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Diary of Mary Ann Gibb, 1847 | Historical Notes

Diary of Mary Ann Gibb, 1847

This little booklet, published in 2004, gives the text of a diary kept by Mary Anne Gibb, age 32, from London, during a visit to Scotland between 5 May and 8 July 1847, made primarily to attend a family wedding (her sister’s?).

by Andrew Fraser 
(reprinted from The Inverleith News, Spring 2007)

?Twenty page booklet obtainable from Mrs Jean Mitchell, 1 Home Park, Aberdour, Burntisland, Fife KY3 0XA, £2.50.

This little booklet, published in 2004, gives the text of a diary kept by Mary Anne Gibb, age 32, from London, during a visit to Scotland between 5 May and 8 July 1847, made primarily to attend a family wedding (her sister’s?). With her mother and brother she stayed at 31 Howard Place - ‘pleasantly situated about a mile from the Town’ - with Mrs Andrew of Craigend, presumably a relation. Unfortunately, there is no editorial explanation of the links between the many people logged as coming and going in the diary, and this reader could not disentangle the family tree or the network of friends, or even be certain of the bridegroom’s name. 

However, there are pleasant glimpses of Edinburgh social life in the summer of 1847, with dinner guests and musical evenings, promenades in the Caledonian Society Gardens and the Botanic Gardens across Inverleith Row, and trips to town by noddie (two wheeled hackney carriage). The wedding itself was held in the drawing room in Howard Place, with tables set for 32 guests and five children, and the ceremony conducted by the Rev. William Glover of Greenside Church.

Sundays offered a choice of preachers, Church of Scotland or the new Free Church. Dr Thomas Chalmers died suddenly during their stay, on 31 May, and the great sense of loss is described. Mary Anne records the crowds heading for the funeral procession, and the overflowing memorial services at Tanfield Hall the following Sunday. ‘Never in my remembrance did the death even of Royalty ever cause so much real grief as did the sudden departure of this esteemed Minister.’

There were visits to Holyrood and the Castle, and two trips to Roslin (taking in a carpet factory at Lasswade), and an idyllic picnic in the Pentlands with recitations from Allan Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd. There was a visit to the camera obscura in Short’s Observatory on Calton Hill, with women laying out their linen to bleach on the hillside and refreshments from the pastry cook’s shop at the foot of Nelson’s Column. Some comments remind us of the great changes in Edinburgh at the time, with mentions of Trinity and Granton piers and the lack of planting beside the new railway through Princes Street Gardens.

Perhaps most striking are the descriptions of travelling arrangements and the new possibilities opened up by steamships and railways. The cramped sleeping conditions on the Liverpool to Glasgow steamer on the journey north are graphically described, and the new railway from Glasgow to Edinburgh is much praised. They used coach and carriage to explore the Trossachs from Stirling (‘tedious after the railway’), but enjoyed a splendid day trip round Loch Lomond by the well-established steamship. The party travelled through to the west, visiting friends and relations, and there are mentions of steamer and railway expeditions to Glasgow and the Clyde, Falkirk, back down the Forth to Granton, and even a ferry trip to Burntisland. The diary is not great literature but it gives an agreeable reflection of the rapidly increasing possibilities during a summer visit to Scotland.