National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Scottish Government Records After 1707

Scottish Government Records After 1707


This guide gives you a background to the history of the post-Union records of Scottish government held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). The history can be split into three parts according to date:

  • Union to Scottish Office, 1707-1886
  • The Scottish Office, 1886-1999
  • The Scottish Government 1999-present

The guide also lists the main series of records available for that period.

Detail from Barlinnie prison register showing photos of Philip Foy, Terrance Rooney and Thomas Martin, taken before they left the prison in August 1883, National Records of Scotland reference HH21/70/97 page 18

Union to Scottish Office, 1707-1886

With the Treaty of Union of 1707, many of the functions of government in Scotland began to be exercised from London. At all times, the Treasury in London kept a close rein on the expenditure, staffing and working practices of the various revenue boards in Scotland. There were Scottish secretaries of state from 1707 to early 1709. Thereafter, a succession of so-called Third British Secretaries with responsibility for Scotland held office from 1709 to 1711, 1713 to 1715, 1716 to 1725 and again from 1742 to 1746. The office lapsed on the last holder's resignation at the time of the Jacobite rebellion.

In the years from 1707 to 1886, the routine administration of government authority in matters of Scottish law and public order, church business, and judicial appointments was successively exercised through the Southern, later the Northern and finally, from 1782, the Home Department. It was these departments that oversaw the struggle against the Jacobites and, later, the radical reformers. The records of these departments are held at the Public Record Office. The NRS has a full set of copies of the Scottish papers, however (NRS reference RH2/4). In practice, while they received much of the correspondence on public matters, the real power was exercised by a succession of Scots politicians, or 'managers', men who were secretaries of state in all but name. The Earl of Ilay, later the 3rd Duke of Argyll was pre-eminent in Scottish politics from 1725 until 1742 and again from 1746 until 1761. From 1761 to 1765 James Stuart Mackenzie 'managed' Scotland for the Earl of Bute and, after a gap, Henry Dundas and his son Robert dominated Scottish public affairs from 1782 until 1827. In the years after 1827, the operations of Scottish executive government were much more tightly directed from London. In particular the various revenue boards lost almost all of the nominal autonomy that they had had since 1707 to the Treasury and other UK bodies. The general lead in Scottish public affairs fell to the Lord Advocate. However, there was always some degree of administrative decentralisation. Other functions were exercised by various boards. Separate Scottish boards for Customs and Excise existed during the 18th century, and other bodies were established subsequently, including:

The Board of Manufactures (1727)

The Trustees made grants available for the improvement and encouragement of fishery and manufactures and particularly the linen industry. After the regulation of the linen industry was abolished in 1823, the board turned its funds to other purposes: the decorative arts and the encouragement of education in the fine arts. In 1906 its functions were transferred to the Trustees for the National Galleries under the National Galleries of Scotland Act. The records of the Board (NRS reference NG1) cover the period 1727-1911 and include minutes, letter books, reports, accounts, salaries and cashbooks.

Fishery Board (1809)

In 1808, the passing of the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act increased the number of trustees on the Board of Manufactures to 28 and turned seven of them into a separate Fishery Board. The Trustees supervised the fishing industry in Scotland from 1809 to 1939. Its functions included: Crown brand for cured herring; maintenance of a protection fleet; fishery harbours; salmon fisheries and scientific investigation.

General Board of Directors of Prisons (1839)
Board of Supervision for Relief of the Poor (1845)

The Local Government Board for Scotland replaced the Board of Supervision in 1894.

The Scottish Office, 1886 -1999

Fuller governmental representation for Scotland came with the establishment of the Scottish Office in 1886, under the Secretary (later Secretary of State) for Scotland, though much of the administration continued to be performed by boards, including the new Board of Agriculture in 1911 (for the promotion of interests of agriculture, forestry and other rural industries) and the Board of Health in 1919. In 1939, the functions of these boards were vested directly in the Secretary of State and the Scottish Office was divided into departments dealing with specific matters: Agriculture, Education, Home and Health. In the same year a Scottish headquarters building was established at St Andrews House in Edinburgh, while Dover House in Whitehall remained both the residence of the Scottish Secretary in London and also the office dealing with parliamentary procedure.

