A Tumult in the City


Open Book

Following the ‘Glorious’ or ‘Bloodless’ Revolution of 1689 , when William of Orange was crowned King of England and Scotland and displaced James VII and II , in Scotland, there was still resistance from the people. As fighting continued to break out, people were arrested and imprisoned for petty crimes, such as not praying for the King’s health, to violet uprisings.

Kneller, Godfrey; King William III (1650-1702); Cromwell Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/king-william-iii-16501702-48841

Because of the political unrest, William and Mary issued multiple edicts to increase the authority and role of military troops all over the country. This sometimes led to confrontations, with people being press-ganged into joining the expanding military, or caught up in the protests against the same force.

One such man was Pass Sungal – also named as Robieson or Robertson – the “blackmore servant to the Laird of Prestongrange” (NRS, PC1/48 p643), who was caught up in a protest…

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James Ritchie and Son clockmakers

Seo inntinneach! ⏲ This is interesting!

Tales of One City

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections is quite unique. It is a family photo album loaned to us for digitisation by David Ritchie Watt a descendant of clockmaker, James Ritchie. The album is a great addition to our collections with a connection to a significant Edinburgh working family who put their mark on all areas of the city from swimming pools to parks and landmarks. Poring over the family photographs prompted us to delve deeper into the history of the well-known clockmaking family.

Everyone is familiar with the clock on the Balmoral Hotel and the floral clock in Princes Street Gardens. Some of you might be familiar with the clocks where you live, say in Morningside or Tollcross. All these clocks and many more across the city and further afield, have one thing in common, they were all made by clockmakers, James Ritchie & Son.

Balmoral Hotel clock tower…

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‘U’ is for ukelele

Woohoo! I’m currently learning to play ukulele. It is the cutest, daftest instrument and I’m obsessed with all the history and stories I’ve been learning along with the tunes 🙂

Tales of One City

Some of the histories of the ukulele are quite exact about when its inventors arrived in Hawaii, their names, their place of origin and how the name ukulele came about.

Let’s start with the name. Most of the ukulele histories, if they mention where the name originated, tell the story of the last king, and penultimate monarch, of the islands, Kalakaua. Kalakaua, himself a ukulele player, watched a player demonstrate their skills on the ukulele, their fast finger work and strumming techniques and the King likened the player’s finger work to that of a jumping flea, a ukulele.

—- The Hawaiians had the word, ukulele, before the instrument appeared, it is the word that the islanders used for cat fleas. —-

This tale is recounted often in many slightly different ways, by many different people, this version is told by Alvin D Keech, ukulele player, teacher and maker and Hawaiian…

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Best laid plans: why I don’t work at a desk


Open Book

Today, we revisit the NRS Conservation studio with conservator Jackie Thorburn, who tells us about the unique challenges that her team deal with – including conservation of gigantic maps of Scotland and historic plans …

I’ve worked in the NRS Conservation department since 1992 and am no stranger to working on maps and plans. They come in all shapes and sizes but this one I shall never forget. Here is my tale of the “biggest plan I have worked on”.

When it arrived in the studio, such was its size and condition that it was difficult to unroll. I had to use the catalogue to find out what it was.

Laid before me was: ‘A map of Scotland from the latest surveys’, published in London in 1806 by John Stockdale.

Made up of twelve individual engravings, overlapped to form one cohesive map, it was lined with linen and mounted onto…

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The healing power of Nature (and books)

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous” – Aristotle, On the Parts of Animals

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May 2021) is Nature. Our relationship with nature is critical to supporting good mental health and preventing distress. Research shows that any and all contact with the natural world can help our mental wellbeing.

Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines – ebook available from Edinburgh Libraries
  • Contact with nature reduces anxiety and stress
  • Time outside can effect the chemical make up of our brain
  • Nature can help you learn mindfulness
    • info via LawCare

When feeling anxious, stressed or depressed your natural instinct may be to courie up indoors (mine certainly is!) but if you can push yourself to get outside and find a greenspace to just be with nature, it can really help. There’s scientific evidence that we feel calmer when we look at trees for example – this is known as biophilia.

Forest bathing or Shinrin-Yoku, is the Japanese practice of spending time slowly and quietly among trees. The power of Shinrin-Yoku is a fairly recent discovery, dating only from the 1980s. It is proven to lower the stress hormones, suppresses the fight or flight instinct, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and improve sleep. Also, the activity of white blood cells increases when humans spend time with trees. You don’t even have to visit a wood or forest every day since these benefits can last for weeks.

Forget the gym! There is evidence that exercising outside can be more effective than antidepressants for mild to moderate depression, and research from the University of Exeter showed that the presence of birds in a landscape can help to lift your mood. It is also known that time spent with animals, or gardening has a positive impact on your mental health.

