Scottish Records Association 

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Summer Visits 2015

The Association was pleased to offer members the opportunity to visit four outstanding repositories in Edinburgh and Glasgow during the summer. The first visit, to two historic legal libraries in Edinburgh, took place on Monday 8 June. Twelve members and guests enjoyed a comprehensive tour of the Advocates Library in Parliament Square, which was built in 1830 to a design by William Playfair. The tour highlighted the building’s impressive cultural artefacts, including a memorial plaque to members of the Faculty of Advocates killed in the First and Second World Wars, and the traditional, individual wooden boxes that are provided for each advocate in the Laigh Hall. As our hosts explained, these boxes are now ornamental, but in former days the advocates' case papers would have been placed there. The Historiographer Royal in Scotland has described the records of the Advocates Library as one of the richest untapped sources for Scottish history in existence, and the group concluded their tour by browsing a display of some of these, including a beautifully drawn family tree from the Arniston Collection.

The group then proceeded to the adjoining Signet Library, where they were treated to a tour of its splendid architectural features. Foremost among these is the cupola in the Upper Library, decorated with a painting of authors and muses including Robert Burns, William Shakespeare and Adam Smith. A display of manuscripts and rare printed material from the Library’s collections had again been provided, including a fascinating scrapbook of original documents relating to the case of Oscar Slater, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering Marion Gilchrist in Glasgow in 1908. The group also examined what is believed to be the last original manuscript leaf from the journals of circuit judge, Lord Cockburn:  his nephew was understood to have burned all the manuscripts after the journals were published, but one page has fortunately survived. This records Cockburn's suggestions for the proposed monument to Walter Scott in Edinburgh, expressing his view that Edinburgh was not a proper place in which to erect an obelisk as the city was more suited to chimneystacks! 

The second double visit, to two performing arts archives in Glasgow, took place on Friday 4 September. Eight members and guests spent the morning at Glasgow University Library Special Collections, home of the Scottish Theatre Archive, where they browsed a selection of the many Scottish theatre posters, playbills, programmes and photographs in its collections. The group took delight in spotting a young David Tennant ('Dr Who'), pictured in one of the performance programmes, and in finding the famous figure of Jimmy Logan, photographed sitting in the front row of a 'full house'. They then received a detailed tour of the Special Collections book store and reading room on the top floor of the Library. The group was thrilled to learn how the social and cultural variety of the special collections at Glasgow University is exemplified by two items housed in a safe in the store:  the Hunterian Psalter, which is a 12th century illuminated manuscript, and a kettle that belonged to the mother of the renowned Scottish variety artist, Harry Lauder!

In the afternoon, the group visited the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Archives. The Conservatoire was initially founded in 1847 as the Glasgow Athenaeum, and was until recently known as the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Among the fascinating facts revealed by our host was that the Glasgow Athenaeum was formally opened by Charles Dickens, though the first choice to perform this honour had been a Scottish MP, Lord Morpeth. The group was again privileged to examine a selection of materials from the Conservatoire's collections, including a serpent, a historical musical instrument that is the ancestor of the tuba. Jimmy Logan also figured prominently, as the Conservatoire holds his personal archive. This includes the famous 'red book' received by Logan when he was featured on the television programme, 'This Is Your Life'.  The group was surprised to learn that when each subject was handed his or her red book at the end of the programme, the covers were actually empty – they were later filled with content from the evening once filming was over.
The Council of the Scottish Records Association would like to thank Andrea Longson and Jane Condie of the Advocates Library, James Hamilton and Robert Bruce of the Signet Library, Niki Marshall and Claire McKendrick of Glasgow University Library Special Collections, and Stuart Harris-Logan of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Archives for hosting this year's Summer Visits and for giving so generously of their time and expertise.

Summer Visits 2014: The Black Watch Museum and Archives, Perth

On Monday 1 September, nine members and guests of the Scottish Records Association enjoyed a memorable visit to the Black Watch Museum and Archives at Balhousie Castle, Perth. The visit began with a tour through the recently refurbished museum galleries, each of which explores a particular theme or chronological period in the regiment's history. With origins dating back to 1725, the Black Watch is Scotland's oldest Highland regiment, and our knowledgeable guide, Willie Cooper, regaled the party with stories of the key events, people, and artefacts highlighted in the displays. The impressive selection of military medals prompted several questions from the group, while many found the memorabilia in the First World War-themed gallery, including chalk carvings made by some of the soldiers and a mud-encrusted kilt worn on the battlefield, especially poignant and moving.

The group was then treated to a tour of the archives facility from the Black Watch Archivist, Richard McKenzie. The archival records of the regiment have been housed in Balhousie Castle since the 1960s, and are now located in a new, purpose-built store on the top floor of the Castle, complete with mobile racking. The earliest records in the collection date back to the 1750s, and a selection of eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth-century materials was laid out for the group to view. Among the most interesting items were hand-drawn maps and plans associated with the Battle of Loos, letters home from soldiers serving in the First World War, and officers' order books. Richard also spoke about some of the First World War commemorative activities that the museum and archives have planned for the coming years, including a Memorial Wall at Balhousie Castle. From 3 September 2014 and throughout the First World War centenary, a cross will be hung on the Wall for each soldier killed on that day. The names will be read out and the crosses hung during a ceremony at 11am every day during the rest of the centenary period.

There was far more to see than could possibly be squeezed into the time allotted for the tours, and the party enjoyed themselves so much that, at the conclusion of the visit, several people went back into the museum for a second look round. The Council of the Scottish Records Association would like to record their thanks to Willie, Richard, and to the Museum Manager, Emma Halford-Forbes, for facilitating the visit and giving so generously of their time and expertise.

Summer Visit to the Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen

On 6 June, seven members and guests of the Scottish Records Association visited the Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen. Officially opened in September 2012, the Library was designed as a 21st century space for learning and research, and offers a light, modern and comfortable environment in which to study, as well as spectacular views of the city from the top floor.
The Deputy Archivist, Andrew Macgregor, delivered a general introduction to the Library and its various collections, followed by a comprehensive tour of the building, beginning with the modern book collections, group study rooms, silent study spaces and flexible learning areas on the upper floors. The group was then shown round the Special Collections Centre, which is located on the Lower Ground Floor and houses the University’s historic collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives. The facilities include a Reading Room; a Learning Room - a dedicated area for schoolchildren and other groups to learn more about the collections through workshops, seminars and other educational activities - and the adjacent Glucksman Conservation Centre, which is solely dedicated to conserving the in-house collections. Time was then spent exploring the archive storerooms, including the store in which the pre-1878 portion of the Scottish Catholic Archives, recently transferred to Aberdeen from Columba House in Edinburgh, will be housed. The group was extremely impressed with all the facilities, and Council is grateful to Andrew Macgregor and his colleagues for hosting a most entertaining and enjoyable visit.