A Wartime Christmas Mystery

World War One Christmas CardWhen searching our collections for ‘Christmassy’ materials I was delighted to stumble upon a World War One Christmas card. The cover features five kilted soldiers gathered round a fire. A tartan bow adds a little festive flair to the austerity of the black and white image. But what really drew me to the card were the signatures inside it. While normally cards are signed by families and sent to friends but, this card was signed by soldiers and sent to a commanding officer. War altered the normality of life, taking over every part of it, even Christmas. I immediately wanted to know more about these men. I began a mission to find them.cc-interior-4

The card provided a wealth of information on the men. I had not only their names, but their ranks, the abbreviations of which had been included under their names. The inside of the card read “from Sergeants of ‘D’ coy”, so I knew they were in D company. The outside of the card proudly declares ‘Dandy Ninth’, which was the nickname of the Ninth Battalion of the Royal Scots. They were called ‘dandy’ as they were the only kilted lowland regiment, being based in Edinburgh. The inclusion of a tartan ribbon and the image of kilted soldiers display their pride in this fact. With all these facts I thought it would be easy to find them.

A key obstacle to finding these men was their hand writing. Some had a good clear hand such as G.C. Vallance, whose name can be clearly read. Others were more difficult to make out. I had particular difficulty reading this name:

Close up of signature

 Jasluluoueul? James Monueul? It was passed around the office and guesses were made, Google searches were attempted, Scottishhandwritting.com was consulted, and we could not find the answer. At last it was decided to crowdsource a translation. We took to Twitter and within the hour we had an answer!

Can you guess it….



James M. Moncur, whose loopy M’s look like ‘lu’. He was harder to find as he did not remain a Lance Sergeant in the 9th Battalion but obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 8th Battalion. But thanks to the kind folks on Twitter, it was possible to find his name and military record. Unfortunately, his story had a sad ending; he was killed in action in 17th April 1917 at age 24. He was not the only one of the ten to not make it home from the war.

William Goodfellow died in action 4 days later on 23rd April 1917, both are buried at Arras, about 10 kilometres apart. G C Vallance died the year previously on 23rd July 1916 and J F Wilson died the year after on the 7th August 1918.

The remaining six sergeants have been harder to find. My main source from searching for these men was the commonwealth war graves commission; this made it easier to find men who were killed in action. I hope my difficultly finding the remaining six means they survived the war and made it home.

If anyone knows the fate of any of these men they will share it with us in comment or @sallycarchives on Twitter. Their names are listed below:

Christmas Card Signatures

Christmas Card Signatures

D S Anderson, Sergeant

R Dalgleish, Sergeant

J Donald, Sergeant

A J Macdonald, Sergeant

J Ward, Sergeant

W Forsyth, Sergeant

Fala and the Roosevelts: a mysterious connection

Having just started as the archives trainee for Midlothian Council Archives, I am lucky enough to have spent most of the first few weeks of my traineeship exploring the archives varied holdings. I have found a myriad of amazing things but none as surprising as a signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt!


The letter was hidden amongst other correspondence in a file in our Fala and Soutra Collection. This collection was donated to us by Jean Blades (née Waterston), a keen local historian and the Fala, Soutra and District History and Heritage Society, an organisation Mrs Blades helped to establish. I was intrigued by how a letter from the first lady ended up in a local history collection about a small parish in Midlothian Scotland.

The letter was sent to Revered Daniel Blades, husband of Jean and minister for Fala and Soutra Parish by a G.C. Hunter. Hunter and Blades were corresponding about local families and the history of the Fala parish. Mr Hunter writes, “you probably read in the newspapers regarding Fala, the dog which for many years was the companion of the late president Roosevelt. I wrote to Mrs Roosevelt asking why her late husband called his dog Fala and I enclose her original reply date 22nd April.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Fala

I had never heard of Fala, the faithful canine companion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Fala was a favourite of the press and the public. He was called the most photographed dog in the world and stories about him and his antics often made it into the press. It was even alleged during the 1944 Presidential campaign that President Roosevelt once left Fala behind on a presidential trip and sent by a Navy ship to collect him, at the expense of the American tax payers. President Roosevelt responded to these accusations in humorous speech:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Eleanor and Fala

Fala outlived his beloved owner, passing away on April 7th 1952 only a few weeks before Eleanor penned her response to Hunter. It is likely that Fala’s death prompted Hunters curiosity about why the President seemed to have named his dog of after a small Midlothian town. Mrs Roosevelt’s reply is short but friendly. She explains that Fala’s full name was Murray of Fala Hill and he was named for an ancestor of her husband.

