The names of some of our buildings may seem self-explanatory: it is fairly easy to understand why names like General Register House, West Register House, and New Register House were chosen. However, we are often asked about the name of our newest archive building, Thomas Thomson House, which is at Sighthill to the west of Edinburgh city centre.

Model by Building Design Partnership, architects of Thomas Thomson House

TTH (as it is known by staff) was built in 1994 and provides over 37 kilometers of records storage as well as being the base for many of our conservators, archivists, and support staff.

It was named for the very first man to hold the post of Deputy Clerk Register – which post was in effect the predecessor of the Keeper now. Thomas Thomson (1768-1852) oversaw the day-to-day running of the record office (at General Register House) between 1806 and 1839 and he initiated a programme of cataloguing and conservation work which saw great improvements in the condition and accessibility of the public records in particular.

Portrait of Thomas Thomson by Carl Schmidt, National Records of Scotland
Portrait of Thomas Thomson by Carl Schmidt, National Records of Scotland

In addition to his work in the archives, he edited a large number of works including transcripts of key records Scottish history, but his largest published body of work was the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland which was a 12 volume series designed to document authoritatively and exhaustively the acts of the pre-Union Scottish Parliament. It certainly exhausted Thomson, who died before the last two books in the series were published (the index and Volume 1, which he had left until last). The series was also perhaps less authoritative than Thomson would have hoped, with new discoveries of relevant manuscripts within his lifetime making some volumes obsolete soon after publication. Thomson also tended to blend sources together or omit certain sources without adequate citation.

He ended his career under something of a cloud, having run into serious financial difficulties, and he was suspended from his position as Deputy Clerk Register in 1839, and formally dismissed in 1841. Despite this, his over 30 years in post saw an amazing amount of work carried out to improve and broaden access to the records that form the historic core of the NRS archival collections. His name lives on in the building that now houses many of the historical records he worked so hard to preserve.

Visit the NRS website to find out more about our history and Thomson’s attitude to conserving the historical records held here.

Kirsteen Mulhern, Archivist

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