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The Maclagan Manuscripts

An important collection of folklore, customs and beliefs collected between 1893 and 1902.


Responding to a call from the Folklore Society, made at their annual meeting in 1889, to gather items of folkloric interest from various parts of the United Kingdom, Dr Robert Craig Maclagan (1839-1919), a doctor based in Edinburgh, embarked on a project which was to run for almost ten years, and which, in the fullness of time, would become one of the most significant and fascinating collection of manuscripts available to scholars of the folklore of Scotland. 

Through a team of dedicated collectors, working in the West Highlands, Maclagan amassed an amazing array of material and during his lifetime he published a number of articles and books which reflected the diversity of the material that had been collected. The manuscripts, consisting of some 9,200 pages, with an as yet uncalculated number of individual items, covers material as diverse as folk medicine, customs and beliefs, hero tales, material culture, rhymes and children's games, recipes and weather lore, place-name legends, the natural world and much, much more.


Through this material it is possible to glimpse a different world and to understand better how men and women, living at the end of the 19th century, had negotiated and made sense of the world around them: a world which, within so few decades would be so utterly changed.

The size of the collection, and the nature of the organisation of the material contained within it, has, until now, made it a slightly cumbersome resource for academics to explore. We begun scanning of the Maclagan MSS in 2022 and while this process is ongoing you can find some of this material as an open resource via Open Books. A database to search the collection can be accessed on-site. 


a sheet of paper headed Folklore of the West highlands, with a handwritten account of Fairies in Tiree