Photographing Edinburgh

Tales of One City

A new story on Our Town Stories tells the history of photography in Edinburgh using images from Central Library’s unique and world-class photographic collection.

Newhaven fishwives, c1845 by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson

Starting with the mesmerizing pictures by the pioneering photographers of the Edinburgh Calotype Club and the remarkable partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, this history takes you through the early days of commercial landscape and studio photography.

Family studio portrait, 1905, from Bill Hall’s Family Album
Reproduced by kind permission of William J. Hall

The story moves from the Box Brownie to the digital age and the camera firmly established as an intrinsic part of everyday life.

New Year’s Day family gathering, 1964
Living Memory Association via Edinburgh Collected (

Read our Photographing Edinburgh story and take a look at Edinburgh through the lens of time!

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The Music Library adds a drum kit to their Music Studio!

Tales of One City

Whether like BBC weatherman, Owain Wyn Evans, you are taking up the challenge to drum for 24 hours non-stop for charity, or if you want to crash your crash cymbal like Cozy Powell, beat your bass drum like Buddy Rich or be a drummer like Ringo Starr, we’ve got the answer!

Buddy Rich during a concert in Cologne (Germany) on 3 March 1977
by Paul Spürk, Paul Spürk, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you just want to practise your single strokes, double open stroke rolls or polish your paradiddles or adjust your diddles, we might be able to help you. Beat a path to our door!

If you understand this –

or would like to, don’t sit at your table drumming your fingers, when you could be here drumming on a real drum kit. 

The Music Library has a now got a drum kit which we have placed in…

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The Declaration of Arbroath: HES and NRS education resources — Open Book

The Declaration of Arbroath “As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with […]

The Declaration of Arbroath: HES and NRS education resources — Open Book

Download a walking route and discover literary Edinburgh

Literary walking trails around Edinburgh!

Tales of One City

This Book Week Scotland take a walk with Our Town Stories and discover things you never knew about Edinburgh’s literary connections.

Choose to read either the UNESCO City of Literature famous locations trail or the UNESCO City of Literature hidden gems trail and you’ll be able to set off with your downloadable map and follow the story on foot!

Simply click on the green ‘Download Walk’ button from the story webpage to view, download or print the pdf walking route.

This feature is being rolled out to more of the stories on Our Town Stories so keep posted for more downloadable historical walking routes coming soon!

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Sir Walter Scott – 250th anniversary

Sir Walter Scott display opens tomorrow at NLS

A new display, Sir Walter Scott and the Historical Novel, opens at the National Library of Scotland tomorrow (Friday 12th November). This display celebrates Scott’s literary achievements and development of the historical novel, together with his contribution to Scotland’s national identity. Items on display include correspondence, engravings and original manuscripts, including ‘The Heart of Mid-Lothian’, considered by some to be one of Scott’s finest novels.

Sir Walter Scott is one of Scotland’s most important authors and this year marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. NLS holds significant collections of works relating to Scott, including first editions of his novels and the largest collection of Scott’s correspondence to be found anywhere in the world. NLS hope the Bring the Bards Home appeal will help to further grow their collection of Scott material, to include the manuscript of ‘Rob Roy’.

You can find out about other anniversary celebrations taking place during 2021-22 at: Sir Walter Scott 250

We’ve added Ancestry to our family history eresources

Tales of One City

Ancestry is an invaluable tool for family history researchers and we’re delighted to announce that this resource is now available to all library members from within our libraries!

Ancestry Institutional Access gives you access to over 7000 databases to search millions of genealogical records covering the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Records include censuses, official records, immigration records, family histories, military records, court and legal documents, directories, photos, maps and more. New content is continually being added too, so you can discover more each time.

U.K. collections include censuses for Scotland, England, Wales, Isle of Man and Channel Islands, Births and Baptisms (1834-1906), Marriage Licenses (1521-1869), Deaths and Burials (1834-1934), and Poor Law Records (1840-1938) in London.

Discover your past with our family and local history resources

Ancestry Institutional Access joins our suite of family and local history resources alongside Findmypast, British Newspaper Archive, Scotsman Digital Archive…

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Hellish Nell: Medium or Fraud?

“Hellish Nell”! It’s worth sharing for that name alone 🙂

Open Book

On 25 November 1897 in Callander, Isabella Rattray and Archibald McFarlane welcomed a daughter named Victoria Helen Macfarlane.

The birth entry for Victoria Helen Macfarlane, 25 November 1897
Crown copyright, NRS, Statutory Register of Births 1897/336/44

The above shows she was born at 3 am on 96 Main Street in Callander. Her father worked as a slater at the time of her birth and her mother’s maiden name was Rattray before they married on 14 November 1890 in Perth.

Helen led an eventful life, becoming a medium and spiritualist, including one performance which resulted in her prosecution under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.

Growing up, Helen soon proved that she did not want to fit into any stereotypes for a woman of the era. She was nicknamed “Hellish Nell” by those who knew her for frightening people with things that no one could have known were about to happen.


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Black History Month – proud to be telling our stories

Tales of One City

We’re delighted to announce a special in-person event giving an insight into the lives of three exceptionally talented authors and poets, hosted by chair, Jeda Pearl.

Join us (limited audience x 32) in Reference Library for an inspirational panel discussion and hear the stories of our highly renowned guests listed below. Edinburgh Libraries are privileged and honoured to partake in Black History Month with such an exceptional panel.

Jeda Pearlis a disabled Scottish-Jamaican writer and Co-Director of the Scottish BAME Writers Network. Performances include StAnza, Inky Fingers, Push the Boat Out, Hidden Door and her work is published/commissioned by Black Lives Matter Mural Trail, New Writing Scotland, Not Going Back to Normal, Tapsalteerie, Shoreline of Infinity, Rhubaba, Collective, British Council, Peepal Tree Press.

Clementine E Burnleyis a feminist migrant mother, writer and community organiser based in Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in Parabola Magazine, the National Flash…

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The Poet-Tree of Stockbridge

Tales of One City

Today, on National Poetry Day, we hand over to Janette Ayachi to tell us how she worked with pupils from Stockbridge Primary School to create a tree full of poetry in King George V Park at Eyre Place.

I’m Janette Ayachi, a poet (and performer) living in Stockbridge with my two daughters and I engage in as many art projects, collaborations and literary events as possible alongside writing books. My first poetry collection Hand Over Mouth Music won the 2019 Saltire Literary Award and I have been published extensively in journals and anthologies. I also have a MSc in Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and I have appeared on BBC radio and television. More about me here:

In preparation for National Poetry Day on October 7th I organised a poetry workshop for the two P5 classes of Stockbridge Primary School. The Stockbridge Library librarian, Carol Marr, was as…

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George Washington Browne’s architecture in Edinburgh

Tales of One City

Architectural Drawing of Central Library by George Washington Browne, 1888

In anticipation of Central Library taking part in Doors Open Day on Saturday, we decided to take a closer look at the life and legacy of the architect who designed our beautiful building on George IV Bridge. The name might not be familiar, but Scottish architect George Washington Brown’s buildings in Edinburgh will be more so.

George Washington Browne was born in Glasgow in 1853, and started his architectural career aged 16 as an apprentice to Salmon Son & Ritchie. Finishing his apprenticeship, he moved to London and worked for Stevenson & Robson and later church architect Arthur William Blomfield.

In 1877 he won a scholarship which allowed him to travel to France and Belgium which would later have a great influence in the style of his work. Central Library is said to imitate the French Renaissance style and to…

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