The royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh, 1822: making a city fit for a King

Today we hand over to Vicky, one of our colleagues from Museums & Galleries to tell us about a fantastic new story she’s contributed to Our Town Stories.

As a History Curator at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, I’ve been working for some months now on ways to mark the bicentenary of the royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. As part of the team looking after 13 venues and monuments across Edinburgh, I became intrigued by the way the city was altered in various places to make it ready for the King. I read that roads were changed to make processions easier and to enable good views of the King, while whole buildings were moved or even destroyed. When Clare at Libraries mentioned that there were images in the library collections of the weigh house on the West Bow that was demolished just before the royal visit, I knew we were onto something. Our Town Stories is the perfect way to show historic events and objects across the city, letting viewers browse different locations, events and objects. An story exploring how Edinburgh was made ready for the King was a perfect fit.

View of the grand procession to the castle, when his majesty had ascended the Half Moon Battery; 22nd August 1822, by William Home Lizars

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh care for lots of objects that show Edinburgh being altered for the Royal Visit. These include items of tartan clothing worn in 1822 to fulfil Sir Walter Scott’s instructions to Edinburgh’s inhabitants on the way they should dress for the King. The brightly coloured diced woollen trews supposedly worn by a seven foot tall Highlander would certainly have captured the King’s attention!

Tartan trews supposedly worn by a Highlander during the King’s visit

In addition to people wearing new or modified dress for the visit, they were also instructed to alter their homes by hanging lamps on their facades, and attaching candle holders between the stones, illuminating a city that was also alive with bonfires and fireworks to celebrate the visit.

A painting from the City Art Centre collection shows people crowding Leith docks to catch a glimpse of the King on board his ship, while a theatre bill for the play ‘Rob Roy Macgregor’ highlights one of the many entertainments laid on by Edinburgh to keep the King amused and provide opportunities for the public to see him.

You can see these and other objects and find out more about how Edinburgh changed its appearance in readiness for the first visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch in nearly 200 years on Our Town Stories – The royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh, 1822: making a city fit for a King.

Celebrating 75 years of the Edinburgh Festivals with a temporary exhibition of archival film footage

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International and Fringe Festivals this year, we’re announcing a very exciting new exhibition on Capital Collections of archive festival film footage. The archive footage belongs to the BBC and is available to view on Capital Collections for a limited time only.

Image taken from archival film footage, reproduced by permission of BBC

The film clips show a 1960s Edinburgh in black and white, but alive with activity and excitement for festival shows and performers. View the hustle and bustle of festival preparations, residents and tourists, and famous faces including Marlene Dietrich arriving at Edinburgh Airport, Tom Courtenay performing Hamlet and Yehudi Menuhin receiving the freedom of Edinburgh.

Commentators reflect on the effects the festival’s first twenty years have had on the city and its citizens, its “cosmopolitanisation” and its new-found “creature comforts”, claiming a new status for Edinburgh as one of Europe’s cultural capitals.

This online exhibition of short film clips will be available to view until the end of August 2022 on Capital Collections. In true Festival spirit, catch it while you can!

This exhibition 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. We’re grateful to the BBC for supporting the project and allowing us to host the film footage on Capital Collections.

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.

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!

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.

Franz Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828)

Portrait of Franz Schubert, 2020, 3D modeling
Hadi Karimi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Birthday Franz Schubert! Had he lived he would have been 225 on the 31 January 2022, impossible yes, but had he lived beyond his 31 years, we could start to ask about the ‘What ifs?’ and ‘What could have beens?’

In his short life, Schubert produced a huge list of compositions, over 600 songs, almost as many works for piano, 20 stage works, approximately 40 liturgical works including several masses, 13 symphonies – 7 complete, several overtures and chamber music amounting to 20 string quartets and quintets trios and duos for different combinations of instruments. Schubert’s works have been catalogued by Otto Erich Deutsch and each entry in the catalogue, first published in 1951, is annotated with a D. The catalogue has been reprinted 4 times and every work including fragments and unfinished works are listed within giving a list of some 1500 works.

Schubert was first given violin and piano lessons by his father and brother, but he quickly went beyond their abilities.  He gained a scholarship to the Imperial Court Chapel Choir and with an education at the Stadtkonvikt, where he studied composition with Antonio Salieri.  His star shined at school and he continued to produce works and studied with Salieri after he had finished with the choir and the school.  

After this youthful period his star waned and the work-a-day life of having to earn money to make a living took over. He continued to compose, at the same time working as a teacher and music master. His works were performed and with some small success but not frequently.

It is not until the final year of his life, shy, reserved and often unwell, Schubert performed a concert of his own works for the first and last time on the 26 March 1828. This was a great success both financially and artistically. With the proceeds Schubert was able to buy himself a piano. Unfortunately his health broke for the final time, he contracted typhoid fever and died surrounded by his loyal friends.

Like Beethoven, whom he admired greatly, Schubert straddled that period between the classicism and the romanticism. Producing ever more mature and fascinating works which leave us wondering where we would have placed Schubert in the list of great composers of that time – Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Schumann – had he celebrated more than his 31 birthdays.

Explore Schubert’s music on Naxos Music Library, our download and streaming service for classical music. The Music Library also has a wealth of printed music, biographies and critical essays on Schubert and his work.      

Happy Birthday Franz.

