Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Peterhead Library and Arbuthnot Museum including attached librarian’s house, outbuilding to rear and associated gatepiers, St Peter Street, Peterhead LB52606

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NK 13183 46336
413183, 846336


Designed by Duncan McMillan and built between 1891 and 1893, Peterhead Library and Arbuthnot Museum is a two-storey, purpose-built Carnegie public library and museum in the 'Free Renaissance' style with attached librarian's accommodation. It is constructed in coursed and squared pink Peterhead granite with moulded band and eaves courses and an oriel window on each street elevation. A squared clock-tower, with four pedimented dials and topped by a dome and tall cupola, is at the southeast corner. The building is on a corner site at the junction of St Peter Street and Queen Street in Peterhead.

The principal (southeast) elevation on St Peter Street is five bays wide (not including the clock-tower) with a three-bay former librarian's house attached to the southwest elevation (which is lower in height). The library entrance is framed by polished granite pilasters with stylised scrolls and pedimented tops. A name plaque with a small pediment above reads: 'PUBLIC LIBRARY / AND / ARBUTHNOT MUSEUM'. The arched opening has a two-leaf, panelled, timber door and a fanlight above. The entrance to the librarian's house is on St Peter Street. The northeast (Queen Street) elevation is three bays wide and has a central oriel window at the first floor with a curvilinear end chimneystack above.

The windows are in a mixture of sizes, shapes and styles. Some are in timber sash and case frames, and some are fixed lights with timber mullions, transoms and multi-paned toplights. The openings on the ground floor are rectangular and those on the first floor rise into depressed key-blocked arches. The oriel windows have stone mullions and taper upwards into pedimented, curvilinear gables. The librarian's house has pedimented dormers breaking the roof eaves and timber sash and case window frames with two-pane glazing.

The roof is largely pitched and covered in slate with some flat-roofed areas covered in bituminous felt. There are five sets of corniced chimneystacks and cast iron rainwater goods throughout. The librarian's house has straight skews with banding decoration ending in shaped block skewputts.

The interior of the library retains some late-19th century features with classical architectural detailing, including timber wainscoting throughout, moulded cornicing and timber doors and doorpieces (on the first floor). The foyer area has a tiled floor, polished timber pilasters and columns with foliate capitals and a stone staircase with moulded timber balusters and newel posts leading to the museum on the first floor.

There is a small garden area between the northeast elevation and the iron railings bounding the property on Queen Street. There are two granite gatepiers with pyramidal caps between the library and the adjacent Methodist church. A detached single-storey outbuilding is located behind the librarian's house and a single granite gatepier with a pyramidal cap marks the property boundary.

Historical development

The foundation of the modern public library system as we know it today began with the passing of the Public Libraries Act of 1850, which was extended to Scotland in 1853. This Act gave town councils the power to raise a half-penny rate through taxation to provide for a library building, its maintenance and upkeep, and to hire library staff (Scotland's Public Libraries, p.8).

The most prolific period of construction of public libraries was between 1883 and the end of the First World War. This was largely due to legislative amendments to the Public Libraries (Scotland) Act and the philanthropic gifts offered by wealthy benefactors. The most well-known was the Scottish-American steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), who set up a library grant scheme. Carnegie made adoption of the Public Libraries Act a requirement to access these donations.

When three Peterhead men wrote to Carnegie in 1889 asking him to help the town build a new free public library, Carnegie responded "if Peterhead adopted the Free Library Act and raised a fund for a library building, I would give the last thousand pounds required for a suitable structure" (Edinburgh Evening News).

Peterhead town council adopted the Public Libraries (Scotland) Act on 27 February 1890 (Buchan Observer, 1897). A multi-use library building, incorporating an exhibition and art gallery space, was chosen to permanently house the museum collection that had been left to the town by a local merchant, Adam Arbuthnot, on his death in 1850.

The design competition for the new library and museum building was won by Aberdeen-based architect, Duncan McMillan (Buildings of Scotland, p.344). Andrew Carnegie gave £1000 and additional money was raised through fundraising bazaars. The foundation stone of the library and museum was laid by his wife, Louise Carnegie, on 8 August 1891 (Aberdeen Free Press). A year later, Carnegie gave a 'blank cheque' to the town to leave the library free of any debt (Aberdeen Evening Express). The purpose-built library and museum opened to the public on 12 October 1893.

The footprint of the library has not changed significantly since the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1900 which shows a rectangular-plan library with librarian's accommodation attached to its southwest elevation and a detached outbuilding to the rear. The library and museum continue in use as such, and the attached librarian's house is used as library offices (2022).

