8 peterjackAs part of the First World War centenary, West Lothian Council Archives has created a real-time historical twitter feed which will offer a unique insight into life in West Lothian during the First World War. The twitter feed was launched on the official centenary of the start of the war and will run for 4 years with the project end coinciding with the end of the war on the Western Front in 1918. The tweets will be based on local newspaper coverage and records from the council’s archives.

In 2015, followers will be given a chance to glimpse beyond the home-front experience as the tweets draw in entries from Private Peter Jack’s diary which was penned in 1915-1916.

Follow @WW1WestLothian and learn about West Lothian’s war-time experience in real-time.

West Lothian History and Heritage Fair 10th May 2014



Come along to a fascinating day of displays, talks and workshops on a variety of aspects of Scottish, local and family history.    The 4th West Lothian History and Heritage Fair takes place at Linlithgow Academy on Saturday 10th May from 10am till 4.30pm. 

Entry is £2, with children under 16 free.   All the events are included in the entry fee, but talks and the old handwriting presentation should be pre-booked, as numbers are limited.  The remaining tickets will be available on the day, on a first come first served basis.

Throughout the day a wide range of national and local heritage organisations will provide displays and information about their work.

Refreshments and light lunches will be available.


10am:  Family history workshop by West Lothian Family History Society

10.15 – 11.15:  Trevor Royle, Land of brave men: Scotland goes to war, August 1914

11.30 – 12.30:  Dr Alastair Durie, Scotland for the visitor: why so popular?

12.40 – 1.10:  Short dramatic presentation of ‘Letters from the Front’: West Lothian soldiers’ letters from the First World War.

2.00-3.00:  Dr David Ritchie, Irish immigration

2.00– 3.00:  Presentation on old handwriting, by Margaret McBryde of the National Records of Scotland4828

3.15 – 4.15:  John Burnett, From curling to the Commonwealth Games: Scottish sport on and off the park.

To book, telephone 01506 776347 or 776321, or email museums@westlothian.gov.uk;  or book in person at the Local History Library, Linlithgow Library, The Vennel, Linlithgow, EH49 7EX.





Edinburgh City Archives searchroom closure


Due to unforseen delays with our public searchroom refurbishment we are now intending to re-open on Tuesday 22nd April 2014.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, and would remind you to contact us before you travel for up to date advice.

For more information please call us on 0131 529 4616 or email us at archives@edinburgh.gov.uk

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Duke

Thomas Drummond's Claim to the Earldom of Perth, 1831

Thomas Drummond’s Claim to the Earldom of Perth, 1831

The mystery surrounding James Drummond, commonly called the 3rd Duke of Perth, is an intriguing one.  Born in 1713 he was the eldest son and heir of James, 5th Earl and 2nd titular Duke of Perth.  The father was involved in the 1715 Rebellion and consequently forfeited his titles under attainder.  When James, the son returned from his education in France, though deprived of the legal titles because of his father’s actions, he nevertheless styled himself, “Duke of Perth” and was known by his tenantry and locals as such.

By 1745, James the son was himself involved in the second Jacobite rebellion having joined the forces of the “Young Pretender”, Charles Edward Stuart. He commanded the left wing of the rebel forces at Culloden in 1746.  All this is more or less agreed by most of those writing of the period but what is more curious and fascinating is the dispute over what happened to James following the rout of the Jacobite army.

Standard histories record that he was mortally wounded during the battle and though he escaped the field and made it onto the French ship “Bellone”, he died on board while on passage to France on 13 May 1746.

An alternative history however, suggests that he not only survived Culloden, but that he made the sea journey to South Shields in the north east of England.  From there he journeyed a little further by land to the mining community of Biddick about 5 or 6 miles south of Newcastle.  Here, he holed up “under the radar” of the Hanoverian government and its military forces, married and had children until his natural death in 1782.  It was from here in the 1820s that his grandson, Thomas Drummond, set out to try and regain his family’s titles and property.

