We have a number of curiosities in our archives, but one of the odder items is the contents of a birds’ nest.

No ordinary nest, this one, found in the roof of St Giles Cathedral in 1961, was lined with papers from Scotland’s exchequer records.

Shredded historical documents used to line a birds nest.
The contents of a birds nest found in St Giles cathedral by Dr Athol Murray. National Records of Scotland, RH19/201

Keeper of the Records of Scotland from 1985-1990 Dr Athol Murray identified the documents. He takes up the story:

“In 1961 The Scottish Record Office received some papers found by electricians in the roof space of St Giles Cathedral.

“A few were complete, including a copy of the Edinburgh Court from the 1770s, and I recognised others as being torn bits of exchequer documents, mainly eighteenth century.

“I was sent up to have a look around and found more torn papers surrounded by masses and masses of twigs and general rubbish.

“I asked them to send over anything else they found and received a lorry load of twigs and more bits of torn up paper.

“Colleagues patiently sorted through them and found more documents , although it was indicated to me rather strongly that should we receive another such lorry load, I could sort the contents myself.

“The strange mixture of documents, twigs and rubbish had me baffled but later a knowledgeable colleague, Dr Frances Shaw, provided the answer – a jackdaw’s nest.

“A pair of jackdaws must have been flying in and out of the roof space of St Giles into the exchequer office opposite on Parliament square. The St Giles roof was renewed around 1830, so the jackdaws must have got access to the Cathedral and the Exchequer Office after that.

“The jackdaws had been flying in and out, taking whole documents, and ripping them up to feather their nests.”

“Some documents were subsequently restored, but the picture shows those which remain in their shredded state. They date from the 1680s to the 1830s.

One thought on “Birds nest manuscript

  1. Reblogged this on SWOP Forum and commented:
    This is interesting …and weird! FYI: the exchequer office was, I believe, located in the building which now houses the Supreme Courts Library. Maybe the SCTS Library Service should beware!


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