Records of the Chalmers family

Scope and Content

The material is composed of: several bundles of legal papers; accounts; petty charges; travel notes with times of trains; letters of Peter Chalmers to his brother, 1818-1825; letters of Dr. Chalmers to his fiancee; miscellaneous letters, 1823-1825; inventories; insurance documents; and, newspapers featuring important stories of the period, such as the Judges Report of the Parnell Commission in 1890, the Jubilee of 1887, and Courtenay on Socialism from The Times.

Administrative / Biographical History

The surname Chalmers has its origins in Old French, meaning 'de la chambre' or 'of the chamber'. The correct form of the name is Chalmer. The name in its original form referred to either a chamber attendant, or to the Treasury chamber (camera), and thus to Chamberlain. When the Old French word was naturalized in Scots it lost the 'b' by elision, and received 'l' to safeguard as it were, the length of the preceding vowel, as shown in the pronunciation 'chaamer' or 'chammer'.

Among the earliest Chalmers in Scotland were Hugh de Camera ('of the chamber') who was a witness to a charter of David I (1124 - 1153) and to charters of Malcolm IV (1153 - 1156), and Hebertus de Camera whose family held lands in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. The latter was 'camerarius regis scotiae' or Great Chamberlain of Scotland from 1124 to 1153. He and his brothe Radalfus were witnesses to charters of King William the Lion (1165 - 1214).

In the instrument of homage extracted from all substantial Scottish landowners by Edward I of England during his military campaign of 1296 (his 'Ragman Roll'), several Chalmers (or de la Chaumbre) appear in the list of around two thousand names of barons, landowners, burgesses and clergy. They include Robert de la Chaumbre and William de la Chaumbre of Lanarkshire. There is also a William de la Chaumbre, baillie and burgess of Peebles, and a Symon and William of Dumfriesshire and Wautier of Berwickshire

In 1322 King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) - also of French lineage (de Brus) - granted a charter of the lands of Moubreis or Wardland in the sherriffdom of Banff to Gilbert Chalmer, and in that same year Roger Chalmer received a charter of the half of the fourth part of the west part of Fintray in the sheriffdom of Aberdeen. King Robert also gave Reginald Chalmer of Galdgirth a charter under the great seal of his own estate of Galdgirth in Ayrshire.

Later on, in Ayrshire, James Chalmer of Gadgirth was an active supporter of John Knox and entertained him at the family seat of Gadgirth.

Probably the most famous Chalmers is the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. He was born in Fife and was a descendant of John Chalmers of Pitmedden, whose branch is believed to be connected to the Ayrshire (Gadgirth or Galdgirth) family. The name today, although perhaps not common, is widespread, not only in Scotland, but also all over the world - particularly the English speaking world. In England the equivalent name is Chambers or Chamberlain.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Material received from E. B. Chalmers, July 1981, Accession no. E81.80.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Werner, Abraham Gottlob. Chalmers. Full-text [online].  Chalmers: What's in a name? [Accessed 3 March 2004].

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.