Hunter voices surprise that President Roosevelt had Scottish ancestors, but the President must have been proud of his Scottish connection to use the name for his beloved dog. Roosevelt’s great- great- great-grandfather on his mother’s side was James Murray, a Scot from Selkirkshire who moved to America in 1735; other sources claim Fala was named for an ancestor who was an outlaw. This could be John Murray of Fala Hill, from the Borders ballad ‘The Outlaw Murray’. Fala Hill sits just outside Midlothian in the Scottish borders, not that far from the parish of Fala and Soutra but also not far from Selkirkshire.  It is possible that James Murray was an ancestor of John Murray the Outlaw as they were from a similar part of Scotland, though Murray is a common Scottish surname. Perhaps President Roosevelt’s imagination was captured by the ballad of Outlaw Murrays daring deeds.

Roosevelt seems to have shared Revered Blades’ and G.C. Hunter’s interest in family history. Their shared passion resulted in this strange connection between a small local history collection and the President of the United States of America.

When Bowie played Bonnyrigg

Bonnyrigg Two 001




We are all saddened to hear of the death of David Bowie last week. Who would have guessed that Bowie once played a gig in Bonnyrigg? This small article from the Dalkeith Advertiser shows that he appeared at the Bonnyrigg Regal on Friday 7 November 1969. Does anybody remember the event? Please let us know.


Apparently Bowie may only have turned-up in Bonnyrigg but inadvertently missed his gig. He did have a Fray Bentos pie though. Please see this link:


The Regal, Bonnyrigg (building on the right opposite the BP Garage)

The Regal, Bonnyrigg (building on the right opposite the BP Garage)


Midlothian Remembers 1914-1918

Penicuik Silver Band Memorial

Penicuik Silver Band Memorial

After months of effort and hard work we are delighted to announce the launch of the Midlothian Roll of Honour 1914-1918.

War memorial at St James the Less Episcopal Church, Penicuik

The new database records all memorials to the First World War in Midlothian and provides details of every casualty listed on the memorials. So far we have recorded 79 memorials in local parks, churches, workplaces and schools, and the details of 1364 casualties. In addition, we have recorded headstones in local cemeteries that commemorate the war.

Launch of Midlothian Remembers November 2014
A dedicated team of volunteers have helped to locate and photograph the memorials, and also to research the stories of the people on them. The database is by no means complete and research is ongoing. We also hope to produce a print version in due course.
Family history fair at Newtongrange November 2014
The new database was launched at a successful Local and Family History Fair at the National Mining museum in Newtongrange in November 2014.

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








Mary Queen of Scots and Midlothian

The Infant Queen 1542-48
Even before her birth Mary’s fortunes had been closely bound up with the political and ecclesiastical rivalries of the great powers of Europe. Her father, James V had taken Scotland into the French and papal camp, a policy underlined by his marriage to a Frenchwoman, Mary of Guise, who was the mother of Queen Mary.

When Mary became Queen of Scots in 1542, Henry VIII of England saw an opportunity to align Scotland with his realm. The agreement that the infant queen should marry Henry’s son, Edward, a boy of five, was, however, repudiated by the Scots. Thereafter, Henry began a series of devastating invasions of Scotland known as The Rough Wooing, the objective of which was to win Mary’s hand for Edward. During these incursions, the Earl of Hertford and an English army laid siege to the castle at Roslin. Despite its strong position on a peninsula above the river Esk, the castle was badly damaged by fire.

Rosslyn Castle

Rosslyn Castle








Mary at Crichton
For nearly four years following her return from France in 1561, Mary successfully ruled Scotland alone. Many people thought that her policies were eminently fair and she gained popular support because of her attractive personality.