Statement of Special Interest

Peterhead Library and Arbuthnot Museum meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

  • It is one of the earliest Carnegie public libraries in Scotland (and the world).
  • It is a well-detailed example of a purpose-built public library and museum with a librarian's house attached.
  • Its plan form is indicative of early public library design.
  • The footprint of the building is largely unchanged since 1893 (as shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1900).
  • It is prominent within the town and contributes to the streetscape that retains a late-19th century character, largely characterised by houses, schools and churches of a similar date.

Architectural interest:


Libraries constructed between the 1850s and 1890s were designed in a variety of architectural styles. The earliest and larger public libraries were often architecturally elaborate and were constructed as monuments to social progress, often reflecting the style of other important civic buildings. Libraries were often designed by local architects and their architectural style was very much dependent on the architect and the regional location of the building. The Peterhead Library and Museum has used classical architectural motifs from the Renaissance period (16th and 17th centuries), of Northern European derivation, and includes pedimented and arcaded openings, scrolled pilasters, oriel windows and curvilinear gables. The prominent corner tower is particularly notable with a domed and finialled roof.

Duncan McMillan (1840-1928) was an Aberdeen architect who won the library design competition for Peterhead library. His son, John Ross McMillan, worked as an assistant on this building prior to being taken into partnership with his father in 1893 (Dictionary of Scottish Architects). It is the only library designed by McMillan, much of the work of this practice was school, church and residential buildings in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray. Duncan McMillan used locally sourced and distinctive pink Peterhead granite as the main building material to complement the existing town architecture.

The interior and plan form of a library was an important design consideration and its form was dictated by the location and size of the building and the requirements of its user. Most 19th and early-20th century public libraries were compartmentalised, with separate rooms often allocated for different activities and purposes (Scotland's Public Libraries, p.33). The fashion was for a 'closed system' of library management whereby readers asked the library staff to find information. The late-19th century plan form of Peterhead library is still largely retained by the survival of distinct areas that would have been the reading or newspaper room, the recreation room, reference library and the lending section (Peterhead Sentinel, 1893 and 1907). The library's annual report of 1906-7 noted the newspaper and recreation rooms were the most popular parts of the library, allowing users to read daily and weekly newspapers, illustrated periodicals and magazines, as well as railway timetables, almanacs and the Daily Shipping Gazette (Peterhead Sentinel, 1907).

The main interior spaces, which are in a simple classical architectural design, are lit by tall windows to maximise the amount of natural light into the building. Libraries were typically designed with high ceilings and were often decorated with light colours and timberwork to create an inviting public space. The entrance hall has patterned and glazed floor tiles which were typically used to decorate halls and entrances of public buildings as they were hard-wearing, easy to keep clean and were highly decorative (Carnegie Libraries of Britain).

The first floor was purpose-built to contain the museum and art collection of Adam Arbuthnot, a local merchant, who left his private collection to the town on his death in 1850. The first floor was designed with large exhibition rooms to showcase this museum and art collection to the public. Some decorative timberwork doorpieces, panelled doors, wainscoting and architraves survive which adds to the late-19th century character and authenticity of the library and museum.

Accommodation for librarians was often attached to or incorporated into purpose-built libraries built in the late-19th and early-20th century. The first public librarians were working in a new profession and were responsible for maintaining catalogues and directly accessing books and information to give to the public, as well as acting as caretakers of the buildings. As the number of libraries grew and library practices evolved, by the early-20th century librarianship became increasingly professionalised and the 'open access' system became the norm. This meant readers could directly access the books themselves rather than relying on the librarian to find information for them and changed how libraries needed to be designed.

Peterhead library and museum is among the earliest Carnegie public libraries in Scotland. Its scale, relative lack of later alteration and its architectural quality, particularly to the exterior, all contribute to this building's interest as a representative example of a purpose-built public library.


Peterhead Library and Arbuthnot Museum is located in a prominent position at the intersection of St Peter Street and Queen Street, opposite the sheriff courthouse (1869-71, reconstructed in the 1990s). Its scale and well-detailed design make the library and museum a distinctive building within the streetscape, the presence of the clock-tower makes the building significantly taller than the surrounding shops, houses and churches.

The immediate setting of the library has not changed significantly since that shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1900. The block on which it is built has some later infill in the rear garden ground of the adjacent house, however this change is minimal and does not detract from the overall historic setting.

The library was designed to be highly visible along Queen Street, one of the main residential streets leading northwest from the historic town centre, and continues to be so today.

Historic interest:

Age and rarity

Libraries are an important part of Scotland's educational and social history and they are among our finest public buildings. There are around 560 library buildings in Scotland and around 360 of these were purpose built, as such public libraries are not a rare building type.

