The Business Archive

The Stevenson archive at the National Library of Scotland comprises the surviving business records of the firm, and includes a number of different formats. The majority of the firm’s maps, plans and technical drawings were organised and donated to the Library in the 1950s by D. Alan Stevenson. Around 2,500 items now form MS.5843-5896 and are arranged broadly geographically. The part of this archive that relates to Scotland forms the basis for this online resource.

In the 1960s, the Library acquired a further accession of archival material along with some printed books. The archival component consists mostly of reports written or collected by the Stevensons, and can be searched under the reference Acc.4215.

In the 1990s, the Library purchased the business archive of the Stevenson firm which included surviving written records, comprising letterbooks and correspondence, journals and notebooks, reports and memoranda and a large number of printed pamphlets and reports by the Stevensons and others, in addition to a small number of additional maps, plans and drawings. These records are now Acc 10706, and can be searched in the online catalogue. The maps and plans from this accession that relate to Scotland have been incorporated into this resource, enabling all Stevenson maps and plans of Scotland to be searched through one interface.

Maps, plans and technical drawings can be consulted in the Maps Reading Room in the Library's Causewayside building. The rest of the archive is accessible in the Special Collections Reading Room at George IV Bridge.

More information about how to consult the Library's collections, including our reading room opening hours, is available on our online introduction to using the library.

The Stevenson Library

The Stevenson firm’s library is also held as part of our rare books collection. This includes 619 items in 80 volumes by the Stevensons and other contemporary engineers and scientists relating to engineering, particularly water-based transportation: harbours, rivers and lighthouses. Many of the books are in French, suggesting the international network of expertise that the Stevensons drew on in their works. A list of the books in the Stevenson rare book collection can be accessed on our website.

Books about the Stevensons

The Stevensons were very interested in recording the achievements of their ancestors. This meant that many of them wrote biographical accounts of the lives of previous generations, including:

In the years since, the family has attracted attention from a range of authors, ranging from historians to engineers. Major biographies of the family and their works published in recent years include:

Rachel Dishington - who created this web-resource during a 3 month placement at the National Library of Scotland in 2019 - was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and her completed thesis is also available:

Books about Maps, Plans and Technical Drawings

The following books provide further information on historical maps and plans relating to infrastructure and civil engineering in Scotland:

Resources on Historical Engineering

Other historical maps of Scottish places in the nineteenth century can be consulted using our maps website. Details about specific engineering projects, practices or innovations may be available from the archives of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Other scientific information may be found in the archives and publications of the Royal Society of Edinburgh or Royal Scottish Society of Arts. The RSSA archive is held in three parts at the Library, as Dep.230, Acc.7619 and Acc.4534.

Scotland’s lighthouses are still maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board. Their archive is held by Historic Environment Scotland, which also holds other material related to architectural history. This includes photographs and other images of historic buildings which are accessible through Canmore, their online directory.

Further information on the history of lighthouses, including a large collection of lenses, can be found at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh and at National Museums Scotland.

The Stevensons outside Scotland

Sketch Map showing the position of the Japan Lights, December 1871
Sketch Map showing the position of the Japan Lights (1871) Acc.10706, 654

This web resource only shows material held in the Stevenson archive relating to Scotland. This is because of the limited time available in the creation of the resource, and the fact that this doctoral research focused on Stevenson maps of Scotland.

At various points over the firm's history, the Stevensons worked all over the world. In particular, they were involved in civil engineering projects in England, Ireland, India, Japan, China and New Zealand. The majority of their international work was in lighthouse design and construction.

Tracing of Plan of the Carpe Maria Van Diemen Light, New Zealand, 1875
Tracing of Plan of the Carpe Maria Van Diemen Light, New Zealand (1875) MS.5885, 17

The Stevensons also collected international material to use as reference. They wanted to learn from the best in the field, which often meant that they collected reports, papers and books related to work carried out by engineers in other nations including England, France, Germany and the USA. This covered work in many fields as the Stevensons had diverse interests that changed over time and often were shaped by their ongoing projects. They also kept in contact with an international network of engineers and scientists, and made frequent research visits to learn from others, particularly when they were apprentices and trainee engineers. There are therefore some materials by scientists of other nationalities depicting projects across the world in the non-Scottish part of the Stevenson collection.

Plans of these works are held in the Stevenson collection, mostly under shelfmarks MS.5865, no.1 to MS.5885, no.77. They can be consulted in the Maps Reading Room.