Ask the Archivist event at Edinburgh Central Library

Melrose's Tea van

Melroses Tea van

What are archives and can they help you discover more? Are you interested in finding out more about your family and local history, or a business? Do you have records you don’t know what to do with?

Why not come along and talk to one of the archivists from Edinburgh City Archives to get some free advice.  The drop-in sessions take place in the Edinburgh & Scottish Collection within Central Library on George IV Bridge. Sessions planned so far take place on 30th March, 27th April and 25th May from 10.30 until 12.30

If you are interested in this but the time is not suitable, please email us on or call us on 0131 529 4616.

We look forward to meeting you soon…

The Bloody Hankie

Bailie Court Process, June 1795

Bailie Court Process, June 1795

The Bailie Court processes series is one of the most important collections held by Edinburgh City Archives, a series which covers the 17th to the later 19th centuries.  This voluminous set of records (over 400 boxes of papers), although not easy to use given the bundled state of them and lack of indexes, has nevertheless been used by academics for scholarly research.

Many of processes (which are the papers used in the Edinburgh Bailie or Burgh Court during trials) relate to issues concerning financial matters – debts, disputes over costs and the like.  Sometimes, however, we can be afforded insights into other, perhaps more interesting social issues such as sex scandals or street dust-ups.  Such is the case with a petition that went before the Council Magistrates in June 1795 concerning William Oliver, James Dickson and George Paton amongst others.

The main individuals involved are as follows:

Dramatis Personae

George Paton senior – Writing Teacher at a school on South Bridge

George Paton junior – Nephew & Assistant to George Paton senior

William Oliver – Son of the Sheriff of Roxburghshire, relation of Col. Moneypenny & pupil at the Writing School noted above

James Dickson – Another pupil at the school, son of an Edinburgh Seedsman

It appears that sometime before the incident central to this particular court case, George Paton senior felt he had been badly treated and abused by some of the pupils in his class including William Oliver.  Although a prosecution had been brought against Oliver by the Patons this had not resulted in any action being taken against the Sheriff of Roxburghshire’s son – clearly, George Paton senior still felt aggrieved at the failure.

William Oliver's blood-stained hankie

William Oliver’s blood-stained hankie

Subsequently, in June 1795, both George Paton junior and James Dickson had been out together in Edinburgh when they saw William Oliver in a street in the South Bridge area.  According to Dickson’s testimony in court, Paton encouraged him to strike William Oliver in retribution of past insults of his uncle since Paton could not do so himself fearing recognition.  Dickson did strike Oliver, the second blow drawing a profusion of blood from his nose, caught in a large handkerchief which was produced in court.

The various testimonies given in court from all sides seem to make clear that Dickson was indeed the assailant (admitted by him) and also seem to implicate Paton junior as the instigator.  It appears that although Paton senior was initially unaware of what had taken place he did give his approval to his nephew’s actions and prior to the Bailie Court hearing had tried to persuade all parties i.e the Dicksons to stand together and deny all knowledge of the incident.  Needless to say the plot fell apart before the hearing and it seems clear that the Patons would feel the full force of the law and the Court’s judgement.  Unfortunately, we do not have the judgement, only these court proceedings.

As an endpiece it is perhaps worth noting that the headmaster of the school, a Mr Fraser, reported that George Paton senior had said to him after the failure of the first court case against William Oliver that, “…if he (George Paton) had a Colonel to speak for him to the Magistrates he would have been better listened to, that he also said if he had been a great man’s son he would have had more attention paid him…”  In other words, there’s one law for the rich and powerful and quite another for the common man – a widely felt and oft-expressed sentiment, even today, as perhaps the numerous financial and political scandals have highlighted in contemporary Britain!


The Records of Bathgate Academy

Bathgate Academy Scrapbook1In 2013 the records of Bathgate Academy were transferred to the Archives and Records Centre. The records date from 1881 to 1988 and include admission records, logs book and examination records, including details of the results of individual pupils.

