westerkirk parish library
"We, the miners in this place, finding the Books sent us by the Company and others will tend greatly to our Improvement, have thought proper to Advance Five Shillings each man for purchasing more Books."
The library was established in January 1793 when the 'Louisa' antimony mine owners, the Westerhall Mining Company, and several individuals presented a collection of 23 books to the miners. In August of the same year the decision quoted above was minuted and shows the miners' appreciation of the value of books and their determination to acquire more through their own efforts. The 'Five Shillings each man' should be considered in the context of an average weekly wage at that time of less than ten shillings.
The library was later to receive a bequest from Thomas Telford, who was born at Glendinning and educated in Westerkirk. Telford was the greatest civil engineer of his day, responsible for a long list of building projects including roads, bridges, canals, aqueducts, harbours, fenland drainage, public buildings and churches. He never married, and in his will made bequests to a list of individuals, most of whom he had met and worked with during his career. To Westerkirk Library he left £1000, the capital to be invested and the interest used for buying books. In 1851, from the residue of the estate, a further sum of £1700 was added, the interest on this also to be used for buying books.
The books were half bound in leather and carried the words 'Westerkirk Library' and 'Telford Legacy' in gold on the spine. By the 1920s the number of books had risen to around 8,000 and now included more novels of a lighter type.
Westerkirk Parish Library is the oldest library in Scotland from which books are still loaned out to the general public and into which new books are placed each year. Its records, which go back to the very first set of minutes, provide an insight into the reading habits of this part of rural Scotland over a period of 200 years.
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