Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Last updated

Logo of the RCAHMS Logo of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.png
Logo of the RCAHMS

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) was an executive non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government that was "sponsored" [financed and with oversight] through Historic Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government.


As one of the country's National Collections, it was responsible for recording, interpreting and collecting information about the built and historic environment. This information, which relates to buildings, sites, and ancient monuments of archaeological, architectural and historical interest (including maritime sites and underwater constructions), as well as historical aspects of the landscape, was then made available to the public, mainly at no cost.

It was established (shortly ahead of parallel commissions for Wales and England) by a Royal Warrant of 1908, which was revised in 1992.

The RCAHMS merged with government agency Historic Scotland to form Historic Environment Scotland, a new executive non-departmental public body on 1 October 2015.


The Royal Commission was established in 1908, twenty-six years after the passage of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882, which provided the first state protection for ancient monuments in the United Kingdom, and eight years after the passage of the wider-ranging Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1900. Critics – including David Murray in his Archaeological Survey of the United Kingdom (1896) and Gerard Baldwin Brown in his Care of Ancient Monuments (1905) – had argued that, for the legislation to be effective, detailed lists of significant monuments needed to be compiled; and had also made unfavourable comparisons between the policies of Britain and its European neighbours. Brown, Professor of Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh, explicitly proposed that the issues should be addressed by a Royal Commission, comparable to the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. His suggestion was favourably received by Sir John Sinclair, Secretary for Scotland, and, following a brief period of consultation, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland was established on 14 February 1908, with Brown as one of its first Commissioners. The equivalent Royal Commission for Wales was established in August 1908; and that for England in October 1908. [1]


The Commission was based in Edinburgh where it had a huge selection of photographs and drawings for consultation. It also published a range of books and documents on Scottish architecture and archaeology. Study was also increasingly conducted of previously neglected industrial and agricultural constructions, as well as 20th-century buildings, including high-rise tower blocks.

RCAHMS maintained a database/archive of the sites, monuments and buildings of Scotland's past, known as the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS). A growing proportion of RCAHMS's own survey material and material deposited in the archive by others was made available through online databases such as Canmore.

Since 1976, RCAHMS conducted intensive aerial survey of archaeological sites, buildings, landscapes and natural features. In addition to its holdings of its own (mainly oblique) aerial photographs, it held the National Collection of Aerial Photography, one of the largest and most important aerial imagery collections in the world, containing over 1.8 million aerial photographs of Scotland including large numbers of Royal Air Force oblique and vertical aerial photographs taken of Scotland during and in the years after the Second World War, as well as post-war Ordnance Survey, local and national government, commercial vertical aerial photographs, and over 10 million images of international sites as part of The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA).

The RCAHMS in conjunction with Historic Scotland hosted a map-based GIS portal called PASTMAP. This allowed Historic Scotland, [2] NMRS, [3] Scottish Natural Heritage [4] and some Local Authority Sites and Monuments [5] data sets to be viewed together.

Other online resources managed by RCAHMS included Scran, a UK charity with a learning image service of over 367,000 images, clip art, movies and sounds from museums, galleries, archives and the media; and Scotland's Places, a partnership website giving searchable access to the collections of RCAHMS, the National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland.

RCAHMS was one of the first national collections in Scotland to embed social media into its online services, enabling user generated images and information to be added to the national database Canmore. An outreach programme included publications, exhibitions, induction and training sessions for students and other groups, and a series of free lunchtime lectures, as well as daily Facebook and Twitter feeds.

From 2011, the RCAHMS maintained the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland on behalf of Historic Scotland. The register was formerly maintained by the Scottish Civic Trust. [6]

Under the terms of a Bill of the Scottish Parliament published on 3 March 2014 RCAHMS would be dissolved and its responsibilities including the management of collections undertaken by a new executive Non-departmental public body to be called Historic Environment Scotland, which would also take over the property management responsibilities of Historic Scotland. [7] This occurred on 1 October 2015. [8] [9] A final publication entitled 'An Inventory for the Nation' was published in the same month, detailing RCAHMS' activities over the past century. [10]

Area Inventories

Coverage of Inventory volumes with date ranges (Orkney and Shetland not shown) RCHAMSInventories.png
Coverage of Inventory volumes with date ranges (Orkney and Shetland not shown)

Initially, RCAHMS recorded all buildings and monuments of note until the year 1707. This was later updated to 1805. The findings were published in a series of inventories. Changes in what constitutes a construction "of note", plus developments in how the public could access this information, led to the abandonment of the inventories after publication of the last Argyll volume in 1992. Consequently, only approximately one-half of Scotland was covered by this method.

Although the volumes are now all out-of-print, they are available online on the Scotland's Places website, through most large public libraries, or via Historic Environment Scotland.

A supplementary work entitled Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands was published in 1977, augmenting the content of not only the contemporaneous Argyll volumes but the much earlier Outer Hebrides volume of 1928.

