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?

George Washington Browne’s architecture in Edinburgh

Architectural Drawing of Central Library by George Washington Browne, 1888

In anticipation of Central Library taking part in Doors Open Day on Saturday, we decided to take a closer look at the life and legacy of the architect who designed our beautiful building on George IV Bridge. The name might not be familiar, but Scottish architect George Washington Brown’s buildings in Edinburgh will be more so.

George Washington Browne was born in Glasgow in 1853, and started his architectural career aged 16 as an apprentice to Salmon Son & Ritchie. Finishing his apprenticeship, he moved to London and worked for Stevenson & Robson and later church architect Arthur William Blomfield.

In 1877 he won a scholarship which allowed him to travel to France and Belgium which would later have a great influence in the style of his work. Central Library is said to imitate the French Renaissance style and to be based on a chateau seen during his travels.

On return to Scotland in 1879, Browne began working as an assistant to the renowned architect, Sir Robert Rowland Anderson, designer of the Scottish Portrait Gallery, McEwan Graduation Hall and the Medical School for Edinburgh University. After two years he was made a partner. A building recession lead to Browne leaving Anderson and setting out a career of his own opening his own office at 5. Queen Street.

Throughout his career, George Washington Browne worked on an array of public buildings including churches, schools, colleges, museums, community halls and hospitals as well as a large number of commercial and domestic buildings.

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, photograph by Alexander Adam Inglis, c1895

We’ve created a new story on Our Town Stories which will take you on a virtual tour of Browne’s iconic Edinburgh buildings including the former Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Sciennes, the Caledonian Hotel and of course, the Central Library.

Fountainbridge Library in 1940

Alice Strang is a Curator and Art Historian.  As part of Edinburgh Doors Open Days 2020, she takes us to Fountainbridge Library in 1940, thanks to photographs in Capital Collections

Fountainbridge Library exterior

Unknown photographer, Fountainbridge Library, with Murdoch Terrace on the left and Dundee Terrace on the right, 1940

Fountainbridge Library stands on the corner of Dundee Street and Murdoch Terrace on Fountainbridge. It opened to the public on 11 March 1940. It replaced the combined ‘Nelson Hall and West Branch Public Library’ of 1897, which had proved to be too small and too expensive to maintain.

The new building was designed by the architect John A. W. Grant and it was constructed between 1937 and 1940. It is a rare and important example of modern Scottish architecture. It is a four-storey building which consists of two wings on either side of a central corner tower; the back is stepped so that the top floor is only one room deep. The main features of the exterior are the large windows, which fill the open-plan interior with natural light.

The stone carving above the entrance, of a fountain under a bridge, is by the sculptor Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson. It is inscribed ‘Fountainbridge Public Library 1939’ – which is wrong! The library was meant to be called ‘Dundee Street Library’ but the Public Libraries Committee liked Pilkington Jackson’s design so much they decided to change the name, whilst construction delays meant the library opened a year later than planned.

Pilkington Jackson was also responsible for the panels on the library’s exterior. They feature papyrus reeds, from which the paper on which books are printed is made, as well as a god of knowledge. The largest panels feature a working man (signified by his flat cap) reading whilst a librarian hands books to a mother and child. All of them wear contemporary clothes, showing that this building was – and remains – a place of learning for everyone .

Interior of Fountainbridge Library  with tables layed out

Unknown Photographer, The Nelson Hall at Fountainbridge Library looking towards the back of the building, 1940

The ground floor consisted of the Nelson Hall, now the main Library Reading Room and the Newspaper Room, now the Banfield Room for computer and community use.
The Nelson Hall was named after the publisher Thomas Nelson Junior, whose bequest funded the original and new buildings. It was used for concerts and lectures, held on the stage at the far end, under which 350 chairs could be stored. The last door on the left was an ante-room for performers and speakers and is currently used as a staff room. The nearby lavatories were only for gentlemen!

Interior of Fountainbridge Library

Unknown Photographer, The Nelson Hall at Fountainbridge Library looking towards Murdoch Terrace, 1940

During the day, the space was set up as a Games Room, with thirty tables at which draughts, chess and dominoes could be played.

