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


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…..

Rogues an Auld Reekie: Lothian & Borders Police Archive

Laptop – check; repository keys – check; pencil – check; warm socks – check.

Following a successful application to the National Cataloguing Grant Programme, over the next 12 months the records of the Edinburgh and Lothian & Borders Police Forces (all 62 linear metres) held by Edinburgh City Archives will be boxlisted, catalogued and re-housed. A couple of weeks into the project, which has so far been spent going through accession files and reading up on 200 years of police history (this will be an ongoing task!), boxlisting has now begun in earnest. My home for the next few months will be mainly at the temperature controlled Records Store – hence the warm socks.

Unlisted items

Unlisted items

The accession files have already provided a tantalising glimpse of what the collection contains: Watching Force Reports (winter is coming, after all ;-)); Police War Duties; Rogues Gallery; Police Amateur Dramatic Photographs; Hackney Carriage Registers; Pedlars Certificates; Charge Books and Conviction Registers; Casualty Records, to list but a few.

The collection covers the evolution of the Police Force from the time of the Edinburgh Police Act in 1805 through the introduction of finger printing in 1905, police boxes in 1933, unit beat policing in 1967 and several amalgamations, to the Force that we would recognise today. The records document the varying functions of the police along with the ever increasing role of technology and the adoption of more sophisticated modes of transport and communication, all in the name of crime prevention and detection.
Casualty Records

Casualty Records

Once catalogued and accessible, the records will not only provide a fantastic resource for those interested in the history of policing in Edinburgh and Scotland, but will also offer a wonderful insight into the progress and shifting concerns of our communities over time.

The project itself will undoubtedly throw up interesting archival issues surrounding appraisal, arrangement and access. Follow us on Facebook and here on Lothian Lives for project updates and discussions and to find out what exciting records are uncovered.


Edinburgh Dean of Guild & the French “Outlaw”

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The Dean of Guild Court, as talked about in these pages in the past, was the forerunner of what today is Building Control within the local authority context.  Their present function is as overseer to building developments within the City and although this was also the case for the Dean of Guild Court in years gone by, that authority also had other strings to its bow.  For example, it acted as the Burgh’s ‘policeman’ as far as trade within its boundaries went which meant it enforced the rules and regulations relating to manufacturing, buying and selling within the ancient limits of Edinburgh.  Only burgesses (in England known as ‘freemen’) were allowed to carry out such occupations and entry to their ‘club’ was tightly controlled.

If some ‘unfree’ individual attempted to trade within the burgh then the powers of the Dean of Guild were called into play as was exemplified in the papers of the case from which the newspaper cutting shown above, was found.  The advert placed here shows he was selling French Lace, amongst other things, from premises in Infirmary Street in 1806 but it is clear that he had done likewise in previous years since the advert shown below notes him having once operated from 16 Leith Street.

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So, by 1806 it was clear that he had clashed with other merchant burgesses in Edinburgh in the past since he begins the newspaper advertisement above with a cheeky side swipe at them as follows:

Mr Simeon cannot again address the Public and omit thanking those kind Gentlemen who instigated the Dean of Guild to enter a prosecution against him, in hopes he would quit Edinburgh: but Business answering his most sanguine expectation, he intends entering business immediately, and continue his yearly visits to this City.”

The documents included in the bundle relating to this Dean of Guild Court case give us some insight into how things proceeded.  In January 1806 he was again prosecuted in the Dean of Guild Court and fined 10 guineas, a considerable sum of money for the time.  On the 3rd of February he complained that the fine was too high and asked that he be granted a ‘licence’ – at a reasonable cost – to trade for a limited period each year and went on to argue that being an ‘alien’ (i.e. a foreign national) he would never have been permitted to become a burgess and thus never attempted to do so.

The reply by the Procurator Fiscal on 4th February rejected his claims and contended that Mr Simeon was merely stalling for time to sell his wares and then fly by night as he had done before. He cited Simeon’s ‘pasquinade’ against Edinburgh’s burgesses (satirical advert in the Press) as proof of his contempt for the law and asked that the Frenchman be imprisoned until such time as his full fine be paid.  The judgement was against the accused; he was ordered to produce his licence from the ‘Aliens Office’ within 10 days and in the meantime lodge 100 guineas as a ‘caution’ or security.