Three further publications, North East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape (1990), South East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape (1994) and Eastern Dumfriesshire: An Archaeological Landscape (1997) were appended to the series. As the titles suggest these were concerned with archaeological remains rather than significant above-ground structures. Unlike all earlier volumes, these publications used the boundaries of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. Hence 'Perth' refers to an area within Perth and Kinross District rather than historic Perthshire. The Dumfriesshire volume related to both the eastern end of the historic county and the post-1973 district as the areas were identical. To date the Dumfriesshire volume is the only area to be revisited as part of a completely new inventory.

RCAHMS also published a series of lists covering archaeological sites and monuments which simply enumerated and identified, rather than interpreted, historic structures. As before, this series did not see completion. The series of 29 lists was begun in 1978 with the districts of Clackmannan and Falkirk within Central Region and concluded with the Easter Ross area of Ross and Cromarty District of Highland Region in 1989.

Commissioners and staff

As originally established, the RCAHMS was operated by a group of Commissioners, including a chairman and a Secretary. The Secretary was originally the person who wrote the Commission's report and undertook the required fieldwork, but later adopted a role similar to that of a chief executive. The chairperson always had a key role in the operation of the Commission, and, at one time or another, undertook the writing and editing of Commission publications. Commissioners were appointed by the Queen, advised by the First Minister of Scotland, with all appointments regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland.




The Commissioners at the time RCAHMS was dissolved were: [11]

Notable past Commissioners have included:


Prior to the merger RCAHMS had a staff of around 110 based in their offices in Edinburgh, working within ten groups each with an operational manager, and these in turn sat within six departments:

See also

Related Research Articles

Each county or unitary authority in the United Kingdom maintains a sites and monuments record or SMR, consisting of a list of known archaeological sites. Many SMRs are now developing into much broader historic environment records (HERs), including information on historic buildings and designed landscapes. Each record lists the location, type and period of site, along with a brief description and information on the location of more detailed sources of information such as site reports. This information is most commonly used to help inform decisions on the likelihood of new development affecting archaeological deposits. Government guidance requires local authorities to consider archaeology a material consideration in determining planning applications and the SMR aids this consideration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales</span> Archival institution in Wales

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, established in 1908, is a Welsh Government sponsored body concerned with some aspects of the archaeological, architectural and historic environment of Wales. It is based in Aberystwyth.

The National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) was the term used for the archive of the sites, monuments and buildings of Scotland's past maintained by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The Commission was originally established by Royal Warrant in the reign of George VI "to make an inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions connected with or illustrative of the contemporary culture, civilization and conditions of life of the people in Scotland from the earliest times to the year 1707, and to specify those which seem most worthy of preservation."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historic England Archive</span> Public archive in Swindon, England

The Historic England Archive is the public archive of Historic England, located in The Engine House on Fire Fly Avenue in Swindon, formerly part of the Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scots' Dike</span> Cross dyke built as a Scotland-England border mark

The Scots' Dike or dyke is a three and a half mile / 5.25 km long linear earthwork, constructed by the English and the Scots in the year 1552 to mark the division of the Debatable lands and thereby settle the exact boundary between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England.

The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) was a government advisory body responsible for documenting buildings and monuments of archaeological, architectural and historical importance in England. It was established in 1908 ; and was merged with English Heritage in 1999. The research section and the archive are now part of Historic England.

Historic England is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It is tasked with protecting the historic environment of England by preserving and listing historic buildings, scheduling ancient monuments, registering historic Parks and Gardens and by advising central and local government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carter-Campbell of Possil</span>

Carter-Campbell of Possil is a branch of Clan Campbell, a Scottish clan. Historically, they are part of Clan Campbell, which was regarded as one of the largest Scottish clans. The branch of the Campbell clan was historically centred in Lawers. Some of the clan, which originated with the original Campbells, had links to the lands of Argyll.

Auchenbreck Castle; is located on the Cowal peninsula, in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. Its remains are situated in Kilmodan parish, near the mouth of Glendaruel, 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) north of Tighnabruaich on the Cowal peninsula. Little remains of the castle, other than a flat rectangular platform, around 35 by 18 metres, between Auchenbreck farmhouse and the Auchenbreck Burn. This is partially bounded by a revetment wall up to 2.2 metres high.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pennard Castle</span> Castle ruins on the Gower Peninsula, south Wales

Pennard Castle is a ruined castle, near the modern village of Pennard on the Gower Peninsula, in south Wales. The castle was built in the early 12th century as a timber ringwork following the Norman invasion of Wales. The walls were rebuilt in stone by the Braose family at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, including a stone gatehouse. Soon afterwards, however, encroaching sand dunes caused the site to be abandoned and it fell into ruin. Restoration work was carried out during the course of the 20th century and the remains of the castle are now protected under UK law as a Grade II* listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Asgog Loch</span> A lake in Argyll and Bute, Scotland

Asgog Loch is a natural freshwater loch in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It is located about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) southwest of Tighnabruaich, on the Cowal peninsula. The loch was dammed during the 19th century to create an impounding reservoir for the supply of freshwater to the Low Mills of the nearby gunpowder mills at Millhouse.

