Trailblazers: The world’s first football club, with John Hutchinson & Andy Mitchell

Long before there was an Edinburgh derby; before the offside rule and the Wembley Wizards or pies and Bovril there was the Football Club, founded in Edinburgh by John Hope in 1824.

It was the world’s first dedicated football organisation, active until 1841, and John Hope’s meticulous records have been preserved among his personal papers here at National Records of Scotland.

In this episode of the NRS podcast, we hear from sport historians John Hutchison and Andy Mitchell, who joined us at General Register House to tell us all about the club; about its extensive membership and how they interlinked through sport and work; where they lived and where they were educated.

They also introduced some startling links between the members of the Football Club and the next generation – the ones who gave us football in the form we know and love today.

You can find some of John Hope’s records from the NRS archives below, including membership lists and receipts.

The NRS podcast Open Book is also available to download from iTunes and other podcasting platforms, and you can find previous episodes here, including a look at the radicalism of Robert Burns; Criminal cases from the archives and a trip to the lonely isles of St Kilda.

John Hope 654
Receipt for payment by John Hope for the use of Dalry Park to play football and practise archery, 1826.
John Hope 653 place after 654
List of subscribers to John Hope’s Foot-Ball Club for season 1831-1832.
John Hope 655
Receipt for payment by John Hope for blowing up footballs, July 1832. A more laborious and much less pleasant process than it is today!

Scottish Archives For Schools

Are you a primary or secondary school teacher?

Would you like to find out more about how you can use records from the National Records of Scotland archives as teaching tools?

Our Outreach & Learning team provide a flexible service with workshops designed to support a wide range of Scottish Curriculum areas and National Qualifications.

You can also use resources available on our Scottish Archives for Schools site as teaching aids, to help pupils connect with Scotland’s history, heritage and culture.

Recent learning events included a school workshop on historical sources for a Higher History class from Webster’s High School in Kirriemuir, supporting the pupils’ recent project on empire and migration.



In this workshop our Head of Learning, Tessa Spencer, provided primary and secondary sources telling the tale of the McCracken family, who emigrated from Ayrshire to Australia in the 1840s. It was a fun day for us, for teachers and – we hope! – for pupils.

The class explored journal entries and correspondence written by Peter and Robert McCracken detailing their voyage to Australia, as well as later genealogical research by Coiler McCracken, Peter McCracken’s son.

These documents offer a unique insight into the family’s experiences, the push and pull factors of emigration in the nineteenth century and the rapidly developing colony of Australia. Students also considered the differences in perspective between the personal and published accounts.

If your class would be interested in taking part in an education workshop, or if you would like to discuss options for learning opportunities with our staff, please see the Services for Schools section of our website.

For more information on school visits and workshops, as well as resources to help pupils connect with Scotland’s history, heritage and culture, you can also visit the Scottish Archives for Schools website or contact our learning team at

And you can find out more about the McCracken family’s emigration to Australia in a previous Open Book article from earlier this year.

Population projections and depopulation across Scotland

NRS have published the latest Population Projections for Scottish Areas. They are based on the latest mid-2016 population estimates and provide an indication of the future population size and age structure of Scottish areas based on a set of assumptions about future fertility, mortality and migration.

The projections show that overall, the population of Scotland is projected to increase by 3% between 2016 and 2026. The majority of Scotland’s councils – 24 of the 32 councils – are projected to increase in population over the next decade. However, this means a quarter of Scotland’s councils – 8 councils – are projected to decline in population over the same period.

Of the council areas projected to experience a fall in population, Na h-Eileanan Siar (-5%), Inverclyde (-4%) and Argyll and Bute (-3%) are projected to have the largest decreases. The areas projected to decrease in population are concentrated in the west of Scotland. North, East and South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and West Dunbartonshire are also projected to experience falls in population over the next ten years.

Areas projected to decrease in population over the next 10 years are concentrated in the west of Scotland
Areas projected to experience population decrease

Continue reading “Population projections and depopulation across Scotland”

In From The Cold…

National Records of Scotland recently welcomed a group of staff and history students from the University of Iceland at General Register House, Edinburgh.