Interior of Fountainbridge Library with tables and chairs

Unknown Photographer, The Newspaper Room at Fountainbridge Library, with the right-hand windows looking on to Dundee Street, 1940

The adjoining Newspaper Room was through a glazed internal wall. It contained fourteen adjustable, sloping reading stands, to suit the reader’s height and sight. Racks for twenty newspapers were provided, as was table space for twenty-four periodicals. Rumour has it that the librarians stamped out the day’s horse racing information to discourage gambling.

Interior of Fountainbridge Library with tables and chairs

Unknown Photographer, The Newspaper Room at Fountainbridge Library, with windows looking onto Dundee Street, 1940

The room has since been divided and a lift has been installed, where the double doors can be seen in this photograph. The internal window at the back right gave into the caretaker’s kiosk in the entrance hall.

Interior of Fountainbridge Library with book shelves

Unknown Photographer, The Home Lending Department at Fountainbridge Library, with the right-hand windows looking towards Murdoch Terrace, 1940

The entire first floor was given over to a vast Home Lending department, with lay lights (areas of glazed ceiling) to admit extra daylight.

Interior of Fountainbridge Library with book shelves

Unknown Photographer, a display case in the Lending Library dedicated to the ‘ABC of Psychology’, 1940

State-of-the-art open access bookshelves meant it was possible to browse and choose books for yourself, ran than the usual procedure of consulting a catalogue and requesting a title from a librarian. Cutting-edge illuminated display cases were also installed.

Interior of Fountainbridge Library with bookshelves

Unknown Photographer, the trolley park in the Lending Library, 1940

A trolley park in the corner beside the Librarians’ Office meant extra stock could be efficiently stored and administered. This floor is now home to an NHS clinic and offices.

Interior of Fountainbridge Library with book shelves and tables

Unknown Photographer, The Junior Library at Fountainbridge Library, with the right-hand windows looking on to Dundee Street, 1940

The top floor is one room deep. It housed a Reference Library running along Murdoch Terrace with accommodation for thirty readers. A dedicated Children’s Library, which looked on to Dundee Street, was a novel feature. The walls were fitted with bookshelves, above which windows were evenly spaced; they plus lay lights meant that even these more modest spaces were brightly lit. A curved, glazed Librarian’s station between the two wings made supervision of both possible at the same time, with a glazed entrance to the Children’s Library providing a buffer from its users’ noise. Library records reveal that the children had to wash their hands before they were allowed to enter! This floor is now a Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Surprisingly, the library’s stunning stairwell does not appear in the 1940 series of photographs. It allowed access to the whole building and is topped with an octagonal skylight. At its heart is the caretaker’s kiosk. This control hub had a counter on to the entrance hall, internal windows with an openable panel into the Nelson Hall and Newspaper Room, switches for all the building’s electric lights and a tube system to send dockets to and from the first and second floors. The basement accommodated staff rooms, a boilerhouse and a fuel bin. The renowned Moir Library of the Scottish Beekeeper’s Association can now be found there.

Fountainbridge Library opened in 1940 with a stock of 25,656 volumes. It cost just over £25,252 to build and was referred to as the ‘Dundee Street Library’ within the library service for decades. It had to be closed at dusk as it was impossible to black out the windows; the blackout also meant that it could not be flood lit as planned. In February 1941 the council agreed to use the tower as a watchtower, with its almost 360 degrees views over the city. At the height of enemy action, the Reference and Junior Libraries moved in with Home Lending and never returned to their original locations. Following its closure earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fountainbridge Library will re-open on Tuesday 13 October.

More photographs and information about the building can be found in the Capital Collections exhibition.

John Smith’s Houses and Streets in Edinburgh

For those of you who like looking at images of Edinburgh’s not so distant past, this volume of photographs from our Edinburgh & Scottish Collection will be of interest.

