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Staff at the Scottish and Local History Library, Carnegie Library, Ayr welcomed Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association members (and some of their guests!) on a special tour through their local and family history resources – maps, newspapers, printed books and photos, to mention a few. Designed to inform B&B owners on the sources we hold, so they can pass this onto their guests, we were delighted by their enthusiasm and interest!

“A wonderful resource on our doorstep”

The Scottish and Local History Library is located on the first floor of the Carnegie Library in Ayr. We hold a wealth of free resources for anyone who is researching their family tree or studying the local history of the area. We have dedicated, friendly, experienced staff who are happy to assist and give advice on all aspects of your research. We aim to help customers bring family names, dates and places to life.

The department currently has two PCs connected to the Internet available for Local and Family History research.  Customers can also access online Births, Marriages and Deaths Archive Search from the Ayr Advertiser: 1803-1835Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past free. Customers can also use their own devices by taking advantage of our unlimited free Wi-Fi access.

If you have any questions or would like further information please contact us localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk or tel: 01292 272231.

 

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On 2 September 1892 the Provost of Ayr, Robert Shankland, chaired a meeting of the town’s Carnegie Public Library committee. Construction of the library building funded by a £10,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie was well under way, and Carnegie himself was due to visit the town on 5 October. He was to be given the freedom of the Royal Burgh of Ayr, and Mrs Carnegie was to perform the honours at the laying of a commemorative stone at the library. (Although the library was intended for the benefit of working people, there would be no organised representation from the town’s tradesmen at the ceremony – the Trades Council of Glasgow had called upon them to boycott it due to the bitter and violent industrial dispute then raging at Carnegie’s steel works in Pittsburgh.)

The platform party at the laying of a memorial stone (not currently visible) at the partially-completed Ayr Carnegie Library on 5 October 1892. Andrew Carnegie stands between the only two ladies on the platform. On the right is his wife Louise (Whitfield) who performed the ceremony. On the left is Mrs Shankland (Marion McTurk, third wife of the provost.) Provost Robert Shankland is the bearded gentleman standing behind Mrs Carnegie – he opened the building on 2 September 1893.

The platform party at the laying of a memorial stone (not currently visible) at the partially-completed Ayr Carnegie Library on 5 October 1892. Andrew Carnegie stands between the only two ladies on the platform. On the right is his wife Louise (Whitfield) who performed the ceremony. On the left is Mrs Shankland (Marion McTurk, third wife of the provost.) Provost Robert Shankland is the bearded gentleman standing behind Mrs Carnegie – he opened the building on 2 September 1893.

Carnegie’s enthusiasm for the works of Robert Burns was well known – in his first letter of the correspondence which led to his financing of the library, he had written that Ayr had a special place in the hearts of Scotsmen, because it was so intimately associated with the most beloved Scotsman of all. The library committee at their 2 September meeting must therefore have been especially pleased to note among the latest donations a signed Burns manuscript addressed to a Mr James Watson of Ayr. It was a version of the song beginning ‘The gloomy night is gath’ring fast’ which Burns composed in 1786 while intending to emigrate to Jamaica. The Edinburgh manuscript collector and dealer James Mackenzie had sent it via an Ayr customer, solicitor Robert Goudie, to be presented to the library.

The decoration above the main entrance of Ayr Carnegie Library includes the carved heads of Robert Burns (left) and the engineer James Watt (right).

The decoration above the main entrance of Ayr Carnegie Library includes the carved heads of Robert Burns (left) and the engineer James Watt (right).

Concerns were soon being voiced, however, regarding the donated manuscript’s authenticity – during the previous year it had been proved that several similar items from Mackenzie’s collection were definitely not the work of the Bard.  His donation to Ayr was sent to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh and to the British Library for examination, and both replies expressed grave reservations as to its alleged attribution to Burns. Over the past few years a large number of manuscripts purporting to have been written by a wide range of famous literary and historical figures had been appearing for sale in Edinburgh. Their claims to authenticity seldom survived expert scrutiny, and this was beginning to attract the attention of the press. Letters accompanying some of the items in question were reproduced, and the handwriting was recognised as that of a certain Alexander Howland Smith. Smith was arrested in December 1892, and the full story began to emerge.

‘Antique’ Smith’s forgery of a signed Burns song, donated to Ayr Carnegie Library as a supposedly original manuscript by James Mackenzie.

‘Antique’ Smith’s forgery of a signed Burns song, donated to Ayr Carnegie Library as a supposedly original manuscript by James Mackenzie.

