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.

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”.

Home From The Front

National Records of Scotland holds a wealth of military records from many conflicts dating back to the start of the seventeenth century. As these records sometimes reach us in a disorganised state, our archivists catalogue them to make them more accessible to the public.

We recently began a project to catalogue First World War Pensions Appeal records. This project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, will catalogue and conserve fascinating documents that have until now been an untapped resource for many genealogists, medical historians and other researchers.

This series contains the pension appeal applications for around thirty thousand Scottish servicemen who suffered from injuries sustained during the war, or who died afterwards from associated illnesses and conditions.

Before cataloguing began, searching these records was very difficult. The appeals are organised in 288 boxes, arranged alphabetically by month from November 1919 to December 1932. This means that, in order to locate records, you must first know when a claim was heard by the Appeals Tribunal. As this information wasn’t recorded anywhere, researchers have had to trawl through hundreds of records!

We began cataloguing work before Christmas and have now reached the milestone of 1000 records. Over the next two years, we’ll add these records to a custom-built, publicly accessible database. We’ll also re-house them in specially designed folders and boxes, and will highlight conservation issues.

Once completed, our new database will make searching the Tribunal records much easier, as it is searchable across all the fields, including those listed below:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Age
  • Service Number
  • Regiment and Rank
  • Medical Conditions
  • Notes of interest

We’ll also add Medical Subject Heading Codes to each record to describe the medical history of each applicant. These are commonly used by medical historians, as they standardise terminology.

Although we’ve so far only dipped a toe in these records, we’ve already uncovered some visceral and poignant personal stories.

The records are currently closed to the public for cataloguing but we hope that after the project is complete, we can help to ensure that the stories and sacrifices of Scotland’s First World War servicemen are not forgotten.

Lynn Bruce & Olivia Howarth

Project cataloguers, WW1 Pension Appeals Project

National Records of Scotland

Records & Responsibilities

Food StandardsIn December, the Keeper of the Records of Scotland (the Keeper) agreed the Records Management Plan (RMP) of Food Standards Scotland.

This was the 207th RMP to be agreed by the Keeper but more significantly, it was the first RMP agreed for an authority which didn’t appear on the original Schedule of the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011.

The Act, which came into force on 1 January 2013, requires public authorities listed on the Schedule to create a RMP detailing the records management arrangements within those authorities.

Records management is the systematic control of an organisation’s records, throughout their life cycle, in order to meet operational business needs, statutory and fiscal requirements, and community expectations.

Effective management of corporate information allows fast, accurate and reliable access to records, ensuring the timely destruction of redundant information and the identification and protection of vital and historically important records.

Food Standards Scotland was established by the Food (Scotland) Act 2015 to make sure that food is safe to eat, to ensure consumers know what they are eating and to improve nutrition.

Elspeth Macdonald, Deputy Chief Executive at Food Standards Scotland said:

“Food Standards Scotland is pleased that the Keeper of the Records of Scotland has agreed our Records Management Plan. It was a real team effort within the organisation in developing the RMP, which demonstrates we have the necessary arrangements in place to efficiently manage information and records.

“As a relatively new organisation, we’re delighted to have achieved this. We’re committed to ensuring everyone plays their part in carrying out the plan across the organisation”.

You can find out more about how NRS helps public authorities to manage their records at our website.



Life expectancy in Scottish areas

How does where you live affect your lifespan?

In September, NRS published life expectancy estimates which showed that a boy born in Scotland in 2014-2016 could expect to live until he was 77 years old and a girl could expect to live until she was 81 years old. Today NRS publish life expectancy in Scottish areas. These estimates show how life expectancy in different places within Scotland differs from the national figures.

We always report life expectancy separately for males and females, as women consistently outlive men. This is something which is seen not just in Scotland but all over the world in every country and population.

Between the 32 council areas in Scotland, life expectancy differs by as much as 7 years for men and 4.7 years for women. A baby boy who was born between 2014-2016 could expect to live until he was 80.3 years old if he was born in Orkney Islands. If however he was born in Glasgow City, he could only expect to reach 73.4 years old.

A baby girl on the other hand could expect to live for 83.5 years if she were born in East Renfrewshire or East Dunbartonshire, but if she were born in nearby West Dunbartonshire, she could expect to live for 78.8 years.

Enter your council area on this interactive visualisation to find out how life expectancy at birth compares to other council areas or to Scotland as a whole.

So why do we see such a difference in life expectancy across Scotland? One answer might lie in how urban or rural the area is that people live in. The Scottish Government’s ‘Urban-Rural 6 fold classification’ [*1] is a system that classifies small areas into six groups depending on the number of people living there and the distance from larger towns.

In the ‘Life Expectancy in Scottish Areas’ publication, NRS compare life expectancy for people who live in the different urban-rural areas. Both males and females live longer in more rural areas compared to more urban areas. There are many possible reasons for this, for example, air pollution is much lower in rural areas, meaning that people are less likely to develop diseases in their lungs and airways. It is also possible that people in the countryside have more active lifestyles, resulting in lower incidences of heart disease and obesity related diseases.