The visit involved an introduction to Scotland’s archives and a seminar to consider Scotland and Iceland’s respective national histories, and the nature and survival of historical records.

As part of the visit, our Heads of Digitisation and Learning, Robin Urquhart and Tessa Spencer, as well as Samantha Smart from Digital Services, looked into our archives for interesting documents from Iceland and Icelanders, some demonstrating historic links between our two countries.

We’ve included images of some of the more striking documents from our archives:

– an Icelandic calendar and a book of devotion from 1588-1589;

– a map of Iceland, c. 1748;

– an extract from Sir George Steuart Mackenzie’s travels in Iceland in 1810; and

– an inventory of Thiorbjorn Jonasson, a merchant in Reykjavik who died in Leith in 1895.

We also looked into the Scottish Register of Tartans and found some colourful designs inspired by Iceland’s rugged terrain, including the Volcano tartan.



Map of Iceland c 1748 RHP22361 3 George Louise Le Rouge

Ahead of the visit, our colleagues dug into our records to create a feature on Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson (1847-1927), who composed the Icelandic national anthem while resident in Edinburgh. Sveinbjornsson has now joined hundreds of notable Scots and former residents in the Hall of Fame on the NRS website.

The seminar involved a lively discussion and enthusiastic participation from the students, as well as a bit of friendly rivalry regarding the survival of records!

We hope to arrange another seminar with our Icelandic colleagues and we’re looking forward to engaging with them on other academic projects in future.

If you’re a teacher and would like to learn more about our education services, including workshops for primary and secondary schoolchildren, please see the Services for Schools section of our website.

For more information on school visits and workshops, as well as resources to help pupils connect with Scotland’s history, heritage and culture, you can also visit the Scottish Archives for Schools website or contact our learning team at


St Kilda: The Edge of the World, with Dr Alison Rosie


This is the third episode of Open Book, a Podcast by National Records of Scotland dedicated to preserving Scotland’s past, recording its present and informing our future.

This week, we’re off to the lonely isle of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, forty miles west of Benbecula.

This craggy isle once supported a small but hardy population, who survived long periods of isolation on a diet comprised of mostly puffins and fulmars. They endured the hard climate and outbreaks of disease, as well as the occasional troublesome tourist and kidnapped aristocrat, until St Kilda was finally evacuated for good in 1930.

Dr Alison Rosie is head of the National Register of Archives of Scotland, which surveys records held in private hands and provides advice and support to custodians. In this talk, recorded at General Register House in Edinburgh’s New Town, Alison looks into the NRS archives to see what we can discover about St Kilda, its people and their history.

She also talks about her recent discovery of the earliest known census of the island’s population from the year 1764, which she found unexpectedly in a private collection.

You can find some of the images that Alison refers to in her talk below, including the 1764 census and many other documents and photographs from the island.  More detailed versions of some of these images are available at the NRS website.

Alison begins her talk with a reference to the album The Lost Songs of St Kilda and you can find a sample of recordings of old St Kildan music at YouTube.

The Open Book Podcast is also available to download via iTunes and several other podcasting applications.





Podcast: Inspiration from the Archives, with ES Thomson

Crime and Punishment: How Archives Can Inspire Fiction, with Dr Elaine Thomson.

Rogues podcast outline

In this week’s Open Book Podcast ES Thomson, author of “The Peachgrowers’ Almanac”, “Beloved Poison”, “Dark Asylum” and others, tells us how archives have inspired her and how the stories of real people from the past can help to develop and inform creative writing.

Elaine looks at some of the strange and remarkable case papers from 19th century Scottish courts she’s found in the NRS archives that inspired elements of her own fiction, including a man transported to Australia for the pettiest of thefts; a bodysnatching medical student with parental issues and a particularly tragic case involving the murder of a newborn infant.

Elaine’s talk is a great introduction to records held by National Records of Scotland and an insight into forgotten stories of a bygone era, whether you’re a budding writer yourself or just have an interest in crime, records or Victoriana.

