Hooray for Experts

Sometimes an archivist is lucky enough to work with a collection relating to a topic they know well but more often than not (and perhaps this is even luckier) archivists find themselves cataloguing material about which, in the beginning at least, they know as much as a certain Jon Snow. I imagine it’s similar for book editors who get to read about subjects they’ve previously never heard of. However, to be able to make informed appraisal decisions and then arrange and present the material in a meaningful context, ideally preserving provenance and original order, it is necessary to spend some time researching the collection’s creator, be it organisation or individual.

There can, at times like these, be no substitute for having an expert on hand; someone who has worked in the field or even created the records themselves. Experts can provide not only knowledge, but details about records and processes which cannot always be picked up from secondary sources.

I am delighted to have such an expert available to advise and help me make sense of the Lothian and Borders police archive. Dr John McGowan is not only an ex-Edinburgh policeman but has done his own extensive research into the history of policing which has resulted in two in-depth books on the subject:

A New Civic Order: the Contribution of the City of Edinburgh Police, 1805-1812; with Reflections on Social and Public Order, 2013

Policing the Metropolis of Scotland, 2010

One thing that Dr McGowan has been at pains to impart is that the police have always been involved in so much more than simply fighting crime; a fact that the records themselves bear witness to. He has frequently said that there will be a police record for every letter of the alphabet – well there’s a challenge that I couldn’t let pass!

So here’s Part 1, letters A-H:


Aliens Register for West Lothian for the period 1916-1918


Billiard Room License book


Casualty records – accidents and fires in the County of West Lothian


Dogs – Lost and Found register


Events – Police Orders for the Commonwealth Games 1986


Firearms Registers

General Orders Music Resized

General Orders – instructions from the Chief Constable


Hackney Cab Licences


‘Deeds Not Words’ 100 Years of the Rural

his week an exhibition will be launched here at the John Gray Centre to celebrate 100 years of the Rural. You can visit the exhibition between January 20th and May 3rd during museum opening hours.    The origins of the Scottish Women’s Institute are firmly in East Lothian, and we’d like to thank the members of Longniddry SWI for their help in preparing the exhibition.


The first Women’s Institute in Scotland was established in Longniddry at a meeting held in the Reading Room of the village on 26 June 1917.  Mrs Catherine Blair from Hoprig Mains was the inspiration behind the Longniddry Institute.  She invited a speaker, Mrs Watt, from Canada, where the Women’s Rural Institute started at Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1897


Catherine Blair with the Queen Mother


Mrs Blair, a prominent suffragette, founded the rural movement in Scotland to try to remedy the isolation felt by many women who lived in the countryside.  She was influenced by her dairymaid who complained “ Men are aye meetin’ their neebors in the stable an’ passing the time o’ day wi’ the maister but fir the like o’ me ther’s never a body tae speak tae”.

A talented designer Catherine also set up the Mak Merry Pottery believing that the lives of women in the countryside could be enriched through arts and crafts.  Among the items on display are examples of Mak Merry pottery, as well as the Longniddry branch banner, made by Catherine Blair in 1917.  The front of the banner bears the Institute’s then motto ‘For Home and Country’ , and on the rear ‘Deeds Not Words’, which had previously been used by the suffragette campaign.



Longniddry SWI branch banner



The first meeting of the newly formed Longniddry Women’s Rural Institute took place on Wednesday, 25 July 1917. The invited speaker was a Miss Lumsden, who spoke on “The War and Women’s Institutes.”  Following the establishment of the Longniddry branch, Macmerry SWRI was formed in September 1917 and in December of the same year Tranent’s Institute was formed.  In 1918, Ormiston’s SWRI was formed and in 1919 Haddington’s  Institute was established.  By 1926 there were 22 Institutes in East Lothian, including one in Humbie.


