Thirty years after FOIL’s foundation seems a good moment to remember why that
happened, and to reflect on why there is still a vital role for the Friends. What follows is
the edited text of a talk given in April 2022.
As you all know, the Library ceased to lend in 1968. The Governors of the time made this
inevitable and sensible decision for valid reasons. We know from the Borrowers’ Register
that borrowing always fluctuated and was never exactly high – 14 borrowers in a good year
during the 18th century. By the early 20th century, the numbers had risen – I picked 1904 at
random the other day, and counted 17 pages, with 25 lines to each page. But the nature of
borrowing had changed. While some of the original collection was still being read, the
Library had become much more like the Boots lending libraries, established in 1899, and
was stocking current magazines and journals, eagerly read by local farmers’ wives, while
many of the entries which grandly attach “scholar” to the borrower’s name reflect the use
made by the children at Innerpeffray school. Borrowing held up pretty well up to and
including the First World War, but tailed away thereafter and had virtually ceased before it
was officially ended. An inevitable and sensible decision. However, I don’t believe the
Governors gave detailed consideration to what should happen next. They re-invented the
Library as a Book Museum, and trusted that people would pay to come and see it in
sufficient numbers to provide a regular and sufficient income to pay the Librarian and
maintain the building. There seems to have been little attempt at marketing. Matters came
to crisis point in the early 1980s. In 1983, the Governors were already in discussion with the
National Library in Edinburgh with a view to transferring many of the books, which the NLS
proposed would be housed as a separate collection. There was also an attempt to hand the
building over to the then nation-wide Department of the Environment on a care and
maintenance basis. I’ve seen the stern letter which the Minister, Lord James Douglas
Hamilton, wrote to Lord Perth, rejecting this suggestion and reminding the Governors of
their duty as Trustees – it’s no longer in the file for some reason. Things might have
maundered on for long enough, but in 1984, the death of Wilfred Pickersgill, who had been
in post as Librarian for twenty years, provoked a new crisis. His wife refused to leave the
Schoolhouse, tied to his employment, and there was a tussle to evict her. Then there were
three very short-lived appointments all of which proved unsatisfactory. The Library’s
reserves were cascading, and altogether the Governors must have felt that the Library and
its affairs had come to the point where they could no longer see a clear way out of their
difficulties. But in a series of happy coincidences, things began to change. First of all, Ted
Powell was appointed Librarian in 1988. Then at about the same time, Tom Skinner of
Innerpeffray Lodge resigned as a Governor and appointed as his substitute his good friend
and neighbour Frank Thomson, who has a strong family connection with the Innerpeffray
site through his Faichney granny. Frank’s tenure didn’t last very long because in 1992, his
dear wife Lucie, that force of nature, sitting as an Independent on the then Perth and
Kinross District Council, became one of the Council’s representatives on the Board.
Ted and Lucie were well aware of all the problems and determined to do something about
them. They were joined in this resolve by Logan Mitchell, a retired Bank Manager from
Falkirk and a life-long devotee of the Library, and these three were the first FOIL Friends.
After initial suspicion, bordering on hostility, the Governors must have realised that a standalone
charity dedicated to supporting the Library financially and raising its profile both
locally and further afield would be a great help, and in a rapid reverse ferret, they provided
seed corn funding to allow FOIL’s foundation. Their suspicion is all the more curious
because in the early 1950s, they had considered setting up a Friends organisation of their
own, but this seems to have been an attempt at persuading local landowners to support the
Library through regular donation rather than a membership organisation.
Our first members were mostly recruited by Lucie calling on her many friends with an
application form at the ready and the genial instruction “You do want to be a Friend of
Innerpeffray Library, don’t you”.
