Author Archives: Archivists

Quatercentenary Collection

The Quatercentenary Collection came about as a result of an appeal that was made as the University of Edinburgh approached its 400th anniversary in 1983.  Former staff, students and others responded and sent in all types of university-related items, from student magazines to prize books, from lecture notes to memoirs, from photographs to degree certificates and much more. The scale of the response meant that it has taken until now to start getting a handle on much of it.

We have now begun a full survey of items in the collection was begun and to date nearly 850 items have been documented.  These will form the basis of new catalogue records.

Largely though not exclusively representing the ‘student experience, this collection is a real treasure trove and we are glad to being close to make it easily accessible for research.


Neil Armstrong

In memory of astronaut Neil Armstrong, we are displaying the award by the University of Edinburgh to him of Doctor Honoris Causa. The ceremony took place a the British Embasy in Washington on 13 June 2008.

We hold the certificate (shown here) in the University Archives.

University Mace stolen – reward offered!

On the night betwixt the 29th/30th October 1787 the door of the Library was broken open by thieves and the University Mace was stolen from the press where it was usually deposited. The Magistrates offered a reward of ten Guineas for the discovery of the Delinquents.

So reads the inset entered between the College minutes for 11th September and 3rd December 1787.

The University would appear to have been without a mace until 1789. William Creech presented the College with a new one at the meeting of 2nd October that year. At the same meeting it was reported that the University been granted Arms by the Lord Lyon and that a new seal was to be made, the use of one of the city’s seals being “inconvenient and unsuitable to the dignity of the University”.

Early Veterinary students

Although our registers of students who attended the Edinburgh / Royal Dick Veterinary College only begin in the 1860s, the college itself was established in 1823. Although, unlike the University, there is no easily-identifiable published list of early students, one does in fact exist. Included in William Dick’s ‘Occasional Papers’ (published 1869) is a list of all the graduates.

The list gives their name, year of graduation and place of residence. Cornell University have a digitised copy of the entire publication at

Crowd Control

The following letter was sent, we think to Prof T. C. Hope, Professor of Chemistry, by a student in 1844. Student misbehaviour is nothing new!

Dear Sir,

You cannot but have observed, and been annoyed, at the constant disorderly contact of some of the young gentleman of your class. You have hitherto been too forbearing to take any notice of it but I trust you will allow me to prefer the request (in which I am sure the majority of my fellow students join) that you would be so kind as to endeavour, by some means or other, to put a stop to a recurrence of it for to say nothing of the great annoyance it must be to yourself.

I am sure you will agree that it really is “trop mal” that those who are anxious to pay attention to the Lectures should be prevented from doing so by the few juveniles who perch themselves on the upper seats for no earthly purpose but childishly amuse themselves during the whole Lecture by throwing paper balls and creating a disturbance to the no small annoyance of their more peaceable neighbours – Trusting you will excuse this communication.

Yours with the greatest of respect,

One of your Class

Feb’y 15th 1844

Jobs for the girls

A recent enquiry threw light on the richness of information contained in the minutes of Library Committee. The enquiry itself related to Marjory Foljambe Hall, daughter of Hubert Hall, Assistant Keeper of the Public Record Office in London, who was meant to have been employed circa 1917/1918 as a Librarian at the University of Edinburgh.

As she was not listed in the University Calendar, the post must have been below that of Assistant Librarian. There was a chance that the appointment would have been noted at Library Committee, but it was not expected that there would be much detail.

On locating the relevant minute however it was found that the section dealing with Miss Hall’s appointment occupied almost a full page, giving information both on her and the method by which she was appointed.

A vacancy had occurred due the departure of a member of cataloguing staff to get married. At the suggestion of Prof. Peter Hume Brown, the Librarian, Frank Carr Nicholson, wrote to Hubert Hall on the basis that he was aware Hall’s daughter was looking for a post. The responses received from both Hubert and Marjory were read before the committee. The minutes note:

“It appeared from these documents that Miss Hall had done a considerable amount of work at the Record Office and for the Royal Historical Society, and that she had gone through a course of Library training, palaeography etc. The Committee were of the opinion that her qualifications were exceptionally good.”