We can tell from the Dean of Guild Court documents that by late March, having produced the relevant papers, he was in Glasgow and from there appealed the fine levied by the Edinburgh authorities and continued to plead for a licence to trade.  Again, his request was refused, he was ordered to pay another guinea and denied the freedom for any further appeal.

This is the end of this particular story as far as the Dean of Guild Court papers elucidate it but it clearly shows that the remit of this ancient institution was then much broader than its modern counterpart is today.

Through nothing more than curiosity I carried out a quick internet search on our French adventurer and was rewarded with an addendum to his story.  The search revealed this document (theglasgowstory.com) within the People’s Palace Collections in Glasgow.  It shows that a ‘Monsieur St. Ange Simeon’ (surely our man) was by 1820, at least, temporarily or perhaps permanently settled in Glasgow and giving French lessons to some of its citizenry.  Perhaps the Dean of Guild in Edinburgh had by then finally put paid to his mercantile career but – being a lad o’ pairts’ – he had simply moved on to earn a crust (or a croissant) in another way!


“The Lobster”

Edinburgh City Archives, like other similar institutions, collects a wide range of historical material relating to the City and the area in general. Much of this, like the minutes and agendas of the Council and its committees besides similar records from other business organisations deal with serious matters which affect many people’s life and work. But occasionally we are given records relating to the lighter, perhaps more frivolous or even humorous side of life here and the ‘Lobster’ was one such organisation.
It appears to have begun as a very informal congregation of Royal Bank of Scotland employees – all men – who clearly liked to eat and drink well and funded it all by betting on a wide diversity of wagers. Their founding principles, as can be seen from the image here, were set down in verse and were to be sung to the tune of “Miss Baillie”.
The foregoing Claws,
Beginning quite gaily,
Made the following Laws
To the tune of “Miss Baillie”


1st verse
All Claws who take a bet,
Or to gaming feel their nob stir,
Must pay all moneys over nett,
To the Treasurer of the Lobster

2nd verse

If gainers don’t advise the Clerk
Their gains – They get a milling.
And here ‘tis proper to remark
No bet exceeds One Shilling.


Oh! The Lobster!
The Lobster Laws!
Oh! The Lobster!
The Buckies & the Claws!

As an illustration of their epicurean leanings a minute of a meeting held on the 29 May 1823 at Leith Golf House noted that since last meeting ‘Claw J.P.’ had tied the knot and to celebrate had written to the Treasurer of the Lobster as follows:



To save the Lobster the time and trouble of a Vote – put me down for a Magnum of Claret.

Claw P.


The other “Claws” were understandably extremely pleased not only to learn of his good news but perhaps even more so with the prospect of drinking a toast or two to the newly-married couple.

This small minute book was kept for several years being filled with similarly inconsequential and amusing notes together with accounts of their ill gotten gains and expenditure until the early 1830s.  The last entry of 1831 noted that another club, based on similar principles to the “Lobster” was to be formed in London and called the “Scraper” – nothing more than this was written of it.

The adventures of James Spittal…journey’s end

It is time to say goodbye to James Spittal and his adventures through parts of Europe in 1815! He has given us a fantastic insight into countries, cultures and battle weary landscapes which are impossible to witness in full today some 200 years later.

Here is his last entry in his amazing diary, when he is back in the United Kingdom and looking for one last adventure…

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JS 43c 23 Oct JS 44 23 Oct JS end page

23 October

Next morning (23) went & viewed Dover Castle & all the fortifications.  In the forenoon Bonaparte’s carriage was landed on the shore and the officer who brought it was kind enough show both inside & out to the public – it is the most complete thing of the kind I ever saw, containing every article in the interior for use, so that he could live in it in any country (when travelling) with every convenience.  About 3 o’clock we saw also the Archdukes John and Louis of Austria & Switland [Switzerland], they were received by a Royal Salute from the Castle.  At 4 o’clock set out for London & arrived at the London Coffeehouse at 8 next morning……..

We hope you have enjoyed this diary series, and come back to the site regularly to see what else is new in the archives!