The oldest item in the collection is a Register for the Science School at Bathgate Academy which begins in1881.  All science schools were required to operate under the superintendence of a Committee; it was a requirement that this must include persons in recognised positions of public authority. The science school committee members included Sir William Baillie and Sir Alexander Grant who was the Principal of Edinburgh University.  Interestingly, the rules for the committee state that members “must have no personal interest in the Teachers or Pupils of the school”.  Despite this the iron founder Lawrence Dougall sat on the committee, despite having two sons and a daughter at the school. The register also offers insights into the local trades of the late nineteenth century as the occupations of fathers are detailed. Trades represented include drapers, joiners, merchants and farmers. There are also a few notable families who make appearance in the pages of the registers including members of the Wolfe family and the daughter of the editor of the West Lothian Courier, Belfrage Gilbertson, who emigrated to Canada and became a civil servant and writer.

One of the most particularly interesting records in this collection is a scrap-book of cuttings compiled to celebrate the centenary of the Academy in 1933. The first  pages of the scrapbook are filled with early images of staff and pupils including early rectors.  Most of the scrapbook is dedicated to the 1933 centenary and the planning of the events, particularly the centenary dinner. The programme for the event  is also attached, describing both the entertainment and the food. Those attending the dinner enjoyed a seven course meal; dishes included , Cream Soup Caroline, roast pheasant, and French parfait.

Copies of correspondence relating to the event  including letters of acceptance and regret  are attached to pages of the book alongside  tickets for centenary events including dances and  concerts. Among the letters received is one from David F. Bennie, written in poetic form as tribute to the occasion. David Bennie attended the Science School at Bathgate Academy; by the time he wrote this poem he was Managing Director of Steel and Bennie Ltd, one of the biggest tug operators on the River Clyde.


Last Friday we journeyed thro’ to see

The School where we learnt our A.B.C.

The Gas outside was bright and strong

but some inside was weak and long.

The Chair man was looking far from well

But better here than down in ___.

The Parsons grace was short and sweet

a plenteous repast was spread to eat.

Loyalty of Bathgate soon was seen

altho’ the Chair forgot the Queen.

The Provost speared of his Chain so vain

That he left his text but he got back again.

David F Bennie

Other prominent individuals who wrote include Lord Beaverbrook, whose father attended the Academy, and former pupil L. Dougal Callendar who was a distinguished physician in Doncaster and treasurer of the BMA.  He comments;

“I have always cherished the broad principles which were inculcated in me during my sojourn at the Academy, as they have been of the greatest value to me during the whole of my life.”

This collection gives us an insight into the history and personalities of a pioneering Scottish institution, as well as the day-to-day operation of a West Lothian school throughout the 20th century.

Ask the Archivist session

Portobello Baths poster

Portobello Baths poster

Starting on Monday 23 February from 10.30-12.30, is a new monthly drop-in session in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central Library on George IV Bridge.

What are archives and can they help you discover more? Are you interested in finding out more about your family and local history, or a business? Do you have records you don’t know what to do with?

Why not come along and talk to one of the archivists from Edinburgh City Archives to get some free advice. The drop-in sessions planned so far take place on 23rd February, 30th March, 27th April and 25th May from 10.30 until 12.30

If you are interested in this but the time is not suitable, please email us on or call us on 0131 529 4616.

We look forward to meeting you soon…

Edinburgh City Archives: Collections Growth 2014


Edinburgh City Chambers Home Guard, 1940-44

Edinburgh City Chambers Home Guard, 1940-44

Many people associate archives with libraries and although, on a superficial basis, there are some similarities at least between local history sections of the latter and archival institutions, both tend to work along quite different lines.  For example, libraries collect material and classify them according to set categories or systems of organisation which can mean that historical material accepted by them is ultimately split into a library’s separate classes of books and records.  On the other hand, archives use the principle of ‘provenance’ (or the origins of the records being collected) to maintain the collection as a whole to provide historical context for the archives.

Another key difference is that archival material is almost always original and therefore unique and as such is never thrown out like old library stock and replaced by new; archives are ever-expanding!

ECA grew by a total of more than 30 linear metres last year alone which constantly brings challenges in terms of storage capacity but challenges which have to be faced in order to meet our obligations to collect, preserve and make available to the public the records relating to Edinburgh City Council and to the economic and social history of the city as a whole.  The more than 40 separate donations of records we accepted are clearly too numerous to be detailed fully in this short article but a few of them are outlined in what follows.

