On our registers: Aberdour Castle

Blog post by Laura Brown, Social Media Manager at RoS.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the world’s oldest national land register – the General Register of Sasines – we decided to delve behind the scenes of some of Scotland’s most historic buildings. But we didn’t just use the guidebooks… In fact, our mission was to piece together property stories through the lens of the Register of Sasines. Using our digital system, Registers Direct, we were able to peer into centuries of our archives and unearth tangible land registration history!

To sit alongside our video series – presented by David Weinzcok, aka @TheCastleHunter on Twitter – we’re sharing the full property histories right here on our blog to really highlight the beauty and intrigue in these sasine register documents. Our first stop? Aberdour Castle in Fife, one of Scotland’s earliest castles.

The lands, lordship and barony of Aberdour, with castle, manor place, mills, fishings…

Aberdour had a pretty tumultuous property history before its first mention in the Register of Sasines over 150 years ago. A cross-section of Scottish architectural styles, its various additions – a hall house, tower house, painted ceiling and stables – were passed from Robert Bruce to his nephew and then to the Douglases in the mid-fourteenth century. This family were to rise in power, their patriarch holding the title of Earl of Morton.

Then in 1715 – as Hanoverian troops were stationed at Aberdour to suppress the Jacobite clans – a fire broke out, leaving ‘the lands, lordship and barony of Aberdour’ in a ruinous state. By the time the sasine register had its first glimpse of it, the Douglases had decamped to the more fashionable Aberdour House (because castles just weren’t cool anymore).

Deed of assumption… between Sholto John Douglas commonly called Lord Aberdour…

General Register of Sasines, 1874

Although Aberdour was no longer inhabited, our handwritten registration archives still show the property’s progression through generations of Douglases. For example, in 1874 the sasine search sheets show Sholto John Douglas – the eighteenth Earl of Morton – taking ownership of the whole estate from the deceased George Douglas. This is called a ‘deed of assumption’ and included within the estate Aberdour Castle itself.

Disp. in trust by Sholto George Watson Douglas, Earl of Morton, with consent of his eldest son Sholto Charles Watson Douglas, commonly called Lord Aberdour, to Trustees for the purposes therein mentioned…

General Register of Sasines, 1906

Into the dawn of the twentieth century, we can still trace the Douglas lineage through the search sheets we hold as part of the world’s oldest national land register. In 1906, there was a ‘disposition in trust’ from father to son which gifted the younger the whole estate. This Douglas – the nineteenth Earl – was one of Scotland’s major landowners, a businessman with investments in Norway and a policitian. Yet it was in 1924 that Aberdour’s story significantly changed forever, with the sprawling ruin being placed into state care for the first time.

Monument known as Aberdour Castle… is included in the Schedule of Monuments appearing to Secretary of State for Scotland to be of national importance…

General Register of Sasines, 1999

Although the handwritten sasine register guides us through centuries of Douglas lineage and Aberdour history, in the late twentieth century you’ll notice a fundamental change in our archives. From scroll to screen, the Register of Sasines goes digital!

This electronic search sheet – again discovered through our Registers Direct service – shows that, just before the new millennium, Aberdour’s historic importance was again sealed, this time in the Schedule of Monuments (a list designated by Historic Environment Scotland).

As we work towards completing Scotland’s land register by 2024, we’re going to see many more iconic and lesser-known historic properties pass onto the electronic Land Register. It’s an important task, but with stories like this to unearth right here in Scotland, it’s an all too intriguing one too…

We’ll be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the General Register of Sasines, the world’s oldest national register of property ownership, on 28 June 2017. Get involved with the stories on social media using #RoS400 and let us know what properties YOU’D like us to research next!


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