They are taken from a volume entitled ‘Origin, Nomenclature, and Location of Various Houses, Streets and Districts in Edinburgh’ by John Smith which was donated to the library in 1938 by his family.

John Smith spent his entire life in Edinburgh and dedicated most of his leisure time to the research of his home city. He was a carpenter’s son and started in his father’s business, but later pursued a career with the Royal Bank of Scotland where he remained until retirement. However, it is for his pastime that he is most remembered. He wrote the publications ‘Hammermen in Edinburgh’ and ‘Old Scottish Clockmakers‘. He researched and wrote on several Edinburgh topics including the Watson’s of Saughton, a history of the Lambs of Tollcross and produced a pictorial record of the tombstones in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard. Smith died in January 1938 aged 82 years old.

John Smith

The photographs in the volume date between 1920 and 1935, presumably taken by Smith himself, and show the varying styles of building and types of residence in Edinburgh, including notable buildings no longer in existence.

The volume was started long before the days of microfilm and computers, so every property description and detail included, has been meticulously copied by hand on to the pages. He probably spent many a long day, possibly here in Central Library, copying from the original pages of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, to whom most of the details are credited, and then re-writing them again into this volume. A true labour of love!

In one of the pages there is a description of Princes Street Gardens and its future use dated from 1832, stating that the “intention is to lay out the grounds with pleasure walks and ornamental shrubbery and throw them open to the public for a small sum annually”. In another from 1781 and describing St James Square, “the situation of this square is dry and healthy. It is sheltered by the buildings of the New Town from the west wind which is well known there to blow with uncommon violence….It is out of reach of the stench of the butchers shambles so intolerable to the neighbourhood in the summer months”.

Delve into the pages of this fascinating volume in our online exhibition John Smith’s Houses and Streets in Edinburgh, available to view in full on Capital Collections.

James Craig’s New Town

By the mid-1700s Edinburgh’s growing population was crammed into the tall, dark and insanitary tenements of the Old Town. The council wanted to improve living conditions and to encourage people with affluence and influence back to the city. Proposals were put forward to develop and expand Edinburgh to benefit the citizens, the city and Scotland. Part of the proposals demanded the upgrading of the Nor’ Loch in the valley beneath the castle, an expanse of water which had become a dumping place for all kinds of filth. The proposal suggested a canal with walks and terraces on either side but this was never realised. In 1759 the drainage of the Nor’ Loch began, and a couple of years later the Lord Provost laid the foundation stone of North Bridge paving the way for the city expansion to the north and improved connection with the port of Leith.

North Bridge, Edinburgh, 1809

Submissions were invited for a detailed plan which could interpret the proposals and envisage a new town on the grassy ridge to the north of the castle. Six submissions were received and the competition was won by the young and little-known architect, James Craig. After some alterations a final design was agreed by the town council in July 1767.

James Craig’s Plan of the new streets and squares intended for the City of Edinburgh

Craig’s plan was simple, geometric and spacious. It also symbolised the union of Scotland and England referencing the King, George III. Streets were named for him, his queen and his sons. The smaller back lanes were named after the national emblems of the two countries, rose and thistle. The plan included grand squares at either end of the George Street vista named in honour of each country’s patron saints with similarly named churches to be built facing each other. Castle Street would give a fantastic view to the castle, while Frederick and Hanover Streets again both referenced the royal family.

Craigleith Quarry supplied stone for the building works on Edinburgh’s New Town

In the end, George’s Square became Charlotte Square in honour of the queen and to prevent confusion with the newly built George Square near the university. The prime site allocated for the church at St Andrew Square was instead acquired by Sir Laurence Dundas, a wealthy landowner and businessman. His mansion, Dundas House would later become headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. St Andrew’s Church, now known as St Andrew’s and St George’s West, instead opened at the east end of George Street in 1784 to meet the needs of the new residents of the New Town.

This first phase of the New Town was in place.

George Street, 1925

Two of Craig’s later greatest architectural achievements, the Physician’s Hall on George Street and St James Square at the east end of Princes Street have long since been demolished. After such initial promise, success eluded James Craig and he would die in 1795 insolvent and unknown.

