The Building of an Institution

Posted 13 August, 2012 13:04 by Karla Baker

The second instalment of our Bartholomew Archive Exhibition tasters looks back at one of the firm’s most recognisable premises – Duncan Street.

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John George Bartholomew (1860-1920) moved his firm to Duncan Street in 1911. This was the fourth premises that John George would have been able to remember. He recalled the hustle and bustle of North Bridge, Bartholomew’s first commercial premises, which he experienced as a very small child. He undertook his apprenticeship at the firm’s next and first independent premises (North Bridge was shared) on Chambers Street. Then, as head of the firm, in 1889 he moved with the company to their biggest premises yet, on Park Road.

Park Road was an unhappy home for John George. Problems arose not so much because of the building, but because of the terms in which it was taken. Park Road was built by the publisher Thomas Nelson, who in 1888 entered into partnership with Bartholomew. For reasons we may never fully understand, John George found this partnership difficult. One explanation is that in order to pay Nelson back Bartholomew essentially acted as Nelson’s indentured printing concern. Perhaps it was the belief that this would curtail his freedom that troubled the imaginative and ambitious John George.

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After twenty years at Park Road, John George began to plan his future, free from Nelson, in Duncan Street. This sketch by John George, of the Duncan Street building superimposed over a print of Park Road, perhaps reveals something of a man happy to be moving on.

Work began on Duncan Street in 1909 and by 1911 Bartholomew were moving in. The Bartholomew Archive is extremely lucky to have photographs of Duncan Street under construction. They are a little murky but they will show you this building in a way that few who are alive today will have seen it before.

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The Archive goes even further than this and contains some extremely detailed information about this building. One item, a building abstract, shows us how much each element cost and the name of the firm that was contracted to do it. So, for example, we know that the roof slater was R. Kidd and that the cost was £251.10s. 5d (about £20,000 today).

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Bartholomew celebrated the move with a flurry of promotional material, which of course included a map or two.

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John George must surely have felt that Duncan Street was a home from home. And in fact, this is more true than it might seem. John George and his family had enjoyed many happy years in an Edinburgh home called Falcon Hall. Before this building was demolished, John George had the entire front portico taken down and rebuilt as the entrance to Duncan Street. Compare this picture of Falcon Hall below with that of Duncan Street above.

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The firm stayed at Duncan Street until 1995, which marks almost 200 years of a Bartholomew business in Edinburgh.

This is but a wee snippet of the tale of Duncan Street, which we will explore in much more detail in our December 2012 to May 2013 exhibition, here at the National Library of Scotland. We look forward to seeing you there!

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