How are households in Scotland changing?

Every year, National Records of Scotland estimates how many households there are in Scotland, and how many people live in the average household. Households can be groups of people living together in homes, or single people living alone in a home.

Why is this important? Well, knowing how many households there are, and how many households there might be in future, is key for planning local services like waste collection and community care, and for planning for future housing needs.

The number of households in Scotland has been steadily rising over time, at a slightly faster rate than the population. According to our latest estimates, there are now 2.45 million households in Scotland. However, you may not know that the makeup of the typical household has also been changing.

households 1

In the past, larger households of three or more people were the most common type in Scotland. According to the census carried out in 1961, only 14% of households consisted of one person living alone. However, our latest estimates show that one person households are now the most common type. In fact, we estimate that nearly 900,000 people in Scotland are living alone.

Chart showing number of single person and two person or more households

One of the main reasons for this is that the number of older people in Scotland is going up. Older people are more likely to live alone, or in smaller households, so as the number of older people increases, the size of the average household decreases. This could be important to bear in mind for planning the sort of housing and care which will be needed in future.

If you would like to find out more, the full publication, infographic summary and interactive data visualisation for the 2016 household estimates are available on our website.


Amelia Brereton, Assistant Statistician

Estimating the number of homes in Scotland

Every year we estimate how many homes there are in Scotland, and also how many of those homes are either empty, or second homes. Our estimates are then used for planning things like housing and local services.

Our latest estimates suggest there are now 2.58 million homes in Scotland. For every hundred homes in Scotland, we estimate that 96 are occupied all year, one is a second home occupied for only part of the year, and three are empty homes which are not being occupied at all. Empty and second homes are more common in some parts of the country than others. For example, remote rural areas have a higher proportion of both second homes and empty homes than urban areas.

Number of occupied dwellings, empty homes and second homes in Scotland

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A 1920s family photograph album

As well as locating and surveying historical papers held in private hands, the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) is often in the position of trying to find a good home for archives. And sometimes this is not at all straightforward.

Take for instance a photograph album bound in soft leather found in a Travel Lodge in Edinburgh and handed in to the National Records of Scotland. Nothing with it to identify the owner, nor the subjects of the snapshots, it is not even clear that the family was Scottish. Its pages record a family at leisure, on high days and holidays.

But who exactly are they, this family of many generations, the smiling brides and grooms, the young girl posing with her friends on the lawn of their boarding school (which looks Scottish baronial, but where?), the nurse laughing in the snow, the grandparents posing in front of their Model T Ford and teeing off on the golf course at Gullane?

Clearly the family was of some substance. The clothes are fashionable, if providing proof positive that the dropped waist dresses of the 1920s only flattered the tall and thin! Hair is bobbed, cloche hats abound, fox furs drape shoulders, hems rise for the younger generation while their older relatives hold on to a longer, more modest look, redolent of an earlier era. There are smart weddings, the bride and bridesmaids in flapper headbands and handkerchief hems.

The snaps record family holidays: to the Lake District, where they stay at the fashionable Ullswater Hotel built in the 1830s to serve the growing tourist trade (now the Inn on the Lake Hotel), and visit Mardale Green, a village which disappeared in 1935 when the valley was flooded to make the Haweswater reservoir; trips to York, to Tintern Abbey and Wells Cathedral; to Argyllshire, staying at the Loch Awe Hotel. There are even foreign holidays, to the Riviera and the Alps, which in the 1920s were limited to the well off.

It has been possible to identify some of the places in the photographs but not where the family lived, which makes finding a suitable archive for the album tricky. All archives have their own collecting policies which set out what material they routinely acquire as well as areas of their collections they would like to build up. Without knowing the particular local connections of the family, and with nothing in the album which renders it of national importance, what should be its fate?

If you recognise any of the people in the photos, please get in touch.

Alison Rosie, Registrar, NRAS

2021 – an online census

Scotlands Census 2021 - Communications - Scotlands Census logo 2021 - English.JPGDid you know the Registrar General for Scotland is responsible for conducting the census in Scotland and has been since 1861?* And did you know the next census is due to take place in 2021?

The role of Registrar General for Scotland sits with the Chief Executive of National Records of Scotland (NRS) and as an organisation we’re tasked with making sure the next census is a success. Planning for Scotland’s Census 2021 is now well underway and it will be designed and managed in Scotland to best meet the needs of all its users, whilst securing and protecting the personal information of all.

For the first time, the 2021 Census will be conducted primarily online. Although we were first able to complete our census questionnaires online in 2011 – and around 20% of respondents did so – we will be encouraging as many people as possible do so in 2021, if they can. This will improve the quality of the data we collect, and enable us to publish census statistics more quickly. For example, the online system will help ensure people respond consistently across the form and it will help reduce some of the issues we face relating to some people’s written responses . That said, we recognise there will still be some hand-writing involved as paper questionnaires will still be available where needed.

