| This guide is a general introduction
to the types of sources in National Records of Scotland (NRS)
which can help you trace the history of castles, houses, schools,
churches, mills, railway stations, and other buildings. You should
also consult our guide to 'Tracing
Scottish Local History' (Edinburgh, HMSO, reprinted 1996).
Register of Sasines
Frequently when a house or other building was erected, ownership
of the land on which it was built was transferred. Details of this
transaction are recorded in the Registers of Sasines running from
the early 17th century onwards (NRS reference RS). Burgh Registers of Sasines
run from the 1690s (NRS reference B). Information about buildings in burghs
can be found in the records of the Dean of Guild courts which had
powers to control building within burghs. A few of these are preserved
in the burgh records held here, many are held in local archives.
The records of the Masters of Works (NRS reference MW) provide information
on royal buildings and palaces prior to 1707. Many of these records
are published in 'Accounts of the Master of Works, 1529-1649' (2 vols,
Edinburgh,). Records of estates forfeited from Jacobite landowners
involved in the 1715 and 1745 rebellions, contain information on schools
and other estate buildings (NRS reference E700-E788). The exchequer records
also include window tax, inhabited house tax and other taxation records
of the 18th century (NRS reference. E326). For Midlothian there are also
schedules for the Small House Duty or Cottage Tax for 1803-12. Valuation
Rolls from 1855 record properties over a low rental value, listing
annually the names of the owner, proprietor, tenant and principal
occupier for each property (NRS reference VR).
The records of the Court of Session (NRS reference CS), the High Court
of Justiciary (NRS reference JC), the Sheriff Courts (NR reference SC) and
the records of the Justices of the Peace (NRS reference JP) and the Crown
Office (NRS reference CR) held in National Records of Scotland (NRS)
contain a wealth of information relating to buildings in Scotland,
but there are no systematic subject indexes to identify relevant references
and the normal findings aids based on personal names must generally
be used. Descriptions of buildings can occur in court cases specifically
relating to property, but probably much more may also be found incidentally
as part of civil or criminal actions.
Court of Session records (NRS reference CS)
The long sequence of surviving court cases from the 16th century
to the present day contains many cases relating to disputed property
rights, and to the performance of and payment for work by architects,
builders and surveyors. Such cases have to be identified by the names
of the parties in a case, some of which can be found in card indexes.
Alternatively, the printed sets of case papers held by the Signet
Library and the Advocates Library can be helpful in determining the
nature of a particular court process. NRS holds a copy of the
index to the Signet Library's set.
Sheriff Court processes (NRS reference SC)
Civil cases survive for many Sheriff Courts from the 17th century
onwards and mostly consist of actions for payment. These may sometimes
relate to repairs or other building work carried out on specific buildings,
or to goods supplied for fitting them out. They are mostly unindexed.
Registers of Deeds
Building contracts for private houses and other buildings were occasionally
recorded in the Register of Deeds, known as the Books of Council and
Session (NRS reference RD), or the registers of deeds in the Sheriff Courts
(NRS reference SC). They can only be located by the names of the parties
to a contract, or by working through the registers. Interesting seventeenth-century
examples are printed in the 'Miscellany of the Scottish History Society'
Volume XI (1990), pp.269-327. As the purpose of registering was to
record an authentic copy of a contract in case of dispute, the court
processes may contain a relevant case.
Crown Office and High Court records
The precognitions taken by the Crown Agent in preparing a criminal
case may include detailed descriptions of the locus of a crime (NRS
reference AD). Relevant plans are generally kept in the RHP series, e.g.
detailed plans of some shops and public houses, 19th cent. Evidence
produced in court can occasionally be found in the papers relating
to High Court of Justiciary cases (NRS reference JC), for example a sketch
of the toll house at Helmsdale, Sutherland, in 1817 (NRS reference JC26/383).
The High Court records also include miscellaneous private and public
papers, such as the papers of James Anderson WS, relating to the policing
of St James's Square, Edinburgh in the late 18th century (NRS reference JC65).
The NAS hold many records of the large landed estates
among its collections of private papers (NRS reference GD). These may contain
information on anything from the owner's castle or country house,
to farms, mills and estate workers' cottages, from schools and churches,
if the owner was a heritor, to bridges and roads. Some landed estates
were entailed (NRS reference RT) and from 1770 owners of entailed estates
could charge the cost of making improvements to the buildings on the
estate against succeeding heirs. Details of their expenditure had
to be recorded with the appropriate sheriff court (NRS reference SC). Some
estate collections have been deposited with local archives, the National
Library of Scotland or are still in private hands. The National Register
of Archives for Scotland holds surveys of collections held outside
NRS and these are available for consultation in our search rooms.
NRS hold the records of the Church of Scotland, the secession
churches and other denominations. Information on churches, manses,
graveyards, schools and schoolhouses can be found in the presbytery
and session records (NRS reference CH2 and 3) or the Heritors records,
the records of the major landowners in the parish (NRS reference HR).
