Five things you probably don’t know about Registers of Scotland

In 400 years of registering and managing land in Scotland, we’ve picked up a quirky fact or two along the way. If our World Heritage Day article piqued your interest about our storied institution, then here are five extra things you probably didn’t know about the Registers of Scotland…

The sasine ceremony

Official property transfers in Scotland have a long and varied history, with the first written record dating back to 1248. Until quite recently, the process has been marked by the sasine ceremony.  This involves the symbolic passing of earth and stones to represent the transfer of land from one party to another.

There have been some interesting examples of the sasine ceremony over the years. It may seem old fashioned, but the very last legally binding ceremony was performed in 2002, when Glenmorangie handed over the land of St Mary’s Chapel in Easter Ross to the Cadbol Trust.


The sasine ceremony doesn’t only relate to land either. In earlier times, the movement of fishing rights from one party to another was marked with the transfer of a coble (a small fishing boat) and an oar or net.

The Horning Register

The sasine register and its successor, the land register, are the two highest profile registers of the 18 we hold. One of the lesser known, the Horning Register, has mostly been superseded by the Register of Inhibition, which records the names of parties who are unable to transact in property due to bankruptcy or insolvency.

horning register horn

The Horning Register’s original function was to publically denounce a debtor as an outlaw. If this wasn’t bad enough, its name comes from centuries past when this condemnation was accompanied by three blasts of the messenger at arms’ horn.

The Royal Seals

One of our most important responsibilities is as holders of the Great Seal of Scotland. These are used to symbolise royal assent of legislation in the Scottish Parliament. It’s Scotland’s oldest national record, dating back to the reign of Duncan II in 1094.

The Great Seal and the others in our care, like the Cachet Seal (a facsimile of the monarch’s signature) and the Prince’s Seal (which authenticates deeds granted by the Prince and Steward of Scotland, currently HRH Prince Charles), may seem antiquated and ceremonial, but in fact, they still hold high importance today…

Letters Patent

In 2017, the role of the Great Seal (and therefore RoS) is as important as it was in 1094. Any legislation in Scotland still requires the Great Seal to denote royal authorisation and become law; as keepers of the seals RoS therefore have a significant role to play in signing letters patent, which officially symbolise the monarch’s assent.

Kenny letter signing

RoS has fulfilled these important responsibilities only just recently. In March, our Commercial Service Director Kenny Crawford signed his first Letters Patent, as shown above, allowing the Budget Scotland Bill to receive royal assent.

The material used to make the seal itself may seem exotic, but in fact it is simply high quality beeswax, produced in East Lothian (not far from our Meadowbank House office, where the seals are kept) and mixed with vermillion.

Technology at RoS

We’re in the midst of a digital transformation here at RoS, but it certainly hasn’t always been this way. Take the humble typewriter. Though a Victorian invention, it wasn’t until 1921 that they were introduced to replace handwritten property search sheets. Even then, they weren’t universally adopted – some solicitors were still submitting applications in ink up to the 1930s, and entries in our Presentment Books (in which properties are ‘presented’ for registration in the sasine register) were still being completed in ink up to the 1990s.

old tech

Our first computer arrived in 1981, but it was definitely no MacBook Air. It was roughly the size of a barn, and took up an entire wing of Meadowbank House in Edinburgh. Installation wasn’t straightforward either – an end wall of the wing had to be moved out, so that the computer could be moved in.

Becoming a digital first organisation is part of our commitment to consistently deliver first class services to the economy and people of Scotland. At the same time, we’re an institution with a rich history which, though it may in past times have involved obsolete ink quills and a rather aggressive debtors register, has innovation firmly at its heart. From the historic sasine register to innovative new services like ScotLIS, our programme of events and #RoS400 coverage this year will celebrate where RoS have come from, and where we are going.

Get in touch!

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You can also follow the team via @RegistersOfScot on Twitter and on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube for more updates. Want to comment? Let us know below.

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