Written by Bruce Gittings FRSGS, Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information, University of Edinburgh

Few today recognise the name of Erskine Beveridge, a wealthy Dunfermline textile manufacturer who became an amateur archaeologist and geographer. The centenary of his death comes on 10th August, but it has been 11 years since the former Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland exhibited Beveridge’s photographs, which they had found 50 years previously in an abandoned mill building in his home town.

This remarkable collection of 750 glass plates, taken between 1880 and 1919, records the built and natural landscapes of Scotland preceding a period of rapid social and economic change. These photographs could be dismissed as a romantic view of Scotland but, as well as castles and mountains, they also capture a historical geography and social history, from domestic interiors in Fife to traditional herring boats at Anstruther and the deserted and car-free streets of Edinburgh, which are strangely reminiscent of the COVID crisis. His photographic collection extends to Belgium, Canada and the USA.

View from East of 1-5 Ainslie Place © Courtesy of HES (Erskine Beveridge Collection)

He built a house on the tiny drying island of Vallay, off the coast of North Uist, and is perhaps best known for his book, North Uist: Its Archaeology and Topography (1911), which recorded the results of his numerous observations and excavations on the island. This followed another work on the antiquities of Coll, Tiree and the Treshnish Isles, published in 1903. His interests in geography continued with a toponymic work, The ‘Abers’ and ‘Invers’ of Scotland, published after his death.

Beveridge was educated at the Edinburgh Institution (now Stewart’s Melville College) and the University of Edinburgh. He took over his father’s business manufacturing household textiles and expanded it to reach a global market, with warehouses in London, Manchester, Montreal and New York. At one stage more than 1,200 people were employed at the company’s mill on St Leonards Street in Dunfermline, which is now converted to domestic use as Erskine Beveridge Court.

View of Harbour and Shore Street, Anstruther Easter, c1885 © Courtesy of HES (Erskine Beveridge Collection)

Beveridge was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by RSGS in 1888 and was thanked by its Council on several subsequent occasions for donating books or maps. He was later given an honorary doctorate by the University of St Andrews, and made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He died at home in Dunfermline and lies buried in the Abbey churchyard. Beveridge is remembered in an exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre on North Uist. His artefacts were given to the Museum of Scotland, but you can see his photographs on the web via Historic Environment Scotland’s Canmore.

RSGS is grateful to the team at Canmore for permission to publish some of Beveridge’s photographs here. To find out more about this collection, please visit: www.canmore.org.uk.

© Courtesy of HES (Erskine Beveridge Collection)