We're celebrating

3O years of the Carlyle Circle

Legacy giving has shaped the University of Edinburgh’s story, from our beginning in 1583 to our position as a world-leading university today. 

The University has one of the world’s great collections, which has been growing ever since our foundation. The collections include rare books, archives and manuscripts, art, historic musical instruments and a wide range of rare and unique objects.

Legacy gifts have helped grow these diverse collections, providing us with material collected from around the world and across the centuries for teaching, research and inspiration. The scale and diversity of the collections is one of the reasons why the University of Edinburgh is truly exceptional. 

Formed in 1990 the Carlyle Circle brings together and thanks those who pledge to leave a legacy to the University. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, we’re highlighting 30 gifts from the collections to show one of the many ways the University has been shaped by legacy giving.

The exhibition includes items gifted to the University by collectors passionate about their subject together with stories from our curators dedicated to their care, conservation and study.

We know our donors well: some through their collections while others through our personal interactions with them as members of the University community. From their continued use in University activities from PhDs to public events, these gifts form the core of the collections for which are rightly world famous.

University of Edinburgh


The University is custodian of some 60 kilometres of heritage material, curated by specialist staff across 45 different sites within the University and are used for teaching, research and by the wider public community.

The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) in the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library offers a single point of access to collections for students, researchers and members of the public. The CRC facilitates a wide range of public exhibitions and events throughout the year.

About the

Carlyle Circle

Thanks to an international community of alumni and supporters, legacy giving has enhanced teaching and learning spaces, grown collections, created new opportunities for students, and continued to make an impact on the world through innovative research.

Old College
The first gift

Reid's Legacy

In 1558, Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney, set off on a trip to France to witness the marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and the Dauphin of France. On the day he departed, he did something of huge significance. In his last will and testament he requested that a sum of money be used to build a college in Edinburgh. Reid never made it back to Scotland alive. He took ill on the journey home and died on 6 September 1558, six months after finalising his will. It took several years before Reid’s wishes were realised, with the first instalment of Reid’s legacy released in 1583 to support the University of Edinburgh’s foundation. This bequest was the first of many that would help build, grow and develop this institution.
Thomas Carlyle
Founding the

Carlyle Circle

In 1990 the Carlyle Circle was established to formally recognise the contribution of people who had pledged to remember the University of Edinburgh in their will. It is named after Thomas Carlyle, a prominent thinker and writer of the 19th century and one of the first Edinburgh alumni to leave a legacy to the university.
2018 Carlyle Circle Donor Event

30 Years

As the Carlyle Circle celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2020, it now has almost 1,500 members. Everyone who pledges a gift in a will is invited to join.