Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

Stirling’s Historic Libraries

Here at the University of Stirling, we have been thinking about ways in which we might contribute to the celebrations for the 900th anniversary of Stirling burgh, and a colleague asked me to talk about Stirling’s historic libraries. Regular readers of this blog will know that none of the libraries featured in the Books and Borrowing project are actually in Stirling burgh, although the wonderful Leighton Library and Innerpeffray Library are nearby, in Dunblane and near Crieff respectively. So my colleague’s request prompted me to do a little further research to find out about libraries in Stirling itself. Keith Manley’s excellent book, Books, Borrowers, and Shareholders: Scottish Circulating and Subscription Libraries before 1825: A Survey and Listing (Edinburgh, 2012) was, as so often, the obvious place to look for information.

Manley’s book lists three libraries in Stirling itself, and a further eleven in Stirlingshire. The earliest of the fourteen libraries in Stirlingshire was the Falkirk Subscription Library, founded in 1792, while the first of the libraries established in Stirling itself was probably the circulating library established by Charles Randall (1749-1812) in Baxter’s Wynd some time between 1793 and 1798. As was characteristic of such businesses, the library of some 3000 volumes was part of Randall’s booksellers’ shop, and it seems to have had at least three addresses and three separate owners over the course of its career. Randall’s widow, Mary, took over the business on his death in 1812, by which time the bookshop was in Baker’s Wynd. It later moved to Vennell Close, and was taken on by William Macnie in 1820, but he does not seem to have continued the library part of the business.

Baker’s Wynd, Stirling, where Mary Randall’s Bookshop and Circulating Library was located. From John Wood, Plan of the Town of Stirling from Actual Survey, 1820, Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The two other libraries in Stirling burgh were both subscription libraries (for the differences between circulating and subscription libraries, see The first was founded by the Stirling Society for Promoting the Knowledge and Practice of Christianity, which held a library of books for its members and those recommended by them. It owned 90 volumes by 1798, and books were lent out only on Wednesday afternoons. The second was the Stirling Subscription Library, established on 1st January 1805. This was originally kept in Bow Street, but moved to a new building in Quality Street in 1817. At this point it had 130 members. By 1837 it had moved to the Athenaeum at 8 King Street, and it owned 2000 volumes by 1841. It was dissolved in 1881.

The Athenaeum Building in Stirling, home of the Stirling Subscription Library in the mid-nineteenth century.

The current public library in Stirling is a worthy successor to its predecessors; Stirling Central Library is a Carnegie Library (i.e. one of many that owe its existence to Andrew Carnegie’s vision and philanthropy. Carnegie donated money to build 2,509 libraries between 1883 and 1929, of which 660 were in the United Kingdom. The first of these was built in Carnegie’s birthplace, Dunfermline). The Stirling Central Library was opened in October 1902 by Mrs Louise Carnegie after Andrew Carnegie had received the Freedom of the Burgh of Stirling, and it is a wonderful example of a purpose-built Scots Baronial library building. It is still a public library today, and its archives hold some valuable material relating to local history.




Other historic libraries of interest in the Stirling area include the Bannockburn Colliery Library, which was a subscription library for colliery workers, not unlike those at Wanlockhead, Westerkirk and Leadhills, discussed elsewhere in these pages (e.g. here; here; here , and here ). The Bannockburn Library was established in June 1828.

George Walker, Middleton Colliery, 1812 (Wikimedia Commons). The workers who used the Bannockburn Library might have looked something like this.

Campsie boasted a subscription library for the working classes by 1796. And Bothkennar established a subscription library in 1824 which was specifically designed to provide religious literature for young people.

Stirling and its surrounding areas were thus fairly well served by libraries from the 1790s onwards. By the time of the Public Libraries Act (1850; extended to Scotland in 1853 and 1854), which first gave local boroughs the power to establish free lending libraries, Stirlingshire’s literate classes presumably had enough institutions from which they could borrow books, and hence the relatively late founding of the public library in 1902.