A programme of monthly talks was quickly established. To begin with, most of the speakers
came from the membership, and the talks tended to have a strong local or Perthshire
interest. The pool of speakers gradually widened, as did their subject matter. We learned
about cheese, and chocolate, and bees. About the men who built the Hydro dams and
tunnels. About the Scots translation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play. About the
Enlightenment – two very different views some years apart, one from Magnus Linklater, an
orthodox establishment assessment and the other from David Purdie, a rather racier
tongue-in-cheek account. Other prominente joined our speaker’s list: I think the first was
Willie Prosser, then Lord President of the Court of Session. He was followed, in no particular
order by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny; Lord Elgin; the Duke of Montrose; Sue Black;
James Robertson; Jim Naughtie; Sandy McCall Smith; and most recently, Donald Findlay and
Val McDermid. Tony Murray adapted a fascinating Jacobite correspondence from the
Dollerie archive into a dramatic reading. We heard about the construction of the V&A in
Dundee; about Dundee’s mediaeval importance as one of the Baltic ports; about the Gask
Ridge excavations; the Stone of Destiny; Tacitus’ life of his father-in-law Agricola; and on
one exceptionally lengthy evening the branch railway lines of Upper Strathearn. This is just
a random selection, based on memory, but I think it gives you the flavour of our
From the first, FOIL provided pre-talk hospitality – to begin with, just a plastic cup of wine
and crisps or the occasional nut. The canapes increased in volume and variety. John
Hughes and I stuck to eggy sandwiches and little cheesie biccies, but successive committee
members indulged in culinary competition on a major scale, and it was well known that
several elderly widowers looked forward to the middle Wednesday of the month for the
hospitality rather than the talk. And I should add that while FOIL paid for the wine, food
was provided through individual generosity. We also offered our speakers a meal after their
talk and a bed for the night – I’ve been to and hosted some quite wonderful dinner parties
as a consequence.
A FOIL newsletter was also quickly established, initially edited – and largely written – by
Logan Mitchell. For the first few years, FOIL-facts, initially produced three times a year, was
a good deal more than a conventional newsletter and contained articles of general and
particular interest aimed at what we used to call in publishing “the educated general
reader”. Under Maureen Nicholson’s later editorship, it continued to give the members a
lively view of our activities, with the occasional submitted article. It was a great little
magazine, and a useful publicity tool.
We had musical and dramatic events, mainly in the Chapel. A group from Kirriemuir (“Have
harpsichord. Will travel”) gave us a recital of Lady Nairne’s Jacobite songs. Peter Davenport
brought his jazz band. The Really Terrible Orchestra came from Edinburgh. Crieff Drama
Group performed excerpts from Shakespeare. Jess Smith gave us an evening of songs and
stories. We had recitals from Chansons and from the Roseneath Singers. We had outdoor
events as well – a barbecue in the Schoolhouse garden, and a falconry display. Then, in
2000, the first Carols at Innerpeffray started a Crieff Christmas tradition, with the
Innerpeffray Singers under their founder and conductor Joan Taylor. This Christmas staple
was moved to Crieff for a short time, initially because the Innerpeffray road was completely
blocked with snow on the day, and thereafter because Alison Hunter, by then the
conductor, and I found it so much easier, warmer and more convenient – as did most of our
audience. Joan’s return to the rostrum saw a return to the Chapel, with the concession of it
being an afternoon rather than an evening event, and it’s good to know that the Carols are
planned again this year.
We travelled. We had an evening trip on the Union Canal. We went to Drummond Castle
where we saw part of the costume collection. We visited several other great houses:
Monzie Castle with its splendid staircase; Gleneagles, where we saw the house and garden
and the memorial chapel; Arniston House, in the throes of a massive refurbishment;
Balcarres, where we saw the library; and Newton Castle, Blairgowrie where we saw part of
the Macpherson archive. We went to Stobhall to see the garden, but there was a huge
thunderstorm, so we were taken into the house and shown the library and the
extraordinary painted chapel instead – the chapel allowed us to see what St Mary’s Chapel
here must once have looked like. We went to Ardvorlich, where we did see the marvellous
early summer garden on the slopes of Ben Vorlich, and then we were taken into the house,
where Sandy Stewart gave us an equally marvellous history of his family, illustrated with
various artefacts including an ancient sword – which he flourished to great dramatic effect.
We had a lot of fun.