The records of British Rail Scotland (NRS reference BR) are organised
according to the pre-vesting companies amalgamated in 1923. They contain
information on railway stations and lines, as well as canals.
Register House Plans
The NRS's plans collection is referred to as the Register House
Plans series (NRS reference RHP) and it includes architectural drawings
and related maps and plans from a wide variety of sources. Most drawings
relate to other collections in the NAS, such as court or estate records,
which can enhance the value of the visual material as historical evidence
for buildings. There are now over 150,000 plans in this series, and
is searchable electronically.
Scottish Office and other governmental records
The Scottish Office and its associated departments and agencies
have exercised responsibility for buildings of almost every variety
throughout Scotland. The administrative records of Scottish departments
and other bodies dealing with housing, agriculture, education, health
provision, prisons, industry, transport and communications are therefore
a rich source for architectural history. Many of the files of Historic
Scotland and its predecessor departments, which concern ancient monuments
and historic buildings, are conveniently listed in Morag Cross, 'Bibliography
of Monuments in the Care of the Secretary of State for Scotland' (Glasgow,
1994). The files of the Ministry of Works (NRS reference MW) and Environment
Department (NRS reference DD) provide information on public buildings,
roads and bridges. The latter also contain files on ancient monuments.
Those of the Scottish Office Education Department (NRS reference ED) contain
information on museums, galleries and libraries. ED31 is a series
of files on school buildings and further education colleges.
Inland Revenue Field Books
The 'field books' (NRS reference IRS51-88) were compiled by the Inland
Revenue, 1909-1915, in order to determine the value of all land in
the UK. The books contain architectural notes on the number of storeys,
the construction materials of walls, roofs, steps and external features
such as mouldings, and internally the number and occasionally the
functions of rooms and other architectural features. Sanitation arrangements
in the form of water or earth closets and bathrooms are usually mentioned.
The survey covers urban and rural buildings of all types. The various
buildings which might make up a farm are all noted. Public buildings
such as churches may only be described briefly as 'stone, roof slated'.
Where lengthy descriptions necessitated the use of supplementary files,
these files do not form part of the records preserved in the NAS and
are presumed to have been destroyed. The field books usually, but
not invariably, contain sketch block plans of buildings and boundaries
marked with dimensions. A series of Ordnance Survey maps, marked with
the number of each property allocated by the IRS, provides the key
to the books, which are arranged by county, parish and ward.
Ordnance Survey Name Books
The name books were compiled in the middle of the 19th century and
contain brief architectural descriptions of properties featured in
the 6-inch and 25-inch O.S. maps. They can be helpful in determining
the general appearance of a rural building, for example the number
of storeys and the roof materials. These are available on microfilm,
NRS reference RH4/23/4. The NRS has begun uploading these to the ScotlandsPlaces website.
Local archives and libraries
Local archives hold Dean of Guild and modern planning department
records; plans and drawings of buildings. Your local library may hold
newspapers and trades directories which provide much information on
National Monuments Record of Scotland
Historical information on many buildings are held by the National
Monuments Record of Scotland, Royal Commission on the Ancient and
Historical Monuments of Scotland, John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard
Terrace, Edinburgh EH8 9NX. It houses an excellent photographic
collection, architectural drawings and papers, and a useful library
on Scottish architecture and architects. See 'National Monuments
Record of Scotland Jubilee, A Guide to the Collections, N.M.R.S.,
1941-1991' (Edinburgh, 1991).
CANMORE is the website for Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical
Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) providing information on the NMRS's
archaeological and architectural photographs, plans and drawings
etc. It is searchable topographically and in various other ways.
Statutory lists of buildings of architectural or historical
Copies of the Statutory Lists of Buildings of Architectural or Historical
Interest are held both by the National Monuments Record for Scotland
and by Historic Scotland at Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh,
EH9 1SH Tel 0131 668 8600. These lists often refer to primary or
secondary sources which may help with more detailed research. Alternatively
you can search for information on listed buildings on the Historic
National Library of Scotland
The Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Scotland contains
many collections of private family and estate papers of value for
architectural history. The Map Library holds an extensive collection
of manuscript maps and architectural drawings, as well as other
published plans and full sets of Ordnance Survey maps.
The following is a selection of the many excellent books on Scottish
architecture now available.
The illustrated architectural guides published by the Royal Incorporation
of Architects (Scotland) cover many Scottish counties.
Historic Scotland's 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage' series.
For in depth surveys see also the 'Buildings of Scotland' (Penguin)
Howard M Colvin's 'Biographical Dictionary of British Architects
1600-1840' (London, 1995) is useful for country houses, ecclesiastical
and municipal buildings.
Glendinning, MacInnes and MacKechnie, 'History of Scottish Architecture'
Older but still standard works are D. MacGibbon and T Ross, 'The
Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, 1660-1800' (5
vols.) and 'The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland' (3 vols.).
For information on records of architectural practices, consult
'Scottish Architects Papers' by Rebecca Bailey (Edinburgh, 1996).
National Records of Scotland
Crown Copyright 2012