Edinburgh City Archives holds a large collection of records called ‘Services of Heirs’.  Under the feudal system in Scotland all land was theoretically owned by the Crown and then passed on to, or “feued” to, vassals or other owners.  When an owner of such property died within a royal burgh, the heir had to prove his or her right to inherit it and did so by taking the case to a jury (or ‘inquest’) of local landowners who decided whether or not the claim was valid.  In 1831 Thomas Drummond took his case to such an inquest in the burgh of the Canongate and the bundle of papers which survive in the City Archives tell a compelling story.

In this blog all that can be given is the briefest of outlines of a few of the testimonies of people given under oath.  In those given in Crieff was one from a James Fisker, whose father, John, was the tenant in a farm called Gallyburn in the parish of Monzie.  According to the son, his father had told him that, “several years after the Battle of Culloden…the said Duke came to his house in the disguise of a beggar-man…” and stood at the highest point of the farm to gaze west towards Drummond Castle about 5 miles away.” He watched as the Duke quietly shed tears.  John Fisker knew the Duke well from the times he had seen him attend the annual Michaelmas Fair at Crieff and was “positive it was the Duke” whom he saw on his farm that day.

Another who gave testimony was John McNab, a merchant and manufacturer in Crieff.  He related how an elder of the Strowan Parish Church, David Harley had told him that he was well acquainted with the Duke before the ’45 and had even seen him in Crieff square alongside Charles Edward Stuart at the start of the campaign.  Harley had told McNab that many years after Culloden, he had seen the Duke “repeatedly pass and repass between Auchtertyre and Drummond Castle sometimes in the habit of a beggar-man, and at other times in the habit of an old lady.”

It has to be said that there are other historical sources which support the contention that James Drummond the Jacobite of Drummond Castle fought at Culloden and was so badly wounded that he died during his flight to France. But the testimonies related above and many more from the same source give us cause to stop and wonder. The stories here and more from those in Scotland, in the north-east of England and in Kent (where a woman called Elizabeth Peters who swore on oath that she was the daughter of the late James Drummond) all make compelling reading and outline an altogether different history to the standard one of the man who was commonly known as the Duke of Perth.

The Records of West Calder Library

In the early nineteenth century there was little free access to books in Scotland. Although the earliest known library in West Calder opened towards the end of the eighteenth century, it was a subscription library, meaning that users had to pay a subscription to join.  The Public Libraries Act of 1850 (and subsequent legislation) paved the way for more universal provision, allowing local authorities to establish free, rates-funded libraries. The generosity of Andrew Carnegie in funding fifty public libraries in Scotland made the vision of free libraries a reality.

In 1902, West Calder Parish Council unanimously decided to take steps toward adopting the Libraries Act and an application was made to Andrew Carnegie. Mr Carnegie intimated that he would give the sum of twenty-five hundred pounds sterling to erect a Free Library Building for West Calder if the Free Libraries Act be adopted.

Under the provision of the Act, the Sheriff set a meeting to gain the opinion of householders on the adoption of the Act. The meeting was set for 22 October at 5pm. This time was not considered to be suitable by many householders; so keen were they to be present at the meeting that 200 signed a petition and delivered it to the sheriff asking that the time of the meeting be altered. It was duly changed to 7pm; 173 voted for the adoption of the Act and 146 against. Consequently, the Sheriff declared the Act adopted and West Calder Parish Council was charged with appointing a committee for its establishment comprising members of the parish council, householders and ratepayers.

Mr Carnegie was invited both to lay the memorial stone and to officially open the library; unfortunately he found that his engagements made it impractical to visit West Calder on these occasions.  The Memorial Stone was instead laid by John Fyfe, Esq., Managing Director of Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company who owned the vast Addiewell Oil Works close to West Calder.

The library’s first librarian, Thomas Blackwood, was appointed on 28 July 1904 at a salary of £70 per annum.  The library was formally opened on 24 November 1904 by Lord Rosebery with a cake and wine banquet held at the library.  Every ratepayer in the parish also received a ticket to an address by Lord Rosebery in the People’s Hall.  Although non-ratepayers were able to join the library, their application had to be signed and certified by a ratepayer.