And all the time, the money was coming in. John Hughes, who took over as Treasurer in
2005, always says we made our money in penny packets, but the pennies added up, and
John has reminded me that between 2007 and 2013, we gave a total of £68,150 to the
Library, £18,000 of which was in the form of direct donation, and the remaining £50,150
being spent on identifiable projects. These included the two lean-to loos at the back of the
school room, since demolished to allow the construction of the kitchen; improvements to
the grass path from the car park; rewiring the Schoolhouse and replacing the Schoolhouse
boiler; redecorating the Schoolroom; external painting of the Schoolhouse and Schoolroom;
the first storage shed; repairing and resurfacing the road from the mirror corner to the car
park; loft repairs and insulation in the Schoolroom; installing the precursor to the full scale
kitchen – the infamous Kitchen in a Cupboard; and providing the three state-of-the-art
exhibition cases for the refurbished ground floor of the Library. This last item, costing in
total £13,211, was partly funded by a very generous bequest from Irene McKechnie – she
and her husband Ken were founder members of FOIL – and it’s good to know that a recent
FOIL donation has allowed the wall-mounted case to be transferred into the main exhibition
area. Another even more generous bequest from Dr Vera Coutts has since funded the
improvement and extension of the car park and the installation of the external lights
between the car park and the Library. Earlier projects included putting a sink and cupboard
into the Library’s ground floor, which allowed us to provide cream teas for bus tours and the
Doors Open weekend. The very first of our projects was actually carried out free of charge.
My husband provided a second-hand Zip water heater for the Library loo, and Ray Baird
fitted it.
Again, this is just to give you a flavour of our activities, and I want to stress that it has always
been our preference to support projects. As I’ve just shown, we do – or at least did – from
time to time give the Governors what we grandly called a cash subvention from any surplus
funds. Also from time to time, we have come under very strong pressure just to hand over
all available funds to the Governors to be used on running costs. I don’t know if that still
happens, but I would like to think that it doesn’t or that if it does, it continues to be
And that, Friends, is the answer to the question “Why FOIL?”. I hope this canter through
most of our first 29 years of life will encourage all FOIL members here tonight to renew their
subscriptions on time, to support the Committee by attending talks, events, and outings, to
bring visitors to the Library and to encourage membership, and that any non-members will
pick up a membership form and join. It is not over-egging the pudding to say that without
FOIL, the Library could well have been lost. FOIL still has a vital role.
There’s something to add – “Being a Friend of Innerpeffray Library” means something else.
It means using the Library as Lord Madertie meant it to be used. It means going to the
Library and learning about the books and from the books . There are several ways to start
this process. You can step through the door, turn yourself three times in a clockwise circle,
point at the nearest book, and see what hares it starts running. Or you can go with a project
in mind: trace the development of Scottish history books from Boece (1527) to Robertson
(1759); examine the vast collection of Bibles; dip into the treasures of The Scots Magazine.
But as I end this talk, there’s one book I particularly want to bring you. On 2nd March 2022,
the first day the Library was open this season, I had one project in mind. What did we have
about Ukraine? I found this, in Volume 1 of Voyages & Travels (1704). From 1630 to 1647,
Le Sieur de Beauplan, a French military engineer, was employed by the King of Poland to
build a series of forts and settlements along the course of the Dneiper towards the border
with “Muscovy”, and this is his account of his time in Ukraine. He is not altogether polite
about the Ukrainians. Their adherence to their Orthodox faith leads them to alternate
fasting with feasting, and when they feast, they get extremely drunk. He says: “I believe
there is no nation in the world like this for liberty in Drinking; for no sooner is one drunken
Fit off, but they take a Hair of the same Dog”. But listen to what he says next: “They are
great lovers of their Liberty, without which they do not desire to live. … They are of a strong
Constitution, able to endure Heat and Cold, Hunger and Thirst; indefatigable in War, bold,
resolute, or rather rash, not valuing their lives”.
And that, my dear friends, is what being a Friend of Innerpeffray Library really means. That
you can come to this treasure house in its tranquil out-of-the-world setting, and find within
it the whole world – past, present, and future – waiting to be discovered.