Get an Instant Digital Card

Do you know someone who would benefit from free access to ebooks, audiobooks and magazines, but who are not a member of the library? This New Year you can get free instant access to Edinburgh Libraries Libby service without a library card. Thousands of best-selling titles for adults, teens and children are available to read on your phone, tablet or computer. It’s a fantastic way to make the most of your electronic Christmas presents and to save money. Please spread the word to relatives and friends!
No library card? No problem! From the 10 January – 9 February 2023 if you are over 16 years old you can sign up for an Instant Digital Card in seconds. All you need is a mobile phone number and the access code – Library2go. To find out how to get started go to
The Instant Digital Card gives you access to Libby for three months. However, you can keep on using the service for free by joining the library and receiving a permanent membership card. Join online through
Contact if you have any questions about our downloadable services.

Built on baskets – selling in the streets

When you go out to get your weekly shop, what do you do? Perhaps you shop at the local supermarket or have it delivered to your doorstep. It would have been a different experience in early nineteenth century Edinburgh where hawkers and weekly markets remained an important source of food for many residents. Their presence recorded in both songs, stories and images created in their wake forming a part of Edinburgh’s streets-life. The lives and work of these women are crucial to the daily routines of Edinburgh as described in a new story for Our Town Stories.

One such artist whose work frequently featured such characters was the London artist Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbreck. While not achieving wide fame, Swarbeck achieved moderate success with his watercolours and lithographic prints, exhibiting in the art societies and galleries of Norfolk, Liverpool and eight times at the National Academy and 14 times at the British Institution. His success lay in his architectural artwork, with the Morning Advertiser in 1856 describing that he “has much talent” in this particular genre. Yet his most enduring work was arguably his earlier collection of 26 lithographs of Edinburgh originally published at £4 4s in 1839, around £250 in today’s money. 

Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket by Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbreck

Despite Swarbeck’s focus on architecture, hawkers, fishwives and figures such as Highland soldiers abound in his works, depicted walking the streets of Edinburgh. With interest in romantic prints and images of Scotland fed by Queen Victoria’s love of the country and her almost annual trips, the presence of these figures acted as a clear indication of which city was being represented. The Newhaven fishwives known for their distinctive dress and their creel, ubiquitous and specific to Scotland and parts of northern Ireland, visually ground the images in Scotland.

The High Street, Edinburgh by Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbreck

Yet these works were exactly that, a romantic ideal. The hawkers with rosy cheeks and full lace bonnets and fishwives in their gala best were not a wholly accurate picture. They present a tidy, picturesque image of these workers glossing over the harder aspects of their labour. Women such as those recorded in the Edinburgh List of Poor Relief, namely Elizabeth Weatherley at 40, widowed with 5 children, hawked fruit to support her family. Or Margaret Davie who was also widowed at 50 with ill health and bad legs still hawked her wares in the street. These were the real women who fed Edinburgh. While Swarbreck’s work shows in many ways how crucial sellers were to Edinburgh’s streets, it does so very firmly through rose-coloured glasses.

We’re grateful to Freya Purcell who has kindly contributed this blog post and the brilliant Built on baskets – selling in the streets story on Our Town Stories.

Freya Purcell is a historian of design interested in researching social history through material culture. She is currently a researcher in residence for the Archival Network Women Make Cities which looks to examine how women worked to shape urban spaces in Scotland.

John Groat family album on Edinburgh Collected

One of the great features of Edinburgh Collected is being able to create online scrapbooks. This is the opportunity to gather together images you have found or put on the website into one place to tell a story.

One of our latest contributions is from our friends at the Living Memory Association who have collated lots of lovely photographs to tell the story of John Groat (1924-2018) and his family.

John’s first job at 14 was as a “hammer boy” at Brown Brothers’ Engineering Works near Rosebank earning 8 shillings.

John Groat aged 3 years

In 1946 John joined the RAF, where he was posted to Egypt remaining there until 1950.

