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The Beginning of Haddington Library

Imagine if some library books went missing and it was announced all through the town accompanied by someone beating a drum… Imagine some of those books going missing because rats and mice living in the library ate them… Imagine a library without heating, and with the windows left wide open in all weathers… The place you are imagining is Haddington library just after it was first opened to the public in 1729.

John Gray Dedication Board

John Gray Dedication Board

Haddington’s public library has its origins in a generous donation of books and money from Rev. John Gray, who was a native of Haddington. After his wife Mary died in 1729, John’s will ordered his collection of books to be given to the town as a library, under the care of six trustees. These trustees were the town Provost, three Baillies, the Dean of Guilds and the town Clerk.

The first time the trustees met on 11th November 1729, they ordered two cartfuls of coal for “keeping fyre” in the library. Imagine a coal fire among all those precious books! Soot from the fire must have been a problem as a lady called Lillias Job was employed to sweep the room and roof frequently. The trustees also appointed a local teacher, Mr. William Dice, “Doctor of the Grammar School to be the keeper of the library”. He must have had a difficult job as Haddington’s first librarian; only three months later it was reported that he had left Haddington!

On 28th February 1730 the trustees appointed “Mr. David Young first Doctor of the Grammar school to be keeper of the library.” Together with Mr. James Lundie, one of the Baillies, he made up catalogues of the library books. They discovered that some books were missing and a proclamation, accompanied by a drummer, was made through Haddington asking for the missing books to be returned to Mr. Young within the next eight days. How embarrassing for the keen readers of Haddington! At the next trustees’ meeting the following year, the trustees gave Mr. Young “a clean paper book” to record all books going out on loan from the library.

The original library was also a multi-functional library. The town magistrates used it for holding council meetings and courts.

Haddington town drummer and piper, late 18th century

Haddington town drummer and piper, late 18th century

The magistrates were rather forgetful – they often forgot to return the library keys to the librarian, and had to be reminded to close the window shutters after their meetings. In 1733 Mr. Young also resigned his post as librarian, as he “did not think himself any longer answerable for the Books and declined taking any furder (further) care of them.” It seems poor Mr. Young had had enough of dealing with the magistrates lack of concern for the library and the books. In 1740, the trustees ordered another proclamation throughout the town to recover missing books. The library’s catalogues of their own books were also found to be missing; it was thought that rats and mice had eaten them. Next time your books are overdue, just be grateful the town crier won’t be naming and shaming you to all of Haddington!

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