The Scottish Enlightenment produced a culture of reading and learning unknown in the rest of Europe. In 1750, literacy in Scotland was 75% (compared to 53% in England), and almost every town of any size had a lending library – whether that is cause or effect, it is still a powerful message for today. The first free lending library was Innerpeffray, founded in 1680 by David Drummond, 3rd Lord Madertie, in part of the family chapel (now maintained by Historic Scotland). His descendant, Robert Hay Drummond, commissioned the current building in 1739 and left an endowment in his will to maintain the library. These days, Innerpeffray is still run by that charitable trust, quaintly known as the Innerpeffray Mortification, but relies on income and fundraising to remain open – it’s £6 to visit, but I can assure you that’s a bargain. (The only problem is that it’s somewhat off the beaten track so you really need a car.)
We first visited last year, when I wrote on my travel blog:
“The reason our visit took so long is that, unlike other historic libraries we have visited such as Pepys’ Library in Cambridge, you can actually handle the books, not just look at the displays. Lara, the Library Manager, and the two volunteers on duty were absolutely excellent and so friendly. They chatted to us to find out our interests and then quickly found books that they thought we would like, even though (anathema to my librarian’s soul!) they were not in classified order. We spent ages browsing and reading, sometimes with books nearly 400 years old. You can also view the borrowers’ register from 1747 until lending ceased in the 1960s, and lists of 18th century desiderata.”
I raved about the place to anyone who would listen, and last weekend we visited again with friends Ian and Elizabeth. They were equally smitten. Added bonuses for us were that the ground floor of the library has opened since we were there before, and now houses a Scottish collection donated by an American benefactor, and the chapel was also open (until end September only, the library is open till end October.) Visit soon if you get the chance!