In 2017 the 250th anniversary of James Craig’s plan, our latest exhibition on Capital Collections celebrates his visionary New Town plan for Edinburgh.


New St Andrew’s House

In the space of 47 years, a large part of Edinburgh’s city centre has changed not once but twice.

The area of Leith Street, St James Square and Greenside have managed to survive in name but the area is virtually unrecognisable to anyone over the age of 50.

Fairley’s Dance Hall, John Colliers, Burton’s, Hoy’s furniture store, The Top Story Club, The Register Tap bar and Jeromes photo studio are among some of the fondly remembered establishments to those of a certain generation.

New St Andrews House

Part of the first development of the St James Square area included New St Andrew’s House, completed in 1970 and occupied for the first time in 1974 by the former Scottish Office. It closed during 1995-96 and remained empty, partly due to the asbestos which had been used in its construction. As a concrete building in the Brutalist style, with cliff face elevations and unattractive fenestration, it faced substantial public opposition when it was first built, and continued to be a somewhat controversial development.

View from 5th Floor- New St Andrews House

The St James Centre complex is now in the process of demolition as part of a £850m redevelopment consisting of new shops, a public square, 2 hotels and new residential apartments.

Looking towards the Balmoral Hotel and Register House

While the New St Andrew’s House building was empty and awaiting demolition, we were allowed access to take photographs including seldom seen views of Edinburgh from its unique vantage point. There are views of the inside of the building that lay empty for more years than it was actually in use.

View from 1st Floor stairs towards entrance foyer

Visit Capital Collections to see the full New St Andrew’s House exhibition.


James Grant and the artist’s imagination

From last September, one of our postgraduate interns from the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Massey, has been working with a large and unwieldy item from Central Library’s Special Collections. This is the sketchbook of the 19th century Scotsman James Grant, filled to the brim with paintings of historic Scottish buildings and some unexpected surprises. Having gone through each of the 383 artworks inside, recording their content and condition, Joseph has now arranged two separate exhibitions with Grant’s beautiful images at their heart. ‘Edinburgh’s Church on the Run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day’ is on display from 4 – 27 April in the Central Library’s Music Library, and explores the history of a forgotten architectural gem. ‘James Grant: the artist’s imagination’ is our new Capital Collections exhibition, focusing on Grant’s artistic development and creativity.

Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the Edinburgh-born artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant’s output was immense, but it all had a common purpose – to celebrate Scotland’s historic architectural achievements and to drive the country forward to create new masterpieces.

However, Grant’s early experiences in Scotland were not positive. Grant was only a child when his mother Mary Anne Watson died in 1833 and his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, immediately took James and his two brothers to live with him in his Canadian barracks. Mary Anne had been a capable artist herself, and Grant kept two of his mother’s paintings for the rest of his life, putting them inside his own sketchbook. One of her paintings is of Craigmillar Castle, showing a mother and her child walking in the foreground. Perhaps Mary Anne took her son James to see the castle. Grant later produced a number of beautiful paintings of Craigmillar Castle, perhaps with distant memories of his mother in mind.

Craigmillar Castle by Mary Anne Watson

It was while living in Canada that Grant’s own artistic talent began to emerge. And, fittingly, he started with a painting of the fort’s architecture. Fort Townsend, based on the east coast island of Newfoundland, was the headquarters of the British Newfoundland garrison and the Grant family lived there at Barrack Square. In 1836, when Grant was thirteen or fourteen years old, he stood on the balcony of the east building and painted a picture of the barracks opposite. As an adult Grant painted more pictures of the place that had been his home for six years.

Fort Townsend, St John’s, Newfoundland

Grant’s family returned to Britain in 1839 and he soon joined an architect’s office in Edinburgh. He spent his twenties travelling around Scotland to see as many of its historic castles, palaces, houses and churches as possible – and it is these beautiful pictures that fill most of his sketchbook. Grant’s artistic imagination extended to drawing historic ruins as they would have looked in their heyday, and the most impressive of these is a series of paintings made in 1848 of Craigmillar Castle, where he has imagined how the castle would look with all of its roofs restored. Craigmillar had a number of dramatic connections to members of the Stuart royal family, including Mary Queen of Scots, which was probably why Grant found it so interesting.

