The National Records of Scotland (NRS) is taking part in Doors Open Days (DOD) again this year, on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th September. The aim of DOD is to give everyone the opportunity to explore some of the most architecturally and culturally significant buildings in Scotland, places which are not usually open to the public or which usually charge an entry fee.

Doors Open Days

DOD is coordinated nationally by the Scottish Civic Trust and locally by the Cockburn Association. It is part of European Heritage Days together with Scottish Archaeology Month which is organised by Archaeology Scotland. Both events are supported by Historic Environment Scotland.

All of the participating venues have produced a digital resource, so that the public can visit them virtually from the comfort of their own home. You can explore and engage with virtual tours, webinars, and more resources remotely via the DOD website. Some venues, the ones that have the capacity to safely do so, have decided to welcome visitors in-person.

National Records of Scotland

NRS has participated in DOD for many years. We have welcomed visitors into our buildings for behind-the-scenes tours, exhibitions and the opportunity to speak to us about what we do.

NRS keeps records created by the Scottish Government, as well as private records created by businesses, landed estates, families, courts, churches and other corporate bodies. These collections are held in four buildings in Edinburgh, two of which, Robert Adam’s Neoclassical General Register House and Robert Mathieson’s Italianate New Register House, are listed buildings and outstanding examples of 18th and 19th century architecture.

Adam’s elegant General Register House is one of the oldest purpose-built archive buildings still in use in the world which holds Scotland’s national records.

Crown copyright, NRS, RHP6082/10
South elevation of the Register Office. Annotated in pencil to show position of lightning conductors on the turrets.
[By Robert Adam]. James Basire, engraver. Engraving. Printed 4 July 1800.
Scale: 1 1/8 in = 10 ft. 454 x 617 mm.

Today, General Register House continues to preserve Scotland’s archives and to provide public access to the nation’s records.

Crown copyright, NRS
General Register House with the new St James Quarter in the background, June 2021
Crown copyright, NRS
Detail of New Register House Dome

Robert Matheson’s New Register House was built between 1859 and 1863 to store and safeguard the records of civil registration in Scotland. It was designed to harmonise with the existing General Register House constructed a century earlier.

We have recently produced a video tour of New Register House which allows you to go behind the scenes and explore the Dome in this beautiful building, learn more about its history and the records it holds and visit the adjoining Archivists’ Garden.

You can read more about the history of our oldest buildings in this article about Doors Open Day 2020 for NRS’ Blog Open Book.

Digital Doors Open Days

Since we’re unable to open up our doors this weekend and provide tours and displays, as we usually do, we have produced a number of digital resources and hope we can engage with you online.

Public talk

On Thursday 23 September we facilitated a public talk on Zoom given by Dr Anthony Lewis, Curator of Scottish History for Glasgow Life Museums. His talk, ‘Opening doors to Edinburgh’s New Town’s past – its planning as reactions to plague, poverties and property ownership?’ focused on some possible motivations for enlarging and improving Edinburgh in the first half of the 1700s.

Crown copyright, NRS, RHP6082/36
‘Section through the Centre Line of the Register Office from North to South.’ (Plate VII).
By Robert Adam, architect, 1771. T Miller, engraver. Engraving. Published, January 1775.
Scale: 1 1/8 inches = 10 feet. 468 x 580 mm.

A video recording of Dr Lewis’ talk is now available to watch on YouTube.

Edinburgh’s Remarkable Features

We have curated an exhibition on the NRS website featuring a variety of records from our archives chosen on the theme of ‘Edinburgh’s Remarkable Features’. You can view the display on the NRS website Image Gallery.

Selected records allow you to explore the changing architecture, layout and design of Scotland’s capital city from the mid-18th century to the mid-20th century. Details from a copy of a plan by D. Wit clearly demonstrate the tight and overcrowded living conditions on the Royal Mile by the 1700s. Town planners tried to alleviate this in January 1766 by holding a competition for a ‘New Town’; the chosen design was by James Craig who proposed a simple axial grid system seen in an early 19th century plan by Kirkwood.

As the city developed, modernised and expanded, new buildings, monuments and attractions were created – examples of which can be seen in the beautiful vignettes in this plan from 1851.

Crown copyright, NRS, RHP142497
Map of Edinburgh, 1851, depicting some of Edinburgh’s recognisable features.
 One of the images included in our online exhibition.

Edinburgh’s location by the seaside meant that Portobello Beach became a popular area to unwind and views over the city were enjoyed after a hike up Arthur’s Seat, just as they are today. Whether you are a lifelong resident of Edinburgh or you have never visited the city before, we hope there will be recognisable sights for you to investigate further, and new ones to learn about.

Crown copyright, NRS, GD136/1340
George Brown’s trade card on the corner of Queensferry Street in the west end of Edinburgh.
One of the images included in our online exhibition

Time travel to the 18th century

You can travel back in time with our digital 3D fly-through animation of General Register House from the present day to the 18th century. This animation was created by the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation (a partnership between Historic Environment Scotland and The Glasgow School of Art) based on research on General Register House by John McLintock.

Video tour of New Register House

Lastly, the jewel in the crown is our video tour of New Register House highlighted above, which provides a whistle-stop tour of one of our iconic buildings.

We hope you enjoy our online talk, exhibition, fly-through animation and video tour and connect with us via Facebook and Twitter during DOD this weekend. We also encourage you to investigate what else is going on in Edinburgh and East Lothian and beyond via the DOD website and join in and follow the conversation at #NRSArchives and #DoorsOpenDays.

Tessa Spencer and Veronica Schreuder


National Records of Scotland

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