As the movement started in wartime, members took an active part in the war effort, for example by conserving and preserving food, by making bandages and, in the case of Macmerry, by maintaining a bed in a French hospital. One institute even collected medicinal herbs, dried them and despatched them to drug manufacturers.  After the war, the Institutes supported many charities.  A great deal of effort went into fundraising.  The Haddington branch even had an institute pig which was fed by Mrs Porteous and when sold brought in £12.13.6d.


The first meeting of the rural to be held in Humbie was on Saturday, 8 November 1919. There were 7 ladies present and they met in the school, the meeting being presided over by Mrs McIver from the Board of Agriculture for Scotland.  A committee was formed and a programme was drawn up for the first six meetings, Mrs Skene-Taylor being elected President.  By the second meeting, held on Saturday 29 November 1919, the membership had risen to 21, and a demonstration was given on the ‘refooting’ of cashmere stockings.  By the end of that first year, the membership rose to 56, many coming from Keith Marischal and even from as far as Peaston Bank.

The Haddington SWRI ran a canteen for service personnel from June 1940 until November 1945 in a ground-floor flat on the north side of the High Street.  It opened daily until 10 pm and provided snacks, hot drinks, books and games with the added attraction of two baths which were in constant demand.


The ladies who worked in the Haddington SWI Canteen during the Second World War


In 1967 the movement celebrated its Golden Jubilee. A reception was held at Gosford House on the 30th June 1967, courtesy of the Earl and Countess of Wemyss,   Lady Wemyss holding the title of Honorary President of the East Lothian Scottish Women’s Rural Institute.  An exhibition of handcrafts and housewifery was held in Haddington Town House as part of the celebrations.


It became a tradition to have an institute picnic but more ambitious outings were undertaken, for example British Railways arranged a full day’s outing including a sail on the Clyde for Institutes in the Lothians and Borders.


Although only 8 of the 22 East Lothian branches remain active today, recent years have seen a resurgence in membership with new branches opening in some parts of Scotland.  In a bid to modernise the organisation has recently changed its name, dropping the ‘rural’ from its title to become the Scottish Women’s Institute.  However most people know the Institute affectionately as ‘the Rural’.


We would love to hear from anybody who is or has been a member of the Rural and would like to share memories. Contact us in person at the Archive and Local History Centre, or by telephone 01620 820695, or email history@eastlothian.gov.uk .












The post ‘Deeds Not Words’ 100 Years of the Rural appeared first on John Gray Centre.

A Wartime Christmas Mystery

World War One Christmas CardWhen searching our collections for ‘Christmassy’ materials I was delighted to stumble upon a World War One Christmas card. The cover features five kilted soldiers gathered round a fire. A tartan bow adds a little festive flair to the austerity of the black and white image. But what really drew me to the card were the signatures inside it. While normally cards are signed by families and sent to friends but, this card was signed by soldiers and sent to a commanding officer. War altered the normality of life, taking over every part of it, even Christmas. I immediately wanted to know more about these men. I began a mission to find them.cc-interior-4

The card provided a wealth of information on the men. I had not only their names, but their ranks, the abbreviations of which had been included under their names. The inside of the card read “from Sergeants of ‘D’ coy”, so I knew they were in D company. The outside of the card proudly declares ‘Dandy Ninth’, which was the nickname of the Ninth Battalion of the Royal Scots. They were called ‘dandy’ as they were the only kilted lowland regiment, being based in Edinburgh. The inclusion of a tartan ribbon and the image of kilted soldiers display their pride in this fact. With all these facts I thought it would be easy to find them.

A key obstacle to finding these men was their hand writing. Some had a good clear hand such as G.C. Vallance, whose name can be clearly read. Others were more difficult to make out. I had particular difficulty reading this name:

Close up of signature

 Jasluluoueul? James Monueul? It was passed around the office and guesses were made, Google searches were attempted, Scottishhandwritting.com was consulted, and we could not find the answer. At last it was decided to crowdsource a translation. We took to Twitter and within the hour we had an answer!

Can you guess it….



