Some time ago, NRS appealed to the public to help us identify the contents of a photograph album dating from the 1920s. We’re still on the trail of the people in the album, which was found in an Edinburgh hotel and was eventually handed in to the National Register of Archives for Scotland, but we now know where they were taken…

mystery wedding photograph handed in to National Records of Scotland
A wedding party. National Records of Scotland, GD1/1497

Without knowing who the people in the photos were or where they lived, it was difficult to find a good home for these photographs. It was by no means clear that they were even Scottish! The family were clearly well to-do, as the snaps recorded trips to the south of France and holidays in Scotland and the Lake District.

The particular images which stumped me were of schoolgirls standing on the lawn of a school which, with its baronial towers, should be in Scotland – but where? The power of Google images is great but I couldn’t come up with a match for the building.

Picture of schoolgirls from mystery 1920s photo album handed in to National Records of Scotland
Schoolgirls in the 1920s. National Records of Scotland, GD1/1497

However, a sharp-eyed browser from Canada got in touch, having spotted the images on our Twitter account.

She recognised the school as the one her mother had attended as a young girl and was not in the Scottish countryside as I had thought, but actually right here in Edinburgh: The Ministers’ Daughters’ College in Kilgraston Road in the Grange. Other ‘old girls’ came forward to offer their assistance.

The school was founded in the 1860s by Rev David Esdaile of Roscobie parish, with his brother James, to educate the daughters of ministers of the Church of Scotland as well as daughters of professors in the Scottish universities.

The school was later commonly known as Esdaile, after its original founders. David Esdaile recognised that ‘a large proportion of ministers’ daughters must depend upon their own exertions in teaching or some other mode of employment’.

The school taught a range of academic subjects including history, geography, English grammar, French and German, but also essential feminine accomplishments such as dressmaking, music, drawing and elocution.

We were now able to discover further information about the school from documents among the Church of Scotland records held by the National Records of Scotland (ref: CH2/1437).

This helped us to identify that three of the photographs in the album show the 10th Earl of Elgin and his wife at the door of the school and in their car. Elgin was Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland and his visit to the school on 22 May 1925 is described in the School’s ‘College Chronicle’ of that year.

mystery album - car trip
Unidentified couple with car, 1920s. National Records of Scotland, GD1/1497

The school’s annual ‘State of Affairs’ provides a list of pupils together with their father’s names and designations including the parish of which they were minister. The identities of the girls in the photographs, however, remain a mystery – if you recognise them, please do get in touch 

The NRAS is always looking to find appropriate homes for records brought to its attention and because of its connection to records held in the NRS the album has now found a home there.

You can also contact the National Register of Archives for Scotland if you’d like advice on caring for any records you may have at home, and you can find tips on caring for family and other records here on Open Book.

Alison Rosie


National Records of Scotland

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