On 11 January 1562, she visited Crichton Castle to celebrate the marriage of her half-brother Lord James Stewart to Lady Janet Hepburn. Mary was attended by a brilliant retinue, including the Four Maries and other elite members of her court. This was a great occasion at Crichton. It was reported that there was ‘much good sport and many pastimes’ on the level field beneath the castle on the banks of the Tyne. Randolph, the English ambassador, was among the guests and no doubt he sent an account of the event to his mistress Elizabeth I of England who always loved to hear the latest gossip.

Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle







Mary and Darnley
It was the duty of every monarch to marry and produce a successor. On 29 July 1565, Mary married her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at the Palace of Holyrood. There has long been a tradition that Mary and Darnley spent part of their honeymoon at Crichton Castle. However, an inscribed monogram on the wall of the castle does not display the initials of Mary and Darnley, as is sometimes claimed. Rather they are those of Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell, and his wife Margaret Douglas. They are dated to the later sixteenth century.

Mary and Bothwell
Following the murder of Lord Darnley in February 1567, Mary entered into a badly chosen marriage with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. The couple moved to the Bothwell stronghold at Crichton Castle.

Borthwick Castle

Borthwick Castle








Whilst living there, Mary was a frequent visitor to Borthwick Castle. During one visit, she received news that an army was coming to capture her and Bothwell. Mary escaped to the recently-constructed Cakemuir Castle in the Moorfoot hills to the south-east. She was met by some of Bothwell’s retinue and spent the night at Cakemuir before resuming her journey to Dunbar. Near Cakemuir Castle are the grass-covered roots of Queen Mary’s Tree, supposedly planted to commemorate her brief stay at the castle. Both Borthwick and Cakemuir Castles have a room each that is known as Queen Mary’s Room.

Cakemuir Castle

Cakemuir Castle









The Penicuik Jewels
Before Mary was executed on 8 February 1587, she gave to Geilles Mowbray, one of her maids of honour, several items of jewellery. Subsequently, these came into the possession of the Clerk family of Penicuik. The jewels were a treasured possession of the family until 1923 when they were bought for 400 guineas by the National Museum of Antiquities. The main pieces of the collection, which have all been authenticated as genuine relics of the Queen, are a gold locket, known as the Penicuik Jewel, which encloses miniatures portraits of Mary and the infant James VI, dated to 1576-79; a gold and pearl pendant; a necklace consisting of 14 large oval beads divided by 13 smaller gold beads; and a brocaded floral fan mounted on silk and silver tissue.

Now, where’s that again?

It is always exciting to receive new donations to the archives, to get them into proper order and capture information about collections for future generations to enjoy. But sometimes archives can be puzzling. 

Midlothian Archives have recently started to catalogue a large collection donated by a man called Andrew Fraser. Andrew was once a well-known character in Midlothian and amongst other achievements became county librarian of Midlothian.

Amongst the Fraser collection is a small photograph album containing about twenty sepia toned prints. These date from the Edwardian era and many of them feature unidentified people, but there are also several landscape shots that we would like to identify. 

Do you know where any of these places are? Please let us know.


Feeding racing pigeons at an unidentified location

Feeding racing pigeons at an unidentified location

 This man is feeding racing pigeons. Is it at Waverley Station in Edinburgh?

Large unidentified house

Large unidentified house

A beautiful large house somewhere. But where?

Large unidentified house

Large unidentified house

 Another large house with plenty of character. But where? East Lothian?

Unidentified country cottage

Unidentified country cottage

Beach in East Lothian

Beach in East Lothian

Finally, where is this beach with its distinctive pavillion? It looks like the Bass Rock in the background which would place it in East Lothian. Is it still there?


Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners, Penicuik

Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners, Penicuik

Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners, Penicuik

Free Gardeners Lodge, Penicuik 1908
Free Gardeners Lodge, Penicuik 1908

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.

Free Gardeners Lodge, Penicuik 1909

Free Gardeners Lodge, Penicuik 1909

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).  

Gardeners demonstration on Bridge Street, Penicuik 1909

Gardeners demonstration on Bridge Street, Penicuik 1909

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.