James M. Moncur, whose loopy M’s look like ‘lu’. He was harder to find as he did not remain a Lance Sergeant in the 9th Battalion but obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 8th Battalion. But thanks to the kind folks on Twitter, it was possible to find his name and military record. Unfortunately, his story had a sad ending; he was killed in action in 17th April 1917 at age 24. He was not the only one of the ten to not make it home from the war.

William Goodfellow died in action 4 days later on 23rd April 1917, both are buried at Arras, about 10 kilometres apart. G C Vallance died the year previously on 23rd July 1916 and J F Wilson died the year after on the 7th August 1918.

The remaining six sergeants have been harder to find. My main source from searching for these men was the commonwealth war graves commission; this made it easier to find men who were killed in action. I hope my difficultly finding the remaining six means they survived the war and made it home.

If anyone knows the fate of any of these men they will share it with us in comment or @sallycarchives on Twitter. Their names are listed below:

Christmas Card Signatures

Christmas Card Signatures

D S Anderson, Sergeant

R Dalgleish, Sergeant

J Donald, Sergeant

A J Macdonald, Sergeant

J Ward, Sergeant

W Forsyth, Sergeant

Looking back, looking forward

Well it’s that time of year again. Office parties, last minute panic buying and Slade on the radio. Amongst the craziness it’s also a time to look back and reflect on the past 12 months. What a year 2016 has been! I don’t think anybody could have scripted half of whats happened this year.  In the archive however we have had a really successful year with a number of fabulous new accessions added to the collection.

The most recent of these are the records of East Linton golf club. The club was formed in 1896 and the early handwritten minute books feature in the donation. The artist Robert Noble was a founder and early captain of the club. He’ll be the focus of an exhibition at the John Gray Centre from next March.

We’ve also been fortunate enough to receive a number of business records this year. Mains the Saddlers operated as a family business in Haddington for more than a hundred years and when the business was sold on earlier this year the records – some family and some business – were deposited at the archives. Also the business of McArthurs Joiners of East Linton sadly closed this year and records including photographs and employee and apprentice lists were handed over to the archive.

Coronation of Queen Victoria

Coronation of Queen Victoria

One of the most exciting accessions of the year is the Broun Lindsay collection. Previously kept at Colstoun House it has now housed at the John Gray Centre archives. The collection is an absolute treasure trove! Dating back to the thirteenth century it includes agricultural and estate records for Colstoun, letters from the Vatican and charters (complete with seals) from Kings and Queens, marriage contracts, commemorative newspaper marking the coronation of Queen Victoria printed in gold – the list goes on and on.

Seal of James VI

Seal of James VI

The family also have a very strong Indian connection with two members of the family holding high office there, first George Ramsay as Commander in Chief in 1830 and then James Broun Ramsay as Governor General in 1848. The collection therefore contains a number of personal diaries and volumes of correspondence detailing events and experiences in India at a time of great change and upheaval in the country. Also included are some fascinating images showing what life was like during the time of the British Raj.

Unknown Indian gentleman

Unknown Indian gentleman

This year we’ve also been working on converting and cataloguing some of our audio visual collection and so have discovered some real gems. Oral histories recounting life in 1930s Tranent, footage of the open air pool at North Berwick, and a film showing the reconstruction of Garvald Church. The project will continue in 2017 so who knows what else we will find!

As well as new collections we’ve had really successful outreach events this year. Our tour of the smaller villages within the County was very well received and we really enjoyed getting out and meeting the real local historians. Our school outreach has continued on topics such as WW2 and local community history. Family history day with afternoon tea and a showing of the Nungate memories project in conjunction with Haddington History Society was a runaway success.

Looking forward to next year we have another busy one coming up. We hope to be able to have our core photograph collection available to view through our website. We hold around 80,000 images of the County but with the help of volunteers we are digitising the parish collections, around 10,500 images, which include scenes of towns and villages, people and buildings from around the county.

