Robert Burns (1759-1796) – the Poet

Robert Burns is the last of the four Famous Scots from the Past featured in our Fringe Festival exhibition this year. With limited space available, the challenge has been to choose a single document that helps us get closer to Scotland’s national poet.

We started by considering how the official records, in which NRS is so strong, could help tell part of the poet’s remarkable life.  By contrast with other archives and libraries which look after manuscripts of his poems and songs, NRS has little direct evidence of his creative life.

Would we choose the record of his birth and baptism in the Alloway parish register (one of the thousands of pre-1855 ‘Old Parish Registers’), or look to the end of his life, using the inventory of his estate, and court records, to trace how his affairs were handled for the benefit of his widow and children? Or should we explore his career as an exciseman, which can be charted in the Exchequer and other records? Continue reading “Robert Burns (1759-1796) – the Poet”

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

 

“The daughter of debate that discord aye doth sow”
Elizabeth I, from her sonnet ‘The Doubt of Future Foes’
referring to Mary Queen of Scots

During her lifetime Mary Queen of Scots was a highly controversial monarch and she continues to divide opinion today. When we consider her reign, we often focus on the tragedy of her captivity and execution. These events tend to colour how we view her life, as if its trajectory was an inevitable journey towards the executioner’s block. This is not helped by the two melancholy portraits of Mary which are the most well-known: Clouet’s portrait of her in her white mourning (‘deuil blanc’) after the death of her first husband, Francis II, and the posthumous portrait showing the Queen as a Catholic martyr, now in the Blairs Museum. In the early years of her personal reign in Scotland, however, her success and personal popularity were such that no-one could have predicted her end. Continue reading “Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)”

Sir William Arrol (1839-1913) – The Engineer

B104_83_00001 CROP
Sir William Arrol aged 70, printed in ‘Sir William Arrol: A Memoir’ by Robert Purvis

A titan of engineering and construction, William Arrol established his company in the early 1870s, when Glasgow was developing as an industrial city and the revolutionary Siemens Martin process was enabling the mass production of cheap steel. Arrol made his name with the construction of the Forth Bridge (1890), and is also known for the second Tay Bridge (1887), Tower Bridge in London and elsewhere. Continue reading “Sir William Arrol (1839-1913) – The Engineer”

Madeleine Hamilton Smith (1835-1928) – The Accused

Madeleine Smith Snapshot
Portrait taken in court of Madeleine Smith from ‘The Trial of Madeleine Smith’ (National Records of Scotland, L034.087)

 

On 30 June 1857 the trial of Madeleine Smith began. A young woman from a prosperous Glasgow family, Smith was charged with, on three separate occasions, administering arsenic or other poison to Pierre Emile L’Angelier with intent to kill, twice in February and once in March 1857. It was this accusation and the subsequent trial which brought to light the great volume of letters which had secretly passed between them. Presented as evidence of  Madeleine and Emile’s relationship and meetings, these letters formed a core part of the trial, and because of their frank expressions of desire and affection, they scandalised and excited the Victorian public of the time. Continue reading “Madeleine Hamilton Smith (1835-1928) – The Accused”

Getting started with digital preservation

Our Digital Records Unit is launching two new digital preservation tools this summer. These guidance and capacity planning tools have been specifically developed for Scottish local authorities. They are the product of a 12 month project and will assist local authority archivists and record managers get started with digital preservation.

The guidance tool will help local authorities to understand and implement the steps needed to ensure that digital records are captured and preserved within the archive, while the capacity tool enables users to calculate their digital storage needs.

The events are aimed towards those currently working within Scottish local authorities, however other interested parties are also very welcome to attend.

The tools will be launched in Glasgow City Chambers on July 10th (book here) and in Aberdeen Town Hall on August 8th (book here).

Tickets are selling fast so be sure to register soon if you would like to attend, and spread the word to anyone who might be interested.

You can follow the events on Twitter, using the hashtag #scotladp and we’ll be livetweeting from @natrecordsscot.

We look forward to seeing you in Glasgow or Aberdeen!

