National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future



We mount occasional exhibitions in our buildings and at other locations in partnership with national collections and other bodies. We also support external exhibitors by lending documents or providing images from our extensive holdings.    

Past Exhibitions

Prisoners or Patients? Criminal Insanity in Victorian Scotland

General Register House, Matheson Dome

1 - 30 August 2019

The stories of prisoner-patients held in the Criminal Lunatic Department in Perth are revealed in this partnership exhibition. Diving into the rich archival sources held within the National Records of Scotland (NRS), guest curator Professor Rab Houston of the University of St Andrews, examines the personal histories of crime, recovery and release recorded in the archives.

High Court of Justiciary records reveal the details of the prisoner-patient’s crime in their own words, while the notes of doctors and prison officials detail how they tried to help men and women who were occasionally dangerous, often vulnerable, but always severely disturbed.

For centuries mental illness and impairment have touched the lives of people regardless of background, sex or circumstance. This exhibition tells their story and aims to raise awareness of continuing mental health issues, inside and outside of prisons today.

*This exhibition examines the treatment of criminal lunatics in the Victorian era and uses the vocabulary that is present in this historical context. The exhibition does not attempt to correct the language of the past that features words which are no longer medically accurate or socially acceptable. Instead it examines how those suffering from mental health issues were treated and recorded in the 19th century. As such there are several references to historical medical terms including lunatic, mad, imbecile and insane; and descriptions of violent crime.

'For you the war is over': Scottish POWs 1914-1918

General Register House, Matheson Dome

22 October - 23 November 2018

More than 170,000 British servicemen became prisoners of war of the Germans during the First World War. NRS is commemorating Scottish POWs in a unique exhibition that brings together privately-owned archives with our own documents, all on show for the first time.

The prisoners endured months or years of often gruelling captivity, and their stories of capture, survival, escape and release are truly extraordinary.

The private archives reveal the courage, resourcefulness and humour of four Scottish soldiers, while other documents show how POWs were supported from home, and uncover the fate of some of the thousands who died in captivity. The exhibition also features loaned artefacts on loan from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum and specially-recorded audio clips.

Malicious Mischief? Women's Suffrage in Scotland

General Register House, Matheson Dome

1 - 31 August 2018

The centenary of some women gaining the parliamentary vote allows us to reflect on the actions of those who agitated for women’s suffrage: the Suffragettes and Suffragists.

Many contemporaries regarded the Suffragettes as violent troublemakers. The Scottish authorities often charged them with ‘Malicious Mischief’, but were they just criminals? Did the Suffragettes’ actions help or hinder the cause?

Discover the stirring story of the struggle for the vote by peaceful and violent means. Protests and arrests, hunger strikes and force-feeding are starkly revealed in the official records held here in the National Records of Scotland.

Robert Burns: Radical Exciseman

General Register House, Matheson Dome

25 Jan - 23 Feb 2018

Two recently-identified letters about Robert Burns form the centre piece of a new exhibition in the National Records of Scotland. They reveal how the poet became an Excise officer, his integrity in his job and his radical politics.

They were written by John Mitchell, his superior, to one of the poet's most important patrons, Robert Graham of Fintry. We see a flash of Burns' typical humour, his thoughtfulness and his unstoppable indendence of mind in these letters of 1789 and 1796.

These remarkable documents are being shown for the first time, alongside other unique treasures from National Records of Scotland. Discover how a man as radical and outspoken as Burns kept his govnerment job in revolutionary times.

Rogues Gallery: Faces of Crime 1870-1917

General Register House, Matheson Dome

25 Oct - 1 Dec 2017

Previously unseen albums held in Edinburgh City Archives, together with official records of trials from National Records of Scotland brought together for the first time, help tell the history of Scotland’s criminal past.

The fortuitous survival of five photograph albums brings us face to face with hundreds of criminals in late Victorian and Edwardian Scotland, each with their own intriguing tale.

Forged sixpences, photographs of casts of footprints left by a thief, the declaration of a murderer and criminal indictments are just some of the items that will be on display at General Register House. 

Discover the stories of a man convicted of a brutal murder in Perthshire, a bank agent on the run in Australia for embezzlement, a gang of four thieves, a criminal with 44 charges of theft in one year, and many more.

