From Glasgow to Edinburgh re Dundee: the Wighton Collection [My talk, Part 1]

Yesterday (11 June 2022), I travelled through to Edinburgh to a conference at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The topic was, ‘Towards a Scottish Traditional Music Archive’. I was there in my capacity as Honorary Librarian of the Friends of Wighton. Professionally, I combine two roles as a Performing Arts Librarian and as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  It was unusual for me to be speaking at a conference with neither my Conservatoire librarian nor musicologist hat on.

Much of the discussion was about sound archives and digital preservation, but I was there to talk about the Wighton Collection, which is firmly rooted in physical materials, even if there are also microfilm copies and an online website. If even one person there confessed that they had ‘never heard of the Wighton Collection before’, then it made me wonder how many other people have similarly not heard of it. So, I thought I’d share my talk here on my blog, too. The talk essentially fell into two halves – the background, and some comments about finding aids in general for this kind of repertoire. Here goes for the first half!

PowerPoint title screen: The Wighton Collection, Dundee

I began by explaining that I’ve worked in libraries for nearly four decades, and I’m a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – so I have a strong librarianship background, as distinct from that of an archivist. 

The Wighton Collection lives under the care of the Local History Library in Dundee’s Wellgate library.  This is a public library on the top floor of the Wellgate shopping centre, and it’s the Central Library for the city of Dundee.  Although I have an honorary role, I don’t have any paid connection with the city of Dundee.  My honorary role is to take a professional interest in the Wighton Collection and its curation, and to help answer queries needing specialist input.  In this respect, my doctoral and postdoctoral work on historical Scottish music certainly come in useful.

The Wighton Collection consists of about 700 music publications – some are bound together, so there aren’t as many as 700 bound volumes.  They were left to the city by Andrew Wighton, a merchant, violin-restorer and music collector who died in 1866.  Wighton had initially considered gifting his collection to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, but negotiations broke down concerning some of his preconditions.

Dundee adopted the Free Public Libraries Act shortly before Wighton died, and the council accepted Wighton’s bequest with a view to it forming one of the cornerstones of their new public library. I might add that there was some grumbling amongst the councillors as to whether it had been wise to accept so many music books before they even had anywhere to house it properly.  The insistence in Wighton’s bequest that it should be stored in a fire-proof room must have been an extra burden. 

However, one Dundee councillor made an observation which now seems laughable with hindsight, when he said it would cost three times as much to compile a catalogue as the volumes were actually worth.

Wighton’s collection has proven to be a jewel in the crown as far as the city library service is concerned – the books are almost beyond value, and certainly beyond the cost of cataloguing them.  Wighton’s avowed aim was to collect a copy of every Scottish music publication that existed.  In correspondence, one of his friends commented that he must have pretty much succeeded, and they were only half-joking.  Wighton was an assiduous, and knowledgeable collector, visiting Edinburgh, London and even travelling abroad in pursuit of his hobby.  I read in an 1894 newspaper article that, having no descendants to leave his money to, he was able to indulge his book-collecting passion all the more, though I hasten to add that Mrs Wighton was also left comfortably off!

The Wighton collection itself is a finite collection – self-contained in being the collection that he himself amassed.  I won’t attempt to highlight particular volumes – suffice to say that about half of the collection consists of very rare eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish music, but the remainder is equally rare English, Irish and Welsh material along with some ballad operas.  As published material, the library is a natural home for it, but there are a few unique items that would be described as more archival – specifically, a few manuscripts that Wighton himself copied – such as his copy of the Blaikie viola da gamba manuscript, which itself is now lost – and a copy of Alexander Stuart’s 1726 publication, Musick for the Scots Songs in Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany.  Other unique handwritten materials are textual rather than musical, and include his own annotated copy of Laing’s additional Illustrations of the Lyric Poetry and Music of Scotland (that’s the additional notes Laing contributed to William Stenhouse’s original Illustrations, the companion volume to Johnson’s earlier Scots Musical Museum.)  There is also correspondence (mostly incoming, obviously) between Wighton, his fellow book-collecting enthusiasts and specialists (David Laing, William Chappell, and Aberdonian music publisher James Davie), and some letters concerning Dundee municipal matters, in his capacity as a town councillor.  This would definitely count as archival material, were it not for the fact that the Wighton material must perforce be kept together – and it has added value as an entire collection.

MILLAR’S ARTICLE, 1894

The Wighton Collection has always been known about by musicologists and scholars of traditional music. Very early on, the books were expertly bound, and have always been kept as a closed access collection, to be used within the library under supervision.  As far back as January 1894, the Dundee Evening Telegraph reproduced a lengthy article by the City Librarian, Alexander Hastie Millar, FSA Scot (who lived from 1847-1927), which had originally been published in the Scottish Musical Monthly, highlighting the significance of the collection and its availability for visitors to study.