After leaving the RAF John joined the Nursing College in Castle Street where he met his future wife.

John continued his career in Edinburgh as a District Nurse, where he remembered that one of his patients used to keep a pony in the bathroom!

Take a look at the full John Groat scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected and if you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about John’s life and looking at some of his family photos, why not gather some of your own together and create your own scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected?

Recording the changing cityscape on Edinburgh Collected

One of the main purposes of our website Edinburgh Collected is to not only to help build our digital collections, but to give people the opportunity to add their own images and memories to the site.

People put on pictures of their ancestors, school and childhood photos, others put on images of the ever-changing surroundings of their own neighbourhood.

One of our members of staff has been out and about and has taken some great photos of the demolition of the former Royal Bank of Scotland building in Dundas Street. You can see them all in a new scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected.

Demolition of former Royal Bank of Scotland building -2022

This building built in the Brutalist architectural style in 1968, had lain unoccupied since 2018 and is now in the process of demolition as part of a new development.

As many of you know, Edinburgh is a constantly changing city and at any given time there are what seems like dozens of building projects going on. So – can you help us record the changes in your area on Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive? Have a look around at any changing shops, buildings and street scenes and help us capture these views before they are lost forever.

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 Edinburgh Women’s Mural goes on tour!

A big thank you to everybody that came to see Central Library’s beautiful Edinburgh Women’s Mural while it was on display in the foyer, and another big thank you to the people that attended our short series of Mural Talks. 

Here, below, are the wonderful Iffat Shahnaz and Roshni Gallagher in conversation last week, talking at a sold-out event about their life experiences and insights as women of colour living in Edinburgh.

Central Library says goodbye to the Edinburgh Women’s Mural as it embarks on a short summer tour of community libraries, where local people will be able to visit the Mural on display and take part in related events. 

The itinerary is as follows:
Wester Hailes Library: 4-16 July
Blackhall Library: 18 – 30 July
Stockbridge Library: 1 – 13 August 
Oxgangs Library: 15 – 27 August 
Craigmillar Library: 29 August – 11 September 

Then it’s back to Central Library in mid-September where we hope to run a short series of school events. 

Watch this space for updates!

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.

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.

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?

Writers of Edinburgh

Our latest story on Our Town Stories highlights authors who have helped put Edinburgh on the literary map through their own connections to the city or because the city plays a central role in their stories.

We feature Jenni Fagan, Quintin Jardine, Doug Johnstone, Alanna Knight, Alexander McCall Smith, Ambrose Parry, Aileen Paterson, Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Sara Sheridan, Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh. 

The changing face of the city is captured in its various guises from the dark Victorian streets of Inspector Jeremy Faro to the genteel private school of Miss Jean Brodie to the stark realities of Renton’s 1980s Edinburgh.

Advocates Close by Alexander Adam Inglis, c1890

So, if you’d like to know a wee bit more about the people who created these books and characters closely connected with the city, and perhaps discover some reading gems you’re not so familiar with, take a look at Writers of Edinburgh on Our Town Stories.

The story is part of a wider project with the Living Knowledge Network Libraries for Breaking the News. Look out for other activities, exhibitions and events happening across our Libraries soon.

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.

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!

Jane Stewart Smith watercolours

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition highlights some more gems from our collection. The images are taken from 2 volumes of watercolours by Jane Stewart Smith.

Edinburgh based artist, Jane Stewart Smith was born in London in 1839. She principally produced scenes of Edinburgh’s streets and buildings in oil and watercolour.

She was the author of two books, ‘The Grange of St Giles’ (1898) and ‘Historic Stones of Bygone Edinburgh’ (1924).

She worked as a governess before she married Edinburgh framer and picture dealer John Stewart Smith in 1864, at the age of 24.

