Jennifer Henderson in front of the commemorative artwork at Meadowbank House, Edinburgh

Five things you might not know about the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland

1 April 2018, was the official first day for the new Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, Jennifer Henderson. She succeeds Sheenagh Adams, who held the post since 2009. To mark the occasion, we’ve looked closer at the role of the Keeper, and picked out five things you might not know about this important position.

Why are they called a ‘keeper’ anyway?

It’s actually a straightforward answer. The Keeper is known as the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland because, quite simply he or she ‘keeps’ things. The Keeper has kept the title deeds and records of Scotland dating back to the 12th century. It’s an important responsibility, as these records must be kept accurate and safe, and it’s one that the Keeper continues to do to this day.

Registers of Scotland doesn’t technically appoint the Keeper

Most job appointments come from within the organisation itself, but not so with the Keeper. The Keeper is officially appointed by the First Minister of Scotland. This is related to the important responsibilities that the Keeper holds for the Scottish Government, such as…

The Keeper is the Deputy Keeper of the Scottish Seal

One of the things that the Keeper plays a role in ‘keeping’ is the Great Seal of Scotland, also known as the Scottish Seal. It’s a central part of Scottish law, as this important legal tool allows the monarch to authorise official documents without having to sign each one individually.

As First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is the official Keeper of the Scottish Seal, while the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland acts as Deputy Keeper. It may sound quite symbolic, but it holds real responsibility; the Deputy Keeper has a statutory obligation to attend the swearing in of every First Minister, while RoS also uses the Seal to authenticate official documents, such as when Queen’s Counsel are appointed.

The Great Seal of Scotland
The Great Seal of Scotland

The Keeper is responsible for more than just land and property too

Our two main registers are the Land Register of Scotland and the General Register of Sasines, which deal with land and property records and registration in Scotland. They’re our most recognisable registers, but certainly not our only ones. We compile and maintain 18 other registers.

Some deal with legal matters, such as the Register of Inhibitions, which lists the names of parties who are unable to grant deeds on property due to bankruptcy. We also hold the Crofting Register, which is a public register of crofts, common grazings and land held ‘runrig’, which means land divided into strips that belong to different people.

Two of our most recent registers are the Landlord Register and the Letting Agent Register. These have been developed in collaboration with the Scottish Government, and provide an important registration service to the Scottish housing industry.

The General Register of Sasines, maintained by the Registers of Scotland
The 1617 General Register of Sasines

There have been some significant Keepers over the years

Many individuals have held the position of Keeper, and each has left their own important legacy on the organisation. There’s Thomas Thomson, the first Deputy Clerk Register, who was appointed in 1807. During his 35 year tenure, he introduced important standards to the organisation, and laid the foundations for the modern record office.

In more recent times, Alan Ramage spent his entire 40 year career at RoS, and his time as Keeper witnessed the roll out of the land register across Scotland. Sheenagh Adams set another milestone as the first female Keeper of the Registers of Scotland. Jennifer’s appointment marks the beginning of another chapter in the history of RoS – one in which we’ll continue our digital transformation and deliver land and property information services for Scotland.

Find out more!

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