leighton library

Leighton Library, founded 1688

Membership not required, but donations are welcome


The Leighton Library in Dunblane is founded on the personal library of Archbishop Robert Leighton (1611-1684). Robert Leighton lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Scottish history. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, yet took up the office of Bishop of Dunblane in the restored Episcopal Church, in an attempt to reconcile Presbyterians and Episcopalians in a united Church of Scotland. Aware that he might be accused of seeking self-aggrandisement, he accepted a post in Dunblane, the smallest and poorest see in the country. He was later installed as Archbishop of Glasgow, though he failed to bring about the reconciliation in church affairs which he so desired.

Leighton was a learned scholar, with wide ranging interests. He bequeathed some 1500 books and pamphlets to the Cathedral of Dunblane. A library building was erected between 1684 and 1688 in order to house the books for the use of the local clergy. From 1734 the library became one of the first subscription libraries in Scotland and thrived until around 1870. Leighton’s collection of books was supplemented by 18th and 19th century additions.


The collection of around 4000 volumes and 78 manuscripts dates from the 16th century to the 19th century and covers a variety of subject areas, including history and politics (particularly 17th century), theology, medicine, travel, language and the occult. There is also much to interest the book historian.



Thought to be the oldest extant purpose-built library in Scotland, the Leighton Library is a well-preserved late 17th century building. It consists of a single storey and a vaulted basement, with access to the library via an outdoor staircase. It incorporates crowstepped gables, round arched windows and an interesting vesica-shaped plaque with a sophisticated marble Baroque inset on the eastern elevation. 

James Robinson, Chamberlain to Lord Strathallan, was responsible for the overall design of the building. The marble tablet (originally inscribed 'Bibliotheca Leightoniana') appears to have been Lord Strathallan's idea. The final cost of the building was just over £162. The vaulted basement was to be the librarian's house. 

It is unusual that many of its library furnishings have been preserved. 'Twelve chairs of turkie red lether' bought in 1688 are still in situ; also an early table with drawers.

Contact information

Ms Helen Beardsley, Honorary Librarian
Michael Osborne, Honorary Custodian
The Cross, Dunblane, Perthshire, FK15 0AQ
tel: 01786 467236 (Honorary Librarian)/ email: archives@stir.ac.uk
tel: 01786 822034 (Honorary Custodian)

Open May – September, Mon. – Sat., 11am – 1pm. Books may also be consulted by appointment at other times at Stirling University Library.

Contact Stirling University Library to arrange study access to books (archives@stir.ac.uk)

Tours by appointment; occasional lectures.