The exhibition highlights how criminal records can reveal fascinating personal details about criminals and their victims. These can help with family history and local history research. Learn more about what National Records of Scotland has to offer in our Crime and Criminals Guide.

This partnership exhibition is presented as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. 

Famous Scots from the Past

Famous or Infamous? Kings or Queens? Thinkers or Doers? Rogues or Heroes? This exciting Edinburgh Festival Fringe exhibition showcases the lives of some well-known Scots, told through treasures from the national archives. Some of these unique items have never been exhibited together before, including objects and original correspondence.

This free exhibition will be on display in the remarkable Matheson Dome in General House as part of the Fringe Festival (Edinburgh Fringe Venue 502). Open from 1 August to 1 September, Monday to Friday 9:00-4:30pm. Come along and discover some of Scotland’s most remarkable historical characters.

In this Year of History Heritage and Archaeology and the 250th anniversary of Edinburgh’s New Town, you also get to see inside one of the most important public buildings to grace the capital of Enlightenment Scotland. Free entry. 

Scribes and Royal Authority: Scotland's Charters 1100-1250

For the first time precious examples from two of Scotland’s most important collections of medieval charters were on show in National Records of Scotland.

The charters from Holyrood Abbey and Melrose Abbey reveal how government developed in the period between 1100 and 1250, part of the emergence in Western Europe of government as we recognise it today. This exhibition investigated how changes in the handwriting of royal and monastic scribes reflect these crucial changes in charters that granted lands and rights.

This exhibition was a partnership with the University of Glasgow and is part of Models of Authority, Scottish Charters and the Emergence of Government, 1100-1250, a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. You can read more about this project and its findings at

Family Portrait: The Scots - Italians 1890 - 1940

A hidden archive of Italians living in Scotland in the years before the Second World War was revealed in this exhibition through documents, photographs, objects and specially-created graphics. Created in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in Scotland and the Italian Cultural Institute, Edinburgh, and with help from the Italo-Scottish Research Cluster (Edinburgh University), the National Library of Scotland and the Transnationalizing Modern Languages (AHRC project), the exhibition was on show in General Register House 3 December 2015 - 29 January 2016. An interactive version of the map created to complement the display can be seen here.

Safe Delivery: A History of Scottish Midwives

Midwives have performed a vital role for centuries. In ‘Safe Delivery’, we told the stories before and after the 1915 Act which established professional registration. The exhibition was on show in General Register House from 12 October until 20 November 2015. You can read the story in our online feature.

Germans in Britain

'Germans in Britain' was on show at General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh, from 6 July until 7 August 2015, Monday - Friday 9:00 - 4:30, entry free. The exhibition was created by the Migration Museum Project and highlighted the centuries-old contribution by Germans to British life. It was being shown in Scotland for the first time at National Records of Scotland. Seventeen panels covering topics from monarchs, merchants and refugees to musicians, sportsmen and creative artists, are complemented by cases featuring original documents from the huge holdings of Scotlands' national archive. A related talk by Professor Ullrich Kockel (Professor of Culture and Economy, Heriot-Watt University) was given at NRS on 21 July.

Recording Angels - Scottish Registrars since 1855

'Recording Angels - Scottish Registrars since 1855', on show at General Register House from 19 May until 26 June 2015, told the story of the men and women responsible for Scotland's public records. 

The Kaiser's Spy in Scotland

A secret agent's spy kit went on display for the first time as part of 'The Kaiser's Spy in Scotland: Naval espionage before the Great War’ at General Register House from 14 November until 31 December 2014. You can read the story in our online feature.

Old Tom Morris's Terrible Year

The sad and fascinating tale of Scotland’s legendary golfing champions, Old Tom Morris and his son Young Tom, was revealed in a special display inspired by the Ryder Cup teeing off in Scotland this year (23 September – 31 October 2014).

Scotland's People and the First World War

To mark the centenary of the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, National Records of Scotland presented a free archive display that highlighted some of the demographic changes that occurred before, during and after the conflict (14 August – 19 September 2014). Read the story of the Cowie family in our online feature Scotland's People and the First World War.

Loans from our collections

We consider requests from organisations wishing to borrow items from our collections for exhibition. For details visit our Conservation department's exhibitions and loans page.