Macmerry pottery

Macmerry pottery

From January 21st we also have an exhibition at the centre to celebrate 100 years of the Rural. The Scottish Women’s Institute (to give it its proper title) began in Longniddry village hall in 1917. The exhibition will look at the founder of the organisation, Catherine Blair, its history and the modern SWI.

We are also planning the launch of our poor law indexing and transcription project online, a family fun day in April, a season of lunchtime talks on the Broun Lindsay collection in the summer, two film festivals and a family history day on the theme of art in August. And that’s just a sample! As ever keep your eye out on our facebook page, website and East Lothian Courier for further details and events.


Wishing you and yours all the very best for the festive season and look forward to seeing you in 2017!

The post Looking back, looking forward appeared first on John Gray Centre.

Posted in Uncategorised

Film Appreciation Club

Clapper board for Film Appreciation ClubFilm recognises neither time nor space, only the limits of man’s imagination.”

(Nicholas Ray)

Codona's Picture House, Haddington

Codona’s Picture House, Haddington

If you love film, then why not join our film appreciation club? For a membership fee of £10 per annum, you will be able to watch six selected films from across the world and enjoy vibrant discussion that will enhance your understanding of the elements that shape cinema as we know it today.

In 2017 screenings start in February and take place in the Star Room. Screenings are usually on a Thursday evening. Doors open at 6.30 pm and the film starts at 7 pm. Each screening has a topical theme to complement events/services/exhibitions at the Centre or locally. In 2017 they are – ‘LGBTQ’; ‘Woman’; ‘Art’; ‘Archaeology’; ‘Diversity’; ‘Heritage’.

Our licence to show films prohibits us from naming the films online, so we will be writing a blog in the lead-up to each event, with clues to the title. Keep an eye open for our first FAC blog in February 2017.

Screenings are open to non-members for a donation of £3 towards costs.

There will be light refreshments, and film researcher Dr Hanita Ritchie will lead the film discussion.

Find our full, detailed programme (with titles) at any East Lothian library or museum, or check our blog and Facebook page for more information. You can also have your email address added to our distribution list and receive reminders about upcoming films straight to your inbox – please ask a member of JGC staff or email jgc@eastlothian.gov.uk.

The post Film Appreciation Club appeared first on John Gray Centre.

Handlisting Highs and Boxlisting Blues


Contents of a box including film reel, handbooks and old photographs

Imagine standing at the start of a 6m long and 4m high shelving stack filled with faceless brown boxes not knowing what any of them contains.   It’s like looking at a blank canvas waiting to be filled.    Fast forward 8 weeks and the canvas is almost complete; the boxes have  become familiar friends, the stories, voices and pictures held in each one have been revealed bit by bit, piece by piece and now each box, far from being faceless and silent, has colour and personality.

I invent nothing, I rediscover – Auguste Rodin

While boxlisting, records which have been untouched for years are re-opened; the past is not invented but (hopefully) recorded and it is the archivist’s job, if not to rediscover it, then certainly to pave the way for others to do so.

It’s been fascinating to see a picture of the history of the Edinburgh police emerge from the many boxes, volumes, plans and photographs lining the shelves. The police have been involved in so many aspects of our everyday lives, not just fighting or preventing crime, and with each box opened an extra layer is added to the picture. I’m beginning to gain an understanding of the intensive and all encompassing nature of police work.


Leith Police Force 1906

There are high points such as royal visits, community engagement, amateur dramatics and award ceremonies but also extreme lows from sudden and tragic deaths to missing persons and horrific murders.   To open up a box is to become immersed in all these stories and some days the stories have happier endings than others; as an archivist I can leave it behind at 5pm but officers working on difficult cases would surely not have had that luxury.

Aim of Handlist

There is something liberating about a handlist. It is the catalogue’s wildling cousin; unpolished, staying out all night not caring about order or responsibility.