By the October of the first year there were 755 readers on the roll. On opening, the library established strict Bye-laws and Regulations to regulate the behaviour of readers visiting the library. Amongst these, it was stipulated that: ‘Any Person intoxicated, disorderly, or un-cleanly, shall not be admitted, and noise or conversation will not be allowed in the rooms.’

The library also kept the books out of the public’s reach; to request a book you had to fill in a form and hand it in at the counter.  The Library Committee was obviously worried about the transmission of infection via library books and it was stated that: ‘The occurrence of Infectious disease in the Reader’s House cancels the Reader’s privilege for the time being.’  Being excluded from a public building due to infection is almost unimaginable nowadays!

The early records of West Calder Public Library, from 1902 to 1935, can be viewed at the Archive and Records Centre. Telephone 01506 773770 or email archive@westlothian.gov.uk for further details.

Edinburgh’s Top 12: The Convention of Royal Burghs


First page of the first minute book of the Convention of Royal Burghs, 3 April 1552

First page of the first minute book of the Convention of Royal Burghs, 3 April 1552  (Note the doodle at top left)

The Convention of Royal Burghs – originally known as the Court of the Four Burghs – was a Scottish institution of great antiquity before it was succeeded in 1975 by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities or COSLA.  The original Court of the Four Burghs dates back at least to the 13th century as proved by a decree of 10 January 1295 recorded in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament.  In fact, up to the later 20th century, it had a history longer than that of any other body in Scotland save that of the Roman Catholic Church.

The original composition of the Court included Edinburgh, Stirling, Roxburgh and Berwick although the latter two burghs were replaced by Linlithgow and Lanark from 1368.  The Convention drew up the laws of the four burghs which applied to all Royal or King’s burghs within Scotland.  By the 1550s the Convention had increased its powers to include the assessment of taxation for Scottish burghs, the power both to negotiate on matters relating to foreign trade and to lobby parliament and the monarch.

The Convention was, for example, intimately involved in the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Union of 1707, voiced its considerable opinion on the pros and cons of the proposal and subsequently made it its business to oversee the implementation following its coming into effect on 1 May 1707.  A minute of 10 July of that year reads: “The conventione, considering that by the articles of Union of the tuo kingdomes of Scotland and England, the priviledges of the royall burrows are therin reserved, and that it is the great interest and concern of all royall burrows that due care be taken now after the Union for advancement of trade and encouragement of the product and manufactur of this part of the United Kingdome…”

They took their Treaty monitoring role very seriously and as early as 24 July had been petitioned by a group of merchants who had sailed with cargoes, legitimate under the new agreements, into London only to have their ships and goods impounded.  The Convention in turn addressed Queen Anne on their behalf in order to find a resolution to the difficulty although it is not immediately clear from the minutes that one was found.  Such problems beset the early Union and disquiet among ordinary Scots with the settlement persisted well into the 18th century when things began to look up economically.  The records of the Convention throw some light on this and, of course, on other matters relating to Scotland’s economic and social history for all those interested to follow it up.  Edinburgh City Archives holds records for this body which range from 1552-1982; this comprises 430 years of continuous history, a very substantial and nationally important collection indeed.

The Convetion of Royal Burghs records are just one of Edinburgh City Archives’ Top 12 Treasures which are featured in our gallery of the same on our website. You can access this small exhibition by clicking here. More of our Top 12 will be featured in posts here over the coming months.

Edinburgh City Archives invites you to delve into their treasure box!

Living skeleton ad_SL12 79As part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, which begins on Saturday 16 November 2013, Edinburgh City Archives has created a ‘story box’ highlighting a few of the fascinating and varied records to explore.  

A small box of documents, images and advertisements on the theme of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Mysterious’ will be available for anyone to look through in Edinburgh’s Central Library, George IV Bridge from Saturday 16th November. Inside you will discover snippets of records and stories giving you an introduction to some of our more interesting characters and subjects. The story box will be in the library until Sunday 24th November.

