flight:

Early aviators and their flying machines

Daredevils and wing-walkers

Daredevils and wing-walkers

When World War One ended many ex-military pilots wanted to continue flying and to use it as a source of income. They purchased used aircraft at cheap prices and charged members of the public for short flights, gave flying lessons or provided chartered flights. Some pilots used their flying expertise to develop daredevil flying shows.

Crowd scene from a flying circus air show, c1935

These thrilling flying circus shows became known as barnstorming because many events were held on farms or near barns.

Flying circus biplanes in formation, c1935

As the popularity of barnstorming grew so did the daring of the flyers. In 1918 an American called Ormer Locklear started to climb out of the cockpit to walk along the wing and even to step from one plane to the other.  Although this was extremely dangerous it became an expectation that a Flying Circus would have such an stunt. In 1938 the American authorities made it mandatory to wear parachutes at all times. This diminished the daredevil antics and hastened the end of these shows.

A wing-walker in mid-flight at a flying circus

In the earliest days of flight when most aircraft had open cockpits, these intrepid pilots needed protection from exposure to the cold, noise, heat and air pressure. At first, aircraft were flying at slower speeds than motorists and the clothing worn was similar, perhaps a tweed jacket and trousers, hat and goggles.

Louis Paulhan and Claude Grahame-White, c1912

Leading stores like Gamages or Burberry’s soon recognised a new growing market and introduced flying combination suits, fleece lined boots, rainproof gauntlets, leather coats and special goggles. Further developments produced a new range of flying shockproof helmets.

Early aviator, Hilda Beatrice Hewlett, 1911

In 1916 Sidney Cotton, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot made an accidental discovery when having been scrambled for action in his working overalls. He found that the oil and grease which had soaked into the material kept him warm when his fellow pilots were suffering from the cold. He took his idea to Robinson and Cleaver in London and got them to make him a flying suit to his new design. It had 3 layers, a thin fur lining, an airproof silk layer and an outside light Burberry material layer. And so, the Sidcot flying suit came into general operational use.

Pilot beside Avro 504 plane, c1935

See more fantastic images from our Early aviators and their flying machines exhibition on Capital Collections.

Catch up with the other blog posts in this short series on early flight:

Early aviators and their flying machines

Chocks away! Edinburgh from the air

Early aviators and their flying machines

We’re delighted to launch a new exhibition on Capital Collections hosting a collection of glass lantern slides documenting early flight in Edinburgh and beyond.

Airspeed Ferry in flight, c1936. Granton Harbour in distance

The early days of flight had many intrepid characters and designs of flying machines. The Wright brothers of the USA and Louis Bleriot of France are well known but there are many others who dedicated time and money to achieving the seemingly impossible.

In the early 1900s as new aircraft were developed, Air Races with considerable cash prizes were sponsored by newspapers in the United States and the UK. The Daily Mail newspaper was a leading sponsor of air races, using the events to both promote the newspaper and to encourage the development of aviation.

A model aeroplane competition took place at Alexandra Palace in London in 1907 where Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe won all three prizes on offer. Just two years later, Louis Bleriot became world-famous for making the first flight across the English Channel and claimed the £1000 prize money offered by the Daily Mail.

Louis Bleriot prepares for his cross channel flight

The stakes were much higher in 1911 when a frenchman flying under the name of André Beaumont won the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race starting and finishing at Brooklands in Surrey and touching down in Edinburgh en route. His prize money was £10,000, the equivalent of over £1 million today.

Commercial flying developed from the mid-1920s. In 1924, Imperial Airways was formed from a combination of several small struggling companies subsidised by the government to develop Britain’s external air routes. Passenger numbers grew from 10,300 in 1925 to 62,100 in 1938.

Early airliner, possibly of type used by Imperial Airlines, c1925

Aeroplanes have even been manufactured on Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Local cycle maker John Gibson also described himself from 1910 to 1913 as an aeroplane designer and builder. He built a biplane which was followed by two further improved versions. The second had a production run of 10 and the third version had twin propellers. His advert from c1911 offers a complete biplane for £450 pounds – that’s about £50,000 in today’s money.

Gibson’s Aeroplanes of Leith Walk, c1910

Catch up with the other blog posts in this short series on early flight:

Daredevils and wing-walkers

Chocks away! Edinburgh from the air

The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: George Washington Browne

Having won a travel scholarship in 1878, the young architect George Washington Browne went to Paris, where he was inspired by the city’s fairy tale gothic design. Later he would use the buildings of this romantic city as his model for Edinburgh Central Library, submitting a design inspired by French renaissance architecture. On winning the competition – his entry was selected from thirty-seven – he created a magnificent stone building, standing three levels tall above George IV Bridge and reaching down to the Cowgate below. The building therefore spans Edinburgh’s disjointed streets, taking into account the multilevel nature of this hilly city.

Architectural drawing of Central Library by George Washington Browne

Beginning his architectural career as an apprentice in Glasgow aged sixteen, George Washington Browne worked for and with many architects before striking out on his own. As well as Edinburgh Central Library, Washington Browne also designed The Sick Kids Hospital in Marchmont, St Andrews House in the east of the city and Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

While Washington Browne’s professional life was one of glory and success, his personal life was marked by tragedy. His first wife died young, leaving him the sole parent of three sons. Two of his sons were later killed in World War One. His surviving son having sustained serious injuries during the war died from a subsequent infection several years later.

Read all the articles in this series of ‘The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries’:

Robert Butchart: City Librarian

Andrew Carnegie: steelmaker and philanthropist

Henry Dyer, engineer, educationist and Japanophile

William McEwan: brewer and philanthropist

David Mather Masson: scholar and biographer

Thomas Ross: architect and antiquarian

Charles Boog Watson: local historian and antiquarian