Kenneth Arthur Steer, was a British archaeologist and British Army officer. During World War II, he saw active service in Italy and later served as a Monuments Man in Germany. From 1957 to 1978, he served as Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Broch of Inshlampie is an Iron Age broch in Scotland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historic Environment Scotland</span> Scottish government agency

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is an executive non-departmental public body responsible for investigating, caring for and promoting Scotland's historic environment. HES was formed in 2015 from the merger of government agency Historic Scotland with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). Among other duties, Historic Environment Scotland maintains more than 300 properties of national importance including Edinburgh Castle, Skara Brae and Fort George.

Alexander Ormiston Curle FSAS CVO LL.D. (1866–1955) was a Scottish lawyer and archaeologist who rose to be Director of the National Museum of Scotland from 1913 to 1919 and Director of the Royal Scottish Museum on Chambers Street in Edinburgh 1916 to 1931. He was also Secretary and later a Commissioner of the Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Scotland. He was brother to the archaeologist James Curle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kirkbride, Durisdeer</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Kirkbride, previously Kilbride was an ancient parish close to the village of Enterkinfoot, the lands of which lay on both sides of the River Nith in the old Strathnith area of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, about 5 miles south of Sanquhar and north of Closeburn. The parish was suppressed and divided between Durisdeer and Sanquhar parishes in 1732. The ruins of the kirk are a scheduled monument and the surrounding graveyard is a Category B listed building with the River Nith in the valley below. The Ha Cleuch Burn flows through the glen that lies to the east of the site with a lane reaching it that runs up from Enterkinfoot, ending at Coshogle Farm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deil's Dyke</span> Ancient linear earthwork in Scotland

Deil's Dyke, Pict's Dyke or Celt's Dyke in south-west lowland Scotland is a linear earthwork that roughly follows the contours that divide upland pasture from lowland arable land, effectively acting like the head-dykes of medieval and later times although its true purpose has not been settled. The Deil's Dyke, sometimes written as 'dike', is formed from an earthen berm of rounded form that varies from 2.0-4.0m wide and a maximum of 0.7m high sometimes having a stone core. Where a fosse accompanies the bank it is usually an inconsequential 0.5m or so in width on average and around 0.4m deep, more often located on the uphill or outfield side. As a defensive structure the dyke has no obvious military value and its erratic route militates against it being a practical political boundary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inverchaolain Church</span> Church in Scotland

Inverchaolain Church is a former Church of Scotland church building in Inverchaolain, Argyll and Bute, Scotland. Located on the eastern shores of Loch Striven, just north of Inverchaolain Burn, the church was built in 1912. It is the fourth church on the site, the previous one dating to 1812.

The National Collection of Aerial Photography is a photographic archive in Edinburgh, Scotland, containing 26 million aerial photographs of worldwide historic events and places. From 2008–2015 it was part of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and since then it has been a sub-brand of Historic Environment Scotland. Many of the aerial reconnaissance photographs were taken during the Second World War and the Cold War, and were declassified and released by the Ministry of Defence. The collection also contains over 1.8 million aerial photographs of Scotland, during and in the years after the Second World War, as well as post-war Ordnance Survey, and over 10 million images of international sites as part of The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA). The collection contains both military declassified and non-military aerial photographs from over a dozen different national and international organisations.


  1. Sargent, Andrew (2001). ""RCHME" 1908–1998: a history of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England". Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society. 45: 57–80 (58–9).
  2. Scheduled Ancient Monuments data.
  3. National Monuments Record of Scotland data.
  4. Data on Listed Buildings and Designed Landscapes and Gardens.
  5. Known as SMRs (Sites and Monuments Records).
  6. "Changes at the Buildings at Risk Register as of 1 April 2011". Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland: News. RCAHMS. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  7. "Historic Environment Scotland Bill". Scottish Parliament . Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  8. McKenzie, Steven (30 September 2015). "Monuments body RCAHMS produces final report ahead of merger". BBC News .
  9. "About Historic Environment Scotland" . Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  10. "Inventory For The Nation". Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  11. "Our Commissioners". RCAHMS. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  12. "Noted Scottish Archaeologist" , Dundee Courier, p. 3, 19 March 1938 via British Newspaper Archive
  13. "Special Collections, ref MS 1082". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 9 September 2015.

Further reading

Coordinates: 55°56′27.37″N3°10′47.08″W / 55.9409361°N 3.1797444°W / 55.9409361; -3.1797444