Developments after 1945

After the Second World War, the Secretary of State was given additional responsibilities including hydro-electricity, assistance to agriculture, the National Health Service, town and country planning, forestry, civil defence, childcare and various other subjects. He acquired responsibility for roads and bridges from the Minster of Transport. In 1960 to 1962, internal changes in the Scottish Office resulted in the reconstitution of four departments:
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (NRS reference AF)

  • Scottish Development Department (NRS reference DD) with functions relating to local government, town and country planning, housing, roads, environmental services, electricity, and (since 1968) passenger transport and Highland development
  • Scottish Education Department (NRS reference ED)
  • Scottish Home and Health Department (NRS reference HH) which discharges the Secretary of State's responsibilities for health services and law and order.

 The 1960s and 1970s saw the establishment of a number of new boards and commissions:

  • The Crofters' Commission (1956)
  • Mental Welfare Commission (1961), successors to the General Commissioners
  • Scottish Economic Planning Council (1965) advised the Secretary of State on economic matters and worked closely with the Scottish Economic Planning Board, consisting of representatives of all the departments concerned, under a Scottish Office chairman.
  • The Countryside Commission for Scotland (1967)
  • The Scottish Development Agency (SDA) established in 1975 to attract inward investment for Scottish industry.

During this period the Scottish office itself also gained a number of functions:

  • a Regional Development Division was established in 1964 to co-ordinate the work of various departments both Scottish and UK wide concerned with economic development.
  • responsibility for the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland was transferred in 1966 to the Secretary of State (ie the Development Department) from the Ministry of Building and Works, followed by responsibility for ancient monuments, royal parks and palaces in 1969.
  • the Social Work Services Group was formed in 1967 (within the Education Department to re-organise the services regulated under the Social Work (S) Act 1968.
  • the Scottish Economic Planning Department was formed in 1973 with responsibility for oil-related development, electricity supply and new towns. It was also responsible for the Highlands and Islands Development Board (established 1966) and the Scottish Tourist Board and, from 1975 the administration of regional selective assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry's Office in Glasgow.

Conservative governments between 1979 and 1997 were responsible for the hiving off of a number of government functions and departments and the creation of executive agencies with varying degrees of autonomy:

  • Student Awards Agency
  • Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency
  • Registers of Scotland

Similarly, the SDA and HIDB were reconstituted in 1992 with differing structures and functions, as Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, respectively.

The Scottish Government 1999-present

The Scottish Government took over responsibility from the Scottish Office on 1st July 1999 and is the government in Scotland for all devolved matters. Those reserved to the UK government include defence, foreign affairs, trade and revenue. The Government has seven departments:

  • Education
  • Rural Affairs (formerly the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)
  • Justice (formerly the Home Department)
  • Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
  • Health
  • Development and
  • Government Secretariat

Some functions have, however, changed to new departments, notably social work, which is now split between Justice and Health.

The records

The records of the Scottish departments are transmitted to the National Archives of Scotland (NRS) under the terms of the Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937. They are a mine of information on all aspects of Scottish life. Some of the departmental records are discussed from two particular perspectives in 'Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors' and 'Tracing Scottish Local History'. The following lists summarise the main groups of records:

  • Scottish departments
  • United Kingdom departments
  • Other bodies

These records can be consulted in our Historical Search Room at General Register House.

Scottish departments
Crown Office and Lord Advocate (AD)

Criminal indictments (AD2-4) and precognitions (AD14-15, AD21) from 1797 (closed for 100 years); papers relating to legislation legal opinions and general Scottish government business, from 1798 (AD54-64); registers of sudden deaths, fatal accidents inquiries and accidents in mines, 1848-1987 (AD12, AD27).
For further information on records of crime, go to our guide on crime and criminals and our guide to High Court criminal trials.

The Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department (AF)

Fishery Board and local fishery offices, from 1809 (AF1-38)[some held locally]; agricultural censuses, parish summaries, from 1866 (AF39-41, AF78, AF84, AF88); shipping and air services, from 1896 (AF48); Royal Commission on Highlands and Islands, Napier Commission, 1875-84 (AF50); emigration, 1885-1956 (AF51); St Kilda, 1890-1957 (AF57); harbours, piers and ferries, 1931-65 (AF58); crofting files, from 1847 (AF67, AF81); afforestation, 1909-83 (AF79). For further information on emigration, go to our Emigration records guide.

The Scottish Office Development Department (DD)

Roads and bridges (DD4), transport (DD8, DD17) from 1878; housing, from 1892 (DD6); local authorities' accounts, from 1885 (DD7); electricity and gas supply, 1889-1974 (DD11); planning, from 1905 (DD12); Highland development, 1911-68 (DD15).

The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (ED and SEP)

The Scottish Education Department was established in 1872 with its headquarters in London. In 1909 it moved to Queen Street in Edinburgh. Its responsibilities included primary and secondary schools, adult education, training and certification of teachers and school buildings. The department was also responsible for administering the Royal Scottish Museum.

Museums and galleries, from 1799 (ED3); child care files, from 1910 (ED11) (some closed for more than 30 years); approved schools and remand homes, from 1888 (ED15) (some closed for more than 30 years); school inspection reports, from 1847 (ED18) (closed for more than 30 years); probation service, from 1905 (ED20); endowment schemes, from 1610 (ED23); universities and further education, from 1826 (ED26); school buildings, from 1879 (ED31); social and community services, from 1937 (ED39); training and supply of teachers, from 1895 (ED51).

North Sea oil policy files, from 1940 (SEP1); Scottish Transport Group (Highlands and Islands), 1910-75 (SEP11); Highland development, from 1936 (SEP12); energy files, from 1941 (SEP14); new towns, 1910-97 (SEP15).

The Scottish Office Home and Health Departments (HH)

Police report files, 1887-1959 (HH4); Edinburgh Tolbooth warding and liberation books, 1657-1816 (HH11); prison records, 1813-1966 (HH12) (some closed for more than 30 years); prisoners' records, 1889-1947 (HH15); prison registers, 1798-1967 (HH21); Prison Commission for Scotland, minutes, 1878-1929, (HH35); Scottish civil and criminal law policy (HH41, HH61); Prisons in Scotland reports, from1845 (HH112). For further information on records of crime, go to our guide on crime and criminals and our guide to High Court criminal trials.

Board of Supervision for Relief of the Poor, minute books, 1845-1896 (HH24-27); infectious diseases and public health files, 1848-1982 (HH58); Medical Officers of Health reports, 1891-1975 (HH62-63, HH72); health service files, from 1891 (HH98-111).

World War 1 files, 1914-29 (HH31); World War 2 files, 1935-57 (HH50); civil defence files, 1929-92 (HH52); fire and police services general files, from 1871 (HH54-55); civil emergencies files, from 1912 (HH56).

Royal Commissions and committees of inquiry, 1835-1980 (HH37-39, HH84-86); Edinburgh Royal Observatory files, 1834-1966 (HH90).

The Scottish Office Central Services (SOE)

Manpower and Organization files, 1872-1984 (SOE1); personnel management files, from 1910 (SOE2); files on Devolution, 1969-1979 (SOE9) and 1997-99 (SOE22); Solicitor's Office files, from 1911 (SOE10).

Scottish Record Office (SRO)

The Scottish Record Office was the name given to the NRS before 1993. Inventories of records, from c.1580 (SRO1); Register House building and housekeeping records, from 1765 (SRO4); correspondence, from 1790 (SRO8); National Register of Archives (Scotland), from 1946 (SRO26).

