How well do you know the castles and abbeys of Scotland?

The images below are taken from the Picturesque Antiquities of Scotland by Adam de Cardonnel and were drawn over two hundred years ago. How many can you recognise?

Click on the images to check your answers.

  1. You might have visited or you might have seen this one on TV… an easy one for starters:


2. An iconic seaside ruin:


3. A Borders’ gem:


4. A medieval fortress beside the Clyde:


5. Here’s one for all the Monty Python fans:


6. And finally, another easy one (?), a bit closer to home:

How many did you get?

You can view all the beautiful images from the Picturesque Antiquities of Scotland on Capital Collections.


The Picturesque Antiquities of Scotland – an early travel guide

As you can imagine, we have thousands of books in our collections in Central Library. Most are on the shelves ready to be picked up and read or just looked at. However, there’s a large part of our collection which is kept behind the scenes to protect from too much handling.

The downside of this is that few people get to see them, and so now and again we like to show off some of these hidden gems from our collections.


One of these is a small half leather bound volume titled Picturesque Antiquities of Scotland which was published in 1788 by the British engraver and archaeologist Adam de Cardonnel. Inside the book which contains part one and two of a four part set, we find a preface by de Cardonnel himself where he states,

the work was at first intended to have been on a much larger scale, and I had finished several of the plates; but at the particular desire of a learned author, I reduced the size, and altered my plan, as better adapted to the convenience of travellers, who wish to be acquainted with a few circumstances relating to the ruins they may chance to visit”.

So, this was a sort of early travel guide, small enough to be packed in the traveller’s bag and filled with information relating to the sites that were at the time of writing, mostly in ruins. De Cardonnel had served as curator of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1782 to 1784, and being both an engraver and an archaeologist, he was well suited to produce such volumes.


Why not have a look for yourselves and explore the contents of this book online – you’ve probably even visited a few!

You can view all the engravings from this delightful 18th century book on Capital Collections.













History of the house: King’s Wark

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

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

The Shore in Leith, c1884

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Old Corner’, the Shore, Leith, 1958

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

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

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

Get in touch via if you want to find out how to get started.

Stockbridge Library celebrates LGBT History Month

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

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

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



The Edinburgh Town Guard

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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, phone 0131 242 8050 or drop into the Music Library.