Here are just a few items from our collections:
Schubert: memoirs by his friends (English translation by Rosamund Ley and John Nowe)

The Cambridge Companion to Schubert

Franz Schubert: a biography by Elizabeth Norman McKay

A companion to Schubert’s Schwanengesang : history, poets, analysis, performance

Schubert’s winter journey: anatomy of an obsession

All the world’s a stage – 70 years of Edinburgh festivals

In 1947, Sir John Falconer, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, spoke of his ambition that the International Festival of Music and Drama should provide “a platform of the flowering of the human spirit”.

The first Edinburgh International Festival programme 1947

This year (2017) sees the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe. In 1947, eight uninvited theatre groups turned up at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival. With the ‘official’ festival using the city’s major venues, these groups took advantage of the large assembled theatre crowds to showcase their own alternative theatre. Although at the time it was not recognised as such, this was the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Map of major venues 1947

The EIF has played host to many international stars over its 70 years. Maria Callas performed in the King’s Theatre in 1957 and Rudolf Nureyev first appeared at the festival in 1984 dancing in a production of ‘Swan Lake’ at the Playhouse Theatre. In 1965 Marlene Dietrich performed, singing a collection of late night cabaret songs at the Lyceum assisted by an orchestra conducted by Burt Bacharach.

Harmonium Project, opening the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival

Many of today’s well known faces have launched their careers at either the Festival or Fringe. Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller appeared in Beyond the Fringe in 1960. Billy Connolly appeared in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show in 1972. Rowan Atkinson took a break from his engineering degree in 1976 to perform alongside Richard Curtis for the Oxford Review. In 1981 Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were members of The Cambridge Footlights who won the first Perrier Award (now Edinburgh Comedy Award) and in 2001 Eddie Redmayne appeared as the MC in Cabaret.

Street performer at Parliament Square, 2015

If you want to get a real taste of what’s happening during the festivals, take a stroll – though it may take some time – down the High Street and to The Mound where you will be able to see Fringe groups, buskers and street performers. You might even be “persuaded” to join in!

Street performer on High Street, 2015

The Edinburgh Festivals continue to go from strength to strength. In 2016 the combined ticket sales of both the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival reached 2,915,143.

Find many more great pictures of our festival city on Capital Collections including our collection of Edinburgh International Festival programme covers.

The Church Hill Theatre at 50

September 2015 saw the 50th anniversary of the Church Hill Theatre. Take a look at this vibrant community theatre in our latest exhibition on Capital Collections.

Students from J R Tucker High School of The American High School Theatre Festival in rehearsal.

Students from J R Tucker High School of The American High School Theatre Festival in rehearsal.

The Church Hill Theatre opened in 1965 with a performance of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. The event is commemorated within Kenny Munro’s sculptural pillars that stand in the venue’s driveway. Look closely next time you’re passing and you’ll see Miss Prism’s bag amongst the symbols and motifs.

Many of the photos in this exhibition were taken during August when we gained privileged access to The American High School Theatre Festival’s technical rehearsals and to the final swashbuckling performance of ‘Zorro – the Musical’.  The photos show the theatre in action and as a hotbed of fresh talent.

Zorro - the Musical, performed by Chadwick School, of The American High School Theatre Festival.

Zorro – the Musical, performed by Chadwick School, of The American High School Theatre Festival.

You can also see lovely pictures from The Church Hill Theatre’s past  (including that inaugural performance and the very first panto) on Edinburgh Collected, where they’re inviting memories of this unique civic space – why not add yours?

Many thanks again to The Church Hill Theatre and The American High School Theatre Festival for all their help and support with this project. In particular, thanks to George Ranch High School, Texas, Poly Prep School, New York, J R Tucker High School, Virginia and Chadwick School, California.

The Forth Road Bridge

As the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Forth Road Bridge approaches our latest exhibition on Capital Collections looks back at the construction of the original Forth Road Bridge.

A category ‘A’ listed structure and vital transport artery for the country, the bridge was one of the most ambitious civil engineering projects in Scottish history and has cemented itself as an iconic point on the skyline of the city.

Forth Road Bridge - south span seen from south tower

Construction began in September 1958  and it took 6 years to complete the structure which includes 39,000 tonnes of steel and 115,000 cubic metres of concrete. The bridge is 2,517 metres long, making it the longest suspension bridge outside of the US and fourth longest in the world at the time of its completion. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the bridge on 4th September 1964.

In its first year, the Forth Road Bridge carried 2.5 million vehicles and opened up a vital transport route between the capital and north-eastern Scotland. The number of vehicles and passengers using the bridge has grown year on year far beyond the projections of the engineers in the 50s. Corrosion to the major wires of the bridge was found in 2005 due to the increased number of vehicles using the route and the changes in regulations of modern haulage vehicles. Measures were taken to stall the decomposition of the steel including dehumidifying the cables and replacing steel beams under the bridge bed. After this discovery it was decided that a second road crossing, The Queensferry Crossing, would be built to accommodate trade and private traffic while the existing bridge will be used exclusively for public transport and buses. The new bridge is expected to open to traffic in 2016.

Browse the Capital Collections exhibition to see more amazing pictures from our archive of the Forth Road Bridge under construction.

You may also be interested in ‘The Forth Bridges Scrapbook‘, a new and growing website where you can explore and create ‘digital scrapbooks’ of material and memories of the bridges.