Papers of the Reverend George Hay Forbes

Scope and Content

The papers and correspondence reflect Forbes's preoccupation with the Scottish Episcopal Church, its doctrines and particuarly its liturgy, to the study of which he devoted himself. It also reflects the various controversies in which he became involved, notably a serious disagreement with his Bishop, Charles Wordsworth over the Prayer Book, which ended in litigation.

The collection also contains material relating to Forbes' own works of scholarship, his research on St Gregory of Nyssa, on Ecclesiastes and Job and to the more populist aspect of his writings, reflected in the two magazines, the Gospel Messenger and the Panoply. These were begun and largely written by Forbes himself and were printed and published at the Pitsligo Press, Burntisland. There are also printed items within the collection as well as material from the decade after Forbes' death, particularly relating to the division between the Scottish Episcopal Church and the English Episcopal Church in Scotland and the attempt to heal the breach.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Hay Forbes (1821-1875) was a cousin of Principal James David Forbes of the United College of the University of St Andrews. Disabled from a young age, he was ordained in May 1848 and sent by the Bishop of St Andrews to revive the Episcopal church in Burntisland, Fife. A parsonage and school were built in 1854 and work began on the church in 1855.

G. H. Forbes became an eminent liturgist and ultimately rector of the Episcopal Church in Burntisland. He ran the private Pitsligo press for the printing of liturgical and other theological works from the Parsonage. Forbes founded the press to print his own works when he was unable to find a publisher for works containing the more obscure Middle Eastern scripts such as Syriac and Armenian. He travelled throughout Europe to further his research. He married Eleanor Wemyss in 1853 and they adopted a French girl who later married the Comte de l'Espinasse. He served as Provost of Burntisland from 1869-70 and was involved in negotiations with the railway company over the creation of the West Dock. He was an early leader of the Co-operative movement in the town.


Chronological within sections.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted.


After his death Forbes's library passed to the trusteeship of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and became the property of St Andrews University Library in 1984. It contains over 4000 volumes, mostly pre 1851, with 4 incunabula. Theological books predominate, with the emphasis on liturgy, ecclesiastical history and patristics; the collection is strong in 17th and 18th century works in these fields, but there is also some literature, notably Scottish novels - there are 7 first editions of Scott - history and science.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Hard-copy list, with indices, is available; full listing for the Manuscripts Database in preparation.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

Deposited on loan to the Library of the University of St Andrews in 1976. Part was deposited with the library of GH Forbes in 1984.


W. Perry George Hay Forbes, a romance in scholarship (London, 1927), W. Perry Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin, the Scottish Pusey, (London, 1939), J. B. Primrose, 'The Pitsligo Press of George Hay Forbes', in Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, (vol. iv:2, 1956/57), Robert Hay Carnie, 'The Pitsligo Press of George Hay Forbes: some additions and corrections', in Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, (vol. vi:6 (1966/67&1967/68).

Additional Information

This material is largely original.