Page from scrapbook on the Free Gardeners, Penicuik

Page from scrapbook on the Free Gardeners, Penicuik

The Mauricewood Disaster September 1889

Mauricewood Colliery from the Illustrated London News








On 5 September 1889, the Mauricewood Colliery near Penicuik was the scene of the worst mining disaster in the history of the Lothians. An underground fire claimed the lives of 63 workers, including some as young as 13-years-old.

Following the accident, a Mauricewood Disaster Relief Committee was established in Penicuik to care for the dependents of the deceased. The committee was comprised of important local worthies, including the adventure novelist SR Crockett who was then a minister of the Free Church in Penicuik.

The Reverend SR Crockett







The Relief Committee raised money to help those who had been bereaved by the disaster. It is worth remembering that there was no welfare state in the late nineteenth century. As a result of the disaster, many households in the Penicuik area lost their only wage earner and would have been left destitute if the committee had not intervened.      

The original minute book of the Mauricewood Relief Committee has recently been donated to the Penicuik Historical Society. It is a fascinating document that illustrates Victorian charity and welfare provision in action.

The Victorians have a reputation as being stern and uncaring, but the minute book suggests that, in this case at least, they were surprisingly sympathetic and compassionate.

Money for the disaster fund was raised by voluntary donations. The relief committee, which was entirely unpaid, began their work by compiling a list of victims of the disaster and the names of their dependents. It was calculated that 96 children had lost their fathers. Financial support was given to widows, children up to the age of 14, and to elderly parents who were unable to work for themselves. Pregnant widows received money for their unborn babies. A doctor was employed to administer to the medical needs of bereaved families.

However, there were also strict rules about who could receive support and not every application for assistance was granted. For example, widows who had started work or remarried were immediately cut off.

The original minute book of the Mauricewood Relief Committee was received in a poor condition, but it has been professionally restored and is now in the care of the Penicuik Historical Society. An electronic scan of the book has been prepared and can be consulted in Midlothian Local Studies in Loanhead along with other information about the disaster.

The Official Report on the Mauricewood Disaster

New donations to Midlothian Archives 2012

Midlothian Local Studies is a treasure house of local and family history. Based in Loanhead, it is run by Midlothian Council Library Service and is a unique collection about all aspects of Midlothian history and culture.

The collection is always growing and in 2012 many new donations were received from local people.

Amongst these were two collections of photographs about Loanhead. One was given by the family by the late Ernie Tiernan, a local shopkeeper, and the second from the estate of Jim Abbot, a professional photographer.

The photographs are a wonderful record of life in Loanhead in the twentieth century. They show streets, buildings, shops, people and events, including Gala Days and the Queen’s visit to Loanhead in June 1961. Each photograph is being carefully catalogued and local people are helping to identify them.

One fascinating photograph shows a women’s football team. There are no details with the photograph, but it seems to date from around the First World War and may show munitions workers either at Loanhead or Roslin gunpowder works.  

Amongst other donations, Roslin Primary Schoolgave a large collection of class registers and photograph albums. These will be of great interest to genealogists in the future.






The family of James Braidwood of Bonnyrigg donated an Air Raid Warden’s notebook that he had kept during the Second World War. This shows regular nightly inspections of the local area to ensure that everybody was obeying the rules during the blackout.   






Today’s news is tomorrow’s history. David Adams of Loanhead donated a set of photographs of the Olympic torch on its journey through Loanhead in June 2012, which was a memorable and historic event.

Penicuik Historical Society have recently undertaken a major project on papermaking and the Society gave Local Studies a series of transcripts of interviews with former workers in local mills. These are an invaluable record of a once thriving local industry.

Local Studies also received the records of the Pentland Conservation Group, a local environmental action group which did much valuable work to preserve historic Pentland Cemetery.






2014 will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. One poignant donation was a memorial plaque, commonly known as a ‘Deadman’s Penny’, belonging to Private John Watson, a Bonnyrigg soldier who joined the Royal Scots and who died at the battle of Arras in 1917.

Midlothian Local Studies thanks everyone who has made donations in 2012. New material is always welcome. Any of the items mentioned here can be viewed at Local Studies which is located at 2 Clerk Street, Loanhead and is free to use.