Blog life expectancy 1
Females could expect to live 2 years longer in ‘Remote Rural’ areas than in ‘Large Urban’ areas. Males are expected to live 3.6 years longer in ‘Accessible Rural’ areas than in ‘Large Urban’ areas.


The ‘Life Expectancy in Scottish Areas’ publication also reports on how deprivation affects life expectancy. To do this, NRS statisticians use the Scottish Government’s ‘Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation’ [*2] (SIMD) which gives each small area across Scotland a rank depending on how they score on a series of deprivation measures (i.e. access to health care, employment, income and housing availability amongst others). NRS divides these small areas into five groups based on their SIMD score and calculates life expectancy for these groups (known as quintiles).

The statistics show that males living in quintile one (which represents the 20 per cent most deprived areas of Scotland) can expect to live for 10.5 years shorter than males who live in quintile five (the 20 per cent least deprived areas). For females, there is a difference of seven years between those living in quintile one and quintile five.

Blog life expectancy 2

The difference in life expectancy between different SIMD quintiles is larger than the difference between council areas and much larger than the difference between urban and rural areas. This suggests that life expectancy in Scottish areas is more affected by deprivation than by location or rurality.

If you would like to know more about life expectancy in Scotland, please visit the NRS website. The publication ‘Life Expectancy for Areas within Scotland, 2014-2016’ includes life expectancy estimates for Council areas, Health boards and Scottish Parliamentary constituencies as well as estimates for areas by SIMD and Urban-Rural classification.

If you would like to know more about life expectancy for areas across the UK, please visit the ONS website. The ONS also produce estimates of healthy life expectancy and disability free life expectancy as part of their life expectancy publication.

Maria Kaye

Assistant Statistician

National Records of Scotland

*1 For more information on the Urban-Rural classification system, please see the ‘Defining Scotland by Rurality’ section on the Scottish government website.
*2 For more information on SIMD, please see the ‘Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation’ section on the Scottish government website.

Annual Population Survey – Estimates

How many non-British nationals are living in Scotland, and how has that changed in the year since the EU Referendum?

Today, National Records of Scotland released updated population estimates by country of birth and nationality from the Annual Population Survey (APS). These statistics provide information on the number of people living in Scotland and allow us to understand the number of residents born abroad and those with a non-British nationality. The latest data relates to July 2016 to June 2017, so we can look at how Scotland’s population has changed since the EU Referendum in June 2016.

Over the period July 2015 to June 2016 (the year preceding the referendum), there were estimated to be 337,000 non-British nationals living in Scotland, accounting for 6.4% of the population. Between July 2016 and June 2017 (the year after the referendum), there were 355,000 non-British nationals living in Scotland, accounting for 6.7% of the population. This was not a statistically significant change.

Between the year ending June 2016 and the year ending June 2017, it is estimated that the number of EU nationals living in Scotland increased by 9.5% to 219,000. Over the same period, the number of non-EU nationals is estimated to have decreased by 0.7% to 135,000. Neither of these changes were statistically significant.

Population 1

To put these numbers in context, between the year ending December 2015 and the year ending December 2016 the number of non-British nationals in Scotland increased by 14.2% from 295,000 to 337,000, with the EU and non-EU totals increasing by 28,000 and 15,000 respectively. All three of those changes were statistically significant increases. This shows that while the number of non-British nationals living in Scotland is still increasing, the rate of increase is slowing.

Of the 355,000 non-British nationals living in Scotland over the period July 2016 to June 2017, the most common nationality was Polish. It is estimated that there were 100,000 Polish nationals living in Scotland, accounting for 28% of the non-British population and 46% of the EU national population in Scotland. Polish was also the most common nationality in the year ending June 2016, when Polish nationals made up 25% of the non-British population and 43% of the EU national population of Scotland.

Population 2

Things to note

This article considers international residents in Scotland based on their nationality, as stated by respondents when they were interviewed as part of the Annual Population Survey. It should be noted that a person’s nationality can change over time, for example people may come to Scotland as an overseas national and then later apply for British citizenship. Population estimates by country of birth (which cannot change) are also available on the NRS website.

Estimates of the non-UK born and non-British nationals population living in Scotland (often referred to as migrant stocks data) are not directly comparable with estimates of long-term international migration (migrant flows data). For statistics relating to migrant flows (the number of migrants moving to or from Scotland over a period of time) please visit the NRS migration tables.

Further information

If you would like to explore the latest data included in this article, including estimates for Scotland’s council areas, please visit the Population by Country of Birth and Nationality section on the NRS website.

Daniel Burns

Assistant Statistician

National Records of Scotland


Voices from our Archives – Ewart Alan Mackintosh (1893 – 1917)

Ewart Alan MackintoshToday marks the centenary of the death on 21 November 1917 of the Scottish soldier poet Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh MC in the Battle of Cambrai.

His death is listed in ScotlandsPeople, among the Minor Records (a copy of the volume ‘Officers Died in the Great War 1914-1919’, HMSO, 1919).