Antique buildings opposite Mint Close, Cowgate, 1868

Her paintings were a valuable record of areas that might be demolished, and their importance was evident later to those who had seen many changes in the city. As well as recording architectural landscape and detail, the pictures are full of atmosphere, with street life closely observed. We see traders, carters and washing hanging from the upper windows.

Stewart Smith would rise early to draw and paint these scenes before there were many people around. It was unconventional, daring even, for a women to work alone outdoors in the poorest and less salubrious parts of the town.

College Wynd, 1870

Her landscape paintings were included in almost every Royal Scottish Academy exhibition from 1865 to 1887.

As well as scenes of Edinburgh she also painted in Fife and East Lothian as well as other areas of Scotland. Other pictures shown at the RSA featured scenes of Shrewsbury, Chester, Rouen and Genoa.

When World War One broke out the Stewart Smiths had been married fifty years. They helped with fundraising with the Belgian relief effort through the Edinburgh French Protestant Church which they were both involved with.

Old Ecclesiastical House in Canongate, 1868

John Stewart Smith died in 1921. At that time, they had been living in Portobello together with a friend named Catherine Roberts, a retired dressmaker. Jane Stewart Smith died on 1 December 1925, aged 86.

Browse more of Jane Stewart Smith’s brilliant depictions of old Edinburgh on Capital Collections.

Find more information about Jane Stewart Smith on Edinburgh Footnotes.

Ghost signs

As a somewhat tenuous nod to Halloween, we have come across some ghost signs which can be found on buildings throughout the town, remnants of hand-painted advertising signage, above doors or on walls where they were never meant to last forever. You can see them in our Edinburgh Collected scrapbook.

Edinburgh Ghost Signs - Herb Beer - Upper Bow
Upper Bow, Old Town

Some have survived, often revealed during refurbishment, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of one before new signage is added.

R Dolan Chimney Sweeper
R. Dolan – Chimney Sweeper

Most people who have grown up in Edinburgh will remember this place, and will be pleased to see that ice cream is healthy after all!

Mr Boni
Mr Boni’s – Gilmour Place

These are a few from our Edinburgh Collected community archive, maybe you can help find some more and add them to the collection?

James Ritchie and Son clockmakers

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections is quite unique. It is a family photo album loaned to us for digitisation by David Ritchie Watt a descendant of clockmaker, James Ritchie. The album is a great addition to our collections with a connection to a significant Edinburgh working family who put their mark on all areas of the city from swimming pools to parks and landmarks. Poring over the family photographs prompted us to delve deeper into the history of the well-known clockmaking family.

Everyone is familiar with the clock on the Balmoral Hotel and the floral clock in Princes Street Gardens. Some of you might be familiar with the clocks where you live, say in Morningside or Tollcross. All these clocks and many more across the city and further afield, have one thing in common, they were all made by clockmakers, James Ritchie & Son.

Balmoral Hotel clock tower, 2008,

James Ritchie was born c1780 and although he was not born in Edinburgh, he started his career in watchmaking around 1799 when he was apprenticed to James Howden who had a successful business at 3 Hunter Square. He started his own business at 29 Leith Street in 1809 and in 1819 took over the business of Joseph Durnward at 2 Leith Street, who had qualified in his trade in 1775. And so began the start of the Ritchie firm.

James Ritchie and Son, clockmakers, 25 Leith Street, 1950,

James Ritchie was admitted as a Burgess of Edinburgh on 18 April 1814, as his wife Sarah who he had married in 1804 was a native of Edinburgh. By 1838, the business had moved to 25 Leith Street occupying the shop at ground level and three basement flats which were used as the workshops for over 100 years.

In 1839 at the age of 11, his son Frederick was admitted as a partner and all their clocks were inscribed James Ritchie & Son.

The mechanical side of clockmaking gave way to the increasing use of electricity and the Ritchies were leaders in this new field. Alex Bain who invented the first electric clock and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, were among the Ritchies’ friends. Before Bell went to America, he fitted a communication system up in the family home allowing Mrs Ritchie when entertaining her lady friends to tea in the drawing room, to summon the maid from the basement. She didn’t require anything, she just wanted to impress her friends!

