Local and family history enquiries with the team from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection

Over the past few weeks, members of Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection team have been busy trying to solve various family and local history queries that members of the public have been sending in by email.

Examples of the kind of questions asked have ranged from the straightforward to the devilishly tricky. So far, staff have fielded questions about whether the Library holds Edinburgh Electoral Rolls for the year 1845 and copies of the Evening News for 1959. (‘Yes’ was the answer to both questions). They’ve helped trace ancestors by finding birth, marriage and death certificates. And really got their thinking caps on when asked – what influenced 19th century emigrants to the US and Canada to choose one town over another in where they eventually settled! There have been some great questions about the local area too, from helping to date a school building in Leith, to finding resources on who was working as a pharmacist in Edinburgh in the early 1800s (and under what conditions).

Answering enquiries in the Edinburgh Room, 1954. Image from Capital Collections.

With only having online resources to access currently and sadly, not the full library collection there are limits to what can be answered. However, if you do have your own local or family history query, please send it to central.edsc.library@edinburgh.gov.uk and they will do the best they can to help out.

Here are some links to great history and heritage resources that may begin or continue your own research journey and assist with enquiries also.

History of the house: White Horse Close

Near the foot of the Canongate lies one of Edinburgh’s hidden architectural treasures. Enter through an archway to find a square of houses and in front of you the distinctive facade of the former White Horse Inn.

Old White Horse Inn, Canongate, 1819 by James Skene

According to a plaque on the wall, the Inn was probably built by Laurence Ord around 1603. It had stabling for horses in an undercroft entered from Calton Road. The stables were used by residents of nearby Holyrood Palace and it’s thought the close is named after a favourite horse of Mary Queen of Scots.

In those early days, a gentleman dressed in his riding boots and gambadoes (leggings) setting out for London would come to the Inn to hire a suitable roadster to take him there.

Another plaque in the Close commemorates a famous former resident. William Dick was born there in 1793. He studied Human Medicine at Edinburgh University and at the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1833, he funded the erection of a building at Clyde Street (today, the approximate site of Multrees Walk). In 1839, this became a college where William Dick was Professor and students were able to also study Veterinary Medicine. By his death in 1866 William Dick had taught more than 2000 students. The College he founded is now the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Edinburgh University.

John Paterson who was Bishop of Edinburgh from 1679 until his move to Glasgow in 1687, was another former resident of White Horse Close. His house was most probably at the entrance where there is now a tenement block. Paterson grew up in the church and in 1642 was elected as minister of the Tron Kirk in Edinburgh. He supported the Stuart Kings’ belief in the Divine Right of Kings and that they were the spiritual head of the Church of Scotland. This view was bitterly opposed by the Covenanters (those who signed and supported the National Covenant in 1638).

Another notable resident was Ned Holt. Holt began his working life as an apprentice baker but gave that up for a career as a showman and then as an actor. His legacy today, though are his colourful paintings of the characters and daily life he encountered in the Old Town. You can see Edinburgh Libraries’ collection of Ned Holt paintings online.

Edinburgh characters at St Giles, 1850 by Ned Holt

In 1889 the Close was purchased by Dr John Barbour and his sister and the courtyard buildings including the Inn were updated and converted into working class accommodation.

White Horse Close, c1885, unknown photographer

The 1901 census shows the industries and occupations of men and women living at White Horse Close. They included maltman, coal carter, core maker in a glass foundry, glass packer, laundress, lemonade bottler, paper folder and clay pipe maker.

One socially mobile occupant who lived at White Horse Close between 1872 and 1900 was John Cowan, a paper manufacturer and political organiser. He arrived in 1872 as Mr John Cowan but having received the Baronetcy of Beeslack, Midlothian in 1894, died in 1900 as Sir John Cowan. The title became extinct on his death.

Like many other areas in the old town, the properties in the Close had become run down again by the mid 1900s. The city council began a programme of Slum Clearance and redevelopment in the 1950s, and fortunately White Horse Close was selected for restoration rather than demolition.