Another example of ‘Antique’ Smith’s forgery of a signed Burns song, donated to Ayr Carnegie Library as a supposedly original manuscript by James Mackenzie.

Another example of ‘Antique’ Smith’s forgery of a signed Burns song, donated to Ayr Carnegie Library as a supposedly original manuscript by James Mackenzie.

While working as a clerk in an Edinburgh lawyer’s office, Smith had been instructed to dispose of a quantity of old documents. Many turned out to be of historical interest, and he made a tidy sum selling them to dealers. When he ran out of originals, he set about faking more on a large scale, buying up old books and removing their blank end papers for writing material. The completed forgeries were ‘aged’ by staining them with tea. ‘Antique’ Smith, as he became known, was found guilty of obtaining money by deceit, and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment. Dealers like Mackenzie, who had sold the documents on, claimed to have been acting in good faith and escaped prosecution.

The local collection of South Ayrshire Libraries, housed in Ayr Carnegie Library, still has its example (with accompanying correspondence) of the work of one of the 19th Century’s most prolific forgers of historical manuscripts.

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The 25th of January will see world-wide festivities commemorating the birthday of South Ayrshire’s most celebrated local hero, Robert Burns (1759-1796). A marble bust of Scotland’s national bard is on display in the local history area of Carnegie Library, Ayr. It was sculpted by Amelia R. Hill (1820-1904), who was born Amelia Robertson Paton in Dunfermline, and whose brothers, Sir Joseph Noel Paton and Walter Hugh Paton, became well-known painters. In 1862 Amelia married the Scottish artist and pioneer photographer David Octavius Hill. She produced many portrait busts, but is best known for her statue of David Livingstone in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, and as the designer of the Burns statue in Dumfries.

Amelia R. Hill’s marble bust of Robert Burns in Ayr’s Carnegie Library.

Amelia R. Hill’s marble bust of Robert Burns in Ayr’s Carnegie Library.

David Octavius Hill died in 1870, and in the following year the widowed Amelia was working on a bust of Robert Burns in her Edinburgh studio when she received a visit from the industrialist James Baird of Cambusdoon. He belonged to a Lanarkshire family of iron and steel magnates, and he had come to Ayrshire in 1844 to oversee the exploitation of the county’s coal and iron ore deposits. He built the mansion of Cambusdoon, near Burns’ birthplace of Alloway, as his residence.

Not long before his visit to Amelia’s studio, James Baird had received a request for a donation from the committee of the subscription-funded Ayr Public Library, set up in 1870. The committee members were no doubt hoping to receive money with which to buy books, but Baird decided that Amelia’s bust of Burns would be an appropriate gift. He purchased the bust, and on 1st November 1871 he presented it to the library, to be placed in its reading room in the MacNeillie Buildings in Newmarket Street.

From 1870 until 1893, Ayr Public Library rented space in Ayr Town Council’s MacNeillie Buildings, Newmarket Street (named after John MacNeillie, provost of Ayr 1864-1873). Above the doorway are carved representations of the religious reformer John Knox (centre), flanked by the Scottish warrior heroes Sir William Wallace (left) and King Robert the Bruce (right).

From 1870 until 1893, Ayr Public Library rented space in Ayr Town Council’s MacNeillie Buildings, Newmarket Street (named after John MacNeillie, provost of Ayr 1864-1873). Above the doorway are carved representations of the religious reformer John Knox (centre), flanked by the Scottish warrior heroes Sir William Wallace (left) and King Robert the Bruce (right).

In 1890 the library committee sought support from another philanthropic industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, who had returned from America to his native Scotland. Carnegie offered to fund the construction of a library building on condition that Ayr Town Council would adopt the Public Libraries Act and establish a free library service. The necessary majority vote in favour by the town’s householders was obtained, and in September 1893 the Carnegie Library was opened. The books and other items belonging to Ayr Public Library were transferred to it from Newmarket Street. They included Amelia Hill’s bust of Burns, and it has remained in the Carnegie ever since. The building also houses the local history collections of South Ayrshire Libraries, including a large Burns reference collection.

A small selection from the extensive Burns reference collection in the local history area of Ayr Carnegie Library.

A small selection from the extensive Burns reference collection in the local history area of Ayr Carnegie Library.

Andrew Carnegie was an admirer of the works of Robert Burns, and in offering to fund the construction of a library in the town, he wrote that Ayr had a special place in the hearts of all Scotsmen, as it was so intimately associated with the most beloved Scotsman of all.
(The previous post The history of Carnegie Library, Ayr has more information about the building.)