Although we by no means hold all educational or school records for the Edinburgh area we do have custody of quite a few: in 2014 we also took in records relating to Abbeyhill Primary School, 1879-1993; a single Davidson’s Mains School log book, 1927-1951 and various items relating to Trinity Academy and Leith School Board.  Furthermore we received additions to our already voluminous collection of Wellington School archives, an institution dating back to the 1850s and now closed.

We also acquired the records of some of the sporting activities of some prominent schools in Edinburgh.  These were the records of the Royal High School Athletics and Cricket Club, 1921-1977 and those of the Stewart’s Melville Royal High School Cricket Club, 1973-2014.

On the social history side of the Capital’s life we took in Edinburgh Festival Society agendas, minutes, correspondence and related papers, 1976-1991; a copy petition of February 1976 by Edinburgh Playhouse Society to Edinburgh District Council and a petition to save the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh both of which appear to have had some impact given that it’s a thriving and well-used venue today.

Many of our accessions of course are textual but we do still receive donations of a more pictorial nature.  We brought in a sizeable collection relating to Granton Gasworks comprising mainly a large collection of photographs.   One last item worth mentioning is also a photograph; a black & white image taken sometime during World War II which shows the assembled and largely named company of Edinburgh City Chambers Static Post Attached 6th Battalion Home Guard.

So, a mixed bag of accessions but all part and parcel of the ever growing volume of historical material which all adds to Edinburgh City’s Archives collections and helps elucidate the Capital’s long and continuing history.

Midlothian Remembers 1914-1918

Penicuik Silver Band Memorial

Penicuik Silver Band Memorial

After months of effort and hard work we are delighted to announce the launch of the Midlothian Roll of Honour 1914-1918.

War memorial at St James the Less Episcopal Church, Penicuik

The new database records all memorials to the First World War in Midlothian and provides details of every casualty listed on the memorials. So far we have recorded 79 memorials in local parks, churches, workplaces and schools, and the details of 1364 casualties. In addition, we have recorded headstones in local cemeteries that commemorate the war.

Launch of Midlothian Remembers November 2014
A dedicated team of volunteers have helped to locate and photograph the memorials, and also to research the stories of the people on them. The database is by no means complete and research is ongoing. We also hope to produce a print version in due course.
Family history fair at Newtongrange November 2014
The new database was launched at a successful Local and Family History Fair at the National Mining museum in Newtongrange in November 2014.

Days in the Life: The Great War in Edinburgh



Much has been written recently in this anniversary year of World War 1 and most, if not all, of this has rightly focussed on the terrible conditions suffered in the trenches and the battles fought by troops on the Front Lines.  The traumas experienced by ordinary soldiers and the privations endured in trench warfare are almost unimaginable to us today.  Those who were left behind in Britain – the wives, fathers, mothers, brothers & sisters – could only bear the experience of this terrible period as best they could, hope and pray for their loved ones, and ‘do their bit’ for the war effort.  On this ‘front’, the citizens of Edinburgh were no different to those in other parts of the UK; they did whatever they could to help the lads on the Frontline.

 This little pictorial exhibition of some of the posters that were produced in the years of the conflict and which would have been posted in public places around the City gives some idea of the kinds of things ordinary folk here got involved in – from enlistment itself to raising money – to help bring victory and the War to a close.

 There are 6 categories of posters illustrated below:

 ·         Enlistment

·         Flag Days

·         War Loans

·         Advice & Exhortations to the public

·         Fund-raising events

·         Morale-boosting propaganda


1: 1914 September Enlistment in City Battalion

1: 1914 September Enlistment in City Battalion



2: 1914 September Royal Scots Enlistment

2: 1914 September Royal Scots Enlistment




Slides 1-3:  The Royal Scots is the oldest infantry regiment of the line in the British

3: 1915 February Royal Scots enlistment

3: 1915 February Royal Scots enlistment

Army and both the City of Edinburgh Battalion (15th) and the 2/9th, Highlanders Battalion were raised in the City in September 1914.  The 17th (Service Battalion) was formed shortly afterwards by Lord Roseberry and a local committee in February 1915.

