George M. Cowie photographic collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 227 phGMC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Physical Description
      In total ca. 60,000 negatives and original prints, including ca. 4,000 colour slides, glass and film negatives, lantern slides and photographic equipment.

Scope and Content

The collection contains Cowie negatives and original prints. There are also almost 4,000 35mm colour slides of St Andrews by George Cowie's son, Andrew Govan Cowie (1937-1980). Cowie's own accumulation of old photographic apparatus and old negatives and lantern slides by earlier St Andrews photographers including John Fairweather (active c.1890 - 1920), Dr John Hardie Wilson (1858-1920) and David MacGregor are also held as part of the collection, some being listed separately.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Middlemass Cowie (1902-1982) worked as a freelance press photographer from the 1930s until 1982. His work covers all aspects of life in and around St Andrews and the East Neuk of Fife, and includes an outstanding collection of golfing photographs.

He was born in Edinburgh and was educated at White Kirk School in East Lothian. After considering gardening or following his father into a career in joinery, he began his apprenticeship in photography working with his future wife, Beatrice Govan (1903-1983), a partner in Day and Govan, professional photographers, in North Berwick, until 1929.

They moved to St Andrews after their marriage in 1930 and established their first shop at 69 Market Street. They moved into larger, more central premises at 131 South Street where the firm remained until it closed down in 1981.

In his early years in St Andrews Cowie was photographer in the area to most of the national dailies working closely with the local syndicate of reporters, particularly Alexander Brown Paterson. After the war the national papers built up their own staff of itinerant press photographers and this outlet for George's work became less important, although at the same time the local press began to make greater use of his talents.

Beatrice Cowie acted as darkroom technician, handling the processing and printing of the outdoor images George captured. William Fraser was employed as a photographer from 1951 to 1960 and Andrew Cowie was involved in the photography business before his untimely death from leukemia in 1980.


Cowie created a numbered sequence with an alphabetical index for some negatives taken in 1935-38. However his main arrangement for his negatives was by broad subject groupings which have been retained. In addition there is a series of negatives covering productions at the Byre Theatre, Abbey Street, St Andrews.

The main series of negatives cover the following subjects, golf negatives accounting for about a quarter of the total: Golf personalities; Royalty; Military and RAF; Open Golf Championship; Walker Cup Golf; Eden Golf Tournament; Golf Course Views; Miscellaneous Golf; Royal and Ancient Golf Club; Ceres Games; Highland Dancing; St Andrews Views; University; Fife Views; Commercial; Lammas; Glenrothes; British Sugar Corporation; Fife Fox Hounds; Churches and Ministers; Miscellaneous; Farming.

The St Andrews lantern slides of John Hardie Wilson were part of Cowie's own collection but are listed separately.

Access Information

The photographic collections are currently the subject of a major digitisation project. It is the intention to have the entire archive captured in electronic form, and available (with sophisticated searching facilities) on line via the web. A full version of the software can be accessed in the Library and researchers are welcome to visit the library to use it but it is important that appointments are made in advance. Access to original photographic material may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

Presented by creator.


The John Hardie Wilson collection of St Andrews Lantern slides was originally part of Cowie's collection. However it is held within the photographic collection by photographer with the reference GB 227 JHW.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Handlists: copy of original negative file record for 1935-1938 series; original prints of individual golfers; JH Wilson lantern slides. Listing of remaining original prints in progress.Slip index covering glass and about half of film negatives, in progress.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of images held in the photographic collection (with the exception of any photographs which are held either without copyright or under other restrictions imposed by the donor or photographer) can be ordered. Photographs thus provided for purely personal or research purposes are not subject to any fee beyond the photographic costs (for which a scale of charges is available). Prior written permission must be obtained before any further reproduction is undertaken of images supplied, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Reproduction fees may be charged.

True photographic reprints of most images can be provided, or computer-generated prints of an increasing proportion of the collection at low, medium or high resolution. Given the fragility of the original material our preference is to provide computer prints where possible. We can also provide transparencies and a range of electronic formats.

Appraisal Information

Some weeding has already taken place before the collection came to the library. Cowie himself discarded most of his commission photographic negatives, like weddings and passport photographs, but preserved many others. He said that some of his earlier work had been damaged or destroyed by damp while he was on active service during the war.

Custodial History

The collection was gifted to the University of St Andrews in 1981. In addition, an additional 77 negative boxes and 1 negative envelope were acquired in January 1998, during the demolition work at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews.


Not expected.

Related Material

GB 227 ms37852/15-16 Collection of lantern slides of J H Wilson, principally relating to University botany teaching, ca. 1898-1916.


David W Lyle, 'The Cowie Family of Photographers' in Shadows of St Andrews Past, (Edinburgh, 1989), pp. 88-93; RN Smart, Crawford Reminder: Exhibition catalogue, (St Andrews, 1983); Bruce Pert, 'George Cowie, 1902-1982' in Martin Kemp (ed.), Mood of the moment: masterworks of photography from the University of St Andrews, (St Andrews, 1994), pp. 35-39, 43-45.

Additional Information

Some are held as original prints and some as prints from negatives. The collection is being digitised.


Geographical Names