In Spring 2012, Midlothian Council Archive Service launched a new guide to the Midlothian archives. The purpose of the guide is to raise awareness of the archive collection and to encourage greater use of it. Copies of the new guide are available from local libraries or from Midlothian Local Studies.
The Midlothian archive collection began shortly after the end of Second World War largely thanks to a man called Andrew Fraser, an unassuming native of Bonnyrigg who became county librarian for Midlothian County Library Service (then based inEdinburgh). Andrew had enough intelligence and foresight to start collecting material which was then regarded as insignificant and could be had for next to nothing. One example of this is a wonderful collection of old postcards of Midlothian. In Andrew’s day, these could be obtained quite cheaply, but are now very expensive and highly expensive.
Andrew Fraser saved a lot of archive material which was almost thrown away during local government reorganisation in 1970s. Amongst these were volumes of burgh records, council minutes, and logbooks and class registers from local schools. These records form the basis of the current collection, although there have been many later additions, usually donated by the public.
Currently, Midlothian archives are based in two sites: Library headquarters in Loanhead and at the Council Records Centre in Bonnyrigg, which is not open to the public. The collection is maintained by the Council Library Service. Midlothian Council has not employed a professional archivist for some years, but there is a Local Studies Officer and a Records Officer who jointly care for the archives.
The Midlothian collection is not vast, but there are plenty of interesting and unique items. Probably the best example is the Black Collection which contains over 150 scrapbooks about Penicuik and the surrounding area. These were compiled by two local men, James Black and his son Robert, from about 1880 to 1930. The scrapbooks record almost every aspect of life in Penicuik and are a rich source for local historians and genealogists.
The bulk of the archive collection comes from the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, but there are a few earlier items. These include eighteenth-century minute books from the Guild of the Dalkeith Hammermen, the Penicuik Farmers’ Society, Loanhead Subscription Library (1818-53), and the Trustees of the Burgh of Dalkeith, which began in 1760. There are also several family and estate collections, such as the Don Wauchope of Edmonstone papers, a prosperous family that lived at the Edmonstone house in the parish of Newton, just outsideEdinburgh.
The new archive guide is an attempt to summarise the Midlothian collection and to make it more accessible to users. The guide is organised into eight basic categories, such as Local Authority Records and Unions, Guilds and Associations. There is also an index and a glossary of unfamiliar terms. It is worth remembering that many people may be unfamiliar with archive collections and may not understand how they are organised. The guide was made as simple and clear as possible whilst maintaining the highest archive standards.
It is hoped that the new guide will be first in a series and that new versions will be produced at regular intervals. There is still plenty of material to be added and many new donations. Recently, we were given the punishment book from the Dalkeith Combination Poorhouse which records the penalties handed out to inmates for misbehaviour. This is a fascinating document that shows the harshness of the Victorian workhouse system. In February 1874, a woman called Jane Brunton, who was 23-years-old, was locked up for 8 hours and denied food for being insubordinate to the matron.
As well as the guide, we are also compiling new catalogues for individual collections. Once these are completed they are placed on the Midlothian Council website as PDFs. This is, of course, time-consuming but also rewarding and a good way to become more familiar with the collections and to uncover hidden treasures.
There is a huge amount of work to be done with theMidlothianarchives but we think that the new guide is big step in the right direction.