Papers of Alexander Keith

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

GB 231 MS 2148 Small collection of traditional ballads, tales and reminiscences, compiled by Alexander Keith (1895 - 1978) prior to 1944. The collection comprises fragments of manuscript, Ane Godly Ballad, by Barbara Fraser, n.d. [17th c]; copy of ballad, The Battle of Glenlivet. Foughten by the Earls of Huntlie and Errol against Argyle. Printed Anno 1681 made by A.S. Ramsay, c 1909, from version in Magdalene College, Cambridge (Pepysian Library No. 258 (4)); manuscript, Windy Wednesday, n.d.; manuscript, Memories of Aberdeen, by George Murray Kaye, of Dennistoun, Glasgow, c 1899; and manuscript, Old Stories Retold - Peter Young, the Jack Shepphard of Aberdeenshire. Daring Escapes from Prison, n.d.

GB 231 MS 3017 This collection contains 16th - 19th century historical and literary papers of considerable local significance, as well as material covering the varied career of Alexander Keith (1895 - 1978) as farmer, journalist, broadcaster and historian. Although there is evidence that he carefully preserved these papers, with the intention of placing them in the University, the manuscripts were in no clear order upon his death. As a result, while most of Alexander Keith's own writings and personal correspondence can be identified, the provenance of earlier material acquired by him is sometimes difficult to determine. In particular, it appears that papers associated with William Walker and John Stuart have become detached from their original associations, and these sub-groups are likely to be augmented when detailed examination of the entire collection is possible.

Papers of Alexander Keith Diaries, 1921 - 1973; catalogues and notebooks containing details of his library, and of books purchased, sold and reviewed by him, 1923 - 1942 and n.d.; papers re. management of Eigie Farm, Balmeddie, and related farming topics, including Aberdeen Angus herd material, 1942 - 1971; radio talks and plays, 1932 - 1963; notebooks and files containing text of lectures and papers delivered by him (various topics including ballads and ballad-collectors, agriculture, education, Scottish literature and authors), 1923 - 1963 and n.d.; extracts of articles (principally newspaper cuttings)written by him, 1920s - 1960s; papers relating to his work on folk songs, dialect, and Gaelic literature (including some papers of and relating to Gavin Greig, Charles Murray, and William Walker,), 1920s - 1971 and n.d.; correspondence received by him, 1920 - 1970; school notebooks, 1908 - 1911; papers and photographs re. award of LL D from Aberdeen University, 1967; press cuttings and correspondence re. publication of A Thousand Years of Aberdeen (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1972), 1972; scrapbook of cuttings re. his secretary-ship of the Aberdeen Angus Society and his associations with other local clubs and institutions, 1940 - 1962; papers re. the Home Guard, including records of the Aberdeen Journals' Unit, 1939 - 1956; dinner menus, invitations and other personalia, 1967 and n.d..

Amongst his correspondence, 3 principal series have been identified thus far. These are letters from Lucy Broadwood, 1925 - 1929; letters from John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, 1926 - 1937; and letters from James Devon, 1925 - 1938. Other correspondents represented in the collection include Marion Angus, J.M. Caie, Helen B. Cruickshank, W.J. Entwhistle, Anne Gilchrist, Alexander Gray, H.J.G. Grierson, A.A. Jack, E. Linklater, Pittendrigh Macgillivray, John MacIntyre (alias Jack Brandane), E. Muir, Nan Shepherd, A.G. Street, J.D. Symon, Lauchlan Maclean Watt.

Papers of and relating to William Walker (1840 - 1931), ballad collector, writer, book collector, 1748 - 1939 The William Walker papers in this collection include an inventory of his household effects and books, 1931; correspondence from John Fairlie, J. Scott Skinner, Mary A. Crichton, Alexander Keith, 1917 - 1935 and n.d.; letters from Peter Still to his brother, William Still, 1839 - 1846; notebooks and papers relating to his research on Scottish ballads (including some original, early manuscripts) and Aberdeen printers, 1896 and n.d.; commonplace book, n.d.; annotated proof copy of F.J. Child's Letters on Scottish ballads from Professor Francis J. Child to W. W., Aberdeen (Aberdeen: Bon-Accord Press, 1930); synopsis of minute books of Aberdeen Musical Society, 1748 - 1838; [? transcripts of the] Kirk Session and Deacon's Court minutes of Methlick Free Church, 1856 - 1867; and a copy of Alexander Keith's article on William Walker, Last of the Victorians (Eminent Aberdonians, No. 23).

