Dunblane’s Leighton Library is the oldest purpose-built private library in Scotland, opening in 1687 as the result of a bequest by Robert Leighton. He had been Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670 and wanted to leave his books for the benefit of the clergy of the diocese. His own collection of around 1400 volumes eventually grew to over 4000 – all are held on the first floor, with the lower storey originally being living quarters for the librarian. (You can’t see that, unfortunately, it’s now a storage area). From 1734 to about 1840 Leighton Library lent its books, until the growth of public libraries rendered it obsolete. Despite the worthy nature of most of the tomes, the most borrowed book was a novel – Zeluco (1789) by Scottish author John Moore, which relates the vicious deeds of the eponymous anti-hero, the evil Italian nobleman Zeluco. Another novel, The cottagers of Glenburnie by Stirling author Elizabeth Hamilton, was so popular that it went missing. Now why does that sound a familiar tale? It happened regularly in every library I’ve ever worked in, that’s why!
We really enjoyed seeing the Library on Saturday – the volunteer guides were great – and I recommend a visit. However, the Library is only open during the summer and closes for the year at the end of September, so hurry!
We were also in the Fellows’ Library of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh recently, the reason being a University of Sheffield alumni event (we have three degrees from Sheffield between us). I wouldn’t normally travel to Edinburgh for this but, well, they had me at the word “library” (and the words “drinks reception” helped too). In the end, the library wasn’t that special, but the entertainment was good – a trip back in time with “Mr Barbour”, a surgeon of the 1800s who regaled us with stories of what surgery was like in his time (including a graphic description of amputation without anaesthetic) and how his colleagues contributed to advancements in surgery. A few doors down from Surgeons’ Hall was a Thai restaurant, so we had dinner there on the way back to the station where we slumped onto the train back to Glasgow having had a very good evening indeed.