Advert for James Ritchie and Son, c1881,

The company flourished under Frederick’s leadership and the firm gained a worldwide reputation in 1861 for their construction of the One O’clock Gun time system. A master clock on Calton Hill was linked by an overhead electric cable to a clock at Edinburgh Castle. This enabled the One O’clock gun to be fired automatically at one o’clock. The electric cable linking the cable to Calton Hill was 1,225 metres long. It passed over the Waverley Valley without any support at a height of 73 metres. (Find out more about the history of Edinburgh’s impressive time service on Our Town Stories.)

One o’clock! (time ball), 1861,

Frederick died in 1906 and the business continued with William his eldest son managing a new branch shop at 131 Princes Street. Two other sons of Frederick, James and Leone continued working in the main shop in Leith Street. Leone continued to run the business until retiring in 1953. With the sale of the shop in Leith Street, his nephew, Bertie Mitchell continued the business from a shop in Little King Street. Later the firm moved to larger premises at 56 Broughton Street.

Bertie was the last family member to run the company. It continues, still bearing the name and in 2019 moved to new premises in the Drum Estate on the outskirts of the city.

View of the foot of Morningside Road with Morningside Clock, 2014,

If you haven’t done it before, why not explore Capital Collections, our online image library? With over 20,000 pictures to explore, you’re sure to discover something new.

David Ritchie Watt’s family album

A while ago, we were asked if we’d like to digitise a family album. The album contains many wonderful candid views of family life between 1919 and 1947, photos of a type and era not well represented in our collections. However, this wasn’t the only reason we were interested.

The family album belonged to David Ritchie Watt, a name perhaps not instantly recognisable, but one which has a connection with many areas and landmarks across the city.

David’s mother was Catherine Ritchie, a member of the well-known Edinburgh clockmaking family. David was born in 1927, and in this photo album are gathered hundreds of images spanning through the years from c1919 to c1947, including pictures with his grandfather Leo, who ran the James Ritchie & Son business until his retirement in 1953.

Throughout the album we see photos of family holidays in the days before staycations became the thing to do. We see children building sandcastles and playing on the rocks in North Berwick and Dunbar, and families posing for the camera.

Seaside group – c1930

David’s Aunt “Nannie” and Uncle George Scotland lived in India for a while where George was the manager of a coffee plantation. Their three daughters, David’s cousins, were born in India and there are several photos of the time the family spent there, including a visit from Santa!

Santa visit, India c1930

David’s childhood was spent in the family home in Willowbrae Road before moving to nearby Durham Road in Portobello where he started school at the fee-paying Royal High Preparatory School aged 5. In 1939 he was due to be transferred to the Senior Royal High School but the outbreak of war in September 1939 saw him being evacuated to Buckie in the north-east of Scotland.

David left school in July 1944 aged 17 and started to work at the wholesale printers and stationers, Blair & Davidson where his father was a director and where he had worked part-time from 1940 delivering parcels at a penny a time. Conscription for military service continued and in early July 1945 he reported to Dreghorn Military Camp to start training in the General Service Corps. After three years’ service he returned home and continued to work at Blair & Davidson. Attending classes while working full-time, David was accepted to study for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at Edinburgh University, where he graduated in 1952.

David R Watt, West Africa 1947

David married Elaine in 1964. He continued his career at Blair & Davidson becoming a director and worked there until it ceased trading in 1997.

Explore all the lovely photographs from the album shared by David Ritchie Watt in our new Capital Collections exhibition for a glimpse into family life in Edinburgh in the first half of the 20th century.