Craigmillar Castle – ‘restored’

Grant also wanted to construct buildings of his own design, and the sketchbook contains his designs for two churches, a cathedral and a cemetery gateway – though unfortunately none of them were constructed. They all show his love of medieval gothic architecture, with an abundance of elaborate carved stonework, beautiful window tracery and pinnacles. Grant was also inspired by the work of his contemporaries in both Scotland and continental Europe, where the gothic style was experiencing a revival. Grant’s 1846 design for the west front of a cathedral is one of the largest and most detailed works in his sketchbook. Scotland had no medieval cathedrals as elaborate as this – Grant wanted to bring something new and exciting to his native country.

Cathedral design

It was this love of gothic architecture which drove Grant to make a number of images of Trinity College Church, built in the 1460s and originally located below Calton Hill. In the 1840s the North British Railway company purchased the site of the church so that they could demolish it and make room for Waverley Station. Grant immediately set to work, creating numerous images of the exterior and sculptural details inside, which included monkeys on the pillar capitals! Many other prominent Scotsmen, such as David Bryce, also painting the church and making suggestions for where it could be rebuilt. Some of the earliest photographs taken in Scotland show Trinity College Church before its demolition. Unfortunately the church was not rebuilt in its entirety – after leaving the stones sitting on Calton Hill for 20 years, there was only enough material left to rebuilt part of it, which can still be seen down Chalmers Close, off the Royal Mile.

Trinity College Church

Today Grant is best known for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh (1880-83), which traces the history of Edinburgh through its buildings. It is a fitting legacy for a man who devoted his life to Scotland’s architecture.

Joseph’s exhibitions expertly shine a light on the history of Trinity College Church and the work of James Grant:

Church on the run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day
4 – 27 April, Mezzanine, Central Library

James Grant: the artist’s imagination is available to view on Capital Collections.


Edinburgh’s Modern Architecture

Yesterday we blogged about Edinburgh’s historic architecture – the world-renowned architecture of its Medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town. But what of the city’s buildings and developments over the past 70 years – its so-called Post-war Architecture?

Our next Capital Collections exhibition examines Modern Architecture in Edinburgh. During the latter part of the 20th century, construction took place across Scotland on new homes, schools, tower blocks, roads, churches and in some cases, even whole new towns. There was a commitment to improve public health and tackle poor housing. After the austerity of the 1940s and 50s, new technologies and materials combined in a period of reconstruction.

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The pictures within the exhibition highlight buildings in Edinburgh constructed since 1945 that have been recognised as architecturally significant and in many instances, are statutory listed as having special architectural or historic interest. Modern architecture can be a contentious topic, loved and loathed by both critics and the public. However, the buildings here show structures representative of their time and architectural styles; buildings that perhaps haven’t been around long enough yet for their value to be appreciated by all…?

Edinburgh’s Historic Architecture

To mark the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, we’ve dug into the Library’s archive and pulled out some fantastic examples of Edinburgh’s historic architecture dating from the early twentieth century all the way back to the sixteenth century.


Register House by Robert Adam

The exhibition on Capital Collections highlights many significant buildings across Edinburgh’s World Heritage site by world-renowned architects. Amongst those represented are Robert Adam and his design for Edinburgh University’s Old College and Register House, William Henry Playfair’s Greek Doric design for the Royal Scottish Academy, and Sir Robert Rowand Anderson’s McEwan Hall and Catholic Apostolic Church in Broughton Street.


Catholic Apostolic Church by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson

Browse online and see Edinburgh anew!

Myplace: Edinburgh a Competition for the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design

Myplace: Edinburgh is a competition to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016.

Between 1 June – 10 July 2016 add a photograph of your favourite Edinburgh place (eg a building, location, open space…) to Edinburgh Collected  and tell us what makes it special to you.


