Westerkirk Library

(Westerkirk Parish Library)

Located at the side of the B709 road, a quarter-mile (0.5 km) west of Bentpath in Dumfries and Galloway, Westerkirk Library (also Westerkirk Parish Library) was established in 1793 and is the oldest library in Scotland from which books are still actively loaned to the general public. (The Leadhills Library and the Innerpeffray Library in Perth & Kinross are older, but both now operate only as reference libraries). This small ecclesiastical-looking building is filled by tall wooden book-cases crammed with leather-bound books.

Founded at Jamestown by the Westerhall Mining Company, principally for the use of their antimony miners, the library began with only twenty-three books donated by the company but was expanded through the miners' own efforts. With the decline of mining, the books were moved to the parish school at Kirktonhill (Bentpath) in 1800. By 1827, the library contained 750 books. It was soon realised that the size of the collection would quickly outgrow the school and a new home was built adjacent to a new school in 1860-63. Funds were raised by public subscription, including generous donations from Sir Frederick Johnstone of Westerhall (1841 - 1913) and Walter Montagu-Douglas-Scott, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806-84), and the building was the work of London-based architect J. Habershon at a cost of £600. By the 1920s, the stock had increased to around 8000 volumes, the capacity of the building. Despite a decline in membership (reflecting the decline in the population of the parish), new books are still added regularly and over the years unwanted material has been disposed of to ensure space is available.

Originally charging its subscribers one-shilling per year, membership fees were abandoned in 1965 to preserve the charitable status of the library. The fabric of the building had declined over the years, but the Westerkirk Parish Library Trust has been successful is raising more than £300,000 to ensure its complete restoration between 1992-97.

The library still opens on the first Monday of every month to provide a service to local residents.

The civil engineer Thomas Telford (1757 - 1834), who was born nearby, left the substantial sum of £2700 to the library. A monument to Telford in grey Creetown granite was unveiled in front of the library in 1928.

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