The world's first Carnegie public library was built in Dunfermline and opened in 1883 (listed at category B, LB25979). This began the most significant period of public library construction in Scotland, with over 70 libraries built between 1883 and 1914. The earliest Carnegie libraries in Scotland included Edinburgh's Central Library (opened 1890), Aberdeen (1892), and Ayr, Airdrie and Peterhead libraries (all 1893).

Tied accommodation for librarians was a common feature of early public library design. Most of the Carnegie libraries built between 1883 and 1914 were built with houses attached or flats within the basement or upper floors. The Carnegie libraries in Dunfermline (1883), Castle Douglas (1904), Bo'ness (1904), Innerleithen (1905) and Montrose (1905) were all built with accommodation included for the librarian. These houses were often attached to the side or rear of the main library buildings and were accessed both from the street and from within the library itself. In the case of Peterhead, the librarian's house is clearly visible from St Peter Street, slightly lower in height and largely self-contained but stylistically similar to the main building. As library practices changed, particularly after the introduction of open access lending, the need for a resident librarian was no longer required. Later library buildings, built after the 1920s, were usually not designed with integrated accommodation.

Peterhead library and museum is of interest in listing terms as one of the earliest purpose-built public libraries built through the Public Libraries (Scotland) Act and the Carnegie library grant scheme. The survival of its plan form and footprint, including its attached librarian's house, contributes to its interest as an example of early public library design before the widespread introduction of 'open access' lending from the 1910s onwards.

Social historical interest

Social historical interest is the way a building contributes to our understanding of how people lived in the past, and how our social and economic history is shown in a building and/or in its setting.

Although subscription, collegiate and private libraries had existed from as early as the 16th century, the Public Libraries (Scotland) Act of 1853 established the new concept of the public library as an institution free for everyone to use.

The mass construction of public libraries had a significant impact on society by providing free access to books, information and life-long learning. The public library became a space to generate a sense of civic pride and urban progress as well as adding to the cultural and educational improvement of the town. Furthermore, literacy rates increased in both adults and children following the Elementary Education Act 1870 and the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 (Scotland's Public Libraries, pp. 2, 8, 12, 23). Peterhead library and museum is a built monument to this social and educational progress.

Association with people or events of national importance

This building has an association with Andrew Carnegie and is nationally significant as one of the first Carnegie public libraries built in Scotland.

There is further local interest relating to Adam Arbuthnot the Peterhead merchant who left his private museum collection to Peterhead town council on his death in 1850. The collection had several homes in Peterhead until 1893 when the first floor of the new Carnegie library was purpose-built to house the Arbuthnot Museum (Buchan Observer).

Other Information

Robert Stevens was the first librarian from 1893 until his retirement in 1898 (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 1898 and 1911). The role of librarian and caretaker was taken over by David Scott until his death in 1911, followed by his daughter, Dora Scott, until her retirement in 1949 (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 1949).



Canmore: CANMORE ID 179606


Ordnance Survey (revised 1900, published 1901) Aberdeenshire XXIII.7 and 3. 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1924, published 1926) Aberdeenshire XXIII.7 and 3. 25 inches to the mile. Later Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1968, published 1969) National Grid map, NK1246-NK1346-BB. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Printed Sources

Aberdeen Evening Express (01 October 1892) Mr Carnegie and the Peterhead Library, p.3.

Aberdeen Free Press (10 August 1891) Peterhead Free Library, p.5.

Aberdeen Press and Journal (20 April 1898) Appointment of Librarian, p.7.

Aberdeen Press and Journal (23 June 1911) Death of Mr David Scott Peterhead, p.9.

Aberdeen Press and Journal (21 October 1949), Peterhead Public Library, p.6.

Buchan Observer (26 January 1897) The Peterhead Public Library: Arbuthnot Museum and Art Gallery, p.6.

Edinburgh Evening News (23 October 1889) Mr Carnegie and Peterhead Free Library, p.4.

Peterhead Sentinel and Buchan Journal (19 December 1893) Peterhead Sentinel, p.4.

Peterhead Sentinel and Buchan Journal (07 December 1907) Librarian's Annual Report Year 1906-7, p.5.

Walker, D. W., Woodworth, M. (2015) The Buildings of Scotland, Aberdeenshire: North and Moray. Newhaven and London: Yale University Press, pp.344-45.

Online Sources

Carnegie Libraries of Britain. Shelf-Life, at [accessed 12/04/2022].

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Peterhead Library and Museum, at [accessed 06/04/2022].

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Duncan McMillan, at [accessed 06/04/2022].

Historic Environment Scotland (2021). Scotland's Public Libraries: Designations Report, at [accessed 05/04/2022].

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Printed: 26/05/2024 23:24