The adventures of James Spittal…Bonaparte’s carriage

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JS 42c 21&22 Oct JS 43a 21&22 Oct JS 43b 21&22 Oct

21 & 22 October

[Next morning] from thence we passed through Bolougne [Boulogne] about 1 o’clock in the morning – while some of the passengers were regaling themselves with soup Mr G and I went & viewed Bolougne harbour which appears extremely capacious indeed. At 7 we arrived in Calais 20 Oct [this must be a mistake as he arrived on 21st] immediately ordered breakfast & while sitting down to it the alarm was given that the young gentleman who before had refused to come with us had been attempting to throw himself in the harbour – fortunately there was no water but he meant to die in the mud for on being observed by two sailors who jumped in he layed himself down to chock [secure himself] and it was with some difficulty they saved him – he was brought to the Inn.  An awful spectacle he was put to bed and a surgeon sent for with whom he was left in charge – his name we found to be Robertson from Woolwich. At ½ past one we sailed from Calais – before embarking we saw Bonaparte’s carriage and 4 horses which carried him to Waterloo and which were taken from him during the engagement, embarking in the King’s packet for England as a present to the Prince of Wales.  We arrived at Dover at 9 at night had rather a rough passage the sea running high and the vessel being quite small.  I however stood it out till just before leaving the vessel became rather squeamish.  We came on shore in a pilot boat & went to the Ship Inn where we slept.

The adventures of James Spittal…King of Bohemia

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JS 41c 20 Oct JS 42a 20 Oct

Friday 20 October

The next place of consequence we came to was Abbeville about 12 o’clock. There is also a great cathedral in this city which we went & visited it is very extensive. There the devotees were at worship and candles burning in all quarters of the church – the images of our saviour and the Virgin Mary were very luminous. Arrived at Montreal [Montreuil] in the evening a place so strongly fortified as to be deemed impregnable. There one of our passengers a young gentleman [who appear to be] an English Officer returning to his relations a little out of his mind went into a public house from which he would not move until drawn out by main force, we got him into his seat & then went on. Arriving at this place we passed the field of Cresy [Crecy] where Edward the black Prince defeated the French and Bohemian troops & it was there the King of Bohemia fell and his helmet was presented to Edward in which there was a plume of 13 white feathers and the motto “Ich Dien” which he as Prince of Wales adapted and is still continued by his successors.

The adventures of James Spittal…St Denis

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JS 40b 19 Oct JS 40c 19 Oct JS 41a 19 Oct JS 41b 19 Oct

19 October

Set out thing morning as ten from Paris – passing through St Denis called for Capt. Thomson but did not find him at home. At the end of the town where the bridge had been blown down to prevent the approach of the allies in 1814 and where a temporary wooden bridge is erected in its stead – a wagon with charcoal passing, one of its wheels sunk into a rut and out of it it could not be removed for a half hour. In the mean time we were waiting and all the carriages, carts, wagons etc for a considerable extent were heaped together at both ends of the bridge.  Betwixt Paris and St Denis a great battle was fought last year by the allies previous to their entry to the Capital.  In consequence of this were entirely deserted and most of the garden walls were perforated where the Army had shot through, passing from thence the first great town we arrived as was Amiens at five in the morning. This City is famous for the Peace which was there ratified in 1802 – at this place there is an ancient & extensive cathedral – a guide was in attendance on the Coach at that early hour to show it. We walked to it although in the dark and saw it by candlelight.

We are nearing the end of James’ travels, but come back tomorrow to see where he visits on his route back towards the Channel…

The adventures of James Spittal…Vaudeville

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JS 39 18 Oct JS 40a 18 Oct

Wednesday 18 October

Having appointed Leut. Alexander Henderson to breakfast with me and spend the day, I accordingly parted with Mr Gilchrist early in the morning – waited at the Hotel all day for Mr H – about 2 o’clock a message came by his servant that he could not come because  of a Review which has just then been finished. The servant not wanting any answer but merely mentioned that Mr H would see me tomorrow. I had no alternative I was anxious to see Mr H and being then upon the wide world without an interpreter I resolved at once to hire a carriage which I did and set off immediately to Asniers to Mr H’s lodgings a distance of six miles – to my great mortification he was not at home, a brother officer just arrived who informed me he supposed Mr H had gone to Paris. I thought then of going to St Denis about three miles distant to see Capt. Jas. Thomson Dr Thomsons son but fearing Mr H had rode to Paris for the purpose of calling on me I returned instantly to inquire after him and before leaving his lodgings I left word with his neighbour officer that I was gone to my Hotel and that I would wait for him there till 6 or 7 o’clock at night and that I was to leave town in the morning for London. But Mr H never made his appearance nor no message from him again whatever consequently this day was completely lost which I regretted much as I still had reserved a great many things to see. Went to the theatre Vaudville about 7 but being so disappointed at losing the day I could not enjoy it therefore came home and went to bed.