William Chambers (publisher)

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William Chambers of Glenormiston
Photograph of a statue of William Chambers, outside the National Museum of Scotland
Statue erected in memory of William Chambers of Glenormiston. It faces the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh.
Lord Provost of Edinburgh
In office
MonarchQueen Victoria
Preceded byCharles Lawson of Borthwick Hall
Succeeded byWilliam Law
Personal details
Born(1800-04-16)16 April 1800
Peebles, Scotland
Died20 May 1883(1883-05-20) (aged 83)
Engraving of William Chambers c.1845
Memorial to William Chambers, Peebles Cemetery
47 Broughton Street, Edinburgh - formerly William Chambers' bookshop
John Rhind's statue of William Chambers on Chambers St, Edinburgh

William Chambers of Glenormiston or William Chambers FRSE (/ˈmbərz/; 16 April 1800[1] – 20 May 1883) was a Scottish publisher and politician, the brother (and business partner) of Robert Chambers. The brothers were influential in the mid-19th century, in both scientific and political circles.


Chambers was born in Peebles and moved to Edinburgh in 1814 to work in the book-selling trade and soon branched out into printing. He opened his own bookshop in 1819 on Broughton Street, a historical street absorbed by Edinburgh's New Town.[2] He founded the publishing firm of W. & R. Chambers Publishers with his brother, Robert in 1832. He was a keen advocate of popular education and his firm pioneered the use of industrial technologies of publishing to make print available cheaply.[3] With his younger brother, Robert Chambers, he produced books and periodicals of Scottish interest, such as Gazetteer of Scotland. They also made money in promulgating the many new science discoveries as the modern world emerged from prior modes of thinking in such periodicals as the Edinburgh Journal. Their publishing business prospered, and in 1859 Chambers founded a museum and art gallery in Peebles. The brothers collaborated on the publication of Chambers Encyclopaedia between 1860 and 1868.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1860, his proposer was John Shank More.[4] His address was then given as 13 Chester Street, a large townhouse in Edinburgh's west end.[5]

As Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1865 to 1869, Chambers was responsible for the restoration of St Giles Cathedral and other major town planning exercises, including the creation of Jeffrey Street, St Marys Street and Blackfriars Street. These streets were all created under the City Improvement Act of 1866, including one named in his memory: (Chambers Street) and here in its centre stands a statue to him, by local sculptor John Rhind[6] with low-relief copper panels on the base by William Shirreffs.[7]

Chambers is buried in Peebles Cemetery.[4] His memorial is placed on the eastern flank of the central tower.

Greyfriars Bobby[edit]

In 1867 the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers, who was also a director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, paid for Greyfriars Bobby's licence and gave the dog a collar, now in the Museum of Edinburgh.[8][9]


A memorial stained glass window was erected in the centre of the north aisle of St Giles Cathedral in his memory. A smaller window to his brother Robert stands to its side.

W. & R. Chambers[edit]

In the beginning of 1832 William Chambers started a weekly publication under the title of Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, (known since 1854 as Chambers's Journal of Literature, Science and Arts[10]), which speedily attained a large circulation (84,000), and to which his younger brother Robert Chambers was at first only a contributor. After fourteen issues had appeared, Robert became associated with his brother as joint editor, and his collaboration may have contributed more than anything else to the success of the Journal. From September 1832 the two brothers formed the book publishing firm of W. & R. Chambers Publishers.[11] This was originally located at 19 Waterloo Place at the east end of Princes Street.[12]

In the mid-19th century they moved to a large premises at 339 High Street on the Royal Mile.[13] It lay between Warriston Close and Roxburgh Close.[14] Their premises was acquired in the 1930s by the City Chambers to build an extension to the chambers.[15]

The firm would eventually become part of Chambers Harrap Publishers in the late 20th century.

Among the other numerous works of which Robert was in whole or in part the author, the Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen (4 vols., Glasgow, 1832–1835), the Cyclopædia of English Literature (1844), the Life and Works of Robert Burns (4 vols., 1851), Ancient Sea Margins (1848), the Domestic Annals of Scotland (1859–1861) and the Book of Days (2 vols., 1862–1864) were the most important.[11]

In culture[edit]

He was played by Christopher Lee in the 2005 feature film The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby.


  • Chambers's Papers for the People Vol. 1 (1850).
  • A history of Peeblesshire. (1864). archive.org
  • Memoir of William and Robert Chambers. (1883). archive.org
  • 21 November, 1840, copy of the Chambers' Edinburgh Journal
    Chambers's etymological dictionary of the English language. (1871) archive.org

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 821.
  2. ^ "Edinburgh Post Office annual directory, 1832-1833". National Library of Scotland. p. 35. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  3. ^ Fyfe, Aileen (2012) Steam-Powered Knowledge: William Chambers and the Business of Publishing, 1820-1860 Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  4. ^ a b "Biographical Index of Fellows" (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  5. ^ "List of the Ordinary Fellows of the Society". Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 1870. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  6. ^ Mcwilliam, Colin. Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh.
  7. ^ Gardner, Tim. "William Shirreffs (1846-1902), sculptor, a biography". www.glasgowsculpture.com. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  8. ^ Education Scotland website "Greyfriars Bobby - Making of industrial and urban Scotland - Scotlands History". Archived from the original on 21 February 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2013. (11 February 2013).
  9. ^ Edinburgh Museums and Galleries website [1] (11 February 2013).
  10. ^ "sale offering of, bound collection". Retrieved 9 March 2009. as of the accessdate, this site was selling a bound collected as a hardcopy of 1856's "Chambers Journal of Literature, Science and Arts" (no "Apostrophy-S")
  11. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chambers, Robert". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 820–821.
  12. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1835
  13. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1855
  14. ^ 1877 Ordnance Survey
  15. ^ Edinburgh and District: Ward Lock Travel Guide 1940

Further reading[edit]

  • Fyfe, Aileen (2012). Steam-Powered Knowledge: William Chambers and the Business of Publishing, 1820-1860. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-27651-9.

External links[edit]