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The Lossiemouth Library Story

Category: #Carnegie100, Blog

This blog post is part of our #Carnegie100 series, marking the 100th anniversary of Andrew Carnegie’s death and celebrating his libraries legacy.

A Millionaire, a Princess and a man who would be Prime Minister – The Lossiemouth Library story.

by Stephen Leitch, former Community Librarian at Lossiemouth Library, current School Librarian at Buckie High School and Keith Grammar School

To mark the 100th anniversary of the passing of Andrew Carnegie I wanted to share the story of Lossiemouth Library, the oldest library building in Moray still being used for its original purpose.  It is to Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Fund which we have to thank for Lossiemouth Library, which opened on the 5th January 1904.  

In my previous post of Community Librarian at Lossiemouth Library I set out to research history of the library in time for its centenary in 2004, not realising the fascinating details that awaited me in the local heritage archives telling the story of Lossiemouth Library! 

Old newspapers and Lossiemouth Town Council Minutes books revealed the work which went into the library project, and the community of people involved in making the library happen, from the initial communications with the Carnegie Fund by Mr Hay, Banker, and Mr Glennie, Solicitor in 1901, accepting the £1500 funding and adopting the Free Libraries Act, to the contractors for the buildings works to details of a fundraising bazaar which took place in 1903. This was officially opened by the princess in our story the Princess Dolgorouki.  The Princess, born Frances Fleetwood Wilson in 1850 to Portsoy man Fleetwood Wilson, lived in London with her husband Prince Alexis Dolgorouki, later moving to the Pyrenees. She was a socialite of her age and made entertaining her speciality, even having a house built to accommodate this. She supported various events in Moray and Lossiemouth, as well as renting Braemar Castle and had family connections in Lossiemouth. The money raised (£1170) was invested to provide a yearly income for the library.

For the official opening of the library in January 1904, Ramsay MacDonald was invited to speak. Ramsay was a native of Lossiemouth and was also part of the then growing Labour Party. Within 20 years of opening the library he was Prime Minister.  In his speech, Mr MacDonald referred to the importance that the libraries had in people’s lives, and in reference to the headmaster of Drainie School, Mr Fleming, he said that he was ‘under the delusion that he educated them but he only prepared them to educate themselves. This they were all doing by means of their libraries.’ Mr MacDonald also observed that they had plenty of good novels and he defended novel reading: ‘There was more true reading in historical novels than in all their history books.’

While there are no photos of what the library looked like when it opened, plans of the library exist and in July 1902 a description of the planned library appeared in the Banffshire Advertiser: 

“The accommodation consists of a library committee room with the front in the ground floor, the lending department in the centre, a large reading and recreation room behind. The lending department and reading room will have an open timber roof with ornamental main rafters, the division between these rooms being only eight feet high with glass panels for supervision by the attendant at the counter. Under the reading room at the east end a lavatory and coal place have been provided, and over the committee room in the front of the building there is the care taker’s house with separate entrance.”

The dividing panels may have gone and the committee room is now a learning centre and office, yet the beauty of its design can still be appreciated – why not go and visit Lossiemouth Library.  While you are there, have a think about the services that are available to the community, the range of books and resources, PCs, the supportive staff, the events that are organised, job club, story times and Book Bug sessions that remain free and open to everyone and are accessed readily by the community in Lossiemouth as the library has been for over 115 years.

Perhaps the best way we can honour the legacy of Andrew Carnegie is to go and visit, support and use our local libraries and keep them at the heart of our communities. 

You can view the original centenary booklet here.

Image of Princess Dolgorouki sourced from: The Aberdeen Journal (Newspaper), 8th October 1898

Plans of Lossiemouth Library from 1902 provided by The Moray Council Local Heritage Service,  Elgin Library. 

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