National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Maps and Plans

Maps and Plans

This guide covers:

Access to Maps and Plans

Maps and plans are no longer produced in the Historical Search Room.  If you wish to view a map or plan you will need to let us know in advance.  We aim to provide access to maps and plans in the first instance through a digital surrogate rather than to the original record.  Only six individual plans or one bound set of plans (plan book) can be included on a plan access request submitted to the Historical Search Room.

Where a plan has not already been imaged, we will aim to make an image available in the Historical Search Room within ten working days of the request being accepted. In certain cases it may also be possible to view a plan remotely on the ScotlandsPlaces website so it would be worth looking here to see if the plan you wish to view is already available.

If we are unable to make a plan available in this way owing to its condition, or for technical, ownership or copyright reasons, it may be possible to inspect the original plan at the Plans Unit at Thomas Thomson House, on Tuesdays and Thursdays  (morning and afternoon), by appointment with the Historical Search Room.

The Plans Collections

We hold a series of records known as the Register House Plans (RHP). It is an artificial collection of around 170,000 topographical plans, marine charts, architectural and engineering drawings (for convenience, the term 'plan' will be used to refer to all categories). Owing to their size and varied formats, plans require special storage conditions. It was therefore decided in the 1960s that plans should be removed from their collections and added to the RHP series, with a cross-reference back to the parent collection. This policy was not always rigorously adhered to, however, and it is still possible to find smaller plans in their original files or bundles.

The plans collection is a very diverse one. Since we are the official archive for a host of governmental and quasi-governmental bodies in Scotland, the series includes plans from government departments and agencies, nationalised industries, and the courts, as well as churches, private organisations, landed estates and families. Most of the manuscript plans are unique, while many of the engraved and lithographed plans have only survived in limited quantities. The collection also includes a number of photo reproductions of original plans which are either in private hands or held by other institutions.

The vast majority of the plans are topographical in nature, and we have the largest collection of original maps and plans of Scotland. Most date from 1750 or later, as cartography in Scotland only began to flourish during the 18th century under the influence of agricultural improvement, when landowners employed surveyors to map their estates.

We welcome gifts of plans or other documents recording the history of Scotland, the land and its peoples. If you have records you are considering depositing please contact us or read our maps and plans policy and statement of principles on the selection and acquisition of maps, plans, architectural and technical drawings.

  • estate plans - farms, runrigs, improved estates, feuing plans, quarries, saltpans and commonties
  • transport - railways, roads, bridges, canals and harbours and tramways
  • architectural - churches, schools, public buildings, private houses, railway stations, farm buildings and mills
  • public utilities - electricity, gas and water
  • engineering - technical plans of mining and shipbuilding
  • vignettes showing agricultural scenes, people at work, buildings and ships.
Other Maps and Plans

Most plans are part of the RHP series, with two important exceptions:

  • the first is the sasine plans, which were recorded as preservation writs from 1868 onwards (our reference RD16). From 1925 duplicate plans could be also recorded along with the sasines or, from 1934, recorded with the deeds themselves.
  • the other is the series of Ordnance Survey maps marked up in connection with a survey by the Inland Revenue to determine the value of all land in the United Kingdom, 1909-1915.  They provide the key to the Inland Revenue field books (our reference IRS).  Our guide to Inland Revenue Survey Maps and Field Books provides further details.
Plans Held Elsewhere
Ordnance Survey (OS) Maps

The National Library of Scotland provides digital copies of Ordnance Survey and other maps on the Map Images page of their website.

We hold in the RHP series only OS sheets which have been court productions or marked for a special purpose, frequently to indicate the ownership and boundaries of land and types of land classification. Other marked OS sheets held by us appear in the Inland Revenue (Scotland) series (IRS).

Shipbuilding Plans

We hold some shipbuilding plans. Collections which relate to west of Scotland shipbuilders are held elsewhere. Please go to our Shipbuilding Records guide and the websites of Glasgow City Archives and the Scottish Business Archive at the University of Glasgow for further information.

Searching for Maps and Plans

The plans series may be searched on the online catalogue which has replaced the traditional paper catalogues and card indexes.  Catalogue descriptions include location, surveyor, engineer or architect, as well as the subject, date and origin of the plan.

  • For topographical and architectural plans, the 'Place Authority' search option allows searches to be restricted to the civil parish whose boundaries will often differ from those of the city, town or settlement of the same name.
  • Scottish plans are located by civil parish and county, according to the boundaries in existence immediately before the reorganisation of local government in 1975. This means that cities and towns may fall within the boundaries of a number of civil parishes, all of which will require to be searched independently.
  • Other plans of the British Isles are similarly located but by county and country rather than by civil parish and county.
  • Foreign plans are initially located by country and continent.

Detailed descriptions of the first 5,000 entries have been published in the 'Descriptive List of Plans in the Scottish Record Office' (four volumes) by Ian H Adams and Loretta R Timperley.

Copying of Maps and Plans

It may not be possible to obtain copies of plans which are physically unsuitable for copying, for example those in poor condition or too large. We will advise you on whether copies may be made of particular plans and any other restrictions, such as the need to obtain the permission of the owner and copyright holder.