1st , 2nd and 3rd prize winners will be chosen by a panel of judges.  Prizes are kindly donated by the Festival of Architecture 2016 and will be awarded to  1st prize (£200),  2nd prize (£100)  and  3rd prize (£50).

Inch houseCompetition entries will be added to Edinburgh Collected a community archive of Edinburgh memories and featured on the home page.

Terms and Conditions

The photographs you add are your own work
2 Agree to Edinburgh Collected Terms and Conditions
3 Place or building must be within the City of Edinburgh Council boundary
4 Add the tag ‘competition16’  to your memory to enter the competition

pb beach

Visit the Edinburgh Pavilion  at the Pop-Up Cities Expo at the Mound 20th June to the 17th July to see the entries!  Follow us at #popupedin


Redesigning South Queensferry Library

Staff at the University of Dundee recently put their architecture students to the test by asking them to to respond to one of the needs identified in this report on the future of Queensferry: namely improvements to the context and fabric of the existing library building.

Queensferry Library

The students got to work designing a complex building in a challenging urban site. From a pool of 64 entries five of the best have been selected for display at the library at an open event on Wednesday 23rd March  from 6.30 – 8.00pm.

It’s hoped that these (theoretical) schemes demonstrate the ability of modern architectural design to make a positive contribution to and existing community through the creation of an environment that people will find stimulating and enduring.

Come along to hear more about each winning entry and what inspired these designs. All ages are welcome, and refreshments will be provided.

The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: Thomas Ross

Thomas Ross was born in Perthshire in 1839, the son of a tenant farmer. He  moved to Glasgow in 1885 to become an apprentice architect. In 1862, Thomas Ross was employed as an assistant to architect David MacGibbon, and in 1872 they went into partnership. As well as working on their architectural commissions, MacGibbon and Ross undertook an ambitious project travelling across Scotland, mainly by train or bike, sketching and gathering information about the country’s architectural heritage.

This resulted in the five volume work “Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland” (1887- 92) and the three volumes of “The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland” (1896-97).  Both series remain key texts for Scottish architecture (and can be found in our Art Library collections).

Torphichen Church

Ross’s influence increased when he became a founder member of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCHAMS) in 1908. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Edinburgh University in 1910.

Alfred MacGibbon (David’s son), fell ill in 1914 and dissolved the partnership. Ross continued to undertake small jobs that interested him from his home in Saxe-Coburg Place. His main occupation continued to be Commission business and it was while studying Rossend Castle, Inverkeithing that he fell foul of wartime restrictions when he was arrested and later fined 5 shillings for “sketching in a prohibited area”.

Ross continued to work as an architect until 1916 making surveys and sketches of old buildings. In 1918, Ross became Professor of Antiquities at the Royal Edinburgh Academy. He died in 1930 aged 91.

After his death, his son James MacLaren Ross destroyed most of the practice papers but those relating to the books and to Commission business were given to the National Library.  Drawings and paintings relating to Edinburgh, Scotland and England were given to Edinburgh Central Library. St Mary's Church, Haddington

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition brings together some of these unique watercolour paintings Ross completed on his various travels around Scotland and England and focus on landmark domestic and ecclesiastical buildings, many of which appear in his classic architectural texts.


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

George Washington Browne: architect

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

Charles Boog Watson: local historian and antiquarian

The tradesmen who built Central Library

The architecture of Italy

Fresco decorations and stuccoes of churches & palaces in Italy’, the newest addition to our Capital Collections site shows the work of engraver Lewis Grüner and gives a glimpse inside (and out!) of some of the finest buildings in renaissance Italy.

If you are interested in architecture, hoping for a few interior design ideas or are simply intrigued to see what the inside of Pope Clemens VII bathroom looks like, then this is an exhibition you won’t want to miss.

The Decoration of Spring

Spring has arrived! The flowers bud, newborn animals lay in the fields; and the sky transforms from the dark grey snows of winter, to the dull grey constant rain that all other seasons in the British Isles consist of.

