On our registers: Scottish Rugby, from Inverleith to Murrayfield

With the Six Nations kicking off this week, we wondered how much we could trace the history of Scottish rugby on our registers.

The first ever international at Raeburn Place

Scotland has a special place in the history of rugby union, with the first ever rugby international played a few miles from our Edinburgh office. It was held at Raeburn Place in Stockbridge; as you can see from the images below (the first taken from an 1878 county series map, and the second from ScotLIS), both then and now the ground was the playing fields for the nearby Edinburgh Academy.

Raeburn Place in Stockbridge. hald taken from 1878 and the second taken from ScotLIS

Scotland won the match by a goal and try to a lone English try, though the methods of scoring were slightly different from today. With 4,000 spectators looking on, these numbers may pale in comparison with today’s attendances, but they were looking on at a piece of rugby history hosted by Scotland.

Early beginnings in Inverleith

Rugby continued to grow in popularity, and in the late 19th century the Scottish Football Union (the forerunner of today’s Scottish Rugby Union) decided to purchase a new home for matches. This was in Inverleith, and today you’ll find still find playing fields there.

Country series map from 1909

See the image above; as the county series map from 1909 shows, there were several ‘football grounds’ (as rugby pitches were called) in the area. We’ve also found mention of the move on our sasine register; the screenshots below show the transfer of land from nearby Fettes College to the Scottish Football Union.

screenshot of the transfer of land on our sasine register

The move to Murrayfield, and an unusual find

The Scottish Football Union made the move to its current home in the 1920s, with the purchase of land bought from the Edinburgh Polo Club. The search sheets below highlight the sale and the registration for the land, which preserves it on our registers.

search sheets show the sale and the registration for the land

While researching this story, another landmark on the old maps stood out: Roseburn House, dated on the map to AD 1582. My first impression was of an old country home that was torn down in the Victorian era or thereabouts, to make way for housing that you’ll find there today. However, a look at today’s Ordnance Survey map, and the records on our registers for that matter, show that Roseburn House is in fact still there, a 16th century listed tower house in the midst of a 20th century housing estate.

A quick check over with our fellow public servants at Historic Environment Scotland provides a few more details. They call it “an important early surviving example of a burgess house including significant early fabric”, and also note a stone carved above the original tower doorway, “AL MY HOIP IS IN YE LORD”, dated 1582 and initialed with MR and KF, referring to Mungo Russell (a wealthy Edinburgh merchant for whom the house was built) and his wife Katherine Fisher.

1877 country series map overlaid on today's OS map
Image shows the 1909 county series map overlaid on today’s OS map, showing Roseburn House, Murrayfield Stadium, and the scale of modern development in the area.

If you’ll be cheering on Scotland during the Six Nations this year, spare a thought that, of the thousands of rugby supporters who make their way to Murrayfield down Roseburn Street, very few probably realise how close they are to a building that’s the better part of half a millennium old.

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