Blog post by Laura Brown, social media manager at RoS.
You might not know it, but 2017 is a bigger year than most for Scottish heritage. Rather specifically, the month of June heralds a milestone in land registration history for us at the Registers of Scotland. The world’s oldest national land register (the General Register of Sasines) has its 400th birthday and to mark it, we’ve gone on the hunt for history at some of Scotland’s most beautiful properties.
For us, it’s not about using the guidebooks… it’s about trying to discover something different through the lens of Scotland’s oldest land register. Using our digital system, Registers Direct, we were able to explore these ancient archives and find out even more about Scotland’s heritage.
Alongside our short social media videos — presented by David Weinzcok, aka @TheCastleHunter — we’re sharing the full sasine register stories right here on our blog. You’ll see how beautiful these documents really are! The penultimate property in our series is a sprawling former cotton mill by Stanley in Perthshire.
The Mansion House, Offices and Gardens of Stanley… with Salmon and other Fishings in the River Tay… with the Corn Mill, Kiln, Cotton Mills, Manager’s House and other buildings thereon…
General Register of Sasines, 1872
On the banks of the roaring River Tay, the impressive Stanley Mills — maintained to this day by Historic Environment Scotland — was first built back in the 1780s as a cotton mill. At that time, Scotland was going through an industrial revolution which saw modern factories change the face of daily life for our citizens. In the years before the first entry in the General Register of Sasines, Stanley Mills went through a few owners — including David Dale, who championed New Lanark’s Enlightenment ideals — and in 1843, the railway arrived in Stanley, vastly accelerating production times.
As industry was progressing, so were our registers. The oldest recorded deed we have for Stanley Mills is dated 1853 and hand-noted as ‘sas. [sasine] Howard’, confirming Samuel Howard‘s ownership at that period. The encompassing description above — which appears twenty years later in the sasine register — shows the scale of the estate, and highlights how an owner’s negligence could quite easily allow a place of this size to fall into bankruptcy… causing chaos not just for them, but for their workforce too.
Feu. Disp. by Trustees of the deceased Samuel Howard, of Stanley, to William Wright, ___ Street, Dundee, of a piece of ground in Stanley…
General Register of Sasines, 1875
Unfortunately there was another, external, force at work — the power of the markets. During the years between Howard’s purchase of Stanley and his death, records note the untimely downfall of the mills due ‘to the scarcity of Cotton’ (more detail can be found on Scotland’s Places website). After Howard’s death, the sasine register shows that his trustees began to sell off smaller sections of the Stanley estate nearer the village itself, a common occurrence as the years passed and financial strains began to show.
Feu… by Laura Stewart Sandeman of Stanley to Mary Stewart Sandeman, residing at Stanley House, Stanley of 32 562/1000 poles of ground…
General Register of Sasines, 1905
In the late 1800s, Frank Stewart Sandeman took ownership of the mill, replacing the old water wheels with more modern turbines. A similar entry of plot sale is recorded in 1905, where Frank’s wife Laura sells 32 poles of ground to a relative (32 poles was equivalent to about 160 metres at that time).
Regardless of these sales, the turn of the twentieth century was a difficult time for the mill owner and his workers with the world wars and cigarette industry only briefly alleviating the general decline. The sasine register search sheets show multiple sales in the seventies but — due to wider considerations like cotton prices and widespread electricity — the mills were unable to sustain the changes in the industry and closed their doors in 1989.
Disp. by Stanley Mills (Scotland) Limited, — to Secretary of State for Scotland, — of ground, with buildings Stanley Mills, Stanley thereon, referred to in Disp. to said Granter, recorded 8 FEb. 1979. Dated 22 and 24 Nov. 1995 — £65,000…
General Register of Sasines, 1995
That wasn’t the end of the Stanley Mills story though. In the mid-nineties, the sprawling mill got a new lease of life when its final owners sold the estate to the Secretary of State for Scotland (or Historic Environment Scotland, as this document details) for £65,000. This purchase allows HES to maintain Stanley Mills as one of the world’s best-preserved eighteenth-century industrial sites, caring for the building and crafting intriguing exhibits to share the site’s history for further generations.
We’re working towards completing Scotland’s land register by 2024. As we approach this goal, we’ll be registering many more of the country’s iconic and unknown buildings onto the digital Land Register. We can’t wait to see what other stories we discover!