You can learn about those who aimed to make Edinburgh a nicer and safer place to live by reading about Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn; the police force in the city; as well as the role of the army. 

If you are more intrigued by those who were not so well behaved, you will be able to uncover details on William Burke, the infamous body snatcher; see Victorian rogues; and examples of crimes and punishments of years gone past.

If your imagination is creative then you can also unearth records in the story box which relate to the sometimes mysterious world of archives where all is not always as it would appear! You can read about disappearing Dukes; living skeletons; and aliens in the City… 

We want to show you that visiting an archive can take you on an adventure; they are full of fascinating content to read, touch and explore, and most of it is simply not available online. Take time to explore archives – whether you are interested in fashion, sport, food or UFOs, there will be something to inspire in the archives.

To find out more about the campaign and how you can start your own adventure visit www.exploreyourarchive.org 

To find out more about Edinburgh City Archives visit our website at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/cityarchives


Publicly, David Livingstone wished to venture into darkest Africa in order to find navigable rivers by which to promote “Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization”.

In private, however, it appears he was as touched as anybody else by the natural wonders of the virgin territory he found himself exploring. A commentator of the time, George Thornton, wrote to his brother: “Livingstone’s books have a wonderful sale – the pictures did it – but I have never met with anyone who read the book through.”

“The pictures did it.” It was inevitable that, in a nation where only a small percentage of the population was literate, the inclusion in his books of a mass of illustrations and sketches would broaden their appeal, thereby making them more accessible to many. His books were big sellers; his writing and illustrations were reprinted in newspapers, and after his death he featured in 19th. Century magic lantern shows and 20th. Century films. His fame endured – through pictures.

The “pictures” are a visual record of Africa as Livingstone and his team saw it. On his Zambesi Expedition, he was accompanied by Dr. John Kirk, a botanist and naturalist who, although not the official photographer (that position was held by Livingstone’s brother, Charles, who sadly was not up to the task) is responsible for a great many photographic images which were an invaluable record of their travels. On the same expedition, the artist Thomas Baines produced many watercolours; in fact, in his career as an artist based in Africa, Baines made thousands of sketches, drawings and paintings of African landscape, people and wildlife, one of his most notable being a book of lithographic plates depicting Victoria Falls.

A key figure in the production of Livingstone’s work was his publisher John Murray III. Already established as Britain’s leading publisher of travel books, he paid Livingstone an advance of 2,000 guineas and promised him two-thirds of the profits from his books; “Missionary Travel and Researches in South Africa “ (1857) was hugely successful , eventually selling over 70,000 copies. In this book, Livingstone describes Victoria Falls as the most beautiful and impressive sight in Africa, and suggested the name be changed from the African Mosi-oa-Tunya (“The Smoke that Thunders”) to Victoria Falls, after his queen.

 Livingstone had enormous admiration for all things African and immersed himself in the country’s culture, learning customs and languages. He despised slavery and campaigned tirelessly against it, with the result that some of the most enduring images in his work represent the treatment of slaves. From his humble beginnings in a Blantyre mill, he became a national hero, largely thanks to the visual record of Africa he had helped to create in his lifetime.      

 SPEAKER  David McClay, Curator of the John Murray Archive at the National

                   Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

 AT:             Howden Park Centre Auditorium


DATE:        Wednesday 9th. October


TIME:         7.30 pm



                                           ADMISSION  FREE

The Andrew Fraser Collection

Andrew Fraser at an art exhibition in the 1930s

Andrew Fraser at an art exhibition in the 1930s


Andrew Fraser (1917-2007) was former librarian of Midlothian County and a remarkable scholar and collector. A native of Bonnyrigg, he amassed a huge amount of material on the Midlothian area, including books, photographs, postcards and ephemera. It was typical of Andrew’s thoughtfulness and generosity that shortly before his death his entire collection was gifted to Midlothian Council Local Studies and Archives.
We are currently creating a full catalogue of the Andrew Fraser Collection and are constantly amazed at Andrew’s level of dedication and commitment. For example, amongst the collection is an unpublished 20 volume history of Cockpen Parish compiled by Andrew Fraser during his lifetime. This includes transcripts of writs, charters and other documents as well as maps, photographs and drawings, truly a labour of love.
During the Second World War, Andrew Fraser served as a Lance Corporal with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and for five years he was a prisoner of war in Germany. The collection includes three small diaries and also some photographs that he kept during his time as a POW. 
Andrew Fraser's war diary, 1942