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Doors Open Day 2012

This weekend in Ayrshire its Doors Open Day®.  Enjoy a great day out visiting fascinating buildings right on your doorstep, some of which are not normally open to the public, all for FREE.

Drop in to Carnegie Library to discover a little bit of it’s history, take time to appreciate the buildings’ beautiful architecture and see if you can spot the lady with six toes!

Wheelchair accessible, Refreshments provided.

Guided tours Saturday 1st September 2012

Guided tours of the building by Tom Barclay our Local History Librarian, will be commencing at:

10.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm and 3.30pm

The tours last approximately 30 minutes and will commence in the local history area upstairs.

Find out where else you can visit on Doors Open Day Ayrshire.

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The burgh of Ayr has had a library for many years. The Ayr Library Society was founded in 1762, but it took until 1870 before Ayr ‘s first Public Library was established, inheriting the book stock of other local libraries to its collection. Like its predecessors, the Public Library was privately organised, and financed by subscription: the Public Libraries Act had empowered local authorities to provide a free library service from public funds, provided the ratepayers voted in favour, but in Ayr no such consent was forthcoming. To keep down the subscription fees, money was raised from public lectures and in 1890, the library committee invited the Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (then residing at Cluny Castle near Kingussie) to be one of their speakers. Mr Carnegie declined due to prior commitments, but further correspondence led to an offer from him of £10,000 for a new building if the town would adopt the Public Libraries Act. Posters and handbills urging acceptance were printed, and this time a majority voted for the Act and the plans were made for a new library building.

One of the designs submitted for the new library.

One of the designs submitted for the new library.

This design was submitted by Messrs Morris and Hunter

This design was submitted by Messrs Morris and Hunter

The images above were submitted as part of a competition to design the new library, but the designs were considered too elaborate.

The winning design for Carnegie Library came from the firm of Campbell, Douglas and Morrison of Glasgow.

The winning design for Carnegie Library came from the firm of Campbell Douglas and Morrison of Glasgow.

Built in 1893, the original two-storey building fronting on to Main Street is of red sandstone in late Victorian Renaissance style. If you look closely you can see the front of the building has changed.  The left of the building was originally home to the Carnegie Librarian.  This was closed in 1925 and the exterior was brought into harmony with the rest of the building. It is now home to our computer department.

Until the 1970s' the Local and Family History Library at Carnegie was used as an Art Gallery

Until the 1970s’ the Local and Family History Library at Carnegie was used as an Art Gallery

Garden Street, before the rear library extension.

Garden Street, before the rear library extension.

The downstairs lending area was extended rearwards to Garden Street in 1932, and a further extension at the rear accommodating a spacious lecture room/reference library was designed by the distinguished Ayr firm of James Kennedy Hunter (Hunter himself had died in 1929). This was opened on 22 January 1934 by Flight Lieutenant David McIntyre, who spoke about his pioneer flight over Everest the previous year. (McIntyre would later take a leading role in establishing Prestwick Airport.)

The Librarian and staff of the Carnegie Library in July 1904. Left to right: Miss Gordon; Miss McIIwraith (Senior Assistant); David Duff; Miss Morton and Miss Briggs

The Librarian and staff of the Carnegie Library in July 1904. Left to right: Miss Gordon; Miss McIIwraith (Senior Assistant); David Duff; Miss Morton and Miss Briggs

Mr James Nicol Walker, was well know in Ayr as a photographer. He was frequently seen in the Carnegie Library browsing through a book or scanning newspapers or periodicals.

Mr James Nicol Walker, was well know in Ayr as a photographer. He was frequently seen in the Carnegie Library browsing through a book or scanning newspapers or periodicals.

Do you have any memories about visiting the Carnegie Library in Ayr? If you do we would love to hear from you. Just send us an email: localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk

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Carnegie Library Local History department having a good clean

The staff from the Carnegie Library’s Local History Department have been very busy cleaning and preserving the newspaper archive which is extensive to say the least. This is an ongoing project which will take quite a few months if not well into next year to complete. The papers have to be cleaned and then boxed up and labelled in order to better preserve the original copies. Protective clothing and masks have been worn when dealing with the older bound volumes which have mould and dust on the bindings. The basement area below the Non-Fiction lending department is also being cleaned and shelving rearranged to accommodate the newspapers once they have been boxed.

The local newspapers are available to view on microfilm/fiche in the Local History Library with the earliest paper dating back to 1803.

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