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A TV series which I’ve enjoyed in recent years is Paul Murton’s Grand Tours of Scotland using an old 19th century guidebook as his guide. I bought a copy of the same guidebook, Black’s Picturesque Guide to Scotland, in my case the 1892 edition, and have been enjoying reading it. It has useful descriptions – often illustrated – of the main tourist destinations, as well as information on lesser-known attractions.

Edinburgh pages in 1892 guidebook

Although it’s hardly the main focus of the book I particularly like the series of advertisements at the back, many from Scotland, but some from other parts of the UK and Ireland too. These include adverts from hotels touting for guests. The one that really made me grin was the thought of buses transporting people from the railway station at Melrose to the George & Abbotsford Hotel. It’s only about 2 minutes walk round the corner! But I guess if you were a high-falutin guest you would not want to walk and get your shoes and clothes – especially skirts for ladies – dirty or wet.

Hotel advertisements from 1892 book

I used travel guides and similar books quite a bit during my year working as a Research Assistant looking at towns in Angus in the late 18th and early 19th century. Such books were a very useful insight into how the different towns were perceived by outsiders at this time. In a similar way I used travel guides in my postgraduate Masters degree in Cultural and Urban History, using them for an essay looking at urbanisation in the Borders, and specifically whether individual places were regarded at the time as towns (with all the appropriate trappings and facilities) or were the lesser-regarded villages.

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I’ve just been revisiting references I found to the start of street lighting in 18th century Dundee. Street lighting spread throughout Britain from the 18th century onwards, with larger towns and cities tending to acquire it sooner. In Dundee street lighting started in the winter of 1752, and the lights were powered initially by whale oil. References to the street lighting can be traced in the records of the town council treasurer. Here for example is the account from 1766-1767:

Lamps
By Cash paid for a Tun of oyle drawing off bought at the Whale Fishing Warehouse – 6 6
By do paid the men bring down the Lamps & cariing them up to the Town house – 2 –
By do paid the Three Lamp lighters for the Season 4 10 –
By do paid James Syme for a Tun of oyle 23 3 –
By do paid for Tow for Cleaning the Lamps the Season – 10 –
By do paid John Thomson for his accot of mending & Cotton wick 3 10 –
By do paid for Casks to draw off the oyle in – 15 –
======
32 16 6

Street lighting was one of a number of improvements that started in 18th century Britain, and can be used, along with other things such as paving and changes to street layout, as well as increased provision of cultural facilities such as theatres and assembly rooms, as a measure of how much a specific town had improved living conditions for its inhabitants. In England much research and useful writing on town improvement in this period, the so-called urban renaissance, has been carried out by Peter Borsay. In Scotland less has been done, especially below city level, although the pilot study into Angus burghs that I worked on for Dr Bob Harris was followed more recently by a larger study looking at small towns in this period through Scotland. This has led to a number of academic journal papers sharing the results, and may lead to a book in future too.

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