The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was founded in 1847 as the Glasgow Athenaeum, and one of the earliest items we have in our collections is the very first visitors’ book dating to October of the opening year.
It would originally have been covered in plush velvet, but the years haven’t been kind to its binding and much of it has now rotted away.
The Book of Strangers, as it was known, is a fascinating record of who was visiting the institution in its early days. One of the first signatures that pops out is Charles Dickens, 28 December 1847. The Glasgow Athenaeum’s Opening Soirée (that’s really what they called it) took place in the City Hall, with the famous author himself chairing events. His signature has its own page from that day, beautifully preserved in Indian ink.
Other signatures include American renaissance man Ralph Waldo Emerson, who gave two lectures in February 1848, and Glasgow’s famous polymath mathematician, engineer and scientist Lord Kelvin – who was actually born in Belfast.
Anyone visiting the Glasgow Athenaeum who wasn’t either a member or a citizen of Glasgow had to sign the Book of Strangers, and we find names from as far afield as Greenland, New York, Berlin and Paisley.