Mackintosh was attached to the 1/4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, and was killed in action during the attack by the 51st (Highland) Division at Flesquieres Ridge. This was part of a British assault on the Hindenburg Line east of Arras. Artillery and tanks were co-ordinated in a new way but the initial gains were reclaimed by a German counter-attack.

Alan Mackintosh was born in 1893 in England to Scottish parents and educated in England. His Scottish roots were strong, and shaped his outlook, his poetry and his military career. When he volunteered in 1914 he was rejected as short-sighted, but he persisted and obtained a commission in the Seaforth Highlanders, the regiment which recruited in Easter Ross, where his family had lived.

He trained and served with the 5th Battalion, and was familiarly known as “Tosh”. In 1915 he was posted to the Western Front where, on 16 May 1916, he led a successful trench raid and helped to rescue two of his wounded men. His conspicuous gallantry earned him the Military Cross and three of his men won the Military Medal.

However, he was forced to leave behind the mortally-wounded Private David Sutherland and soon poured his grief into one of his best-known poems, “In Memoriam”, modelled on a Gaelic lament. Sutherland’s will can be found among Sutherland’s will, and those of over 2,000 Seaforth Highlanders, 1914-1918, can be found among the Soldiers’ Wills in ScotlandsPeople.

Seaforth Highlanders casualtiesIn late July 1916 Mackintosh was injured and evacuated from the Somme battlefield, and spent months recovering before being posted to a training unit at Cambridge, where he fell in love with a nurse, Sylvia Marsh.

Nevertheless he chafed at being separated from his regiment and in September 1917 his wish to be posted to France was granted, although he went to a different battalion – the 1/4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.

Alan Mackintosh’s reputation as a war poet has been overshadowed by his better-known English and Welsh comrades. His first volume, ‘A Highland Regiment’ (1917), and the posthumous ‘War, the Liberator’ (1918), have gained some recognition. The final couplet from his poem “A Creed”, which is inscribed on the Scottish American War Memorial in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, will be more familiar than his name:

If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered,

If death I shall die at last, strong in my pride and free.

Ewart Alan Mackintosh american memorial
The Scottish American Memorial, West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh


An Archival Anniversary

Dr Murray with Bruno and Tim
Dr Athol Murray (Centre) with Bruno Longmore & Tim Ellis

At National Records of Scotland, we’re fortunate to have many experienced and long-serving members of staff but none can equal the record set by Dr Athol Murray. 

Dr Murray started working at what was then the Scottish Record Office in November 1953, at the age of 23. He still works with us now, albeit one day a week and on a voluntary basis. Today marks an amazing 64 years of continuous service, a feat that’s unlikely to be repeated and which we believe may be the longest association with archives in the United Kingdom.  

To recognise Dr Murray’s service, we have named our new meeting space at West Register House the Athol Murray Suite, in his honour.  On Tuesday at West Register House, where he still works, Dr Murray cut a ribbon in front of current and retired colleagues to officially open the new meeting space.  

Dr Murray was Keeper of the Records of Scotland between 1985-90. His career was notable for his scholarship and his dedication to the office of Keeper. He oversaw significant changes which laid the foundation for many key future developments, including improvements to local archive services and the construction of Thomas Thomson House.

He retired in December 1990 after 37 years of service but this did not mark an end to his work with the archives. He works tirelessly as a volunteer cataloguer on the records of the Scottish Exchequer, a subject on which he is an acknowledged expert. 

Dr Athol Murray with former keepers
Dr Murray (right) pictured in 2001 with two former Keepers of the Records of Scotland and one former Lord Clerk Register (see below)


Dr Murray with retired members of staff
Dr Murray with former colleagues, now retired (see below)

Dr Murray’s research has made a key contribution to furthering the wider study of Scottish history, and he estimates that he will require no more than a further thirty years to complete his current project!

Now in what he called his “anecdotage”, Dr Murray shared some fond memories of working at West Register House and other buildings.  He said that since retirement, he had enjoyed coming back to the same welcoming atmosphere to work as a volunteer.  He also remarked that it was an honour to join the ranks of former keepers who had buildings and facilities named for them, including Thomas Thomson and William Robertson, while still being alive!

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, and Chief Executive of NRS said:

“Dr Murray’s decades of work, and his dedication to the records of Scotland and the organisation which is now NRS, are unrivalled.

“On behalf of everyone at NRS, I congratulate him on this anniversary and thank him for his long and dedicated service.”

In 2013, Dr Murray was interviewed for Broadsheet, the magazine of the Scottish Council on Archives, about his life and work.  You can find the interview here.

Pictured, from L to R:
(Middle image) George MacKenzie (Keeper 2001-2012); The Earl of Wemyss & March KT (Lord Clerk Register); Patrick Cadell (Keeper 1991-2001) and Dr Murray (Keeper 1985-1990).
(Bottom image) Andrew Broom, former Deputy Keeper; Dr Hazel Horn, former Head of Catalouging and Secretary of the NRAS; George Barbour, former Head of Modern Records & Plans Officer; Dr Murray and Dr Frances Shaw, former Head of Government Records.