The Most Borrowed Books of the Leighton Library’s Water Drinkers

by Jacqueline Kennard

I’m thrilled about my temporary placement with Books and Borrowing and to be writing my first blog post! Funded by the Carnegie Trust’s Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship, I’ll be spending twelve weeks comparing and analysing early-nineteenth-century book borrowings from five libraries in provincial Scotland, namely the Leighton Library, St Andrews University Library, the Library of Innerpeffray, Westerkirk’s Miners’ Library, and Wigtown Subscription Library.

My principal interest is in finding evidence of increased accessibility (or not!) of books to the labouring classes. While throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ‘libraries were the preserve of the élite’,[1] at the end of the eighteenth century, libraries reputedly started to became more accessible to the wider public, leading to the passing of the Public Libraries Act in 1850.[2] The vast array of occupations represented in the libraries’ borrowing records will allow me to assess whether this was actually the case, and I’m looking forward to learning about the borrowers and their libraries’ local histories as I do so!

exterior of the Leighton Library

The Leighton Library

My first role with Books and Borrowing was to transcribe the Leighton Library’s Water Drinkers’ Register and enter its data into the Books and Borrowing Content Management System. Introduced by Katie Halsey, the project’s Principal Investigator, in a previous blog post, the Water Drinkers were visitors to Dunblane, the home of the Leighton Library, following the discovery of mineral springs near the town. The Water Drinkers’ Register records the book loans of these visitors, who paid 2s, and 6d. per fortnight to borrow books, providing a source of income for the library. Last week I completed inputting the data into the system, and I’m now pleased to share a list of the Water Drinkers’ ten most borrowed books!

Table of the most borrowed books by the Leighton Library’s Water Drinkers

No. of borrows
Volumes/parts (loans)
1 49 The New Annual Register, or General Repository of History, Politics, and Literature 1814 (1); 1788 (3); 1785 (1); 1783 (1); 1780 (1); 1781 (2); 1815 (2); 1813 (2); 1804 (1); 1808 (1); 1800 (1); Vol. 1 (4); Vol. 2 (3); Vol. 3 (3); Vol. 4 (1); Vol. 5 (1); Vol. 6 (1); Vol. 7 (1); Vol. 8 (1); Vol. 9 (8); Vol. 10 (3); Vol. 11 (1); Vol. 12 (1); Vol. 15 (1); Vol. 16 (1); unspecified (3)
2 47 Moore’s Travels/Moore’s

Could be any of:

A view of society and manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany

 A view of society and manners in Italy


John Moore (1729-1802)
3 43 Zeluco. Various views of human nature, taken from life and manners, foreign and domestic John Moore (1729-1802) Vol. 1 (22); Vol. 2 (21)
4 33 The Quarterly Review 1812 (1); Vol. 1 (1); Vol. 2 (1); Vol. 7 (1); Vol. 8 (1); Vol. 9 (1); Vol. 10 (1); Vol. 11 (1); Vol. 12 (1); Vol. 13 (1); Vol. 14 (3); Vol. 17 (1); Vol. 18 (3); Vol. 19 (1); Vol. 20 (1); Vol. 21 (1); Vol. 22 (1); Vol. 23 (2); Vol. 24 (3); Vol. 25 (1); Vol. 27 (1); Vol. 29 (1); Vol. 31 (1); unspecified (3)
5 27 The Statistical Account of Scotland Sir John Sinclair (1754-1835) Vol. 11 (1); Vol. 14 (2); Vol. 15 (1); Vol. 3 (2); Vol. 7 (19); unspecified (2)
6 23 Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark William Coxe (1747-1828) Vol. 1 (8); Vol. 2 (8); Vol. 3 (4); Vol. 4 (3)
7 19 Chrysal: or, The Adventures of a Guinea Charles Johnstone (c. 1719-1800) Vol. 1 (5); Vol. 2 (5); Vol. 3 (5); Vol. 4 (4)
8 14 A Tour through Sicily and Malta Patrick Brydone (1743-1818) Vol. 1 (9); Vol. 2 (5)
9 13 Travels from St. Petersburgh in Russia, to various parts of Asia John Bell of Antermony (1691-1780) Vol. 1 (6); Vol. 2 (4); unspecified (3)
=10 12 The World Adam Fitz-Adam Vol. 1 (4); Vol. 2 (3); Vol. 3 (3); Vol. 4 (2)
=10 12 The Works of Dr Jonathan Swift Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) Vol. 1 (2); Vol. 2 (0); Vol. 3 (2); Vol. 4 (1); Vol 5 (2); Vol. 6 (2); Vol. 7 (2); Vol. 8 (1)
=10 12 Travels through Syria and Egypt, in the years 1783, 1784, and 1785 Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf Volney (1757-1820) Vol. 1 (7); Vol. 2 (5)

