Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

List of libraries


Also known as Bibliotheca Leightoniana. Leightonian Library. Library of Dunblane. Located in Dunblane. Founded in 1688. Type of library: Subscription. Collection: Still in situ.
Address: The Cross, Dunblane, FK15 0AQ
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This bar chart shows total borrowings by year, for the period 1780-1840, and contains the data from all three registers pertaining to the Leighton Library that cover this period.

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Library description

The Leighton Library was founded in the late seventeenth century following a bequest of books left in the will of Robert Leighton (1611-84), Archbishop of Glasgow and the former bishop of Dunblane. Leighton, an Episcopalian, was a famed theological and classical scholar, who had amassed a large and prestigious personal library. Construction of a library building, which is Scotland’s oldest purpose-built library, occurred between 1684 and 1687, funded partly by Leighton’s bequest with further financial and logistical aid provided by Leighton’s surviving relatives and the local magnate, William Drummond, Viscount Strathallan (1617-88). Leighton’s nephew, Edward Lightmaker, as the executor of his will, played a crucial role in the library’s establishment and in the transportation of Leighton’s books from his family home in Broadhurst, Sussex to Dunblane. The library received a stable income from interest accrued from invested capital including £200 sterling donated by Leighton’s executors and £100 donated in 1704. Both sums were principally lent out to local landed families, including the Stirlings of Keir, and provided the library with funds for a librarian’s wage and the purchase of new books. In August 1688, the first meeting of the library’s trustees took place in the completed library building. In 1701, the management structure of the library was reformed to establish a body of trustees that consisted of the minister of Dunblane, two ministers of the local Presbytery appointed by the Synod of Perth and Stirling, as well as the successors of the landed families who had been instrumental in the library’s founding in the 1680s, including the heirs of Cromlix, Kilbryde, and Bannockburn House.

Leighton had originally intended his library to be used by the local clergy, but the library’s earliest borrowing records (1699-1745) reveal that it had a larger social reach. In 1734, a subscription system of membership to the library was formalised. After 1813 and the discovery of spa waters on the Cromlix estate, the library experimented with more flexible terms of subscription. Major repairs were conducted to the library building between 1815 and 1817 but it remained in use as a lending library until the middle of the nineteenth century. The library is now managed as a volunteer run heritage site, with many of the books still present in the library building as they have been for the last three hundred years.

The library’s manuscript records are stored at Archives and Special Collections at the University of Stirling Library and are catalogued in Gordon Willis, The Leighton Library Dunblane: Catalogue of Manuscripts (Stirling, 1981). Manuscript references are taken from here, unless otherwise specified. The library’s extant borrowing records are recorded in five locations. The earliest records (1699-1745) are recorded in the Dunblane Kirk Session Minutes, 1700-66 (Stirling Council Archive Services, CH2/101/9/2) and are not digitised here. Ledger 4 (MS 26) contains notes of borrowings for 1725-28, 1742-43 and 1746-48. These borrowings have not been transcribed but their pages have been digitised. Ledger 3 (MS 25), the matriculation book, contains borrowings from 1828-29 and 1841-42. These post-1840 borrowings have not been transcribed. The main borrowing register, ledger 1 (MS 27), contains borrowings from 1780-1840, and the Water Drinkers’ register, ledger 2 (MS 30), from 1815-33. These ledgers have both been fully digitised and transcribed. The Leighton's Minute Book, 1734-1822 (MS 16), which records the library's administration, has also been digitised here but not transcribed. Our thanks to the Trustees of the Leighton Library for allowing us to digitise and transcribe these records.

Borrower description

Across the period 1780 to 1840, 306 borrowers are recorded as having used the Leighton Library, amounting to around a dozen each year. The library’s most consistent group of users were ministers of the Church of Scotland, who, for a one-off fee of ten shillings sixpence, received membership for the duration of their incumbency and, from 1803, were able to borrow books for up to six months at a time. The same rights were not afforded to other Christian denominations or to Church of Scotland ministers whose parishes lay beyond the ‘Diocese of Dunblane’, although the library did cater to Secession ministers in Dunblane and Stirling, and Episcopalians such as George Gleig (1753-1840). Membership in the library, termed ‘civis’, was open to these individuals and lay persons at the cost of an annual subscription which varied between five shillings or ten shillings sixpence. From 1789, prospective members had to receive the consent of two trustees before they were permitted library membership, although there is no record of anyone being denied membership on these grounds. From 1734 until 1808, it was customary for new subscribers to sign their names and place of location in the matriculation book (MS 25).

Lay members of the library were drawn from a range of backgrounds including the landed aristocracy, in the cases of the 9th (1737-1810) and 10th (1771-1848) Earls of Moray, authors, such as Anne Grant (1755-1838), industrialists, such as James Smith of Deanston (1789-1850), but also civic officials, doctors, farmers, legal professionals and school masters. The publication of the library’s first printed catalogue in 1793 was instrumental in increasing the number of paying subscribers to the library, but membership was also regularly offered in return for the donation of books. From 1796, use of the library was freely granted to local preachers and students in divinity, providing they received written support from their parish minister. From 1815, the library was frequented by the ‘water-drinkers’, the term given to those who visited the recently discovered spa waters just north of Dunblane, and who were able to subscribe to the library for a fortnight at the cost of two shillings sixpence. These borrowing records were originally recorded in the main register, before a separate register was acquired for them in August 1815.

Each borrower has been supplied a method and date of first subscription to the library taken from either a borrowing register, the minute book (MS 16) or matriculation book. Rates of borrowing are in shillings. If no date of subscription has been recorded, the date of first borrowing from the library has been given in absence.

