Gray Collection


Gray Collection


This collection was initially formed when Rev John Gray (1646-1717), the former minister of Aberlady, bequeathed his private library to his native town of Haddington. It consists of around 1,500 volumes along with 37 manuscripts. The subject content is largely theological and classical, containing books in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, mostly of the 16th and the 17th century, as well as three incunabula. Continental imprints predominate, but there are over 30 volumes of British political and ecclesiastical pamphlets of the second half of the 17th century.

The son of a wealthy merchant, Gray studied theology at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1664. In 1667 he was licensed as a preacher and presented to the living of Tulliallan, a quiet rural parish in Fife, near Kincardine. He moved to Glasgow in 1672, where his younger brother Walter was studying at the University, and became minister of St Mungo’s church in the east end of the city. While in Glasgow he met and married Mary Blair, daughter of Hugh Blair, minister of Rutherglen. Inscriptions in some of the books show that he acquired several volumes from his father-in-law and other Episcopalian-minded ministers. In 1684 he moved back east to Aberlady, near Haddington. Gray came under sentence of deprivation from the Privy Council in September 1689 for not reading the Proclamation of the Estates and praying for their Majesties William and Mary. He had to leave Aberlady and move to Haddington, where he continued to preach at the Presbyterian church (he continued to call himself minister of Aberlady), and then at a meeting house in the Poldrate area of the town.

In his will, dated 23 April 1711, Gray bequeathed his library to the town, together with 3,000 merks in former Scottish money (although abolished as a circulating currency by the Act of Union in 170, rent of land, and in many places, feu duties and ministers stipends, schoolmaster's salaries,?and other parochial payments were still reckoned?by the pound Scots and the merk, or mark). The money was to be used in three ways. The income of 1,000 merks was to be used for the training of a library apprentice, less such money which would buy coals to heat the Library room. The income of another 1,000 merks was to be distributed among the poor of Haddington annually. The income of the final 1,000 merks was to be divided between paying for a keeper of the books and for the binding of books and a purchase of new books. The Library was to be available for consultation to members of the presbytery, but only the two church ministers of Haddington were to have the privilege of borrowing. Losses from the library were to be publicly proclaimed by town crier.

Gray died in November 1717. After the death of his widow in 1729, books formally passed to the town of Haddington, becoming in effect a 'town library'. Rules on borrowing and consultation appear to have been relaxed right from the start, the ministers of the neighbouring parishes were recorded as borrowers, and it would appear from the 1740s onwards any members of the Haddington public could borrow the books from the library room.

Around 60% of the collection can be traced back to Gray, who usually annotated his books with his signature, place and date and the motto taken from St. Augustine 'Summa religionis imitari quem colis'. He also added some pithy remarks on the content of some of the books. Additions were made to the collection after Gray's death, although inevitably some losses of books occurred, particularly in the 19th century. In 1828 the Gray library was re-arranged and a printed catalogue was published. The books had bookplates 'Haddingtown Library' containing an image of a goat (a symbol of the town of Haddington) pasted in and labels pasted on their spines bearing the numbers assigned to them in the 1828 catalogue. A further printed catalogue was produced in 1929 by W Forbes Gray.


The books have been catalogued individually and have the shelfmark 'Gray.'. The incunabula in the collection are part of the Library's Incunabula Collection.


In 1961 the collection was deposited in the National Library by the Town Council of Haddington and the Gray Library Committee. The deposit was subsequently converted into a gift by East Lothian District Council in 1983.

Related collections

Along with the printed books, the Library also received a number of manuscripts including Gray's lecture notes and sermons, written in his hand, minute-books of the Trustees of the Gray Library, and, of outstanding interest, the loan register for borrowers of books, covering the years 1732-1796 and 1805-1816, one of the earliest loan registers to have survived in Scotland. The manuscripts are held at MSS.16446-16482.


'The Gray Library, Haddington', WJ Couper, Haddington, 1916.

'Catalogue of the Library of John Gray, Haddington', J Forbes Gray, Haddington, 1929.

'The Rise of Community Libraries in Scotland', P Kaufman, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 59 (1965), 233-94.

'Glimpses into a town's reading habits in enlightenment Scotland: analysing the borrowings of Gray Library, Haddington, 1732–1816', VS Dunstan, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 26 (2006), 42-59.

Online resources

Information on John Gray from the website of the John Gray Centre, Haddington




Incunables (in NLS collections)

Scottish history and literature