4: 1918 Parade of Women's Army Auxiliaries

4: 1918 Parade of Women’s Army Auxiliaries

 Slide 4: The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was formed in early 1917 and survived under this name till November 1918.  Over 57,000 women served during this time. On 31 March 1917 women in the WAAC were first sent to the battlefields in France, 14 cooks and waitresses.

Flag Days

5: 1915 Help Serbia Flag Day

5: 1915 Help Serbia Flag Day





Slides 5 & 6: The Serbian Campaign, fought by the Kingdom of Serbia against Austria-Hungary began in July 1914 and continued to the end of hostilities in November 1918.

6: 1917 Serbian Boys' Flag Day

6: 1917 Serbian Boys’ Flag Day




During the war Serbia lost more than one million of its inhabitants representing 27% of the total and 60% of the male population – easy to see why the allied citizenry were exhorted to support them.


Slides 7-9: These posters were used to coax Edinburgh & Leith’s populace to financially support various allied countries such as Russia and France or just to raise funds for troops or medical supplies.

7: 1916 Edinburgh & Leith Russian Flag Day

7: 1916 Edinburgh & Leith Russian Flag Day

8: 1915 14 July Help France

8: 1915 14 July Help France





9: 1917 Edinburgh Flag Day

9: 1917 Edinburgh Flag Day

War Loans

10: 1915 Victory Loan Campaign, Usher Hall

10: 1915 Victory Loan Campaign, Usher Hall



11: 1915 The British Sovereign Will Win

11: 1915 The British Sovereign Will Win

Slides 10-15: Just some of the many posters used to help the country raise funds for the war effort – some from central authorities such as the Parliamentary War Savings Committee while others were locally instigated like those illustrated in slides 10 & 14. 

12: 1910s War Loan - Message from our troops

12: 1910s War Loan – Message from our troops

The Town Council of Edinburgh had been investing in the War Loan scheme for some time but at a meeting of 6th February 1917 they voted to purchase more with the purpose of re-selling to the citizens of Edinburgh; Lord Provost, John Lorne Macleod put his name to this local plan.


13: 1916 Crush the Germans Parliamentary War Savings Committee

13: 1916 Crush the Germans Parliamentary War Savings Committee

14: 1917 February - The War Loan - Edinburgh

14: 1917 February – The War Loan – Edinburgh

















Advice & exhortation to the public

Slides 15-16: These illustrate the effect that German submarine attacks on British shipping carrying food supplies to Britain was having by 1917 – all were urged to eat less and tighten their belts.

15: c. 1917 Food Economy Poster

15: c. 1917 Food Economy Poster


16: 1917-18 Bread will save You

16: 1917-18 Bread will save You







Slide 17: As the War wore on not only the death toll but the numbers of casualties rose.  This poster encouraged employers to find jobs for those disabled fighting on the Front.

17: c. 1918 Don't Pity Disabled

17: c. 1918 Don’t Pity Disabled

Fund-raising events

18: 1915 Charity Rugby Match

18: 1915 Charity Rugby Match


19 :1915 Cinema Ambulance Day

19 :1915 Cinema Ambulance Day







Slides 18-19: These two posters exemplify just some of the other methods used to collect funds for the war effort; these included not only rugby matches and cinema events but also boxing & football matches as well as concerts in public halls.  All demonstrate how locals contributed to the overall campaign.



Morale-boosting propaganda

20: 1916 The King visits His Armies

20: 1916 The King visits His Armies

Slides 20-22: These colourful posters show the kinds of morale-boosting propaganda – with film and by photographic exhibitions – that was used in Edinburgh and the country at large to give the populace heart and maintain an esprit de corps throughout the long war years.


21: 1917 The German Retreat - Battle of Arras
21: 1917 The German Retreat
22: c. 1917 Official Naval Photographs Exhibition

22: c. 1917 Official Naval Photographs Exhibition

Edinburgh City Archives’ Story Box 2014

Archive RememberedAs part of the Explore Your Archive campaign 2014 Edinburgh City Archives are once again having a ‘story box’ on show to give you an idea of the kinds of records we keep and make available. Inside you will find snippets of information on the likes of Policemen, Army Recruits, Criminals, William Burke, Aliens and Disappearing Dukes!