Holding description

For borrowers in this period, Leighton’s original bequest of books, which was recorded as consisting of 1,364 books in 1691, still formed the core of the library’s collection. More than half of these sixteenth and seventeenth century texts had continental imprints, many of which were in foreign languages, with works of history, religion, theology, travel and to a lesser extent medicine, well represented. The library was active in its acquisition of new texts for much of the eighteenth century, including many of the key works of the Scottish Enlightenment which were acquired in the year of their publication. The library’s minute book provides a record of the annual sums expended on book purchases, as well as the booksellers and binders used. At the end of the eighteenth century, books were ordered by either the librarian or a trustee, typically from a bookseller in Edinburgh, to then be bound in Stirling and finally delivered to the library.  The library also benefitted from a number of donations during this period from individual benefactors, such as John Barclay, the Episcopal minister in Muthill in 1767 and booksellers from Glasgow and London. The 1793 catalogue lists 1,781 books in the collection, but the borrowing records show that this was not the complete extent of the library’s holdings at this time. A supplement to this catalogue was printed in 1809. A further printed catalogue was published in 1843.

3,350 bibliographical items in 3,916 volumes were counted as being present in the library in 1981, with the total losses of books from the library estimated at being not much more than five per cent. As such, it has been possible to link up the vast majority of books borrowed with their entries in the modern catalogue, enabling a high degree of certainty with regard to edition matching.


  • Other: Minutes of the meetings of the trustees, 31 October 1734-March 1822. MS 16.
  • Matriculation records: Leighton Library Matriculation Book, 31 October 1734-1814. MS 25.
  • Other: Book requests, letters and scraps taken from Leighton MS 27. MS 28.
  • Other: A Catalogue of the Leightonian Library, Dunblane (Edinburgh: William Smellie, 1793).
  • Other: Catalogue of the Leightonian Library, Dunblane (Edinburgh: J. Thomson, 1843).

Secondary sources

David Allan, ‘Reconciliation and Retirement in the Restoration Scottish Church: The Neo-Stoicism of Robert Leighton’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 50.2 (April, 1999): 251-78.

Alexander B. Barty, The History of Dunblane, 2nd ed. (Stirling: Stirling District Libraries, 1994).

Jill Dye, ‘Books and their Borrowers at the Library of Innerpeffray c. 1680-1855’, unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Stirling (2018).

K.A. Manley, Books, Borrowers, and Shareholders: Scottish Circulating and Subscription Libraries before 1825, A survey and listing (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 2012).

Mark R.M. Towsey, Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750-1820 (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

Gordon Willis, 'The Leighton Library, Dunblane: Its History and Contents', The Bibliotheck 10 (1981): 139-157.

Sources outside the period

For a full list of the Leighton's manuscript records, see Gordon Willis, The Leighton Library Dunblane: Catalogue of Manuscripts (Stirling, 1981).

See also Gordon Willis's transcription of Robert Leighton's MS catalogue (1683/84) and Robert Douglas's catalogue (1691), accessible here <>.

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Aberdeen Theological Library

Location: Aberdeen
Foundation date: 1700
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 7
Number of books: 360
Number of borrowers: 278
Number of library records: 3333

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Advocates Library

Also known as Advocates' Library

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1682
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 54
Number of books: 5899
Number of borrowers: 932
Number of library records: 11812

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Chambers' Circulating Library

Also known as Robert Chambers' Circulating Library

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1828
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 919
Number of borrowers: 311
Number of library records: 7319

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Craigston Castle Library

Location: Craigston
Foundation date: 1604
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 396
Number of borrowers: 189
Number of library records: 684

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Dumfries Presbytery Library

Location: Dumfries
Foundation date: c.1706
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 636
Number of borrowers: 249
Number of library records: 3475

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Edinburgh University Library

Also known as University of Edinburgh Library

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1582
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 36
Number of books: 2339
Number of borrowers: 2069
Number of library records: 14638

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Glasgow University Library

Also known as University of Glasgow Library

Location: Glasgow
Foundation date: 1451
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 8
Number of books: 3476
Number of borrowers: 1013
Number of library records: 15372

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Haddington Library

Also known as John Gray Library

Location: Haddington
Foundation date: 1717
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 2
Number of books: 462
Number of borrowers: 743
Number of library records: 5187

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Hunterian Museum Library

Location: Glasgow
Foundation date: 1807
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 244
Number of borrowers: 42
Number of library records: 368

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Innerpeffray Library

Also known as The Library of Innerpeffray

Location: Innerpeffray
Foundation date: 1680
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 793
Number of borrowers: 1182
Number of library records: 5393

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Inverness Kirk Sessions Library

Also known as Inverness Presbyterial Library

Location: Inverness
Foundation date: 1706
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 38
Number of borrowers: 20
Number of library records: 61

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Leighton Library

Also known as Bibliotheca Leightoniana
Leightonian Library
Library of Dunblane

Location: Dunblane
Foundation date: 1688
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 5
Number of books: 809
Number of borrowers: 306
Number of library records: 6737

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Orkney Library

Also known as Kirkwall Library, Orkney Subscription Library

Location: Kirkwall
Foundation date: 1683
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 4
Number of books: 236
Number of borrowers: 127
Number of library records: 1636

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Royal High School of Edinburgh

Also known as High School of Edinburgh

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1658
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 5
Number of books: 1966
Number of borrowers: 2410
Number of library records: 19968

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Selkirk Library

Also known as Selkirk Subscription Library

Location: Selkirk
Foundation date: 1772
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 2
Number of books: 832
Number of borrowers: 179
Number of library records: 11812

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St Andrews University Library

Location: St Andrews
Foundation date: 1612
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 25
Number of books: 7560
Number of borrowers: 673
Number of library records: 21578

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Wigtown Subscription Library

Location: Wigtown
Foundation date: 1795
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 4
Number of books: 345
Number of borrowers: 103
Number of library records: 6230