It will also of course reduce the environmental impact of the census. In 2011 we took great care in making sure the environmental impact of the census was kept to a minimum. Printed products were, where practical, produced using recycled or recyclable materials, but we still issued some 2.6 million (28 page) household questionnaires. In 2021 however, a national publicity campaign will encourage online completion. Whilst paper questionnaires will still be available where needed, we are clear there will be a significant reduction in the volumes needed.

As ever, there will be challenges, for example, not everyone will be able or want to respond online. So we are researching how we can support and encourage participation with all our partners, notably across the public sector. This in line with our desire to understand the needs of all involved:– those completing their census returns, those supporting and working with us on the operation as well as, importantly, the needs of those who use the valuable statistics provided by the census.

We will provide more information about work in these areas and all our plans for 2021 on Open Book in the months and years ahead. However, do also feel free to sign-up to the Scotland’s Census newsletter to stay updated.

Amy Wilson, Head of Scotland’s Census

*the first 10 yearly census took place in 1801 but became the responsibility of The Registrar General for Scotland from 1861

Birds nest manuscript

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.

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.

Who was Thomas Thomson?

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.

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Court photos show 1950s Glasgow life

You might expect the pictures contained within Sheriff court Records to be graphic or disturbing, showing the details of crimes and their victims. Of course, this is often the case – but sometimes the pictures can instead give us a glimpse into social or local history.

In a payment case for damages for injuries occurring in a Glasgow washhouse or ‘steamie’ in 1959 we found this wonderfully candid shot. This photograph provides a snapshot into the working of such a wash house. The large washing machines can be seen in the background, with basins on the right, airing cabinets on the left, and tables for folding in the foreground. It definitely shows what a chore hand washing used to be and how much we take our home washing machines for granted! Such an everyday shot of a very ordinary place would usually not have been a typical subject for a photographer. As the photographer here is trying to capture the machine layout and not the women, they are mostly unaware they are being photographed which creates a lovely action shot.

A Glasgow steamie in 1959
Women at work in a Glasgow “steamie” or wash house in 1959.


In another Glasgow Sheriff Court case from 1957 we found a couple of attractive images of St Enoch’s Square in Glasgow. This case was to recall an order made by the Corporation of the City of Glasgow to discontinue the use of the centre of St Enoch’s Square as a parking place. The case was brought by the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, The Automobile Association, and The Royal Automobile Club, who were representing their members, all agreed that removing parking places from the square would only move the problem of inadequate parking facilities in the city elsewhere. The Automobile clubs eventually lost their case and it was prohibited to park in St Enoch Square. These images again capture an everyday snapshot of people going about their business unaware their picture is being taken.

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Jennifer Homewood, Archivist



Three roads to Hampden?

Hampden Park is today known as the iconic home of Scotland’s national football team (and, of course, of Queen’s Park F.C.) However, did you know that there have been three different Hampden Parks since the formation of the SFA in 1873?

Hampden Park #1 was the first home of Queen’s Park and they played there for ten years. It was also at this time used as a venue for Scottish international matches. But plans to create the new Cathcart District Railway proved fatal for this first home of Scottish football as this plan shows.

RHP40386/1: Bound plans and sections of Cathcart District Railway, 1879
RHP40386/1: Bound plans and sections of Cathcart District Railway, 1879

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A window into the 18th century: John Home’s estate plans

The NRS maps and plans collection contains many exceptional items, but we’re looking today at the estate plans of John Home. Home was a land surveyor who worked across Scotland during the mid to late 18th century. It was something of a golden age of surveying in Scotland – a time when estate plans were much in demand from landowners wanting to assess and ‘improve’ their holdings.

His plans are highly detailed and contain a wealth of information which users may not initially expect. A major point of interest is that many give the names of the owners, tenants or possessors of individual holdings in rural areas, or of dwellings in his urban plans. A good example is this plan of Stonehaven in 1795, which gives individuals’ names and the location of their dwellings.

Detail from: National Records of Scotland, RHP142494: Plan of Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, 1795.

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What’s in a name?

The annual NRS publication on the most popular baby names in Scotland is always popular. But did you know that the policy and process behind the registration of those names is quite complicated, and different to that used by other countries?

The graph shows the popularity of the name Kayleigh increased massively after the Marillion single was released.
The release of the Marillion single “Kayleigh” greatly increased the popularity of the name – image produced with our data visualisation tool.

In France, for instance, until 1993 parents had to choose from a list of officially sanctioned baby names (and only those names). Since then parents have had a greater degree of choice, but a name can still be banned if a French court decides it is not in the best interest of the child. Recent cases have seen the names ‘Strawberry’ and ‘Nutella’ disallowed for baby girls, as the court considered they might be bullied because of them!

In Scotland, parents have more freedom to choose and register the name of their new baby. We don’t have a formalised list of names, or enshrine acceptable names in law, but it isn’t quite a free-for-all. Names are discouraged which refer to a ‘title of dignity or status’ (such as sir or lord); which are objectionable, or otherwise offensive; which are fanciful; which are spelled in an unusual manner; or which contain initials not standing for any other name.

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