United Kingdom departments
Department of Trade (BT)

Files of dissolved limited companies, from 1856 (BT2); selected merchant shipping crew lists, 1867-1914 (BT3); register of business names, 1917-82 (BT4).

Cabinet Office (CAB)

Minutes and papers of the Cabinet, War Cabinet, Committee of Imperial Defence and Cabinet committees, 1881-1966.

Customs and Excise (CE)

Scottish Board of Customs minute books, general orders and letters (CE1,3,7,14,15), 1707-1840; Scottish Excise Board letters, order books and papers, (CE2,4-6,8-11,13, 16,17) 1707-1845; local excise records (CE35-37), 1776-1973; customs outport records (CE51-106), 1694-1993, including registers of shipping.
For further information on these records, go to our Customs and Excise records guide.

Crown Estate Commissioners (CR)

Reports on fishing, 1846-78 (CR1); leases and deeds, from 1919 (CR7); salmon fishings, from 1812 (CR10); foreshore files, from 1833 (CR11); mines, 1840-1963 (CR14).

Inland Revenue (Scotland) (IRS)

Land tax files and miscellanea, (IRS2-3), 1794-1965; succession duty registers, 1853-79 (IRS12); Scottish charities files, 1854-1988 (IRS21).

Ministry of Health (MH)

Inspector of Anatomy for Scotland, (MH1-3), registers, accounts, reports and letter books, including supply of bodies to schools of anatomy, 1842-1949; Scottish child care files, 1954-74 (MH4).

Ministry of Transport (MT)

Correspondence on Caledonian and Crinan Canals, 1803-1950 (MT1); Western Highlands and Islands steamer services, 1925-62 (MT2).

Ministry of Works/Department of Environment/Property Services Agency (MW)

Ancient monuments, 1794-1975 (MW1); royal palaces, parks and gardens, 1816-1968 (MW2-3); public buildings, 1808-1979 (MW5).

Ordnance Survey (OS)

Name books, 1845-1952 (OS1-2); surveyors' reconnaissance reports, 1960-74 (OS3).

Other bodies
British Broadcasting Corporation (Scotland) (BBC)

Radio and television programme and production scripts, 1968-91 (BBC1-2).

Civil Aviation Authority in Scotland (CAA)

Annual reports, from 1972 (CAA1); general files, from 1948 (CAA2).

Countryside Commission for Scotland (CCS)

The commission's powers included the approval of development projects and grants and loans; the promotion, conservation and enhancement of the countryside and the improvement of facilities for recreation and tourism.
Annual reports (CCS1) and commission papers (CCS3), 1968-95.

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COS)

Minutes and papers, from 1975 (COS1-2).

Crofters' Commission (CRO)

Minutes (CRO1), annual reports (CRO2) and papers (CRO3), 1955-93.

Scottish Examination Board (EB)

Annual reports, 1965-90 (EB1); administrative files, 1889-1978 (EB2).

Forestry Commission (FC)

Forest histories, 1841-1974 (FC7); census of woodlands, 1914-59 (FC8).

Registrar of Friendly Societies (FS)

Rules of friendly, building, industrial and provident societies and trade unions, 1632-1971 (FS1-14).

General Medical Council, Scottish Branch (GMC)

Register of doctors, from 1858 (GMC1).

General Nursing Council for Scotland (GNC)

Council and committee minutes and annual reports, 1920-83 (GNC1-3); registers of nurses and health visitors, 1921-83 (GNC12, GNC14).

General Register Office for Scotland (GRO)

Registration and Census branch files, 1831-1981 (GRO5-6).

Highland Destitution (HD)

Registers of meal distribution, 1840-52 (HD1); Highland Emigration Society, letter books, 1852-59, and lists of emigrants to Australia, 1852-57 (HD4); correspondence and accounts, 1846-51 (HD8-16).

