Thursday 22 September 2016

The Leighton Library, Dunblane

The Leighton Library, the oldest purpose-built library in Scotland, was founded on the collection of Robert Leighton, Bishop of Dunblane, 1661-1670, later Archbishop of Glasgow, 1670-1674. In his will, Leighton left a sum of money for the building of the library for use by the clergy of Dunblane diocese.

The library is situated close by Dunblane Cathedral and was built in part from fallen stone from the nearby ruined Bishop's Palace. The total cost of the library was £ 162-2s-6d. Leighton had retired to Sussex, where he died, and his books were transported by horse and cart and by sea before being installed in the completed library. The building is a two storey construction with the books situated in a single room lined with presses on the first floor.  This is accessed by the original external staircase. The lower floor, or undercroft, originally functioned as the living quarters for the first librarian.

The library originally housed the books bequeathed to it by Robert Leighton, numbering around 1400. The original presses, above, hold Leighton’s books.   The third shelf down shows the 'paperbacks' of the time - i.e. books bound in vellum rather than leather.

Still to be seen in the library are 
"Twelve chairs of turkie red lether", 
part of the original bequest.

Leighton's books have been added to over the years so that the library now houses around 4,500 volumes printed in 89 languages, including Greek, Persian, Syrian and Gaelic. 

Polyglot Bible

First Edition of The Lady of the Lake


  1. This library lover wants to visit!

  2. "presses"? what's the difference to bookshelf or bookcase?
    I'm forcing myself to a clear-out just now... having realised that I don't really need to keep every old paperback copy of English classics that have already been (or can easily be) replaced by free downloads to Kindle, which is how I prefer to read now anyway...

    1. A book press is simply another word (now rarely used) for a bookcase. But in the early 17th century it would have been the more commonly used of the two terms. Earliest use of the word was found in Randle Cotgrave (fl. 1587–?1630), lexicographer.
      A bookcase (or a press) consists of a number of bookshelves stacked vertically and with vertical sides. i.e. four shelves simply attached to a wall, one above the other, are bookshelves whereas if they are made into a piece of furniture they are a bookcase.

    2. The term 'press' is still used in Scotland for a cupboard set into the wall.

  3. I love it. In my Presbyterian seminary in the state of Iowa, in the US, I worked in the library and got to handle beautiful old books from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and it was so amazing to think of all those who read and loved those books before me.

  4. What a fascinating place! I'd love to see it. Can anyone just visit, or are the books accessible only upon special request for people who study history or literature etc.?
    How unusual that the librarian's living quarters were underneath the library and not above it. I'd have liked a glimpse of those, too!

    1. Anyone can visit but the individual books are only available on special request and some have to be handled 'with kid gloves'. The volunteers who keep it open were kind enough to show us ones we were especially interested in. Most of the original books are of a religious nature and are still referred to regularly by students, academics and members of the clergy.

  5. I must make a visit. Despite all the time I have spent in Dunblane I didn't realise that was what that building is.

  6. I would have enjoyed that visit to the library...thanks for sharing.


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