Enchanted in Edinburgh: Day 3 - What's in a Name?


Well, it's getting on for 10pm here, and I have only just started today's entry. That's because I have spent the last five hours labelling all the photographs of the items I have consulted so far at the National Records. As I was whipping through them at a rate of knots, my notes are very brief, and I knew I had to do it now or risk forgetting the details completely, rendering the entire visit useless! My goodness, it was boring. I tried to liven it up a bit with regular snacks (strawberries, mint tea, a gluten-free brownie, etc), but this didn't really work. I also got through two whole episodes of the "Guilty Feminist" podcast and called my husband, but the mind-numbing slowness of the task almost defeated me. It's funny, I used to love filing (either "real" or computer-based); it used to soothe me, putting everything in order. Now it just gets in the way of more interesting things, like writing or reading or eating. Still, it's done now, and each photo has a description, and is contained in a folder whose name bears the reference number of the relevant bundle. If I ever need to consult an item again, or need to publish a photograph in the thesis, I won't have to panic quite as much as I otherwise might.
The actual research today threw up some absolutely fascinating stuff, but because I was photographing it at such speed, I was barely able to register it, let alone analyse it! That will have to be the task of the next couple of weeks. I was dealing with accounts and receipts again, this time belonging to the Edinburgh Musical Society between the 1740s and 1770s. This was great fun, and a really interesting way of experiencing the day-to-day expenses of a flourishing eighteenth-century musical society. Each bundle contains receipts detailing the salaries of the singers and instrumentalists (the society consisted of both professional and amateur musicians), music purchased, and other "incidentals" - expenses for the upkeep of the concert venue (first St Mary's Chapel, then later St Cecilia's Hall), for example, for ticket printing, the copying of parts, the transport of music or instruments. Lighting in particular was a great expense, and wax candles were frequently bought to enable both the audience and the musicians to see - something that wouldn't occur to us as being a problem these days. Again, hard work on the part of a huge number of people was necessary to keep the society going, down to the cleaners of the hall and the servants who carried instruments and music for each concert. To find out more about the Edinburgh Musical Society, do tune in to the next episode of "Pitch Point" (which has just been postponed for reasons outside my control to next Friday).

Although it was tempting to learn more about the minutiae of eighteenth-century concert management, I sadly didn't have time. That will have to be a paper for another day, another life! In order to finish on time, I needed to check the name on each receipt or bill quickly. More than often, the name was one of the many players on the books of the society, or a tradesman, but if it was "Bremner", I was in luck. This is Robert Bremner, the music publisher whose publications and activities will form the basis for two of my final thesis chapters. As I have been working on him for several months now, I have become mildly obsessed, and have interesting day-dreams about meeting him, and conversing about his Periodical Overtures in a coffee house. I'd also rather like to meet his brother James, who emigrated to America with a significant amount of stock, and set up a music school in Philadelphia. But, in the real world, I'm interested in the music which Robert Bremner procured for the Edinburgh Musical Society for a period of over twenty years, particularly after he moved to London in the early 1760s - and how he was able to maintain a presence in Edinburgh through his business partner John Brysson. Much more about Robert Bremner later, but save to say that I can't wait to look at my photographs on my big screen at home, transcribe each one, and draw some research conclusions at last!

One of the greatest challenges with receipts and vouchers from this period is that they are generally folded in a very inconvenient manner, i.e. folded several times over in a long, thin, strip (see below). Fortunately, the vast majority of them are labelled with some vague idea of the contents, and so it's not necessary to unfold every single one. Nonetheless, when you do need to open them, they don't stay open very well, as they have been folded so many times, and so photographing them is tricky. They are usually bundled in stacks of at least 30 or 40, sometimes more, and keeping them in such a pile is a literally a balancing act. I am always paranoid that I will stack them in the wrong order, or that my pile will look messier than it appeared when I untied it. And tying it! There should be a course on how to tie bundles of small documents. How tightly? In what kind of bow? No matter how I do it, it doesn't seem to look quite as neat as it did at the beginning. I do my best and move on, but always with a slight fear that an archivist is going to emerge from the back room and censure me for inadequate treatment of the material!

In other name-related news, I have enjoyed being in Scotland this week particularly because two aspects of my name have been affirmed. First, when I went to a book-shop to pick up an order, I wasn't asked to spell "Leith". I did it anyway on autopilot, laughed, and had an awkward exchange with the sales assistant, who actually lives in Leith. It was refreshing, though, to feel for once that my surname was not a challenge for others. Even in Aberdeen, "Leith" can cause confusion ("Leaf", "Leigh", etc). Then yesterday, I came across not one, not two, but three references to a "Jannet" rather than a "Janet", and am reassured (though I did already know) that my two "ns" are not merely an invitation to mis-spelling, but are actually an expression of my Scottish heritage. That's a relief.

Cheerio the nou,