Burns cottage

Searching for Robert Burns on Scotland’s land and property registers

January 25 marks one of the key dates in the calendar of every Scot around the world: Burns Night. As we toast the national bard, we’ve delved back into our archives to find some more references to Burns, from his birthplace to the history of properties he stayed in, told through our sasine and land registers.

Burns Cottage, Alloway

The most obvious place to start when researching Rabbie’s life through the land registers is Burns Cottage, the home in Ayrshire where Burns was born 260 years ago. Although the oldest digitised reference to Burns Cottage on ScotLIS (our land information service) only dated to 2008, when the National Trust for Scotland took title of the property, we managed to delve even deeper into the older ‘first series’ of the historic General Register of Sasines. The below document from our archives shows what we found.

Search sheet showing Robert Burns father purchasing the land that Burns Cottage is built on.

The most exciting thing you’ll see there is in a tiny scrawl on the very left hand side of the search sheet which states:

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

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 in this very property.

Burns Museum, Mauchline

Burns Cottage is now called the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, but it’s not the only Burns museum you’ll find across Scotland! There’s also the Burns Museum in Mauchline, in East Ayrshire. Burns’ farm at Mossgiel, where he wrote some of his most famous works, is just down the road, and while waiting for it to be made ready he and his wife Jean Armour stayed in a room in what’s now the museum.

Search sheet showing the official name of Burns House

It’s not just VisitScotland that refer to the address as Burns House – it bears that name on our registers as well. The above is a search sheet for the ‘County of Ayr’ again from the General Register of Sasines, which clearly shows the ‘118 square Yards of ground, with the dwelling house commonly known as Burns’s House’.

We also used our map viewer to explore the Ordnance Survey county series maps for the area — it’s interesting to note that even the early 1860 cartography of Mossgiel notes that ‘The Poet Burns lived here’, underlining the celebrity of the poet not more than sixty years after his death.

Burns Memorial, Alloway

We’ve got one final piece of the Rabbie property puzzle from our land and property registers. Burns holds worldwide recognition today, but as we’ve seen above, he was a well-known and popular poet during his lifetime as well. The first ‘Burns Club’, to celebrate his work and influence, was formed in 1801, just five years after his death.

By the 1820s, such committees had already made their mark, including the completion in 1823 of a Burns Monument in Alloway, not too far from the kirk of ‘Tam O’Shanter’ fame. The monument was funded by subscription, and this contribution is noted on our registers.

Entry of Burns Monument on our registers

The image shows the title deed for the monument. According to this document, the land was actually owned by the Incorporation of Shoemakers between 1781 and 1881, when the land formally passed to the ‘Trustees for the Subscribers to the Robert Burns Monument at Alloway near Ayr’. As you can see in the screenshot below that uses the aerial photography layer on ScotLIS, which you can use to search Scotland’s land register, the monument and memorial gardens are still going strong over 100 years later.

Screenshot of aerial view of Burns monument and memorial garden on ScotLIS

Curious about Scotland’s registers?

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