Allan Ramsay, born in 1686, began life as a wig-maker on the High Street of Edinburgh. Following some success as a poet and playwright – his work would go on to influence amongst others, Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns – he turned his shop in the Luckenbooths into a bookshop, and established what is thought to be the first circulating library in Britain.
He is, perhaps, best known for his Tea-Table Miscellany, a highly regarded and influential collection of Scottish song, and The Ever Green, which amassed work by the medieval Makars and the seventeenth century. As a compiler and editor of Scottish lyrics and verse, he played an important part in preserving Scottish work, bridging the ages and inspiring other ‘ballad collectors’ such as Sir Walter Scott.
In 1755 Ramsay retired to his house on Castlehill – he was the originator of Ramsay Gardens, later redeveloped by Patrick Geddes – dying in 1758. He was the father of Allan Ramsay, one of the preeminent portrait painters of the 18th century.