A surveyor noted the difficulties encountered at White Horse Close:

  • poor people living in intolerable conditions
  • no wall was the same thickness as any other
  • no floor levels were the same.

White Horse Close, c2006 by Bernard Murphy

White Horse Close today is a lesser-known tourist spot and a desirable place to live. In the middle of the 20th century considered a deprived and rundown location, it’s now a picturesque and restored Old Town relic.

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: 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

Find my past and British Newspaper Archive

Two fantastic family and local history resources are now available for free from all Edinburgh Libraries!

Find my past is a superb resource for all family history researchers. You can search across millions of genealogy records including UK parish records, census records, Irish records and British military records. Find my past also gives unique access to the 1939 register, which recorded 41 million citizens throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the outbreak of World War Two.

The British Newspaper Archive is now available from within all libraries too! The British Newspaper Archive is a fantastic resource giving access to local newspapers from across the UK and Ireland going back as far as the 1700s.

Wester Hailes Library presents: A kind of seeing

Wester Hailes Library is holding a unique archive film and photography event on Wednesday 22 February, 6 – 7.30pm, focusing on the history of the local community.

Children playing, Wester Hailes Drive

The main event will be a specially curated archive film screening, which will be shown on the library’s new cinema-size screen, complete with surround-sound! Films included in the programme will explore themes of community, through both films about the local area and Scotland as a whole, including…

WEALTH OF A NATION (1978, 17 min) – Made as part of a group of 7 documentaries for the 1938 Empire Exhibition, under the supervision of John Grierson. The film compares the old and new industries in Scotland, from shipyards to local farms.

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EDINBURGH SAYS FAREWELL TO ITS TRAMS (1956, 5 min) – A series of shots over the last couple of days before the original Edinburgh tram service closed.

HUTS – A FILM FROM WESTER HAILES (1985, 20 min extract) – A film following the efforts of local Wester Hailes residents working together to improve life locally through the building and development of ‘The Huts’ as community facilities.

The screenings will be followed by a short discussion about the films, and the history of the local area. Everyone’s welcome to join in the discussion, and stay to enjoy some refreshments (tea, coffee & biscuits).

Alongside the film screening, there will be a photo exhibition of images taken around the local community. The exhibition will consist of both printed photographs and laptops connected to online archives, such as Capital Collections and Edinburgh Collected. While most of the printed photographs will come from the library’s own collection, we’d welcome any additions, so if you have any interesting photos of the local area, please get in touch.

The event is free to attend. Limited tickets are available online from Eventbrite.

Tickets are also available direct from Wester Hailes Library: email westerhailes.library@edinburgh.gov.uk, phone us on 0131 529 5667, or drop in and speak to a member of staff.

“Wester Hailes library presents: A kind of seeing” is funded by Film Hub Scotland and is part of projects being piloted in Scotland under the Film Education in Libraries Project. The £190,000 initiative was made possible through Creative Scotland as part of their Film Strategy and aims to improve the provision of film and moving image education across the country.  This screening was commissioned by Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC).

Video: getting started with Edinburgh Collected

This short film explains what Edinburgh Collected is and how easy it is to add your own pictures and memories to the site.

How we’re rescuing our photograph collection with a hairdryer

IMG_4429Edinburgh Libraries is home to a collection of around 100 000 photographs.

We want these pictures to be seen by as many people as possible, so back in 2007 we started digitising photos and uploading them to the Capital Collections website.

But would you believe the everyday hairdryer has become an integral part of the process? Here’s how.

We discovered that many of the images had been mounted using sticky tape and in some cases the glue was starting to mark the image.

Around 80% of the collection was affected, many more than we could ever afford to have conserved by a professional.  Fortunately the glue had not yet seeped through to the image on most of the items but we needed to take action quickly.

Working with EDFAS (Edinburgh Decorative Fine Art Society) we recruited a dedicated team of volunteers who have been using a relatively low-tech tool to help remove the glue and help save the images. That tool being a hairdryer.

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Edinburgh Libraries’ Janette Gollan explains the process: “We are working on prints that belong to the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central LIbrary. The prints haven’t been mounted very well  in the past so we take off the tape and remove the glue. The  hairdryers are used to soften the glue first then we can rub off the residue.   

