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Printed Material

people in a library

Printed material

Before you begin looking at original documents, you should always make a point of checking what printed material is available. This will arm you with the background information that you need to start finding out about historical rural settlements in your area. Some of the most important sources to look out for are described below.

Ordnance Survey gazetteers

Gazetteers are geographical encyclopaedias containing information about the topography, archaeology and history of places. They are very useful sources for finding out who owned land in the past and establishing what administrative areas it belonged to - important first steps in investigating the history of settlements and landscapes.

Francis H Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-1885) is the best Scottish gazetteer to look out for. You should find a copy of it, or later editions, in your local studies library or archive. The second edition (1892-1896) has been digitised and is available on-line.

A modern, web-based Gazetteer for Scotland has also been created by Edinburgh University and is available on-line.

Statistical Accounts of Scotland

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland are vital sources for researching settlement and landscape change. They contain detailed descriptions of every parish in Scotland during three critical periods of change in the Scottish countryside:

The First or 'Old', Statistical Account (1791-1799) was established to investigate what effect the agricultural improving movement was having upon the Scottish countryside. It contains many descriptions of traditional, pre-improvement farming practices, as well as descriptions of improved and experimental methods of agriculture.

The Second or 'New', Statistical Account (1834-1845) was compiled when the improving movement was in full swing and the country was experiencing a period of great economic change - the industrial revolution. As well as information about the progress of agricultural improvements, this account contains descriptions of emigration and famine across many parts of the Highlands.

A Third Statistical Account (1951-1992) was begun shortly after the Second World War, and gives an excellent account of the agricultural changes brought about in the post-war period by growing mechanisation and intensification of agricultural production.

The Statistical Accounts are widely available in local studies libraries and archives.

The 'Old' and 'New' Statistical Accounts have also been digitised and are available on-line (choose the Non Subscribers option)

Trade Directories

Trade directories are the early and more informative equivalents of our modern telephone directories. They are very useful sources for establishing who the most important farmers in a local area were and of indicating the distribution of vital rural services such as farriers, wheelwrights, millers and other tradesmen. The entries are brief and ignore the lower classes, but directories are always worthwhile checking if you can.

Local directories were produced in great numbers between the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, and if you are lucky, you may even find some dating from the late-18th century. Some of the best to look out for in your local library or archive include:

Post Office Directories (published from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries)

County Directory of Scotland (ten editions published between 1862 and 1912 - later editions more informative than earlier)

Directory to Gentlemen's Seats, Villages &c, in Scotland (three editions published between 1845 and the 1860s)

Local and parish histories

Parish histories can be fascinating resources for settlement and landscape studies, especially older publications, which often contain anecdotal information about archaeological sites, local customs and folklore that is no longer common knowledge.

A surprisingly wide range of local history pamphlets and books is available for most parts of Scotland. The best places to look are your local studies library, archive or museum. It may also be worth searching on-line for titles that have been digitised or are offered for sale.

Burkes Peerage

This is the definitive guide to the British gentry, containing genealogies and historical essays on every landed and titled family in the country. Burke's Landed Gentry was first published in 1826 and since then has been regularly updated, with an online database format now available, by subscription (http://www.burkespeerage.com/). Copies of earlier, printed editions are widely available in local libraries and archives.

Other antiquarian publications

A very wide range of antiquarian publications are of interest and value to rural settlement and landscape studies. You may find small collections in your local library, museum or archive. If not, try your local university library, or some of the national collections (the National Library of Scotland, National Archives of Scotland or RCAHMS). This is a small selection of some of the best:

Report on the Present State of the Agriculture of Scotland arranged under the auspices of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1790s-1810s)
These volumes are very useful companions to the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, containing detailed and informative reports on agricultural practice and production for every county in Scotland during the late nineteenth century.

Geographical Collections relating to Scotland made by Walter Macfarlane, 3 volumes, edited by Sir Arthur Mitchell (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1906-1908)
'Macfarlane's Geographical Collections' are a miscellany of topographical, historical and antiquarian notes compiled from diverse sources, dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. They include some fascinating early descriptions of the Scottish landscape, people and agriculture, but on the down side, are poorly indexed and do not cover the whole country.

William J. Watson, The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland (1926) reprinted by Birlinn, Edinburgh 1993

Although over a hundred years old, Watson's volume is still considered to be the starting-point for serious place-name studies in Scotland (excluding the Northern Isles). It is quite heavy going in parts, but is extremely well-researched and his basic conclusions remain largely unchallenged by later authors. Other sources for place name studies are given later in this document, in the Bibliography.


Local newspapers are excellent sources for local history. In them, you will find many contemporary accounts of the evictions, re-settlements, and emigrations which took place across the Scottish Highlands during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They also contain adverts for farm sales and leases, which are worth looking out for because they may contain descriptions of farmland and buildings.

Most local libraries have good collections of local newspapers. Some University libraries also hold good collections, as do the National Library of Scotland and the British Library.

Many newspapers have been indexed and this makes it much easier to find relevant information. Always ask if indicies exist, as people don't always remember to mention them! The Am Baile website hosts an excellent index to five Highland newspapers, 1807-1939 (www.ambaile.org.uk). The National Library of Scotland website holds a guide to other Scottish newspaper titles that have been indexed.

Also see the Scotsman Digital Archive, which contains digital images of every Scotsman published between 1817 and 1950. There is a fee to look at the digitised articles, but you can search the index for free.

© Historic Environment Scotland - Scottish Charity No. SC045925.