Andrew Fraser’s war diary, 1942

The collection also includes a fascinating series of scrapbooks and files of newspaper cuttings. These were collected by Andrew Fraser from the 1930s to the late 1950s. They are a wonderful record of everyday events in Midlothian. It must have taken Andrew Fraser an extraordinary amount of time and dedication to compile them.
The earliest scrapbook covers the period from August 1938 to January 1940. The cuttings are beautifully presented and the book is fully indexed. There are many stories of interest, including local weddings and Gala days, the death of the earl of Rosslyn, evacuation and preparation for air raids.
Edinburgh evacuees, 1939

Edinburgh evacuees, 1939


Roslin Gala Day 1939

Roslin Gala Day 1939

One of the most interesting entries is a series of newspaper photographs about experimental oil wells at D’Arcy farm, near Dalkeith. An American oil company had sunk several exploratory wells in the area and used explosives in an attempt to increase the flow of oil. The experiment was later abandoned, but perhaps it may be repeated in the future. 
We hope to complete a full catalogue of the Andrew Fraser collection this year (2013) and look forward to discovering more of it treasures soon.
Oil Drilling near Dalkeith

Oil Drilling near Dalkeith








Edinburgh’s Top 12: Merchant Company Records

First separate Minute Book of Merchant 1696Merchant guilds were part and parcel of Mediaeval Scottish burgh life.  These were the bodies that looked after the interests of merchants (who bought and sold goods for their living), as distinct from tradesmen who plied a particular craft of one sort or another.  In Edinburgh, with its rich trading history, the merchant guild pre-dated the Reformation and was the most powerful political and economic institution within its confines having a constant and in-built majority on the Town Council. Nevertheless, they were constantly challenged by the Incorporated Trades, representing the tradesmen of the capital, who also had numbers of their members on the Council.

Though the guildry maintained their grip on the levers of burghal power by dint of having one extra member of the Town Council than the Incorporated Trades they nevertheless sought to consolidate this position by petitioning King Charles II in the later 17th century.  As a consequence, the Merchant Company was granted its Royal Charter in 1682.

In the early days, the body worked to protect merchants’ trading rights, they took a keen interest in taxation matters and the postal service, and were deeply involved in the city’s water supply.  Over time, the Company became more involved in both educational and charitable concerns and with money left by Mary Erskine the Merchant Maiden Hospital was established in 1694.  ‘Hospitals’ were foundations that fed, clothed and maintained children as well as providing education; the Merchant Maiden Hospital later became the Mary Erskine School.   As the Merchant Company became more important in this field it began to attract other charitable trusts and in the 18th and 19th centuries was involved in the establishment of other ‘hospitals’ such as George Watson’s and Daniel Stewart’s.

The Burgh Trading Act of 1846, which abolished their exclusive privileges and rights, led to the Merchant Company’s even greater focus on both educational and charitable works.   Today, the Merchant Company functions as a modern business forum although it still retains some of its ancient traditions and privileges and the Company’s schools are now operated by the Merchant Company Education Board which is registered as a charity under Scottish law.

The records of the Merchant Company are substantial reflecting its importance within the capital.  The City Archives holds the bulk of this archival heritage running to over 40 linear metres of records.  These constitute one of the major collections of ECA and are currently being catalogued to item level by Dr Frances Shaw, now retired from the former National Archives of Scotland and ECA’s most experienced volunteer worker.

The Merchant Company records are just one of Edinburgh City Archives’ Top 12 Treasures which are featured in our gallery of the same on our website. You can access this small exhibition by clicking here. More of our Top 12 will be featured in posts here over the coming months.