Linlithgow County Constabulary Warrant Card 1901

It provides a summary of what the collection contains and then allows appraisal to take place and the material to be arranged into an ISAD(G) compliant catalogue.  Extra information which may be needed further down the line is also captured – storage, conservation requirements, outreach possibilities, accessibility issues (particularly pertinent in police records) to name a few.

This particular collection has come in to the archives in dribs and drabs from several different police stations and there is little evidence of original order.  Having said that it’s been important to scrutinise each box carefully as the contents of some have revealed themselves to belong to specific individuals and such is the nature of a career in the police that, alongside a murder file, may be the minutes of the force’s football association.

And Finally…


It’s not! But sometimes it can be hard to work out what some material is and why it is together

Did I mention having to put on my coat to make the long walk to the bathroom – “old school” as a former colleague said with a wry smile; perhaps this is a rite of passage all archivists must go through…..

Film Appreciation – Memory and Remembrance

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today”


The final film screening and discussion by our Film Appreciation Club (FAC@JGC) will be held on Thursday, November 24th, 2016 in the Star Room. As November is usually the month to commemorate those who have fallen in war times, we thought it appropriate to screen a war themed film.

Our film this time is based on historical facts and is by an acclaimed Polish director whose films reflected his country’s turbulent history. He has won the Palme D’Or and an Oscar for lifetime achievement but sadly passed away last month. Polish cinema burst upon the world in the 1950s with his war trilogy, making this filmmaker the voice of disaffected post-war youth. He also fought communist censorship and truth-denying propaganda to produce formidable, patriotic films that illuminated Poland’s troubled past, which critics believe helped steer its history.

Nurses on the warfront

Nurses on the warfront

Many films made during the war were made for propaganda means. They were effective in stirring up patriotic feelings and a mindset of a group effort rather than individual wants and needs. World War I was the first to be fought before the motion picture camera. In the field, reconnaissance became airborne and cinematic; at home, propaganda leapt from the page to the screen. The effects were so far-reaching, argues Paul Virilio in his often-cited book War and Cinema, that the war zone itself may be thought of as a kind of film. On the front, perceptions became accelerated, discontinuous, mechanized, as if the soldiers’ eyes had turned into cameras. From this condition, there was to be no release. After 1918, cinema’s shock techniques continued wartime perception by other means.

World War I, which changed everything, had film as one of its main tools of transformation. The soldier’s sense of being hurtled through abrupt changes in landscape, as seen from strange and shifting viewpoints, finds stunning formal expression on film. This visual violence is meant to stimulate the mind as much as the eye. The war also changed the conditions of filmmaking in France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Yet the great victor of World War I in cinema, as in all else, was of course the United States. Alone among the combatants, America emerged with its society and economy intact. One immediate consequence was Hollywood’s domination of screens around the world. To a remarkable degree, today’s film industry retains the shape it was given by both World War I and World War II.

Thistle Day poster

Thistle Day poster

Apart from the many war literature in the Haddington Library, the John Gray Centre Archive & Local History collection also contains a variety of war related records ranging from photographs and databases to film. The Museum Service also holds various war related objects from costumes to loan boxes for schools and reminiscence groups. These can be accessed by members of the public during opening hours or by contacting the relevant teams via the contact details available on our website.

Licensing and copyright restrictions prevents my blog from announcing the film title on our website and social media. The selected film, however, has been made known through promotional posters and the FAC 2016 brochure which are available at the John Gray Centre itself, libraries and museums across East Lothian and several other public venues. So do come and join us for an evening of visual pleasures and vibrant conversation. Screenings are open to non-members of the club for a donation of £3 towards costs. And if you are interested in becoming a member of the Club in 2017, please email history@eastlothian.gov.uk or telephone Haddington Library, or Archive & Local History or even the Museum for assistance. Details of the Film Appreciation Club programme for 2017 will be available on our website in January and it will prove to be an exciting one.


The post Film Appreciation – Memory and Remembrance appeared first on John Gray Centre.