History of the house: Gladstone’s Land

By 1630 Edinburgh had a population of around 25,000. The location, bounded by the Castle Rock, the Nor’ Loch and the city walls, kept the residents safe from attack, but prevented expansion. People were forced to build houses very near to each other forming the closes that run down the Royal Mile. They were forced to build upwards and it was common for a building to be seven stories high, but by the 1680s, some were as tall as fourteen stories. With people living so close to each other and no proper sewage system, filth and disease were all part of daily life.

In 1617, Thomas Gladstone purchased the property with the intention of renting out the apartments. To attract the wealthiest tenants, he extended the building to the front adding three intricate and fashionable painted wooden ceilings in the new rooms he created. These ceilings were later concealed beneath the plaster and remained hidden until the 1930s, when the National Trust for Scotland bought the property and rediscovered them during restoration.

At the start, Thomas and his wife Bessie were successful with several upper-class tenants. When the Gladstones’ other business interests began to fail some of the property was sold, splitting the building into areas of different ownership.

Thomas died a widower in 1654 and his eldest son inherited the parts of the building the family had retained.

Throughout the years Gladstone’s Land was home to many traders. John Riddock and his wife Margaret Nobel lived in Gladstone’s Land in the early part of the 17th century. They traded expensive foodstuffs, cloth and other imported items out of two ground floor shop booths, operated a tavern in the cellar and lived on the fourth floor.

In 1755 Elizabeth Pillans and her husband William Dawson ran a draper’s shop in the building making clothing for clients and selling items such as stockings and hats. By 1766 they were clearly successful purchasing the ground floor, part of the basement and other apartments in Gladstone’s Land.

Gladstone’s Land was occupied by upper- and middle-class owners until the end of the 18th century, when the wealthy moved to the recently built New Town. This marked the start of a period of decline for the property, and of the Old Town as a whole.

While the property retained its respectability, it housed those with less skilled trades such as porters, labourers, and rubber workers alongside skilled craftsmen The property also became increasingly subdivided, with smaller apartments available.

Gladstone’s Land 1910

One of the last remaining occupants of Glastone’s Land was Eleanor Leake (also known as Lee) who ran a boarding house from 1926 until 1933 when the 1930 Housing Act saw the condemnation of a number of substandard buildings throughout the Old Town and Leake’s property along with several other apartments in the building, were condemned as “unfit for human habitation and not capable of being made fit”.

Orders placed on 29 May 1933, stated that the houses were to be vacated by the tenants by 21 July 1933.  Using the excellent British Newspaper Archive which is available to all our library users, we find a newspaper report from the Edinburgh Evening News dated 6 October 1933 that Eleanor had appeared in court, the heading “EDINBURGH WOMAN AND A CLOSING ORDER – A PATHETIC CASE”.   

Edinburgh Evening News, Friday 6 1933

On a visit made to the premises on 8 August by officers of the Sanitary Department she was found to have moved into one of the houses. Being informed that she was contravening the Housing Act she replied that it was her own house and she intended to remain in it until she was compensated for the loss of her property or given a Corporation house.

She pleaded with the court that, she was now 69, had no pension and was a widow dependant on the rent from the property for her livelihood. She was admonished by the court and ordered to vacate the premises.

In 1934, the building was scheduled for demolition until it was rescued by the National Trust for Scotland who bought the property for £760. Restoration work was carried out between 1935 and 1938 creating apartments, a shop, and a ‘suite of showrooms’. It was during this renovation that Renaissance painted ceilings which had been hidden for centuries were uncovered.

Between 1974 and 1980 more restoration work was carried out to enable the building to be open to the public for the first time as a museum.

Dairy, 483 Lawnmarket, Gladstone’s Land, 1904

The latest restoration saw Gladstone’s Land closing from February 2020 and reopening in May 2021. It now has a museum on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors, and an ice cream parlour which draws inspiration from refreshment rooms and ice cream rooms located in the Lawnmarket in the18th and 19th centuries, as well as the dairy that operated from the building on the ground floor.

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
History of the house: 4 Balcarres Street