Papers of John Stuart (1751 - 1827), Professor of Greek, Marischal College, Aberdeen, and papers of the Stuart estates of Inchbreck, Glenbervie, 1559 - 1890s The scope and content of these papers is extensive. The personal papers of John Stuart contain a considerable volume of material relating to his career at Marischal College, c 1776 - 1834 and n.d., including class certificates; papers describing the teaching establishment of the college; notes on bursaries; correspondence with Mr. Kennedy re. resignation of Greek Chair, 1782; papers re. King's College's right of presentation to the Church at Glenmuick, 17th c; subscription appeal for scientific instruments, 1726; papers re. condition of observatory building and its removal, 1795; papers re. payment of salaries and memorial for raising of salary; and medical degree regulations, 1808. They also include 60 sermons preached by him, 1770s -1780s; and a variety of papers relating to his research and publications, 18th c - 19th c (including manuscripts of Essays, chiefly on Scottish Antiquities (1846); Etymology of Scots Words by Dr W. Henderson, n.d.; and his biography; fragments of his obituary; various Latin epigrams; ode by Dr. Beattie, Mr. Arbuthnott and others, 1760; and papers re. posthumous publication of his writings).

Other papers - most, though not all relating to John Stuart (1751 - 1827) - include miscellaneous material relating to Aberdeen town and its government, 18th c - 19th c; rentals and tacks re. properties in Aberdeen, 18th c; papers re. travels, 19th c (including regulations governing foreigners in Canton, 1858; notes on Indians and language of British Guiana, 1830s; map of Peninsular War area, 1813; lecture courses in Leyden and Utrecht, 1817 - 1818); botanical notes and seed orders, 1786 - 1890 (including list of plants in the College gardens, 1786); papers re. local and family history, late 18th c - 19th c; miscellaneous correspondence, 1890s (including letters from William Geddes to Alexander Ramsay, referring to legislation for the University of Aberdeen); and papers re. maintenance of Ardo's tomb, St Nicholas' Church, Aberdeen, 1845.

Family and estate papers relating to Inchbreck estate date from the mid sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, though most relate to legal and financial affairs during John Stuart's administration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some family papers, including marriage settlements and a small volume of correspondence are also present; and a note of compensation received for slaves, 1835, suggests that further details re. the family's interests overseas may be forthcoming pending more detailed listing of the collection.

Papers of Alfred Wilford Keith, chemist, St Andrews Alfred Wilford Keith was Alexander Keith's brother. A small collection of his personal papers are deposited here, including executry papers, 1967 - 1968; extracts of printed articles written by him, 1934 - 1949; texts of talks delivered by him, 1940s - 1950s; material relating to mortars, 1950s and n.d.; scrapbook containing personalia from the First World War and re. military reunions, n.d.; miscellaneous correspondence, 1930s - 1960s; and lithographs by Albert Goethals, Bruges, 1946 - 1962 and n.d..

Miscellaneous papers A number of original records of uncertain origin, but probably associated with the research interests of both Alexander Keith and William Walker, were deposited with this collection. These include papers re. the Buchan Club, including signatures of original members, 1796 and n.d.; notes on dairy lectures given by Miss Gait at Kintore, 1891; student journal of Robert Wilson, 1867 - 1870; notebook containing account of the building of Roman Catholic Chapel at Preshome, 1788 - 1790; minute book of Deer Farmer's Society, 1793 - 1832; notebook containing chronological list of works printed in Aberdeen, and catalogue of volumes in University library, n.d.; commonplace book of Alexander Keith (MA Aberdeen, 1880), 1880 - 1916; diary for the farming year, n.d., 18th c - 19th c; list of shareholders of Aberdeen Bank, 1779; circular letter from Sir William Forbes on behalf of committee for the abolition of the African slave trade, 1 Dec 1791; genealogical notes on Keith, Menzie and Skinner families, n.d.; Aberdeen City Plan , 1889 and 1914; and Aberdeen University Arts Class photograph, 1912 - 1916.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alexander Keith graduated from the University of Aberdeen, MA 1916, and worked as a journalist and assistant editor with Aberdeen Journals Ltd. from 1917 - 1944. In 1943 he purchased a farm at Eigie, Balmeddie, Aberdeenshire, and became Secretary to the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society, a post which he held until 1955.

