Scottish Records Association 

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SRA Summer Visit to Edinburgh, September 2017

On Monday 11 September, 14 members and guests of the Scottish Records Association set out to explore two fascinating library and archive facilities in Edinburgh. Our morning destination was Ingliston House, home of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS). There we received refreshments and an introductory talk from the Librarian, Sheila Miller, before being taken in small groups for a tour of the Library stores.

The RHASS was established in 1784 and originally aimed to improve conditions throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by promoting the advancement of agriculture, the introduction of useful trades and manufactures, and the improvement of roads and bridges to facilitate better communication. It also strove to preserve the Gaelic language and the poetry and music of the Highlands.

Consequently, the RHASS Library comprises an enviable collection of antiquarian books and pamphlets on various aspects of agriculture and husbandry, as well as on Highland customs, society and language. It also holds several significant manuscript collections, notably a unique set of correspondence relating to the compilation and publication of the Gaelic Dictionary, in which the RHASS was closely involved, and correspondence relating to the establishment of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

Sheila had kindly laid out a selection of items from the Library for members and their guests to browse on returning from their tour. Among the most interesting of these was a contemporary map of Belgium, showing the districts in which the Agricultural Relief of Allies Committee had distributed gifts of cattle, goats, sheep, poultry and pigs following the First World War, and a manuscript copy of James Watt’s Survey of the Proposed Canals at Crinan and Tarbert (1772), autographed by Watt.

Following a splendid lunch in the RHASS Boardroom, we travelled into central Edinburgh to visit the Scottish Life Archive’s search room at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street. As Senior Curator, Dorothy Kidd, explained to us, the Scottish Life Archive was established in 1959 and seeks to collect, record and preserve evidence of Scotland’s social history and material culture. While the collections themselves are stored in Granton, the bright and modern search room holds hundreds of ring binders that were originally developed as a finding aid to the collections for Museum staff. Arranged by subject and then by county, each binder contains a wealth of bibliographical references, newspaper cuttings, dictionary definitions, references to photographs and objects in the collections of the National Museum of Scotland and elsewhere, extracts from oral testimonies, and so on.

The search room also houses the National Museum of Scotland’s Research Library, and the Library Services Manager, Mark Glancy, gave us a brief introduction to this facility. The Library started in 1781, and aims to collect material covering the same subjects and research areas as the Museum. It also holds the Museum’s own institutional archive.

We were then encouraged to spend time exploring the binders, and to browse an intriguing selection of original materials that Dorothy and Mark had arranged for us. These included the first minute book of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (founded in 1780); the manuscript diary of A. Forbes Mackay, which records his experience as the junior member of the three-man party that reached the South Magnetic Pole on 16 January 1909; a volume of 38 original, coloured drawings of birds of the Southern Hemisphere, executed from the life, in the course of Captain Cook’s second voyage (artist not known); and a copy of Jenners department store’s catalogue for Christmas 1913.


Our enjoyable afternoon concluded with a welcome cup of coffee and cake in the National Museum of Scotland’s café. One or two members then took the opportunity to look around the Museum’s galleries on their way home.


The Scottish Records Association would like to thank Sheila Miller of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland and Dorothy Kidd, Mark Glancy and Georgia Rogers of the National Museum of Scotland for hosting us, and for giving so generously of their time, expertise and hospitality.   

SRA Summer Visit to Inveraray, Friday 23 June 2017

Our small but enthusiastic group of SRA members and guests thoroughly enjoyed a trip to Inveraray Castle, family seat of the Dukes of Argyll, on 23 June. Arriving first at the Argyll Estates Archives, we received a cup of tea and a warm welcome from the Archivist, Alison Diamond, and her volunteer, Duncan Beaton.  

With kind permission by the Duke of Argyll

We then walked the short distance to the Castle for lunch in the Tea Room and a tour of the Private Apartments courtesy of Elspeth Guyan, Castle Guide. Among the various tapestries and family portraits hanging in the well-appointed rooms, everyone admired a full-length portrait of society beauty Elizabeth Gunning, who married John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll in 1759. The Private Apartments also contain Elizabeth’s richly furnished bed, which stands so tall that it could only be accommodated in its present space by removing a decorative vase from the top of its canopy (the vase is now displayed elsewhere in the Apartments).

Alison then became our guide for a tour of the public areas of the Castle, where the artefacts on display include the dress worn by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, at her wedding to the 9th Duke of Argyll in 1871, and a charming pair of the Princess’s baby shoes. The group was particularly taken with the Castle’s ornate dining room in which a special Christmas episode of the television series Downton Abbey was filmed in 2012.

Returning to the Archives, we ended our afternoon with a fascinating tour of the reading room and two storerooms. The family and estate papers of the Campbells, Dukes of Argyll date back to the 1300s and we were privileged to see some of the treasures of this vast collection, including the Rental of the Bishopric of Argyll dating from 1624, and a most interesting volume of ‘Letters and Instructions for building Inverara Castle for His Grace the Duke of Argyll in Argyllshire’, drawn up in the mid-1740s. The group also admired a selection of cartoons drawn by Lord Archie Campbell, and puzzled over the handling challenge posed by a vast bound volume of illuminated addresses to Lord Lorne (the future 9th Duke of Argyll) and Princess Louise on the occasion of their marriage.

The Scottish Records Association would like to thank Alison Diamond, Duncan Beaton and Elspeth Guyan for making our visit possible and for giving so generously of their time and expertise.