Find out how to access historical papers from the criminal courts, along with a huge range of other records, at the NRS website.

Open Book, the National Records of Scotland Podcast, is now available to download via iTunes.

Recorded on 20 November 2017 at General Register House, Edinburgh.

Pastures New: Scottish Emigration to Australia

It is common knowledge that Australia was originally treated as a penal colony by the British Empire. In May 1787 the first fleet of convict ships set sail from England and arrived in Botany Bay some 8 months later in January 1788.

As a punishment for persistent offenders – most commonly crimes of housebreaking, theft or forgery – it is estimated that between 1787 and 1868, 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia. A mere 5% of these were Scottish, nearly 7600 people. However this first transportation would later hinder the settlement of Australia by free men and their families, as in the early years convicts greatly outnumbered free settlers.

The large number of convicts, along with other disincentives – such as the long and hazardous journey, the extreme expense, and the unknown nature of Australia to those in Scotland – meant that it was difficult to break the long tradition of Scottish emigration to Canada. However, Australia was in desperate need of labour and it quickly became clear that only through some form of assisted emigration, that this demand would be met.

This demand for labour, coinciding with political unrest in Canada, resulted in Scots being squeezed out of the home labour market by industrial or agricultural improvement, and the development of societies and schemes to aid with emigration, helped to turn the tide. Encouraged by the lure of higher wages, better working conditions and the prospect of marriage or of owning land, many Scots decided to make the long journey to Australia as economic migrants.

Government poster providing ‘General Information for Intending Emigrants’ to Canada, Australasia and South Africa (National Records of Scotland, AF51/91)

The McCrackens

Robert McCracken (born March 1813) and his brother Peter (born Feb 1818) were members of  a large family of seven brothers and three sisters whose descendants had moved to Ayrshire in the southwest of Scotland from the parish of New Luce, Galloway in the 18th century. Their father Robert (1770-1831), was the tenant farmer of Ardwell, and his brother William farmed a few miles away at Auchencrosh near Ballantrae.

The McCrackens had benefitted from an ongoing process, discernible throughout the Scottish Lowlands from the 1760s, in the emergence of larger, economically more effective farms. But this resulted in a decline in the number of available tenancies, thus increasing the likelihood that several of the next generation of the McCrackens would have to seek employment elsewhere.

Among the National Records of Scotland’s (NRS) collections are papers relating to the McCracken family, GD533, which include Peter McCracken’s journal detailing the voyage to Australia and genealogical research by Coiler McCracken (Peter McCracken’s son). Through these papers we have a unique insight into members of the McCracken family’s experience of travelling, and of the situation in the Australian colony.

“I attended school for several years at Girvan and then went for 7 months to Ayr Academy. On returning from which in 1835 I filled my brother Robert’s place…on the farm, and remained with the family, sometimes doing a little in cattle and now and again offering for a farm none of which I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to get. In 1839 I began to think of going out to Australia but my mother being much against it, it got no further than talk.

…on the 11th Feb[ruar]y our dear mother and only parent was dangerously struck with paralysis from which she never recovered…

Immediately after the death of my mother I began to think seriously of starting for Australia – and during the Spring leaving made up my mind to go. I wrote to brother Robert (who was in Manchester) regarding a passage & he not being in good health resolved to go along with me.”

(Extract from ‘Events in the Life of Peter McCracken and of the family to which he belonged – copied from his own writing by his son Coiler McCracken on September 1st 1888. GD533/4/12)

Peter McCracken made the long trip to Australia to seek his fortune. Through Robert McCracken’s journal we get a colourful insight into the difficulties of the journey.

“We had plenty to eat although not of the finest quality. It is no easy matter to chew sea biscuit for four months yet still I got quite stout on it. We had also plenty to drink, except water.

