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Edwardian Scotland


Between the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901, and the outbreak of the Great War on 4 August 1914, the modern world as we know it today was born.

The Edwardian era – named after Edward VII, Victoria's genial, dissolute and self-indulgent son – is often compared unfavourably with the preceding sixty years of imperial greatness and economic dominance. A period of mourning marked the early years of the new century, as many believed that an age of unsurpassed achievement and glory had died with its figurehead Queen. The expectation was that decline would follow – the country’s economy was no longer expanding at the same rate as that of its rivals, and the British Army, for so long seen as unstoppable, was losing a war against the Boer farmers of Southern Africa.

Yet, despite this pessimism, progress and change were not about to slow to a halt. Instead – and particularly for the common man – they were set to accelerate. The Edwardian era was a time of unprecedented social and political revolution in Britain. By the start of the new century, the country had reached a level of such general prosperity that, for the first time, working men and women were in a position to both argue and agitate for a share of the wealth. In Scotland, at the centre of the incredible manufacturing clamour of industrial Glasgow, a worker army was banding together as a political movement demanding votes for all men. Trade unionists and women campaigned for what they regarded as their natural rights. All demanded a radical change to society. The establishment listened, and came to accept that the future success of the nation would depend on a better educated and emancipated working class.

The period teemed with innovation, from the cinema, wireless radio and mass use of the telephone, to the invention of the turbine engine, advances in physics and the achievement of powered flight. With a new age came the freedom to explore new ideas – the genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh emerged from the Arts and Crafts movement, revolutionising design and pioneering the beginnings of modernism.

The old order was slipping away. For the wealthy, the Edwardian era was characterised by the 'Golden Age' of the country house – the long weekends of parties and field sports. Rather than the preserve of the aristocracy, these trappings of privilege were enjoyed increasingly by a class of aspirational and newly affluent merchants and industrialists. Yet in a few short years, these halcyon days would give way to the sale, dispersal and destruction of many Scottish estates.

This unique and largely unseen selection of period photography, taken from the RCAHMS archives, reveals an intimate portrait of an age. From the work of famous photographers like Bedford Lemere & Co and Thomas Annan, to snapshots from private family albums, these images provide a fascinating glimpse into a remarkable period in our history.