What Scotland’s land and property registers can tell us about our World Heritage Sites

Every year on the 18 April, the UK marks UNESCO’s #WorldHeritageDay to celebrate the history and cultural significance of the listed sites. Scotland has six World Heritage sites and – as our own little nod to Scottish heritage – we’ve delved into our rich land and property registers to see what these digital archives could tell us about some of our most iconic places.

The Antonine Wall

Stretching from Bo’ness in the east to Old Kilpatrick in the west, the Antonine Wall marked the northernmost reaches of the Roman Empire’s power almost 2,000 years ago. Despite the extent of archaeological investigation into the remains, our registers can nevertheless provide some modern-day insight into how we Scots value such a significant site. On our older sasine register, there are ‘Service of Notice[s]’ between the Minister of Works (the state) and citizens of Scotland – the one below is between the state and a local farmer, who has a ‘rampart and ditch of [the] Antonine Wall… being part of [his] farm and lands.’ Similar entries are recorded in New Kilpatrick and at Kinneil House in Bo’ness as early as the 1920s.

Sasine search sheet showing Antonine Wall entry
Sasine search sheet showing Antonine Wall entry

Edinburgh Old and New Towns

Both sides of Edinburgh – the crag-perched tenements of the Old Town, and the precise architecture of the Georgian New Town – have deep ties to our 400-year-old organisation. Back in the thirteenth century Edinburgh Castle, which is listed as MID001 on our land register, was home to Scotland’s first parchment roll register and its responsible officer – the ‘Clerk of the Rolls.’ Then, in 1617, the old Parliament of Scotland established the General Register of Sasines (the world’s first national land register) at their building just off the Royal Mile.

On the opposite side of the filled-in loch that’s now Princes Street Gardens, you’ll find General Register House. This iconic New Town building, commissioned in 1765, took over 20 years to finish but finally became the world’s first purpose-built record repository. It was the home of all Scotland’s records for centuries, before the Office of the Keeper split in 1948 — resulting in us (land and property registers) and the National Records of Scotland (records such as births, marriages and deaths). So, as you can tell, the links between this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the history of Scotland’s land registers is inextricable – Edinburgh, essentially, watched our organisation grow over the centuries.

St Kilda

This iconic archipelago, which sits in the wild Atlantic, was actually the first UNESCO World Heritage Site to be added to Scotland’s digital land register back in 2015. The title sheet shows that it’s looked after by the ‘National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’ and has several burdens detailing places on the islands – like St Kilda Village – that were entered into the Schedule of Monuments for their importance. Using ScotLIS, our land information service, we’re able to view the Ordnance Survey MasterMap and aerial photography layers alongside the map-based registration information in the business users’ version – a quite different perspective on the usual craggy, coastal photos we see of the archipelago from the sea.

St Kilda view from ScotLIS business
St Kilda map view on ScotLIS

The Forth Bridge

The Firth of Forth is renowned for its three bridges connecting Edinburgh to Fife and beyond. The Forth Bridge opened for rail traffic in 1890, while the Forth Road Bridge did the same for cars in 1964, and the new Queensferry Crossing opened in 2017.

The title for the Queensferry Crossing was created in 2014, when ownership of the land was sold by the Crown Estate Commissioners (representing the UK Government) to Scottish Ministers. The transfer stipulated that though Scottish Ministers were free to build the bridge, it had to be done under specified conditions. For example, the bridge cannot interrupt maritime traffic or fishing rights. It might seem overly specific, but think of it like this: had all land been transferred, then theoretically, the Queensferry Crossing could have just been a brick wall with a road on top! You can read more about the conveyancing that went on behind the scenes with the bridge on our blog.

Skara Brae in Orkney

Neolithic Orkney

Orkney is awash with World Heritage Sites, including the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness. The most famous and iconic, however, is Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement dating back thousands of years, which you can find on our registers. The sasine search sheet for the estate where Skara Brae was found records transactions dating back to just about when a storm first uncovered the settlement’s remains in 1850. It also registers the official entry of the site onto the Schedule of Monuments, ensuring it’s protected for generations to come.

New Lanark

Scotland was a centre of the Industrial Revolution in Scotland, and you can still find testament to that today at New Lanark. New Lanark was built in the 18th century as a new village to support the growing textile industry, with workers living and working in the same area.

You’ll find New Lanark today on the Land Register, and its title as shown on ScotLIS holds tangible proof of its historical significance. In the title plan shown below, the areas coloured in yellow, mauve blue and brown denote areas such as access roads, dwellings and other legal requirements. Its inclusion on Scotland’s land register gives a state-backed guarantee to the proprietors of New Lanark, meaning that the ‘historic and architectural merit’ of the site will be protected and preserved for generations to come.

New Lanark aerial and land register view from ScotLIS for business users
New Lanark on our land register (via ScotLIS)

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