There was a strange medley of passengers, and nearly all of them towns people. They were mostly proud enough, but I believe also mostly poor enough…

There was a great deal of drinking on board, and in our mess there were three confirmed drunkards. One Sabbath afternoon there were no fewer than six drunk, one of them a woman, she and one of the men fell down the companion ladder, which helped to sober them a little, and where there is drinking there is sure to be quarrelling. Sometimes they were for Pistolling each other but they could never screw their courage to the point. Peter and I managed to keep friends with them all, but were often troubled with arbitrations, which was far from pleasant.”

(Extract from Robert McCracken’s journal of the voyage from Liverpool to Victoria, Australia, on board the ‘Nimrod’, 1840-1841. GD533/4/4)

Peter and Robert arrived in Melbourne in January 1841. They were not the only emigrants from their family. Their younger brother, Alexander Earle, followed in 1850, although he returned to Scotland several years later. Initially, the McCracken brothers barely made ends meet, however they persisted with their endeavour. The brothers, in partnership with their brother-in-law, James Robertson, went on to establish a brewery. The initial yield of this brewery, was small, making only 4 barrels of beer per brew. However, good business acumen and a willingness to embrace new methods and techniques led to the company’s success.

Robert ‘tied’ publicans to his brewery, securing a guaranteed buyer for their beer. This coupled with the steady improvement of the product, the regular provision of their beer accompanied by large quantities of wine, tobacco and sweets at a discount, made them a reliable supplier that could meet the demand of thirsty settlers.

By 1861 James Robertson was able to retire a wealthy man, after which the brewery traded as R. McCracken and Co, until 8 May 1907 when it became part of Carlton and United Breweries.

Education Workshops

NRS - Outreach and Learning - Migration and Empire Workshop - 29 January 2018
Migration and Empire Workshop in New Register House. Head of Learning, Tessa Spencer, addressing Webster High School Students

The remarkable story of the McCracken family held in our records has formed the basis for one of our educational workshops, led by our new Head of Learning Tessa Spencer.

New Register House Dome (National Records of Scotland, Crown Copyright)

Recently NRS was delighted to welcome a Higher History class from Webster’s High School into New Register House for a workshop on ‘Migration and the Empire’. This learning activity looked at both primary and secondary sources, and explored the McCracken correspondence and journals alongside published accounts of their lives. We asked the students to examine what the information presented revealed about the McCrackens’ experience  and to consider the push and pull factors of emigration, the development of the colony on Australia, and the different perspectives offered by personal and published accounts.

For more information about NRS’ education workshops please see the ‘Services for Schools’ section of our website.

For more information about records relating to migration held in NRS and other archives see our ‘Emigration Records’.

Jocelyn Grant


National Records of Scotland

Further Reading

The Emigrants. Historical background, list of documents, extracts and facsimiles, National Archives of Scotland, History at Source, 1994

The Scots in Australia. Historical background, list of documents, extracts and facsimile, National Archives of Scotland, History at Source, 1994

Australian Dictionary of Biography, McCracken, Robert (1813-1885)

Scotland’s Census 2021 – Homeless People Count

Sophie and Anna2With planning for the next census in 2021 well underway at National Records of Scotland, our Statistical Futures team are focussed on understanding the needs of our users, data users and respondents.

As part of our preparations, Sophie Davies and Anna Krakowska from the Enumeration team have been engaging with groups and organisations that work with homeless people, as well as with people who are currently or formerly homeless, to better understand their needs and any barriers to participation.

Sophie and Anna have met and held workshops with Fresh Start, Cyrenians, Crisis and Rowan Alba, as well as with Homeless Action Scotland, Edinburgh Council Housing Support Services and Heriot Watt University.  In the course of their research, Sophie and Anna also visited Edinburgh’s only homeless shelter, run by Bethany Christian Trust.

These discussions have inspired a strategic rethink for counting homeless people in Scotland during the 2021 Census. The data from the census in 2011 estimated that there were 98 people homeless or sleeping rough in Scotland, whereas Heriot-Watt researchers estimated there are currently around 600.

The Enumeration team is therefore designing and developing a detailed, tailored enumeration strategy, in collaboration with key stakeholders, to help improve data collected on homeless people in 2021.