Time spent in the natural world, and particularly in sunlight, triggers an increase in serotonin (happiness chemicals in our brain). Exploring outdoor environments – and engaging in activities such as foraging for mushrooms or brambles, tracking, collecting shells or leaves – releases dopamine which helps regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. Cold water swimming is shown to boost serotonin, oxytocin (the love hormone) and endorphins which reduces pain, relieves stress, and enhances pleasure. It also helps to control our fight or flight instinct. Even just looking at houseplants or pictures of natural environments is soothing to our minds.

Meditation or mindfulness is proven to reduce stress, but if you’re having a hard time getting started, Nature offers many ways to be mindful without really trying. Whether it’s practicing Shinrin-Yoko or just bird watching in your garden, enjoying a sunrise or sunset, star-gazing, or listening to the buzzing of a bee or the sound of the waves, these are all ways to be calm and still and help focus on the present moment. This can help maintain good mental health and wellbeing and keep stress at bay.

I think this is always good advice, but this week especially: Go outside. Hug a tree!

Or, as the inimitable Nick Offerman would say:

Nick Offerman, Paddle Your Own Canoe

Margaret Henderson Kidd #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

In 1923, when she was only 23 years old, Margaret Kidd became the first ever female Advocate in Scotland. Although I’m sad to say I never met her myself, I’ve always been impressed by her achievements. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is Choose To Challenge. With her career peppered by legal “firsts” and landmarks, I feel that Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, Q.C. is an excellent example of that idea.

black & white image of an older woman wearing a legal wig and gown. She is looking to the left and smiling slightly
Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, Q.C.
Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989, p.16

Margaret Henderson Kidd was born in Bo’ness, West Lothian on 14 March 1900 – 121 years ago! (give or take a week). She was the eldest daughter of teacher Janet Gardner Kidd (née Turnbull) and James Kidd, a solicitor and MP for West Lothian. She attended Linlithgow Academy, then studied law at Edinburgh University, graduated in 1922, and called to the Scottish bar a year later.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 finally gave women in the UK the right to vote (so long as they owned property and were over the age of 30). The following year, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 opened the legal profession to women for the first time. In an article that year, The Scotsman reported that a representative member of the Faculty of Advocates

“…declared the feeling of the Faculty to be that, although they did not think women suited for the work, there was no use protesting [the Bill] at this time of day.” The same article noted the belief that women were unlikely to become solicitors or heads of legal firms. Instead, they “would probably be found in the position of assistants, or conveyancing clerks, or heads of cash departments. While the profession in Edinburgh was conservative on the subject of legal practitioners, the general feeling was that [the Bill] should not be opposed.”

“Sex Disqualification Bill: views of the legal profession”, The Scotsman, 28 November 1919

Perhaps choosing to challenge these somewhat unwelcoming and certainly ambivalent attitudes, 23 year old Margaret Kidd entered the legal profession only a few years later.

Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989. p. 16.

When Margaret Kidd was called to the bar on the 13th July 1923, she became the first woman admitted to the Faculty of Advocates since its foundation in 1532. She would remain the only woman until Isabel Sinclair called 25 years later – coincidentally, in the same year Margaret Kidd was appointed King’s Counsel.

In 1926 The Scotsman – who were always inordinately interested in what she was wearing 🙄 – published a piece entitled “The Scottish Woman Advocate: A Talk with Miss Kidd”:

“Time was when the question of what women advocates should wear on their heads was a momentous question… As regards her dress at Parliament House – “I had a plain black frock at first,” … “until it wore out.” Then she adopted a black costume, the coat of which covers a plain white over-blouse, with a white tie. In Parliament House she replaces her coat with a dinner jacket, severe and masculine-looking, and over that, of course, her gown is worn. …Dress, Miss Kidd holds, matters very considerably to a woman speaker. It should be plain and dignified, otherwise it is apt to interfere with the effect of her speech, and distract attention from it. …”

The Weekly Scotsman, 3 March 1926
Glasgow Herald, 12 June 1926, p.7

Later in 1926 Margaret Kidd became the first female counsel to appear before the House of Lords. She acted as junior counsel in the case of Adair v Colville & Sons 1926 S.C. (H.L.) 51 with Mr MP Fraser K.C as her senior. Dean of Faculty, Mr Condie Sandeman K.C. (good name!), led the opposition. The Glasgow Herald carried a two column report of the case, which contained the following mention of Miss Kidd’s presence:

“The appeal was of exceptional interest, not only in that it raised a question of Scottish legal procedure, but also from the fact that Scotland’s first woman advocate, and the first woman barrister of any Bar to appear in the House of Lords – Miss Margaret H Kidd – was briefed in it on behalf of the appellant”

Glasgow Herald, 12 June 1926, p.7

After the death of her father in 1928 brought about a by-election, Margaret Kidd was the first woman in West Lothian to stand for election to the House of Commons.

“Miss Kidd gave her first election speech to a crowded gathering of between 800-900 people at the Corn Exchange in Bathgate. A journalist reporting in the Scotsman commented upon Margaret Kidd’s “quiet, confident, matter-of-fact style of speech.” Her political arguments and knowledge were also commended.