If you fancy delving into the story box you will find one in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central Library on George IV Bridge, as well as one in the City Chambers main reception, on the High Street (opposite St Giles Cathedral).

The boxes will be available to look through from Monday 10th November through to Monday 17th November 2014. You will also be able to take away one of our general leaflets which gives you a bit more information on what we are all about, as well as our contact details so you can get in touch.

Happy exploring, we hope you enjoy…

Family History Day at Edinburgh Central Library 2014

Edinburgh City Archives are taking part in the Family History Day at Edinburgh Central Library on Saturday 15th November 2014, 10.30am to 4pm. Whether you have already made a start to your family tree, or you are a complete beginner, this is a fantastic opportunity to quiz the professionals under one roof. For more information please see

We look forward to seeing you there…

Centenary of a Royal Visit

Souvenir programmeAs events in Europe moved ever closer to war, preparations for a happy occasion in Linlithgow are revealed in the Town Council minutes.

“The Provost reported that he had received intimation … that Their Majesties the King and Queen were to honour the Burgh by a visit on Saturday 11th July next …,” Minutes of meeting of the Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow, 14th April 1914. A Special Committee was appointed to “attend to all necessary arrangements in connection with the Royal Visit.” and the minutes of their meetings in June and July reveal these detailed preparations.

The Committee oversaw the construction of barricades to maintain public order and, in response to his request, granted the chief Constable the use of the Victoria Hall “for the purpose of feeding the Police brought in to assist the local force”. The Linlithgow Station and District Ambulance Society were provided with a Headquarters in the Masonic Hall and turned out four squads of four men each. The Committee agreed that the Magistrates robes should be sent to Messrs Pullar & Co. Ltd to be cleaned and repaired after the Marches Day and the Burgh Officer was authorised to obtain a new uniform from Mr George Anderson, Tailor, Linlithgow.

The minutes state “About Decorations, the Committee are of opinion that Their Majesties should be enabled to see the Town very much as it is, but that an appeal should be made to the General Public to decorate their houses in a simple tasteful fashion.” However, more work went into preparing other buildings in the Burgh. The Council assisted with the cost of cleaning the Parish Church. Bailies Dymock and Wardrop organised the decoration of the Town Hall Stair Case, a task made easier by the loan of plants from Mr W.M. Richard of Clarendon and Mr William Dougall of Rockville, as well as the help of their gardeners. Flags of the Trade Incorporations in the Burgh were also displayed from the windows of the Town Hall.

Representatives of the Burgh were selected for presentation to their Majesties in the Parliament Hall of the Palace. Seats in the Hall were reserved for about 200 people with some official position in the County and Burgh, and the Committee agreed the order for the issue of tickets. Further spaces were allocated in the Ladies Gallery and a range of other locations including the Council Chambers, Burgh Court Room and even the South Windows in the Town Hall (“4 persons for each window”)!

Arrangements were also made for the official press including the Glasgow News, the Linlithgowshire Gazette and West Lothian Courier, along with photographers including Mr Haddow of Lizars & Co., and Pathe’s Animated Gazette.

On the day, the crowds greeting the Royal Party included more than 900 school children and their teachers from Linlithgow Public School and the Academy. The children were in their places in the Kirkgate and Palace Yard “by 3 o’clock pm prompt”. They were presented with a commemorative medal by Mr and Mrs Hope of Bridgecastle and also given refreshments by Mr and Mrs Cadell of Grange. Entertainment was provided by Bathgate Public Prize Band in the Palace Yard and Kinneil Reed Band at the Cross, with Mr Robert Cassels acting as Musical Director. In addition, town and church bells were rung.

Evidently, the event was “a splendid success”. The minute of 16th July reads “The Committee now beg to put on record the great satisfaction of the Community that the most welcome visit of their Majesties the King and Queen, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Mary, which took place on Saturday last, had enabled the Burgh to renew its old time association with the Royal Family, and to demonstrate again its ardent loyalty to the Throne.” The minutes also provide a detailed record of thanks from the Committee “to one and all who in any way assisted in the successful carrying out of this memorable function.”