Nan Shepherd on the new five pound note

Good news this week for Scottish literature. Nan Shepherd, one of our best and most interesting 20th century writers will feature on a new £5 note from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Who exactly was the commanding figure on the new note?

Nan Shepherd bank note


Nan Shepherd (1893-1981)  lived in Aberdeenshire all her life, and published only three novels, a collection of poetry, and a single non-fiction work. Nevertheless, as this year’s honour from the Royal Bank of Scotland underlines, she is a writer who deserves to be remembered – and read.

The Quarry Wood, The Weatherhouse, and A Pass in the Grampians are Nan Shepherd’s novels, published between 1928 and 1933– all set in rural communities in the North East of Scotland and featuring lively young heroines. Readers who know their Scottish literature may immediately also think of Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel, first published in 1932, but Nan Shepherd proves that there is more than one rural novel to read from that period.

Shepherd worked at Aberdeen Training Centre for Teachers, later Aberdeen College of Education, as a much admired lecturer in English from 1919 till her retirement in 1956. Although closely connected with other Scottish writers, she became in some ways a forgotten name, still living in the home she had moved to as a baby.

In 1977 a thirty year old non-fiction manuscript was published as The Living Mountain and this celebration of her beloved Grampians has had enduring appeal – and a quotation from that book will feature on the new £5 note.

In recent years Shepherd’s work has been re-discovered and re-published. Enthusiastic supporters have included Robert Macfarlane, who provided the introduction for a new edition of The Living Mountain, and led a fascinating BBC television documentary.

Here at the National Library of Scotland we have – available to all our readers of course- all of Nan Shepherd’s published works in the different editions, as well as original correspondence and notebooks, recording a long and interesting life

It is great news indeed that Nan’s face and words will be in pockets and cash registers all over the country soon, encouraging us to re-read or discover her work.

Iolaire ….continued

After my previous blog, Niall Iain Macdonald from Stornoway got in touch with an interesting and moving footnote to the Iolaire disaster. This is about the ‘real Iolaire’, whose name was temporarily taken by the Amalthaea when it replaced it for naval duties in Stornoway, and was the yacht which tragically sunk. His email is reproduced here, along with his picture of the bell of the original Iolaire, and an account from The Scotsman of the yacht’s final demise in 1948. (more…)

The Iolaire disaster

It has been described as the blackest day in the history of the Western Isles when more than 200 servicemen returning from the First World War died as their ship went down in sight of Stornoway harbour. Despite being Britain’s worst maritime disaster since the Titanic, the loss of the Iolaire remains little known beyond the isles.

On April 27, the Library will remember the terrible impact of such a huge loss of life on the area with an introductory talk on the disaster followed by a new play performed by pupils from Edinburgh’s Stenhouse Primary School and Tynecastle High School. The cast of the play visited the Library recently to look at items in our collections relating to the tragedy.  We had a fascinating journey investigating first-hand accounts in newspapers, and studying maps, poetry and later research on the event.

Oban Times


Shakespeare’s First Folio

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Library is displaying its copy of the First Folio on Friday 22 April, from 12:00 to 14:00. It is often said to be one of the most significant books ever printed – but why?

The title page of the Library’s First Folio

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April, 1564, and died there on April 23, 1616. In between he spent more than a quarter of a century as an actor and playwright in London, producing some of the greatest dramas and poems in the English language and giving us characters, scenes and words that still live on today.

Seven years after his death, in 1623, a book was published without which many of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost forever:

‘Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies,
Histories, & Tragedies.
Published according to the True Originall Copies.’

This is the book now known as the First Folio. It contains 36 plays, 18 of which appeared there for the first time. Without the First Folio, half of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost, including ‘Macbeth’, ‘The Tempest’, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘Twelfth Night’.

We would never have heard anyone say ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’, or ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, or ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’, or ‘O brave new world, that has such people in it’, or ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the people in it merely players’. We would never have watched Rosalind and Orlando fall in love in the forest of Arden, a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth try to wash the blood of the murdered Duncan from her hands, or seen a statue come to life when her lost daughter is restored to Hermione at the end of ‘The Winter’s Tale’.


EU Referendum


Here’s a short post to direct you towards our webpages on resources that you might find helpful in the run up to the referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.

Subject searching in our main catalogue using the following subject search terms will reveal hundreds of books on useful topics:

  • European Economic Community
  • European Union – Great Britain
  • Monetary policy – European Union countries
  • Free trade
  • Free trade – European Economic Community countries
  • Free trade – European Union countries
  • European Union countries – Foreign economic relations – United States
  • Common Agricultural Policy
  • Nationalism – European Union countries
  • Social integration – European Union countries
  • Referendum
  • Referendum – Great Britain
  • Referendum – European Union countries


Saving Bletchley Park

(Photo Credit: Unbound) front cover features silver buttons to represent an Enigma machine and the blue bird used to represent Twitter)
(Photo Credit: Unbound)
front cover features silver buttons to represent an Enigma machine and the blue bird used to represent Twitter)

Saving Bletchley Park is a wonderful story of new technology being used to save the place of work of those who pioneered it. Dr Sue Black was inspired by the incredible group of people who worked at Bletchley Park during World War Two. As she notes, it is calculated that their secret code-breaking work helped to shorten the war by two years. It is also seen as the birthplace of modern computing. Seeing its crumbling state, and realising just what could be lost, she took on the challenge of raising £10 million to save this unique place for future generations. (more…)

Scottish local sports club histories

club histories

Walk around any town or city in Scotland and sooner rather than later you are likely to come across a sports club. Scotland is full of bowling greens, tennis courts and other sports venues often tucked away in otherwise residential areas. Similarly most community notice boards will have details of judo, karate, table tennis and badminton clubs that meet up in the local church hall or similar venue.

These clubs demonstrate the deep affinity that Scots have for sport. Many of these clubs were set up in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries and so celebrated their centenaries fairly recently and as part of the celebrations a club history was often published. As well as the story of the club these histories collectively tell us about the development of sport and communities in Scotland. (more…)

Scottish Poorhouses

Rules and Regulations for the Management of Poorhouses, prepared and sanctioned by the Board of Supervision for Relief of the Poor, January 3, 1850. (Edinburgh: 1854)
“Rules and Regulations for the Management of Poorhouses, prepared and sanctioned by the Board of Supervision for Relief of the Poor, January 3, 1850.” (Edinburgh: 1854)
George A. Mackay, "Management and Construction of Poorhouses and Almshouses" (Edinburgh: 1908)
George A. Mackay, “Management and Construction of Poorhouses and Almshouses” (Edinburgh: 1908)

The Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845 set up parochial boards in towns and rural areas and a Board of Supervision in Edinburgh. One of their purposes was to build poorhouses for those paupers who were not eligible for ‘outdoor relief’, which consisted of small sums of money given out weekly.

The Board of Supervision published detailed regulations for the management of poorhouses throughout Scotland. The Library has copies of these regulations published between 1854 and 1907. They explain in great detail how the poorhouse was to be managed, job descriptions of the staff and how often they were to be inspected. They also provide guidance on who was to be admitted, how the inmates were classified, what they were to wear and eat, how they were to be punished for bad behaviour, what work they would do and schooling and religious instruction they would get while they were in residence. (more…)

brewery small

How you can use our maps

Our readers buy maps from us for a range of reasons. Some people want to hang the map on their living room wall. Others might use it in a planning application. We also get quite a number of readers using map images in books.

Recently we had a member of Scottish Brewing Heritage contact us and say he wanted to use one of our maps in an exhibition tracing breweries in the Canongate area of Edinburgh. It was to be used in an exhibition at the Museum of Edinburgh. We think he’s done a great job!