The vastness of the collection means it’s a task we’d never be able to complete ourselves so the volunteers have been very valuable to us. It’s allowing us to preserve these prints for posterity and digitise them for public access.”

Volunteer Trina adds: “Some photos had quite a bit of residue on them so it could take a while. It’s a fairly intricate process as well and some days you could spend all morning on one photograph.”

So far they’ve got through about 4000 prints, helping save our collection for future generations and in the process of doing that they get a sneak peek at some wonderful shots of Edinburgh’s past.

“Some that stuck in my mind were the ones of Leith during blitz” Trina says. “None of us had realised just how badly Leith had been bombed. It’s photos like this that remind you of the importance in preserving  these moments of history for future generations”

Bomb damage on Portland Place

Bomb damage on Portland Place

Hilary agrees that the history they uncover to be very engaging: “ We’ve had great fun looking on websites locating photographs and finding out about places we didn’t know about.”

“One of the things I’ve just discovered is Sciennes Hill House where the historical meeting between Robert Burns and Walter Scott took place.  It was a house in the country with a long drive and now you can’t see the front of it unless you peer over a wall as it’s been built around so much. It’s lovely discovering things like that.”

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At the moment the hairdryers have been put to one side and the group are working on mounting photographs and adding relevant information to them.

When asked about the size of the collection, Irene laughs, joking that maybe Janette’s been keeping that from them.  “I’ve a feeling there’s some way to go yet” she says.

Once the photographs have been cleaned up and remounted they make their way to our photographer for digitisation. Images can then be viewed at capitalcollections.org.uk

The story of Corstorphine

We’re indebted to The Corstorphine Trust for collaborating on a history of Corstorphine with us for Our Town Stories. They’ve also shared many fantastic pictures from their archives with us to allow us to tell the story of Corstorphine from the 12th century to present day.

Corstorphine High Street

Corstorphine has a rich and vivid history. Read about the Old Parish Church, and its even older predecessor, the neighbouring fortress and loch, and the murder of one of the founding Forrester Clan. In the 18th century, people travelled to Corstorphine to take the waters at a well reputed for its healing powers. In 1920, Corstorphine became part of Edinburgh and farmlands stood where now there are shopping centres and housing estates.There’s recollections of Corstorphine train station and a line of trams waiting to pick up crowds of rugby fans from Murrayfield. And look out for the celebrity opening the 1960 Corstorphine Fair…

Get in touch with informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk if you’d like to share the story of your neighbourhood on Our Town Stories.

 

Previously… at Central Library

Last Saturday we welcomed hundreds of visitors to our Local and Family History Open Day. They took part in a packed programme of taster sessions, talks and exhibitions, organized as part of the Previously…Scotland’s History Festival.


Experts and enthusiasts came together to discuss all aspects and avenues of historical research. Library staff were on hand to demonstrate all the online heritage resources you can access in the library and from home for free – the invaluable Ancestry Library Edition and The Scotsman Digital Archive proved particularly popular.

Special thanks goes to our professional colleagues from Edinburgh City Archives, Edinburgh’s War, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries, Living Memory Association, Lothians Family History Society, Old Edinburgh Club, ScotlandsPeople, Scran and The Scottish Genealogy Society who manned stalls, gave advice and encouragement and explained how their organizations  can support local and family history research.

Visitors were also given a sneak preview of our new website called Our Town Stories (www.ourtownstories.co.uk) which uses images and historical maps from our unique heritage collections to tell the story of Edinburgh’s past. Take a look and let us know what you think…

Investigate the history of your house….

milnescourtgeorgemalcolm19342Ever found yourself wondering about the history of your house?  

Imagine if your walls could actually talk; what kind of stories would they share about previous inhabitants? Well, with a little research you can find out all sorts of things about the area, your street, your house and it’s previously occupants…

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We can’t say too much at the moment as we’re still at the planning stages of this latest project but later this year we’ll be in a position to offer you advice on how to investigate the history of your house
…and we’re confident that you’ll be fascinated and astounded with what you might discover!