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National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division

Brief History

The National Library of Scotland has its origins in the Advocates Library, founded in Edinburgh in the early 1680s. Under the 1710 Copyright Act, the Advocates Library had been given the legal right to claim a copy of every book published in Britain. In the following centuries, the Library added books and manuscripts to its collections by purchase as well as legal deposit. In April 2007 the Scottish Screen Archive, Scotland’s national moving images archive, became part of the National Library of Scotland, and is now based at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.

Following the establishment of the National Library by an Act of Parliament in 1925, political manuscripts became a major collection area, and the Manuscripts Division has important holdings from the 18th century onwards of the papers of Scottish politicians, as well as deposits of Scottish political party archives. From the 1960s, the Library also became very active in collecting manuscript and archival material relating to the history of the labour and trade union movement. A significant amount of this material has been channelled into the Library through the good offices of the Scottish Labour History Society, and more recently through the Scottish Working People’s History Trust. As a result the library now has the finest collection of Scottish labour history held anywhere in the world.

Collections

  • Trade unions and co-operatives: major collections include the records of mineworkers, printers, bookbinders, shipwrights, engineers, cabinetmakers, coachmakers, journalists and many other trades, as well as the archives of various co-operatives societies based in the east and south of Scotland.
  • The Labour Party: papers and records of local branches in Edinburgh, Lothian and the Borders.
  • Socialist and left-wing organisations: collections include the papers of the Edinburgh Fabian Society, Edinburgh Socialist Sunday Schools, National Council of Labour Colleges, and the Workers’ Educational Association of Scotland.
  • Personal papers of individuals connected with the trade union, co-operative, and labour movements: including the papers of Red Clydeside activists John Maclean, John Muir and William Gallacher; Christopher M. Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid); James Keir Hardie; Emrys Hughes; Ramsay MacDonald; R. B. Cunnninghame Graham; George Mathers; Baron Ritchie-Calder; and John Pitcairn Mackintosh; and of two Secretaries of State for Scotland under Labour governments: Tom Johnston and Arthur Woodburn.
  • Papers relating to the Spanish Civil War; Scottish devolution; political pressure groups; feminist, gay rights, and civil liberties campaigners; social history; and organisations concerned with the study and advocacy of labour history.

Two source lists are available online – an index to modern political manuscripts in the National Library, and a guide to the Scottish labour history collections. An increasing number of inventories for these collections can be found by searching the online catalogue

Contact Details

National Library of Scotland George IV Bridge
Edinburgh
EH1 1EW.

Tel : 0131 623 3876
Web : http://www.nls.uk
Link for OPAC : http://www.nls.uk/catalogues/manuscripts

Opening Times

Manuscript and archival material is consulted in the Special Materials Reading Room at the George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh. Opening hours are:

• Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 09:30 to 19:00
• Wednesday: 10:00 to 19:00
• Saturday: 9:30 to 17:00

Details about ordering material, deliveries and facilities

Admission

Free admission.

Transport

For details about how to get to the National Library of Scotland’s buildings, please see the Location Map.

Access Details

More information about about access and facilities can be found on the National Library’s website.