The Leighton Library’s Water Drinkers: An Exhibition

When I applied for my scholarship from the Carnegie Trust earlier this year I committed to creating an exhibition displaying some of my findings. I’m so pleased to share that the exhibition has officially launched! Hurrah!

It’s located in the Pathfoot Building at the University of Stirling in the A corridor (immediately to the left of the main entrance) and will be up until Christmas. The Pathfoot Building is open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

My exhibition is about the Water Drinkers of the Leighton Library, tourists who travelled from Dunblane to drink from the mineral springs a few miles north of the town from 1815 to 1833. My aim was to comprehensively contextualise the borrowings of the Water Drinkers within Dunblane’s history as a spa town, as well as share some interesting discoveries about the borrowers themselves. Some of my findings have already been shared in a blog post, but the exhibition features more details about the history of the library, who the Water Drinkers were, how they used the library, where they travelled from, and the books that they borrowed.

You can also view images of the Water Drinkers’ Register, which records the tourists’ book loans, the Leighton’s copy of Zeluco by John Moore, the library’s most borrowed novel, and read a contemporary account of the library in The Statistical Account of Scotland, another book favoured by the Water Drinkers.

Also featured are charts displaying trends about the popularity of the library and the occupations and genders of the borrowers. I was also able to locate some of the lodgings which accommodated the borrowers, which are pinpointed on a map.

Undoubtedly my favourite aspect of the exhibition is the contemporary map of Scotland from 1834, on which I’ve pinpointed the locations from which the Water Drinkers travelled (the map itself is also beautiful – photographs don’t do it justice). Most are from Central Scotland, but many come from much further afield, including London and Belfast.

If you’re interested in local history, rare book libraries, and/or historical people, then this exhibition is for you! I’m so proud that in publicising my discoveries I’m able to revitalise this important part of Dunblane’s history and some of the people who visited. Amazingly, I created these materials on 6th September 2021 – exactly 200 years after Andrew Bennet Esquire visited the library. These connections to history are wonderful, and I hope that you’d like to come and see this for yourself.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Beith Library for their permission to include their portrait of William Patrick of Roughwood, Archives and Special Collections for scanning books from the library, Graphics and Print for printing the materials, Sarah Bromage, Deputy Curator for the Art Collection, for providing me with the space and for her fantastic guidance, Scott Fitzsimmons, Collections Assistant, for his invaluable assistance in putting up the exhibition, and all of the Books and Borrowing team for their support during my months of research.