So to help evoke the more traditional thoughts of spring, we turn to Capital Collections new online exhibition ‘L’ animal dans la decoration’. Merging bold colours with the use of animals, French Art Nouveau artist Maurice Pillard Verneuil, created a collection of prints which show how animals can inspire design and decoration in items of furniture, papers, tiles and even outdoor items such as railings.

So let Edinburgh Libraries bring spring to you, when the rain (or snow!!) prevents you from getting out and experiencing it for yourself.

My Perfect Place

My Perfect Place

Children in Scotland have just announced My Perfect Place, a national art competition for children and young people aged up to 18.

Through drawing, painting, collage or photography, participants are encouraged to express their ideas and inform international architects, planners, policymakers and designers about what makes the perfect place and why they like to spend time there.

The competition runs alongside Making Space 2010, a conference focusing on the importance of creating innovative and inspiring environments in which children and young people can live and learn.

The competition deadline is 12 July 2010.  For further information and details on submitting an entry please see

Free treasure trail around Edinburgh…

poetryinmotionmonumentsYou’re all invited to join us on our special Poetry in Motion treasure trail on Saturday 2nd May 2009.   

Step back in time to discover a city full of history and intrigue as we visit some of Edinburgh’s most impressive statues and monuments. We’ll even be sharing poems and stories along the way and there are opportunities to win prizes too!   See below for the full itinerary:


You can start the treasure trail from two different locations, either St Bernard’s Well or The National Monument, at 11am, then onto St Andrew’s Square for 12 noon. From there we’ll continue the trail together on one route through the city and finish at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile.

To find out more about our treasure trail or to book your FREE place please call 0131 529 3963/2.

Planning to explore the city…why not visit Central’s Art Library for information and advice?


Recognised world-wide by its skyline, Edinburgh is a city of breathtaking visual contrasts and challenges. The Castle, church spires, the Usher and McEwan Halls, not to mention that architectural contrast of the Old and New Towns; Edinburgh is rightly celebrated as an inspiring city of art and design.  

edinburghtradmodThere’s so much to discover so why not let Central’s Art Library support your search for inspiration and information?  Our knowledgeable staff will happily provide free advice and access to books, magazines, comics and DVDs  related to architecture, fashion, printmaking, photography.  

There’s also monthly exhibitions of works by local artists and photographers and opportunities to participate in craft sessions.  And as if that wasn’t enough, you’ll see our unrivalled view of St Giles’ Cathedral from our vantage point at the corner of  Victoria Street and George IV Bridge.

So make Central’s Art Library your first port of call next time you’re visiting Edinburgh; for business or pleasure! We’re located close to the Royal Mile in the heart of the Old Town World Heritage Site.

Explore Central Library on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh…

Internally and externally, Central Library is steeped in history and we like to think that it represents one of the best examples of a Carnegie Library in Scotland.  It also boasts some outstanding work by renowned Scottish architect George Washington Browne who was responsible for the original design of the library in 1887.  centralreflibex

Browne’s architecture was greatly influenced by a period spent studying architecture in France and Belgium; he even referred to his design for Central Library as Bibliotheque; the French word for Library.  If you take the time to check out the exterior of our wonderful library building you’ll see that it bears a striking resemblance to some of the great French chateaux in the Loire!   

centreflibmyllar1You’ll also observe two lintels from Sir Thomas Hope’s house incorporated into doorways and references to several printers, including William Caxton, Walterus Chepman and Andrew Myllar. And above the entrance, the words that Scots-born American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie insisted be placed above the entrance to every library he funded; ‘Let there be light’.  All of this before you even wander through our front doors…

centreflib2Internally you’ll be blown away by the jewel in our crown; the domed ceiling of the reference reading room. Not to mention the wonderful collection of resources on offer, for free.

So, next time you’re visiting Edinburgh stop by for a visit…whether you’ve only got a few minutes to take in our awesome exterior or you’d like to spend the whole day exploring our interior, Central Library is guaranteed to inspire!