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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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:-


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


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!

Returning momentarily to Alexander Campbell

You’ll remember that last year, I gave some talks about Scottish song-collector Alexander Campbell and his tour round the Hebrides in 1815.

James D Hobson has just posted a great blogpost, A Guide to the Georgian Coaching Inn. Read about the kind of experience Alexander Campbell may have had, on the occasions he travelled by coach or stayed at an inn! (I’ve added this link to my own earlier blogpost so readers will have another chance of finding it, too.) Congrats, James – it’s a wonderful read.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

So they say! Very well, but there’s no denying tartan was often used as a cover for books of Scottish songs, Scottish poems, stuff by Robert Burns, stuff by Walter Scott (there was a firm specialising in miniatures, like this picture of Scott’s The Lady in the Lake ballad, no music here) …

Teaching About Musical Paratext

A few years ago, I published an article in a librarianship journal, about librarians teaching, and the question of teaching music students about paratext in early national song collections.

Let me state here and now, my approach to article titles has changed, and I would never again try to be ‘clever’ or controversial in this regard.  A perfectly acceptable article was made to look flippant, or even worse, by my woeful enjoyment of puns and double-entendres.

Nonetheless, because I’d like to share the article, I’ll endure the embarrassment of sharing the title with you.  This is a pre-publication version, which I’ll also upload to our institutional repository in the near future:-

‘Sexy’ bibliography (and revealing paratext)

bluebells-1429817_960_720Engaging with students in teaching bibliographic citation, and demonstrating the significance of paratext in historical national song collections.

General information


Niel and Nathaniel Gow’s Controlling Influence? | Bass Culture in Scottish musical traditions

Paratext jacket
Paratext jacket – harps and flowers

In connection with my continuing interest in paratextual matter in national song and dance music, I’m sharing some postings I wrote whilst I was a postdoctoral researcher on the Bass Culture project. (See for the web outcomes of that project).

Shared link no.2:-

Italian Style | Bass Culture in Scottish musical traditions

Paratext jacket
Paratext jacket – harps and flowers

In connection with my continuing interest in paratextual matter in national song and dance music, I’m sharing some postings I wrote whilst I was a postdoctoral researcher on the Bass Culture project. (See for the web outcomes of that project).

Shared link no.1:-

Networking with Other Networks: Romantic National Song

I’ve mentioned before that I am a member of the Romantic National Song network, spearheaded by scholars at the University of Glasgow. There’s a lot of new content on the website today, so I’m happy to share some links which you might enjoy.

The new content website includes the concert video, programme and gallery and two new blog posts reflecting on the concert.

Please do share with interested colleagues. If you use social media, please share or tag @UoG_RNSN!

Networking With Other Networks: Romantic National Song Network (Scotland)

Flower tile cream turquoiseAs I’ve mentioned recently, this is another network with which I’ve been involved.  Last week, the new website of the Romantic National Song Network was launched – and yesterday, my contributed guest blogpost about a Scottish song – Afton Water – went live. It draws heavily on my doctoral research into Scottish song-collecting, but I like to think that my present interest in the wider context (collecting, publishing, curating) has also influenced my approach.  I was certainly very glad of the National Library of Scotland’s Digital Gallery, which I can’t praise enough!

So here’s my blogpost:-

Romantic National Song Network – Scotland

My own personal thanks to Special Collections and Archives at James B. Duke Library, Furman University (Greenville, SC), for supplying one of the images used in my guest blogpost.

Networking with other Networks: Romantic National Song Network website


Simultaneously with instigating the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall research network, I’ve also been involved with another network based at the University of Glasgow – the Romantic National Song Network.  The website has literally just gone live, and I’m delighted to share the announcement, sent to me by Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, Research Assistant to RNSN.  Do visit the website and take a look – you’ll find some fascinating stories!

Homepage of the Romantic National Song Network:

As Brianna says,

“I  am pleased to announce that our website is now live and we have some fantastic content available.  Can I draw your attention to Kirsteen’s blog post which tells the story so far:

Also – A wonderful blog by Isabel Corfe who was invited to attend the British Library meeting in June:

And the first of our song stories; True Courage by Charles Dibdin created by our very own Oskar Cox Jensen:

As we approach the concert which will be taking place at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on Monday 18th March at 6pm we will be releasing regular content, so please do share across your colleagues.

We also have a brand new Twitter page @UoG_RNSN so if you are a Twitter user, please do follow, share and retweet!”

BRK, Research Assistant, Romantic National Song Network

Caught Up With Mr Greenhill At Last!

St Pauls Silhouette

It’s about a year since I visited Lambeth Palace and the British Library, making a minor detour via St Paul’s and Stationers’ Hall (virtually in the shadow of St Paul’s) on the off-chance of making an impromptu visit to the Hall. I wasn’t surprised to be disappointed on that occasion; I hadn’t expected to have time to drop by, which is why I hadn’t made an appointment.

Today, I had booked an appointment in advance, and had the pleasure of poring over one of Mr Greenhill’s registers – I’d chosen the one that began at the end of June 1817, and I just had time to look at the records for one year. For all the complaints about Mr Greenhill and his inefficiency or inability to collect all the legal deposit copies for the receiving libraries, I now have one thoroughly good thing to say about him: his handwriting is beautifully legible! Everything nicely spaced out, not sprawling or squidged into the end of a line or bottom of a page. Indeed, there were some days when he must have done little else than sit or stand and carefully inscribe book details into his ledgers – there were so many detailed entries, even two hundred years ago!

If you’ve used Kassler’s index of Stationers’ Hall music, you’ll know that the last few years are less detailed, because they came from a different source – William Hawes’ abbreviated copy from the registers for 1811-1818. This is why I wanted to see a register from this era, because I guessed there would be more to see. There was!

I was also curious to know how long it might take to transcribe the music entries from 1819-1836. I didn’t try timing myself, though, because I got interested in other aspects of the registration process. It’s lucky I had taken my own copy of Kassler with me – the pages for late June 1817-1818 are now carefully annotated in pencil, and I have work to do when I get back to Glasgow. I’ve had an idea! More of this very soon. I might have found the data-slice that the network has been looking for – it fits in rather nicely with some other threads I’ve been pursuing.

This afternoon, I also paid a visit to my opposite number in the British Library to mull over possible future directions for the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall research network. Whilst “Big Data” is appealing, there are also other ideas worth considering – which might indeed help acquire the big data that we need. We’ll see!

Tomorrow, I’m spending the day at the EFDSS (English Folk Dance and Song Society) conference, and giving a paper about national airs in Georgian British Libraries. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to have the opportunity to combine my doctoral interests in national song collecting, with my postdoctoral interest in repertoires and library collections on a national scale. Here’s my Powerpoint: National Airs in Georgian British Libraries(You’ll also find it listed on the Calendar page of this website.)

No archival pictures today, I’m afraid. I was far too busy annotating my copy of Kassler’s Hawes appendix! But, since a posting is dull without a picture, I’ve shared a familiar outline – and the image from the conference website – with you …. !