The Black Collection is a remarkable record about Penicuik and surrounding area from 1880 to 1930. It is named after James Black and his son Robert, who assembled a mass of material about life in Penicuik. The collection includes research and lecture notes, newspaper cuttings, notebooks, postcards, photograph albums and many other items.
Amongst the collection is a large ammount of material about the Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners, Penicuik. The Ancient Order of Free Gardeners was a fraternal society that was founded in Scotland in the middle of the seventeenth century. It later spread to England and Ireland although it was principally a Scottish phenomenon. Like numerous other friendly societies of the time, its principal aim was to share knowledge amongst those working in a particular profession and also to provide mutual aid and insurance for its membership. In the nineteenth century, the latter activity became predominant. The Free Gardeners always remained independent of Freemasonry, but the history and organisation of the two orders show numerous similarities. By the end of the twentieth century, the Gardeners had become almost entirely extinct.
The Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners, Penicuik was formed in June 1822 from members of an earlier order called the Hand Papermakers’ Society (Penicuik was a centre of the paper making industry). The Gardeners were a highly visible presence in Penicuik and held annual walks and feasts, church services, concerts, sales of work and excursions. The Order had very specific rules and members were entitled to wear special regalia, sashes and badges. It would appear that in Penicuik at any rate membership was not very restrictive and open to almost everybody (except, of course, women).
Robert E Black, who compiled the Black collection, was an enthusiastic member of the Penicuik Gardeners and at one time acted as secretary of the local branch. His collection contains a good deal of material about the local Order, including dinner menus, press cuttings, concert programmes and photographs of members. As secretary of the Gardeners, he wrote a short history of the Order in Penicuik which was published in 1910. His collection is a treasure trove for any researcher with an interest in this little known but important aspect of Scottish culture.