Enchanted in Edinburgh: Day 6 - Escape to Dundee!


Today, I rose at 6.30am to take a relatively early train to Dundee, to visit the Wighton Collection of National Music. This is the finest collection of Scottish printed music (over 620 volumes), the vast majority of which was collected by the 19th century Dundee-based merchant, Andrew Wighton. A lifelong and dedicated antiquarian, he was exceptionally knowledgeable about Scottish music, and was able to curate his own collection, providing annotations to many of the volumes which have been invaluable to today's researchers. The volumes itself are displayed in beautiful cabinets in a purpose-built space, which is often used for concerts (which we often gave in the past, pre pandemic!). To find out more about this amazing collection, do visit the website of the Friends of Wighton, and, if you live in Dundee or nearby, keep an eye on their Facebook page for news of concerts and workshops, either online, or, soon, in person once again.

The collection is housed within the Dundee Central Library, which itself is contained in the very top of the Wellgate shopping centre, or rather, can be accessed from within it. This I have always done in the past. However, because of Covid restrictions, it turned out that one could only exit into the shopping centre, not enter from it. A notice declared that I had to enter via Victoria Road, which is all very well for the local, but I didn't know where Victoria Road was. I attempted to navigate there on foot using Google maps, but found myself on a major road, the wrong side of a metal fence. I threw my bags onto to the grass and louped over the fence, with, I hope, an air of nonchalance that suggested this had been my intention all along. I turned a corner, and lo and behold, there was the Victoria Road entrance. Quite a relief, as I didn't fancying louping back over the fence.

At last, I arrived in the Local History room, where researchers can consult items from the Wighton Collection. I had 6 hours there (my longest research day so far) in two slots (3 hours in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, with a civilised break for lunch - something that other libraries and archives haven't quite achieved yet). After sanitising my hands and finding that the compulsory blue medical-grade gloves work surprisingly well on smart phones, I set to work on the large number of volumes which I had ordered ahead. Today, I wasn't expecting to find anything new; instead, I was consulting some volumes to compare editions of works with which I was already familiar (the Wighton Collection has several unique first editions of works by both James Oswald and Robert Bremner). In the case of Bremner, the difference between first and second editions is important: the first version of his most successful works tended to be published in Edinburgh, before he left for London in 1762, but the second, London print often features small but interesting differences, which can point to changes in musical or editorial intention over time. Title pages of piece of eighteenth-century printed music can contain so much information: in fact, sometimes they're almost more valuable than the content itself. Apart from the title, the instrumentation, the composer, printer, publisher (not always the same), sometimes engraver or dedicatee, the title page will usually contain advertisements for other publications which can help you to date the one you're looking at (as the date is rarely given). I absolutely love this; it's like detective work, because you can only establish the bigger picture gradually through a detailed knowledge of other publications with known dates, and newspapers advertisements. I have big spreadsheets which help me to map this, and it's incredibly thrilling when I am able to date a publication more accurately than the British Library or Grove. 

Something rather calming about working the Local History room, is that every 15 minutes the incredible clock outside (see picture above) chimes, a gentle tinkle to remind you that time is passing. This was useful, as it did take me quite a long time to photograph some of the longer publications I had to look at today. Towards lunchtime, I realised that a few of the volumes I had ordered weren't there, and the exceptionally helpful library officer had a look for me. It turned out that the catalogue, though impressively compiled and very detailed, simply didn't have volume numbers for several of the works I had requested, and so we had to hunt for them on the shelves! This was great fun, and I was successful in finding the missing books, which were then updated on the main computerised catalogue, so that they can be found more easily in the future. Very satisfying! I ended the day with more than 700 photographs to sort... at least I'll have something to occupy me on the train to London on Wednesday.

It was such a luxury to have a lunch break today, but particularly lovely to share it with Sheena Wellington, one of Scotland's most loved traditional singers. You may remember her singing "A Man's a Man for A' That" at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, but she been performing for over 40 years, and still much in demand today. I was incredibly privileged to hear her give an informal Zoom concert earlier this year; one of my musical highlights of 2021. Until recently, Sheena was Honorary Library of the Wighton Collection, and she still organises the Friends of Wighton's concerts. We both really hope that my ensemble will be able to travel to Scotland next year, and perform in Dundee as part of a larger Scottish tour - fingers crossed! 

I'm now on the train back to Edinburgh, and as I write, it is a sunny evening as I trundle across the Forth Bridge. In the other direction this morning, the fog was so thick that I could see absolutely nothing of the sea; now sunrays bounce off the windows of the many boats in the Firth of Forth. I'm thinking of dinner. Sweet potatoes with melted goats cheese and salad. I have a lot of work to finish tonight, but tatties (of whatever kind) of course come first.

Cheerio the nou,