Part of the joy of working in archives lies in the uncovering of gems in unexpected places. Here at West Lothian Archives, we recently came across a bundle of scrapbooks amongst a collection of records from Glen and Henderson solicitors, Linlithgow.
In the late nineteenth century, local solicitors played a pivotal role in local society. During his career W.H. Henderson took on many roles, including as Procurator Fiscal, county road clerk, county clerk and as Honorary Treasurer of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt Club. The scrapbooks are a reflection of all elements of Henderson’s life. We find page upon page of road notices, warning local people of works and closures, newspaper advertisements of properties for sale, correspondence, elections notices and invitations, as well as obscure advertisements such as that of a dipsomaniac seeking accommodation.
The scrapbooks offer an insight not only into events in Linlithgow but into life in late Victorian Society. Perhaps more significantly, they allow us to see into the psyche and pre-occupations of the man who compiled the scrapbook pages. We uncover an interest in the drawings of the newly commercialised packaging industry. Cut-outs from packaging sit alongside civic correspondence and official notices. Images of lone female figures are an intriguing addition to the scrapbook. Henderson may have been a man of the law but scrapbooks also provide suggestion of a curious and colourful personality. Alongside newspapers cuttings documenting water works inspection, we find other cuttings of alleged sightings of sea serpents and giant squids.
The scrapbooks continue after Henderson’s death in 1901, as his son takes over as county clerk. At this point the quirky charm of the scrapbooks is lost, and the human element removed. Perhaps the best example of this is the absence of an obituary of W.H. Henderson from the pages of the scrapbook.
We are often asked what an archivist is. There are lots of right answers but I like to think of myself as a keeper of people’s stories. A collection at East Lothian that demonstrates this to a ‘T’ is the Wallace Menzies collection. Wallace Menzies is a firm of solicitors based in North Berwick and the collection is one of personal legal papers relating to work they undertook.
The story of the firm itself is an interesting one and is closely tied with North Berwick. It started out as Lyle and Wallace. Both Robert Lyle and Andrew Wallace were Town Clerks of North Berwick as well as solicitors and indeed for sometime the solicitors office and the town clerk’s office were one and the same place. When Lyle passed away Wallace asked his nephew John W Menzies to become his partner therby given the firm its modern name. Wallace was a popular character in the town and a plaque was erected as a memorial to him on top of North Berwick Law (pictured)
The collection runs to some 70 boxes and includes the stores of hundreds of people. In the collection we have the papers of Mrs Scott Elliott, a very wealthy local lady who owned a considerable chunk of Easter Road in Edinburgh. She set up a trust and left large amounts of money, furs and jewels to her family.
There are also the records of Helen Whitelaw a local lady who left a considerable donation to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on her death. You can hold this ladys life in your hands as we have her birth, marriage and death certificates and her wedding and engagement rings.
The collection also includes a fair amount of scandal – a divorce case from the 1890s involving nasty diseases, adultery and alcoholism that probably would be too far fetched for Eastenders is just an example.
Some of the papers include an inventory of people’s possessions, bank books, certificates, insurance and pension documents – papers that give a great insight into these people’s lives.
This collection is only one of the hundreds that we hold. I wonder how many lives we have in our archive?
Penicuik Co-operative Association war memorial
Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about the theft and destruction of war memorials. Uncaring and unscrupulous people have been stealing memorials and selling them for scrap metal. This is a particularly insensitive crime which insults the brave men and women who gave their lives for our freedom and destroys irreplaceable aspects of our history.
Happily, it’s not all bad news and in Midlothian Local Studies we can report that a lost memorial will soon be returned to its spiritual home.
Some time after the end of the First World War, the Penicuik Co-operative Assocation unveiled a memorial plaque to a dozen of their workers who had lost their lives in the war. It seems that the plaque was originally sited in the Society buildings on Penicuik High Street.
Penicuik Co-operative Society building
Many years later the Co-operative closed and the building was converted into dwelling houses. During this time, the war memorial was removed and was almost sold for scrap when, by chance, it was rescued by a collector based in Leith. Via a friend-of-a-firend, the memorial has recently been passed to Midlothian Local Studies and will soon be re-sited in Penicuik with the help of the Penicuik History Society.
The memorial records tweve men from the Penicuik Co-operative Assocation who were lost in the war:
James H Cairns
Robert F Frame
Thomas H Hamilton
William R McFeat
William P Richardson
The memorial is made from solid bronze and is extremely heavy.
Midlothian Local Studies is pleased to rescue this important piece of local heritage and to prerserve it for future generations.