Its Conference time!

Yes, it’s that time of year again folks, November, the month of sparklers and fireworks, of cooling temperatures and shorter days, of the build up to Christmas….and yes, the Edinburgh, Lothian & Borders Archaeology Conference! Our conference, held annually at the Queen Margaret University, takes place this year on Saturday the 19th of November, and promises to be another invigorating and informative day exploring the latest archaeological projects being undertaken in the region. We’ve got everything from the Aberlady Angles to Scottish soldiers in Durham, excavations to 3D data from a UAV survey…the programme is as packed full of goodies as a jar of autumn jam! So, please do come along and join us!

Durham 17th Scottish War graves. Durham University

Durham 17th Scottish War graves. Durham University

Tickets are still available or can be bought on the day. For bookings please email bookings@eastlothian.gov.uk or telephone 01620 827 408

The conference programme can be downloaded here: http://www.eastlothian.gov.uk/downloads/download/2234/archaeology_conference_programme_2016




The post Its Conference time! appeared first on John Gray Centre.

Fala and the Roosevelts: a mysterious connection

Having just started as the archives trainee for Midlothian Council Archives, I am lucky enough to have spent most of the first few weeks of my traineeship exploring the archives varied holdings. I have found a myriad of amazing things but none as surprising as a signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt!


The letter was hidden amongst other correspondence in a file in our Fala and Soutra Collection. This collection was donated to us by Jean Blades (née Waterston), a keen local historian and the Fala, Soutra and District History and Heritage Society, an organisation Mrs Blades helped to establish. I was intrigued by how a letter from the first lady ended up in a local history collection about a small parish in Midlothian Scotland.

The letter was sent to Revered Daniel Blades, husband of Jean and minister for Fala and Soutra Parish by a G.C. Hunter. Hunter and Blades were corresponding about local families and the history of the Fala parish. Mr Hunter writes, “you probably read in the newspapers regarding Fala, the dog which for many years was the companion of the late president Roosevelt. I wrote to Mrs Roosevelt asking why her late husband called his dog Fala and I enclose her original reply date 22nd April.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Fala

I had never heard of Fala, the faithful canine companion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Fala was a favourite of the press and the public. He was called the most photographed dog in the world and stories about him and his antics often made it into the press. It was even alleged during the 1944 Presidential campaign that President Roosevelt once left Fala behind on a presidential trip and sent by a Navy ship to collect him, at the expense of the American tax payers. President Roosevelt responded to these accusations in humorous speech:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Eleanor and Fala

Fala outlived his beloved owner, passing away on April 7th 1952 only a few weeks before Eleanor penned her response to Hunter. It is likely that Fala’s death prompted Hunters curiosity about why the President seemed to have named his dog of after a small Midlothian town. Mrs Roosevelt’s reply is short but friendly. She explains that Fala’s full name was Murray of Fala Hill and he was named for an ancestor of her husband.

Hunter voices surprise that President Roosevelt had Scottish ancestors, but the President must have been proud of his Scottish connection to use the name for his beloved dog. Roosevelt’s great- great- great-grandfather on his mother’s side was James Murray, a Scot from Selkirkshire who moved to America in 1735; other sources claim Fala was named for an ancestor who was an outlaw. This could be John Murray of Fala Hill, from the Borders ballad ‘The Outlaw Murray’. Fala Hill sits just outside Midlothian in the Scottish borders, not that far from the parish of Fala and Soutra but also not far from Selkirkshire.  It is possible that James Murray was an ancestor of John Murray the Outlaw as they were from a similar part of Scotland, though Murray is a common Scottish surname. Perhaps President Roosevelt’s imagination was captured by the ballad of Outlaw Murrays daring deeds.

Roosevelt seems to have shared Revered Blades’ and G.C. Hunter’s interest in family history. Their shared passion resulted in this strange connection between a small local history collection and the President of the United States of America.