Zoom Into Edinburgh City

What do you think of when you think of the city of Edinburgh? Perhaps the ancient castle looming over the city from Castle Rock. Or the plethora of festivals that take place in the city’s streets every year. Maybe you know Scotland’s capital city best as the seat of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. But what else has taken place within its ancient boundaries? What is the history of the people who have lived there, worked there, loved there? We invite you to dive deeper into Edinburgh’s history with the online resources below! 


Edinburgh has been recognised as the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century. The city is home to one of Scotland’s four ancient universities, the University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583. It is also home to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the monarch’s official residence in Scotland. Edinburgh attracts millions of visitors from around the world every year, for its history as well as its vibrant cultural scene. This includes the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe Festival, both taking place in August of each year. Edinburgh is also home to the main building of the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, where many of our collections are housed, cared for, and utilised by the public. 

Where to find local collections  

Edinburgh Collection, Central Library: https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/libraries/discover-treasures-central-library

Capital Collections: https://www.capitalcollections.org.uk/

Edinburgh City Archives: https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/archives/edinburgh-city-archives-1/3

Books (non-fiction) 

Publications from the Abbotsford Club and the Bannatyne Club, text publication societies founded in Edinburgh. 

Historical memoirs of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a portion of the reign of King James the Sixth by Lord Herries, 1836.  

In the Digital Gallery, Publications by the Abbotsford Club. 


Papers relative to the Regalia of Scotland by 

In the Digital Gallery, Publications by the Bannatyne Club. 


Books (fiction)

Kidnapped by Robert Louise Stevenson, 1886. 

In the Digital Gallery. 



Various scenes around Edinburgh from the late 1930s. Entered in Edinburgh Amateur Film Festival 1938.  

Northern Capital filmed by Jean L. Gray, 1937 

From the Moving Image Archive. 


(Check out 09:45 for a silent observation of the One O’clock Gun!) 

More films of Edinburgh City from the Moving Image Archive: https://movingimage-onsite.nls.uk/search?place=16&videoAccess=r  

Manuscript Collection

Ian Rankin Archive, manuscripts and other items largely written by Edinburgh author Ian Rankin, 1972-2018. 


The ‘Fish Map’ of the Old Town of Edinburgh. 

Edinodunensis Tabulam by James Gordon, 1647?. 

On the Map images website. 


A plan of the New Town of Edinburgh before it was built. Several architects submitted proposals for this development of the north side of the Old Town, and what was then Nor Loch (and is now Princes Street Gardens). A 26-year-old James Craig won this competition, and this plan shows his proposal before it was built. 

To His Sacred Majesty George III… this Plan of the new streets and squares, intended for his ancient capital of North-Britain by James Craig, 1768. 

On the Maps images website. 



Struggles for Liberty: Frederick Douglas in Edinburgh

Interactive maps as part of a larger online resource, African American Revolutionaries in the Atlantic World, focusing on the 19th century. 



Bartholomew Archive, 1820-2002. 


The Bartholomew Archive is the remarkable record of the Edinburgh-based firm of map engravers, printers and publishers, John Bartholomew & Son Ltd. It is one of the most extensive cartographic archives available for research in a public institution. Members of the Bartholomew family were engaged in mapmaking from the first known map engraving work of George Bartholomew in 1825. John Bartholomew junior started printing operations before 1870. For more than a century afterwards the Bartholomew firm specialised in high-quality map production. 


Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894 

eResource exploring Stevenson’s story, illustrated with material held in the National Library of Scotland’s collections. 


Other notable figures: 

Song / Music

Flowers of Edinburgh, a traditional reel printed in the Edinburgh Repository of Music, 1818. 

From the Glen Collections of printed music in the Digital Gallery. 


Also, Craigmillar Castle, a march printed in the Caledonian repository of music, for the great highland bag pipe, 1870) 

From the Glen Collection of printed music in the Digital Gallery.  



Plan of Edinburgh Castle by Thomas Moore, 1725. 

On the Maps website (MS.1645 Z.02/03a). 


Our Board of Ordnance collection of military maps includes some fascinating plans of Edinburgh Castle dating from the 18th century, when the Castle was a military stronghold, rather than the tourist attraction it is today.  

Other Board of Ordnance Plans relating to Edinburgh: https://maps.nls.uk/military/placename/Edinburgh   


Lifting the Lid, a food and drink exhibition at the Library from 2015 that uncovered the changes in Scotland’s culinary tastes over the course of four centuries. Includes account books that give us a glimpse into the eating habits of an upper-class 18th century home in Edinburgh. 



St Leonard’s Street

Photographs of the south side of Edinburgh taken by Alfred Henry Rushbrook, 1929. 

In the Digital Gallery. 



Stockbridge. Originally a small outlying village, Stockbridge was incorporated into the City of Edinburgh in the 19th century. Sir Henry Raeburn, the painter (and local landowner) had much to do with the development of Stockbridge, including commissioning the stone bridge over the Water of Leith in 1801 as a means of expanding the village to accommodate the growing artisan population. The village gradually grew and blended with the New Town as it continued to grow northwards. This map shows the point where the old road to Stockbridge meets (and became part of) the New Town. 

Edinburgh – Sketch showing the present and proposed roads from Stockbridge to Edinburgh from the Stevenson engineering plans, 1819. 

On the Maps images website.  


Further Reading

  • Edinburgh Characters by J Jenkins
  • Edinburgh Characters by J Jenkins