The success of Scotland’s Census 2021 will require the continued support and contribution of many groups and organisations.  Sophie and Anna’s work is helping to ensure that the next census will provide valuable and high quality data.

Scotlands Census 2021 - Data Collection - Enumeration - Delivery Model - New

For further information on Scotland’s Census 2021, and to keep up to date with all the latest news, you can sign up to our newsletter or visit the Scotland’s Census website.

Open Book Podcast – Episode One


This is the first episode of the Open Book Podcast, a new series of talks and discussions from National Records of Scotland dedicated to preserving Scotland’s past, recording the present and informing our future.

We kick off with a talk given by Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, on Scotland’s most famous poet and lyricist – Robert Burns.

Centered on recently identified documents at the National Records of Scotland, Gerard’s talk discusses Burns’ place in the Excise Service during revolutionary times.

Was the poet a willing government employee or was he a reluctant, neutered individual, deliberately de-barbed by the powers that be? What were the cultural and intellectual contexts afforded to Burns as a civil servant? What kind of relationships did he have with Excise colleagues and how did his career intersect with his creative and family lives?

Following the French Revolution and the Excise Service enquiry into the poet’s political beliefs, Gerard discusses the nature of Burns’ views and how these were expressed during the turbulent 1790s.

Our exhibition Robert Burns: Radical Exciseman is free to visit on weekdays at General Register House, Edinburgh, between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm until 23 February 2018.

You can find extracts from the letters on display, to which Gerard refers, below.

Burns Letter 1 compressed

“He stood, with Eyes & hands, directed upwards, in an attitude Poetically fancifull”…

Letter from John Mitchell, Collector of Excise, to Robert Graham of Fintry, Commissioner of Excise, 6 August 1789 (National Records of Scotland, GD151/11/26/35A)


Burns Letter 4 compressed
“He had certainly many shining qualities, blended with foibles of various kinds, the most irreconcileable whereof were his political principles, which somehow unluckily was rooted, & proves now a drawback to the humane feelings of many, but such a Genious as he possessed behoved to have eccentricities of some kind or other”.
Letter from John Mitchell, Collector of Excise, to Robert Graham of Fintry, Commissioner of Excise, 2 September 1796 (National Records of Scotland, GD151/11/26/47A)

Recording and images Crown Copyright 2018.

“D Day” 1971 – All Change

Our archivists have retrieved some items from the NRS archives to mark the 47th anniversary of decimalisation in the UK on 15 February.

The first is a still from the film “All Change”, produced in colour in 1969 by World Wide Pictures Ltd. for the Central Office of Information, on behalf of the Decimal Currency Board.

Decimalisation All Change
“All Change”, 1969 – British Official Photograph: Crown Copyright Reserved.  Issued for British Information Services by Photographs Division, Central Office of Information, London.


The film gave shopkeepers across the UK a preview of how retail trading would look soon after “D Day” – 15 February 1971 – when Britain was to officially move to decimal currency. The film explained what “going decimal” meant; what its benefits would be and why early planning was needed.

In this scene, it’s explained that three halves of bitter will cost twenty one new pence.

We’ve also photographed pages from the booklet “New Money In Your Shop”, issued by the Decimal Currency Board in 1969.

Decimalisation Booklet 2

Decimalisation Booklet 1
“New Money In Your Shop”: Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland.

Everyone is now familiar with decimalised currency but since most readers will be far too young to remember pre-decimal days, we’ve included the most straightforward summary of “old money” in the UK, as found in the 1990 novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman:

“One shilling = Five Pee… Two Farthings = One Ha’Penny. Two Ha’pennies = One Penny. Three Pennies = A Thrupenny Bit. Two Thrupences = A Sixpence. Two Sixpences = One Shilling, or Bob. Two Bob = A Florin. One Florin and One Sixpence = Half a Crown. Four Half Crowns = Ten Bob Note. Two Ten Bob Notes = One Pound (or 240 Pennies). One Pound and One Shilling = One Guinea.

“The British resisted decimalised currency for a long time because they thought it was too complicated”.