Margaret Kidd’s by-election campaign gathered momentum when she was joined on the platform by Britain’s first female MP, Lady Astor. Nancy Astor spoke at both Bathgate and South Queensferry where she made reference to female suffrage. During her speech she joked that some of the men in the House of Commons hoped she would be the first and the last female MP. She also stated that she was campaigning for Miss Kidd both because she had been fond of her father, but also because she wanted to get another woman into the House of Commons.”

Sutherland, Women & Democracy: the West Lothian story, p. 21-22

Margaret did not win that by-election and didn’t stand for Parliament again, although she retained an interest in politics.

In 1930 she married Donald Somerled MacDonald, WS. They had a daughter named Anne. Alongside her successful law practice, Margaret Kidd was an assistant lecturer in public law at Edinburgh University, and during the 1930s became a founder member of the Stair Society and Secretary to the Poor’s Court Aid Committee. She served as editor of the Court of Session Reports from 1942-76. During World War II she helped organise Christmas treats and functions for the families of men serving in the 14th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, especially the 39th Battery commanded by her brother Col. J. T. Kidd.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 28 December 1948.
Image copyright: The British Newspaper Archive.

Margaret Kidd was appointed the UK’s first female King’s Counsel in 1948, the year before the first two female K.Cs were appointed to the English bar. It is worth noting here that Frances Moran had been appointed Senior Counsel to the Irish bar back in 1941.

For 13 years (from 1956 to 1969), Margaret Kidd (by now a Queen’s, rather than King’s Counsel) served as the first female Keeper of the Advocates Library. As such she was the first woman to hold a position as Office Bearer within the Faculty. Again, she remained the only female office bearer for many years. It wasn’t until 2004 that Valerie Stacey, Q.C. became Vice-Dean of the Faculty.

When Margaret Kidd, Q.C. was appointed Sheriff Principal of Dumfries and Galloway in 1960, this was yet another first for her – the first female Sheriff. She served as Sheriff in Dumfries and Galloway from 1960 to 1966, and then in Perth and Angus from 1966 until 1974, when she retired. To mark the 50th anniversary of her historic admission, the Faculty of Advocates held a dinner in her honour. In 1975 she was awarded the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She received honorary degrees from Dundee University in 1982 and from Edinburgh in 1984.

Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989. p. 16.

Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, Q.C. died on 22 March 1989. She had just turned 89 years old. Mr David Hope, then Dean of the Faculty, said:

“Her success was won by strength of character, courage and integrity and it is a mark of her true qualities that, despite what might seem to be the revolutionary nature of her achievement, she always held the affection and respect of those around her”.

Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989, p.16


Woman’s historic legal selectionBBC News. 24 November 2004

The Faculty of Advocates

Scottish Judicial and Legal Dress at Court. Faculty Archives, Ref. 68/3

First Hundred Years

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/49228

Scottish case in House of Lords, The Glasgow Herald, 12 June 1926, p.7

Scotland’s First Woman Sheriff”The Glasgow Herald. 25 March 1960. p. 1. 

Leaders in law and public service”The Glasgow Herald. 14 June 1975. p. 3. 

Royal visitor at graduation”The Glasgow Herald. 17 July 1982. p. 3

Dame Margaret Kidd, pioneer of women in law, dies aged 89. The Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989, p.16

McRobert, A bar removed: Legal pioneers: Margaret Henderson Kidd, Scotland’s first and for 25 years only female advocate, The Journal, vol 59 issue 10, 20th October 2014

Scotland’s History: Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd QC”. 14 March 2017.

Sex Disqualification Bill: views of the legal profession, The Scotsman, 28 November 1919 (Newspaper Cuttings, 1917-1921, p.103. Faculty Archives.)

The Scottish Woman Advocate: A Talk with Miss Kidd, The Weekly Scotsman, 3 March 1926 (Newspaper Cuttings, 1923-1937, p. 10. Faculty Archives.)

Sutherland, Women & Democracy: the West Lothian story, p. 21-22

Walker, The Faculty of Advocates 1800-1986: A biographical directory of members admitted from 1 January 1800 to 31 December 1986. 1987.

Frances Moran – Wikipedia

Lights, camera, action!

Ah, the dear auld Cam. I have many fine memories of this place – particularly the Sunday double bills. Also, I’m re-watching Jacques Tati movies and – obviously – The Illusionist is on my list. It was a mildly surreal experience to be watching that film in the Cameo…and to see the Cameo appear onscreen 🙂

Tales of One City

The last few months of closed cinemas have been a melancholy sight in Edinburgh. Our latest story on Our Town Stories offers the chance to reminisce about going to the pictures, with a hope that we’ll be able to return to them again soon.

From the first purpose-built cinema built in 1912 to the new Everyman Cinema which will be part of the new St James Quarter development, Edinburgh has a long history of going to the cinema.

We have also produced some very famous faces of the silver screen. We all know about Sean Connery, but we highlight some other familiar faces born in Edinburgh too.

Cameo Cinema

Our newest story on Our Town Stories takes you on a virtual tour of Edinburgh’s cinemas past and present, taking in some famous Edinburgh film locations along the way.

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