On our registers: Robert Burns’ cottage

Although you may know us best for land registration and house price data, our organisation also looks after twenty of Scotland’s public registers — one of which is over 400 years old. In 2017 we celebrated the anniversary of the General Register of Sasines, the world’s oldest national land register. So what can these historic documents tell us about Scotland’s famous places, buildings and people?

Burns Cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire
Burns Cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire

To celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard, we began searching for signs of the poet in our archives. Here’s what we found.

Using our online services to discover Scotland’s history

Did you know that ScotLIS — Scotland’s land and information service — allows you to access the mass of publicly available data on the Land Register of Scotland, the General Register of Sasines? If you fancy doing this yourself you can log in using your business user credentials (if you’re already an online services customer) or you can sign up using our request form.

Burns Cottage shown on ScotLIS aerial photography view

Our mission? To discover the oldest online record that made reference to Burns Cottage. This is the house where Robert Burns was born back in 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire. We weren’t entirely sure that there would even be any record on either the Land or Sasine Register. Sometimes, when a building is passed down through generations of family members and then onto the ‘Scottish Ministers’ (i.e. Historic Environment Scotland) or a charity like the National Trust for Scotland, it doesn’t make that much of a mark on the registers… Which means it’s harder to trace its history.

We got lucky: there was a mention of Burns Cottage on the General Register of Sasines dating from 2008. Not quite as old as we were hoping, but it sent us on the right path. In 2008, there was a transfer from the Burns Monument Trust to the National Trust for Scotland for places of historic interest [and] natural beauty’. And although dating from less than a decade ago, this search sheet pointed us in the right direction. To discover more about Burns, we’d have to delve deeper into the ‘First Series’ of the Sasine Register.

Exploring Scotland’s oldest land registry documents

Being pointed towards the First Series search sheets was like gold dust; we knew we were onto something really old. And guess what? After following the footprints the Second Series search sheets had left us, we found a reference to Burns Cottage. Take a look at a snapshot of the search sheet below:

search-sheet

You’ll see that this search sheet dates from 1881, where it reads:

1881 May 28. Disp. by the Deacon and other members of the Incorporation of Shoemakers… for behalf of the subscribers to the monument erected to the memory of Robert Burns the Ayrshire Poet at Alloway, near Ayr. Dated 24, 25 & 26 1881.

Basically what this shows is the Incorporation of Shoemakers selling Burns Cottage to the trustees of Burns Monument Trust. This was exciting to find, though not quite as exciting as linking the property with Rabbie himself… But that was to come. This selling of the property directly relates to the written history you can discover on UndiscoveredScotland, where it describes how Burns’ father William leased the cottage to the Shoemakers (who used it as an alehouse).

And then we looked closer.

About a week after we’d done that recce of the Sasine Register‘s oldest documents, we reopened the screenshot to schedule in some social media coverage of what we had found. But we noticed something:

search-edit

On the very left hand side of the search sheet, in the smallest scrawl you could dream up, there was a date. 1756. Straining to read the tiny writing, we could see written:

Feu. William Burns, 25 June 1756. Disp. by … to Shoemakers Incorp 8 Sept. 1781.

How had we not noticed before? This search sheet chronology was proof of William, Robert’s father, purchasing (‘feu’) the land that Burns Cottage was subsequently built on back in the 1750s. Then, a few years later, one of Scotland’s most famous sons was born.

Fancy visiting Burns Cottage?

If the romance and intrigue of Burns’ poetry – and the historical ties to the places he lived, especially in Alloway and Dumfriesshire – are piquing your interest enough to pay a visit, find out more about Burns Cottage on the official website.

burns-cottage-museum

And finally, have a read at the main search sheet description of Burns Cottage where the Bard lived for the first seven years of his life:

The subjects consisting of Burns Cottage, and lands adjoining, with the houses thereon described as 18 … of ground, bounded on the south east by the road from S… to Bridge of Doon and on the south west by a new made road from Alloway along the Sergeant’s B…. in Barony of Alloway.

P.S. Did you know that Robert Burns was also a land surveyor? Have a look at this intriguing article on the RICS website.

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