Hello heritage! The Registers of Scotland in Six

Blog by Laura Brown, Social Media Manager at RoS.

To celebrate heritage in Scotland, we’ve decided to showcase some of the Registers of Scotland’s (RoS) best bits. From the world’s oldest national land register to the first ever purpose-built record repository, there’s a lot you don’t know about this organisation! Or maybe you already do, in which case we salute your historical genius…

So to tie in with Dig It!’s #ScotlandInSix campaign – a nationwide celebration of Scotland’s World Heritage sites – we’ve made our own list of six incredible artefacts which play an important part in the rich history of RoS. Get scrolling! (Pun absolutely intended.)

General Register of Sasines

A list of our best bits can’t possibly kick off without mentioning the General Register of Sasines! Founded in 1617 following an act of the old Scots Parliament, the sasine register is the oldest national land register in the world. This year – 2017 – it has its 400-year anniversary and we’ll be celebrating its birthday in style. Read more.

The sasine register is gradually being replaced by the electronic land register, which was introduced to Scotland in 1981. As opposed to the mostly hand-written and typewriter-stamped sasine, the land register is fully electronic and based on Ordnance Survey maps.

Great Seal of Scotland

Used from the eleventh century by royalty to issue documents and charters, it’s amazing to think the Great Seal is still used today to symbolise the monarch’s authorisation of Scottish Parliament legislation.

You might be wondering how this ties in with the Registers of Scotland. Well, although the ‘Keeper’ of the Great Seal is officially Scotland’s First Minister – currently Nicola Sturgeon – the ‘Deputy Keeper’ of the Scottish Seal is Sheenagh Adams… also known as the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland! She has a statutory duty to attend relevant events alongside the seal, for example, the swearing in of First Ministers. Watch the video above for more info!

General Register House

Designed in the eighteenth century by Scottish architect Robert Adam, General Register House – in Edinburgh’s New Town – is the world’s oldest custom-built record repository.

It’s gone through several incarnations since its foundations were laid in 1774, though. Money soon ran out after the build began and – aside from housing pigeons – one of General Register House’s earlier disguises was as Edinburgh’s first airport. The derelict site – with its still-open rotunda – was used as a take-off site for James Tytler’s hot-air balloons in 1784.

After its completion in 1785, General Register House became home to Scotland’s registers until the office of ‘the keeper’ split in the mid-twentieth century. This gave birth to RoS as we know it and its sister organisation, the National Records of Scotland (who are still based on Princes Street).

Land Register Act 2012

Almost 400 years after the General Register of Sasines came into force, new legislation changed the way Scotland viewed its property registration: the Land Register Act 2012.

Repealing much of the previous statutes (such as the Land Registration Act 1979) and reforming the registration of rights to land, this was a new scheme of land registration that allowed the Registers of Scotland to continually develop our digital transformation and keeper’s practices since the introduction of the map-based land register in 1981.


Like many of our services – which, in this digital age, aren’t quite as tangible as the sasine scrolls! – ScotLIS is a key component of the future of the Registers of Scotland.

Designed to be an online land and information system for the people of Scotland, ScotLIS will allow users to discover full information about any piece of property or land with a single query. Pulling together data from a range of sources, this will be a one-stop resource for Scotland’s property professionals and community citizens. Look out for more updates about ScotLIS in the near future on our blog and social networks!

The Keeper

Responsible for leading the Registers of Scotland, our current keeper is Sheenagh Adams. But ‘the keeper’ of the registers is a role that goes right back to the twelfth century, where safeguarding records was the main responsibility.

Now it’s much more than that! Along with being the Registers’ first female keeper, Sheenagh is also the deputy keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland (meaning she has to attend the First Minister’s swearing in) and has overall responsibility for the organisation and the 18 public registers it maintains.

Sheenagh also champions Scotland’s heritage, with a mediaeval history degree from the University of St Andrews and a place on the Board of Trustees for New Lanark World Heritage Site. She says, ‘The Registers of Scotland is delighted to support the Year of Heritage, History and Archaeology and World Heritage Day. Scotland has always been an innovative nation and, this year, we’re celebrating the 400th anniversary of the world’s oldest land register. Through our programme of events and #RoS400 coverage, we’re hoping to highlight the rich heritage of our organisation and its importance in Scotland’s history.’

Follow the team via @RegistersOfScot on Twitter and on FacebookLinkedIn and YouTube for more updates. Want to comment? Let us know below!

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