It is contended that The Leighton Library’s most borrowed book is John Moore’s 1789 Gothic novel Zeluco: Various Views of Human Nature, Taken from Life and Manners, Foreign and Domestic.[3] The physical condition of the Leighton’s copy of Zeluco, which looks like it has been read to death (literally!), certainly suggests that this claim is valid, but advisory board-member Jill Dye notes that it has never actually been verified.[4] Although it is important to highlight that the Water Drinkers’ Register is only one of two Leighton manuscripts being transcribed by the Books and Borrowing project, and so is only an indication of the Leighton’s overall borrowing trends, I was excited to be the first person to produce a quantitative verification!

image of the Lighton Library's copy of Moore's Zeluco

The Leighton Library’s well-worn copy of Moore’s Zeluco

According to the table above, Moore’s Zeluco is not the book most borrowed by Leighton’s Water Drinkers. Rather, the esteemed title of ‘The Water Drinkers’ Most Borrowed Book’ goes to The New Annual Register, the volumes of which were borrowed a collective total of 49 times. Zeluco was in fact borrowed 43 times, coming in third position. However, these positions illuminate some interesting   methodological questions that will be addressed by the whole project team as more analysis takes place. More volumes of The New Annual Register, a periodical, were borrowed fewer times than the two volumes of Zeluco, both of which were borrowed on all but one occasion. The rankings, then, entirely depend on the perspective you take. Zeluco, as a work, was borrowed more than The New Annual Register, but, at holdings level, The New Annual Register was borrowed more than Zeluco. To give an example of an alternative approach, were we to divide the New Annual Register out into its constituent volumes, it’s clear each of these volumes were borrowed much less frequently. If we were thus to face Zeluco’s two volumes off against even the two most borrowed volumes of the New Annual Register (vol. 9 at 8 borrowings and vol. 10 at 3 borrowings), their composite 11 borrowings come in very much lower than Zeluco’s 43.

The book in second position, ‘Moore’s Travels/Moore’s,’ further complicates the rankings. As nigh-on all of the entries in the register are written with abbreviated titles, it is sometimes difficult to identify which book was borrowed with absolute certainty. ‘Moore’s Travels’ and ‘Moore’s’ epitomise this problem: ‘Moore’s Travels’ could be one of two books, A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany (1780) or A View of Society and Manners in Italy (1781), both by John Moore, and when just ‘Moore’s’ is written, Zeluco also becomes a possibility. This ambiguity frustratingly has consequences for the top three books. The number of times Moore was borrowed (47) is likely divided between each of the possible books, and so ‘Moore’s Travels/Moore’s’ would not be in second position, although one or both of his travel books would probably still be in the top ten. Further, if just seven ‘Moore’s’ refer to Zeluco, it would overtake The New Annual Register as the most borrowed book. In other words, knowing precisely which books the librarian was referring to would produce a completely altered top ten to the one I assembled from the data.

Water Drinkers' borrowers' register entry showing 'Moore's travels'

Moore’s Travels – but which one?

Examples of abbreviations used to describe books, which sometimes makes it impossible to identify the book borrowed with certainty

The abbreviations used to describe books sometimes makes it impossible to identify the book borrowed with certainty

Nevertheless, these rankings reveal much about reading habits and interests from 1815 to 1833. We do not need to know which of his books were borrowed to know that John Moore was clearly a favoured author. The seventh volume of The Statistical Account of Scotland, borrowed 19 times by the Water Drinkers, contains a chapter on Dunblane (and a nice summary of the Leighton’s history), supporting Katie’s hypothesis, which she notes in a previous blog post, that readers were particularly interested in the local area. Positions six and eight to ten are all held by travel books. An analysis of borrowed genres will take place later in the project, but it already seems that readers were overwhelmingly interested in travel books; indeed, the next few most borrowed books, which did not make the top ten, were also travel books, with many borrowed ten or eleven times by the Water Drinkers. Comparatively few novels were frequently borrowed. The only novels to make it into the top ten were Zeluco, Charles Johnstone’s Chrysal: or, The Adventures of a Guinea (1785), and those in The Works of Dr Jonathan Swift (1757). The Leighton contains ‘very few novels,’ [5] and so these rankings are perhaps more reflective of the Leighton’s inability to meet public demand for novels than of the public’s lack of interest in the literary form.

I’m really looking forward to seeing if these results are consistent across provincial Scotland as I undertake a comparison with other libraries to produce a picture of national reading trends. I feel incredibly fortunate to be participating in such pivotal research and to be part of such a lovely team. More of my findings will be shared in blog posts in the next couple of months – so keep an eye out for some exciting updates!

[1] Giles Mandelbrote, and K. A. Manley, ‘Introduction: The Changing World of Libraries,’ in The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland: Volume II 1640-1850, ed. by Giles Mandelbrote, and K. A. Manley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 1-6 (p. 5).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gordon Willis, ‘The Leighton Library, Dunblane: Its History and Contents,’ Bibliotheck 10:6 (1981), 139-157 (p. 153).

[4] Jill Dye, ‘Books and their Borrowers at the Library of Innerpeffray c. 1680-1855,’ (PhD diss., University of Stirling, 2018), p. 194.

[5] Willis, ‘The Leighton Library, Dunblane: Its History and Contents,’ p. 153.