His publishing career began in the early 1920s, with titles relating to the lives and works of notable Aberdeenshire ballad collectors, Gavin Greig, Bruce Duncan and their associates: Mine Honourable Friends: Essays and Odd Papers (Aberdeen: Wyllie, 1922); Gavin Greig and his Work (Aberdeen: Wyllie, 1924); Gavin Greig, Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs collected in Aberdeenshire, ed. by Alexander Keith, Aberdeen University Studies, 100 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University, 1925); William Walker, Book-lover, The Aberdeen Book-lover, 7 (1932), 29-34); Songs of the Northeast: a Pocket-book of Memories (Aberdeen: Aberdeen Journals for the Sit Siccar Club, 1940). Subsequent works on the history of local businesses, individuals and agriculture, contributed to his growing reputation as a prominent local historian and author, and in 1967 his contribution to the literature of the North-east was formally marked by the award of LL D from the University of Aberdeen. He is perhaps best known for A Thousand Years of Aberdeen (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1972); and Eminent Aberdonians, (Aberdeen: Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, 1984), which was published posthumously from articles originally appearing in Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce: Journal.

For details of his life and works see Aberdeen University Review, 48 (1979), 103; Harold Watt, Alexander Keith: a Bibliography, Aberdeen University Review, 48 (1979), 61-67; I.B.D. Bryce and C. Graham, Alexander Keith: a Valediction, The Leopard, 44 (1978), 23-25; Dorothy B. Johnston, The Letters and Papers of Dr. Alexander J. Keith, AUL MS 3017, Northern Scotland, 4 (1981), 127;. D.G. Gordon, Alexander Keith, M.A., LL.D. in Bennachie Again, ed. by Archie W. M. Whitely (n.p: Bailies of Bennachie, 1983), pp. 182-86.


Arrangement as described in Scope and Content, above.

Conditions Governing Access

Some personal papers and correspondence are subject to a closure period. Other papers are open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

GB 231 MS 2148: deposited in the University c 1950, by Alexander Keith. GB 231 MS 2148: deposited in the University c 1950, by Alexander Keith. GB 231 MS 3017: bequeathed to Aberdeen University by Alexander Keith, and deposited in 1979, with his library of printed books (see Related Units of Description, below). Additional deposit received in 1998 after the death of his widow, Lewella Keith.

Other Finding Aids

Interim descriptive lists available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: A box list, only, is available for boxes for boxes 23 - 41 of GB 231 MS 3017.

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

The papers in GB 231 MS 2148 were compiled by Alexander Keith before his retirement from Aberdeen Journals Ltd., in 1944. GB 231 MS 2148/2 (copy of ballad, The Battle of Glenlivet. Foughten by the Earls of Huntlie and Errol against Argyle. Printed Anno 1681 made by A.S. Ramsay, c 1909, from version in Magdalene College, Cambridge (Pepysian Library No. 258 (4)) may have come into his possession from the papers of Gavin Greig, whose Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs he edited in 1925 (see Administrative History, above).


No accruals expected

Related Material

The Keith Collection (ref. KE). This collection of c. 4000 printed books, accumulated by Alexander Keith, 1910-1970s, covers a wide range of subjects including Scottish political, military and ecclesiastical history; nineteenth- and twentieth-century English literature with a substantial collection of detective fiction; European literature, mainly nineteenth-century French and Russian novels; folklore and ballads; printing; agriculture (cattle rearing); art; gardening and banking. Publications in the collection date from 1770-1970.

Papers of and relating to William Walker (1840 - 1931), ballad collector, writer, book collector (GB 231 MS 2212; GB 231 MS 2306; GB 231 MS 2732; GB 231 MS 2733; GB 231 MS 2774; GB 231 MS 3396; GB 231 MS 3643). A separate collection level description is available on the Archives Hub, with further details on the work of the Aberdeenshire ballad collectors.

Papers of John Stuart (1751 - 1827), Professor of Greek, Marischal College, Aberdeen, (GB 231 MS M 0221; GB 231 MS 0365 and GB 231 MS 3141). A separate collection level description is available on the Archives Hub.


See Harold Watt, Alexander Keith: a Bibliography, Aberdeen University Review, 48 (1979), 61-67

Additional Information

This material is original