WILLSHER’S ARTICLE, 1948

1948 saw another profile-raising article by Dundee librarian Harry M. Willsher,  ‘The Wighton Collection of National Music’, in the Review of the Activities of the Dundee Public Libraries, ii/July (1948), 12–13.  And of course, the collection is mentioned in Oxford Music Online – the former, Grove Dictionary of Music.

More recently, we have seen the development of the Wighton Heritage Centre, along with other initiatives that have enhanced the usefulness and appeal to today’s musicians and scholars, and it’s to these that I turn now.

WIGHTON HERITAGE CENTRE, 2003

The Heritage Centre was master-minded by librarian David Kett.  Filling in a space between the Local History Library and another part of the main library, it was opened in November 2003.  It’s a beautiful space beside the Local History Library, designed for small, intimate performances such as the Cappuccino Concerts on Saturday mornings, mid-week lunchtime concerts, adult music classes and study purposes.  Events have also been arranged to showcase particular volumes in the collection. 

FRIENDS OF WIGHTON 

All these activities are supported and promoted by the Friends of Wighton.  In pride of place, of course, are the locked bookcases containing the treasured Wighton Collection.  Whilst the volumes can be examined by bona fide scholars by arrangement with the Local History Library, the books were microfilmed in their entirety some years ago, to lessen the wear-and-tear on the original volumes.

SALLY GARDEN

To make the largest possible impact at the time of opening, a three-year residency – Historical Musician in Residence – was created from September 2003.  This residency was held by Dr Sally Garden.  Her remit was to oversee a programme of performances and events; to bring together amateurs and professionals; to research the collection; and to raise its profile as an educational resource and opportunity.

The contents of every volume were also indexed around this time – every song, every dance tune – and saved as a massive Excel spreadsheet which was then interrogated via the Library website as the Wighton Database.  It’s a vastly useful resource, and one for which I have had many opportunities to be grateful.

However, at some stage, the local authority stopped hosting the database.  Undeterred, a search facility was devised by a committee member of the Friends of Wighton, so that the spreadsheet could still be explored. 

This was subsequently – in 2018 – superseded by links to four lists:- the complete, 451 page catalogue; the list of imprints (a list by publisher); a title index, and a short-title list.  The information is still there, albeit not searchable in quite the same way as the original facility had intended.  The links are all accessible via the Friends of Wighton website.  A link from the local authority library website leads to the Friends’ page, so if you know where to look, the material is still very much accessible:-

LINKS TO LIBRARY AND TO FRIENDS OF WIGHTON SITE

Wighton Complete Catalogue (451 pages)
Wighton list of Imprints (135 pages)
Wighton Title Index (109 pages)
Wighton Short Title List (108 pages)

FURTHER DONATIONS

In recent years, the Wighton Collection has been augmented by a few donations, the most significant of which are the Jimmy Shand Collection, and a handsome donation of scores by Stuart Eydmann.  Lottery fund money enabled the Friends to buy at auction, a collection of historical scores that had belonged to the late Jimmy Shand.  These have been professionally restored and re-bound by a conservation expert, and they’ve also been digitised and uploaded to IMSLP, with links from the Friends’ website and indices to the contents.  A few years later, Jimmy Shand junior gave some further scores to the Friends, which I assume the auctioneers had considered of less value.  In one sense, they would have observed that only a few of these were of any great age, but at the same time, this secondary collection represents the working collection of a famous musician with local connections, and they are also of an era which has too often been overlooked as neither “ancient” nor “modern”.  Without them, a chunk of popular Scottish music history would be missing.  In just a few decades, even the music published between 1900 and 1960 will be more than a hundred years old, and of potential interest in ways we can only imagine now.*  I’ve made a listing of all the volumes, and some have been bound – it will not be financially feasible for every item to be bound. The pandemic has meant I haven’t yet discussed with the Friends how best to handle the unbound material, or arranged for the listing to be uploaded to the Friends’ website.  Similarly, Stuart Eydmann’s donation has been listed, but not uploaded.  As life returns to the ‘new normal’, these tasks once again become a priority.

Read the second part of my talk here. It’s about lots of other collections of historical Scottish music publications and how to find them.

  • The talk was all about Wighton, not all about me, so I didn’t mention the fact that I’ve just signed a contract to write a book about Scottish music publishing between 1880 and 1950 – but it does mean that I can certainly see the historical value of the secondary Shand collection!

2 thoughts on “From Glasgow to Edinburgh re Dundee: the Wighton Collection [My talk, Part 1]

  1. Pingback: Friends of Wighton

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