She was at a salary of seven pounds per month plus War bonus of ten pounds per annum. Unfortunately her contract was terminated at the end of May 1918, following a decision to suspend indefinitely the printing of the Library Catalogue.

The enquirer informed us that Marjory went on to work at the National Library of Wales before becoming a nun.

[University of Edinburgh Library Committee, Ref: EUA IN1/COM/L1]

What’s in a Diploma?

We often get enquiries about what individual courses comprised. From 1858, the annual University Calendar is usually the best source of information on this. For example, the Diploma in Psychiatry in 1936 is summarised as follows:

The Diploma consisted of 325 hours of course time, broken into two parts.

Part 1:

1) Anatomy and the Nervous System (20 hours), Prof. Brash & Demonstrators
2) Physiology of the Nervous System (20 hours), Prof. de Burgh Daly & Lecturers
3) Psychology and Experimental Psychology (50 hours), Prof. Drever

Part 2:

1) Neuro-Pathology and Serological Methods (40 hours), Prof. Drennan & Dr. Biggart, lecturer
2) Clinical Neurology (80 hours), Prof. Bramwell
3) Clinical Psychiarty (115 hours), Prof. Henderson

The 31 Club

The 31 club was a small group formed by the Honours Classics graduates at the University in 1931, to “perpetuate friendships made by the members while they were Classical students at Edinburgh University”. They first met in May 1931 and thereafter regularly for the next four years.

A small reunion in 1966 is next minuted, then 1991. By the time of the meeting in 1991, six ‘survivors’ are named, including the late Prof. William Montgomery Watt (1909-2006).

We have just taken custody of the archives of the club.

My ancestor was at Moray House?

We get a lot of enquiries from individuals who know or think that their ancestor did some teacher training at Moray House. The history of teacher training and of Moray House is quite complex, one of various small institutions merging and then merging again before eventually becoming part of the University. Depending on the time period, the phrase ‘Moray House’ can be misleading.

Helpfully there is an easy to read online history of all of this, compiled by a former senior academic and administrator from Moray House. This provides some extremely useful background reading which will help you contextualise any enquiry you might wish to send us.

A History of Professional Training at Moray House

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Prize

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859 and attended Edinburgh University as a medical student from 1876 to 1881. A recent enquiry threw light on the establishment of this prize at his request.

From information located in the minutes of the Senatus Academicus.

4th July 1902

A letter was read from the University Court enclosing a letter from Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle in which he proposed to found a “Conan Doyle Scholarship” in the University, to be competed for by students of South African birth; and requesting the Senatus to state how, in their opinion, this can best be done. The Senatus remitted Dr. Conan Doyle’s letter to the Principal & Dean’s Committee, with powers to communicate their opinion direct to University Court.

Senatus Minutes 25 July 1902

A letter was read from the University Court, stating that the Court approved of the reccomendations made by the Principal & Deans Committee on behalf of the Senatus, that the proposed Conan Doyle Scholarship should be attached to the Faculty of Medicine, and requesting the Senatus to frame Draft Regulations for the approval of Court. A letter was also enclosed from Sir Conan Doyle stating that he had no conditions to attach to the Scholarship, except that it should be called the “Conan Doyle Scholarship”, and be awarded to South Africans. The Senartus remitted to the Faculty of Medicine to frame Regulations for the Scholarship.

1st November 2002

The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine reported that the Faculty had drafted Regulations for the Conan Doyle Scholarship, but that since doing so a letter from Sir Conan Doyle had been transmitted to them by the University Court, which imposed a further condition from which it was not clear whether a Bursary or Scholarship was contemplated. The Senatus remitted to the Faculty to communicate with Sir Conan Doyle, and ascertain his wishes on the subject.

6th December 1902

The Faculty of Medicine submitted the following Regulations which they had drawn up for the Conan Doyle Prize:-

1. That the Prize be awarded each year on the Graduation Day to the most distinguished graduate (M.B.Ch.B.) from South Africa, as determined by the marks received at the various rofessional Examinations.
2. That the Conan Doyle Prizeman should be free to receive any other Prize, Scholarship, or Fellowship, which the Senatus, on the recommendation of the Faculty, see fit to award him.

The Senatus approved.