The Gladstone Memorial Library
Step off the bustling, cacophonous Princess Street in Edinburgh into a department store, what do you expect to see? Clothing yes, cheap boxed watches yes, magpie jewellery yes, the ritualistic dodging of the perfume assassins yes, but culture, a little part of history?
Debenhams has a little hidden jewel.
Weave towards the impressive staircase with its stained glass window dedicated to Disraeli, pausing to rub the nose of a well polished brass lion-monster then continue up the stairs towards the South East corner of the store. Here you will find the wood-clad gem that is the Gladstone Memorial Library, complete with books, floor plans of the former Scottish Liberal Club and a bust of the man himself.
I fear there are fewer books now than on my first visit many years ago and the overspill of sales rails can impinge on the full experience but it’s always well worth a little trip each year.
In this setting Gladstone and Disraeli are separated, not by politics or the love of a Queen but by the rather more prosaic Blue Cross Sale signs flagged across the floor.
I’ll leave you to explore the history of the library and club, examine the architects plans and read what little information there is accompanying the faded framed images.
Let us hope that the Debenhams archivist, (there must be one ?) cherishes this important piece of history as much as the House of Fraser stores embraces their own and others 19th Century heritage.
Some interesting online links:
A brief history of the Scottish Liberal Club can be found here:
http://www.scottishliberalclub.org.uk/history.htm with a dissertation by Noah Torn available to download as a PDF.
A brief history of Debenhams
House of Fraser archives, held at Glasgow University Archive Service
Jenners architecture http://www.edinburgharchitecture.co.uk/jenners-edinburgh
©Heather Tweed 2015