 

Trudeau’s Scottish family

Canadian Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau looks at NRS documents on his family history at the National Museum of Scotland
NRS’ Dr Alison Rosie shows Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau documents about his Scottish family history. Copyright Stewart Attwood.

You may well be aware that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Edinburgh this morning to meet the Queen. During his visit, he also visited the National Museum of Scotland, where he saw Canadian artefacts, as well as documents on his family history from National Records of Scotland which show his Scottish ancestry over five generations.

Continue reading “Trudeau’s Scottish family”

WW1 and the Census

Preparations are now under way for Scotland’s Census 2021 but a hundred years ago the First World War had a dramatic impact on the people who planned and delivered the census in 1921.

This photo shows Census staff in 1911 in what is now the Archivist’s Garden between General Register House and New Register House in Edinburgh.

The largely male staff of the 1911 census
The staff of the 1911 Census, pictured in what is now the Archivists’ Garden between General Register House and New Register House in Edinburgh

 

The 1921 photo was taken on the steps of George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh

The staff of the 1921 Census - including many more women than the 1911 Census.
The staff of the 1921 Census – including many more women than the 1911 Census.

The two pictures reflect a direct consequence of the First World War when women entered the workplace in large numbers, many for the first time, releasing men to go to war.  Some worked in occupations never previously done by women on the railways, in shipyards, munitions’ factories.  After the war – when the men returned – some left their employment but many remained in work. One such work opportunity – the decennial Census.

Continue reading “WW1 and the Census”

White gloves

If you watched and enjoyed “The Hector: From Scotland to Nova Scotia” on BBC 2 yesterday (if you missed the programme it’s currently on the iplayer), you’ll have seen Neil Oliver viewing documents in our Historical Search Room. You may also have noticed he’s wearing white gloves – something we don’t generally require readers in our search rooms to do, unless they are handling photographs. 

 

Neil Oliver in our Historical Search Room wearing white gloves to handle a document.

There are different schools of thought about the value of wearing white cotton gloves. While once it was common place, it has become a matter of debate. It’s sometimes pointed out that not wearing gloves at all would be better than wearing ill-fitting or dirty gloves – something we agree with. Continue reading “White gloves”

Connecticut Connection

National Records of Scotland is known for its records, research and other artefacts, but we also hold a number of antiques at various buildings around Edinburgh.

One interesting example is a chiming clock which hangs on the wall in a meeting room at West Register House, Charlotte Square. This clock, a Chauncey Jerome, was recently repaired by a specialist and is still in working order despite being over 150 years old.  The clock was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut, by the Jerome Manufacturing Company, most likely in the 1840s, and its history is quite interesting.

Jerome Chauncey Clock

The clock was gifted to the Scottish Record Office, one of our predecessor bodies, in the early 1970s, although there are competing stories about the precise circumstances.

Jerome Post 2One is that a former Deputy Keeper, John Bates, bought it in an antiques shop as a gift for colleagues. The other story holds that the clock was gifted by members of the former kirk session of St George’s Church – now West Register House – and that it might have been kept in the church since the 1850s.  An examination of the kirk session minutes has shed no light on the truth of this story, however.

The surprising thing about this clock is its painted glass front, which depicts St George’s Church as seen from George Street. It may seem strange that an American-made clock would have an Edinburgh street scene on it, but these clocks were mass produced with a clear lower glass panel. Following sale, individuals could commission their own design to be painted onto the clear glass making them unique. Continue reading “Connecticut Connection”

Weeding Scotland’s Courts

Every summer, a team of NRS archivists visits Sheriff Courts all over Scotland to collect historical records for preservation and storage.

Case records must be retained for decades after the cases finish for future appeals, cold case reviews and police enquiries, so it’s vital they are kept safe and secure. Centuries from now, these cases will provide an insight for research and understanding of Scottish law, culture and society.

Between May and August each year, our Court & Legal Team visits up to six of Scotland’s 39 Sheriff Courts to collect records that are 25 years old or over. This isn’t a glamorous process as the records must be removed box-by-box, and they’re stored in attics, basements, turrets and other hard-to-access places. Continue reading “Weeding Scotland’s Courts”