An index to HD4/5, the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society passenger lists, 1852-1857, is available on the Scottish Archive Network site.

Highlands and Islands Development Board (HDB)

Minutes and papers, 1965-91 (HDB1-2); consultative council minutes and papers, 1966-90, (HDB6-7); annual reports, 1965-90 (HDB22).

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE)

Annual reports and board papers, from 1990 (HIE1-4).

Historic Scotland - see Scottish Office Development Department

Ancient monuments case files, from 1859 (DD27) and historic buildings, from 1952 (DD32).

Industrial Tribunals (Scotland) (IT)

Case files, 1965-1987, including equal pay (IT9), sex discrimination (IT10) and race relations (IT11).

Mental Welfare Commission (MC)

Board of Commissioners in Lunacy minute books, 1857-1914 (MC1); admission books, 1858-1962 (MC2) (closed for 100 years); register of lunatics in asylums, 1805-1978 (MC7).

National Galleries (NG)

Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements, 1727-1991 (NG1); Records of the Drawing Academy and School of Applied Art, 1828-68 (NG2); Royal Institution for Encouragement of Fine Arts, 1817-1971 (NG3); Royal association for Promotion of the Fine Arts, 1836-1897 (NG4); Board of Trustees for the National Galleries, 1861-1974 (NG5); National Gallery of Scotland, 1850-1963 (NG6); Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1871-1985 (NG7); National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, 1827-1955 (NG8) and the National Art Survey of Scotland, 1907-51 (NG9).

National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting for Scotland (NMH)

Annual reports (NMH1) and board papers (NMH2-5), from 1980.

Nature Conservancy Council (See Scottish Natural Heritage)

Minutes and papers, 1949-91.

Peers Elections (PE)

Records of elections of representative peers of Scotland, 1606-1959 (PE1-153).

Pensions Appeal Tribunals (PT)

Entitlement and assessment case papers, 1919-32 (PT1) (closed for 75 years); court entitlement and assessments, 1943-85 (PT9-14).

Railway and Canal Commission (RC)

Complaints case files, 1924-47 (RC1).

Red Deer Commission (RDC)

Minutes, 1959-92 (RDC2).

Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland (RF)

Minutes, from 1927 (RF1, RF3) and general files, 1927-89 (RF2, RF4).

Scottish Development Agency (SDA)

Annual reports, 1975-91 (SDA1) and administrative papers, 1937-91 (SDA2-19).

Scottish Enterprise (SE)

Annual reports and accounts, 1992-94 (SE1-SE2).

Sea Fishing Industry Authority (SFI)

Annual reports, 1981-94 (SFI 1).

Scottish Homes (SHO)

Scottish Special Housing Association files, 1937-89 (SHO1); Housing Corporation in Scotland, 1977-89 (SHO2).

Signet Office (SIG)

Signatures, 1607-1779 (SIG1); register of signatures, 1779-1847 (SIG2).

White Fish Authority (WFA)

Annual reports, 1952-81 (WFA1); research and development papers, 1954-81 (WFA6-7).

Further reading

PWJ Riley, 'The English ministers and Scotland, 1707-1727' (London, 1964)

JS Shaw, 'The management of Scottish society, 1707-1764' (Edinburgh, 1983)

JSS Shaw, 'The political history of eighteenth-century Scotland' (London, 1999)

A Murdoch, 'The people above: Politics and administration in mid-eighteenth century Scotland' (Edinburgh, 1979)

M Fry, 'The Dundas despotism' (Edinburgh, 1992)

John S Gibson, 'The thistle and the crown - a history of the Scottish Office' (HMSO: Edinburgh, 1985)

Ian Levitt, ed., 'Government and social conditions, 1845-1919' (Scottish History Society, 1988)

Ian Levitt, 'A history of The Scottish Office, 1919-59' (Scottish History Society, 1992)

Sir David Milne, 'The Scottish Office' (George, Allen and Unwin: London, 1957)