Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) is an executive non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government 'sponsored' [financed and with oversight] through Historic Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government. It is one of the country's National Collections.
The RCAHMS is 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, is then made available to the public, mainly at no cost.
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.
RCAHMS has a mission statement, which is:
- to survey and record the historic environment of Scotland
- to compile and maintain a public record of the archaeological, architectural and historical environment
- to promote an understanding of this information by all appropriate means.
The Commission is based in Edinburgh where it has a huge selection of photographs and drawings for consultation. It also publishes a range of books and documents on Scottish architecture and archaeology. Increasingly study has also been conducted of previously neglected industrial and agricultural constructions, as well as 20th century buildings, including high-rise tower blocks.
RCAHMS maintains a database/archive of the sites, monuments and buildings of Scotland's past; while at one time known as the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS), no differentiation is now apparent in RCAHMS publications or on the organisation's website. A growing proportion of RCAHMS's own survey material and material deposited in the archive by others is now available through online databases such as Canmore.
Since 1976 RCAHMS has 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 holds the National Collection of Aerial Photography which is one of the largest and most important aerial imagery collections in the world. It contains 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, and commercial vertical aerial photographs. RCAHMS also holds over 10 million images of international sites as part of The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA).
The RCAHMS in conjunction with Historic Scotland hosts a map-based GIS portal called PASTMAP. This allows Historic Scotland, NMRS, Scottish Natural Heritage and some Local Authority Sites and Monuments data sets to be viewed together.
Other online resources include Scran, now managed by RCAHMS, which is 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. Scotland's Places is 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 includes 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.
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.
The volumes are now all out-of-print but are available for consultation at RCAHMS in Edinburgh or at most large public libraries. Until the Dumfriesshire volume, the inventories were paper-bound and issued in octavo format.
- First Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Berwick (HMSO, 1909)
- Second Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland (HMSO, 1911)
This is available as an online pdf at http://www.archive.org/details/secondreportinve00scot
- Third Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Caithness (HMSO, 1911)
- Fourth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in Galloway, Volume I, County of Wigtown (HMSO, 1912)
- Fifth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in Galloway, Volume II, County of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright (HMSO, 1914)
This is available as an online pdf at http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924015428661
- Sixth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Berwick (revised issue, HMSO, 1915)
- Seventh Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Dumfries (HMSO, 1920)
This is available as an online pdf at http://www.archive.org/details/seventhreportwit00scotuoft
- Eighth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of East Lothian (HMSO, 1924)
- Ninth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles (HMSO, 1928)
- Tenth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian (HMSO, 1929)
- Eleventh Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan (HMSO, 1933)
- Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland (HMSO, 1946)
- Volume I, Report and Introduction
- Volume II, Inventory of Orkney
- Volume III, Inventory of Shetland
- An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh (with the Thirteenth Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1951)
- An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Roxburghshire (with the Fourteenth Report of the Commission, 2 volumes, HMSO, 1956)
- An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Selkirkshire (with the Fifteenth Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1957)
- Stirlingshire. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments (with the Sixteenth Report of the Commission, 2 volumes, HMSO, 1963)
- Peeblesshire. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments (with the Seventeenth Report of the Commission, 2 volumes, HMSO, 1967)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 1, Kintyre (with the Eighteenth Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1971)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 2, Lorn (with the Nineteenth Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1975)
- Lanarkshire. An Inventory of the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments (with the Twentieth Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1978)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 3, Mull, Tiree, Coll and Northern Argyll (excluding the early medieval and later monuments of Iona) (with the Twenty-first Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1980)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 4, Iona (with the Twenty-second Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1982)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 5, Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay (with the Twenty-third Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1984)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 6, Mid Argyll and Cowal: Prehistoric and Early Medieval Monuments (with the Twenty-fourth Report of the Commission, HMSO, 1988)
- Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 7, Mid Argyll and Cowal: Medieval and Later Monuments (HMSO, 1992)
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.
Commissoners and staff
As originally established, the RCAHMS was operated by a group of Commissioners, including a Chairman and a Secretary. The Secretary is now a role similar to that of a chief executive, but when it first operated, the Secretary was the person who wrote the Commission's report and undertook the required fieldwork. The chairperson has always had a key role in the operation of the Commission, and, at one time or another, they have taken on roles of writing and editing Commission publications. Commissioners are 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. There are presently eleven Commissioners.
Alexander Curle (1908-1913); William Mackay Mackenzie (1913-1935); Angus Graham (1935-1957); Kenneth Steer (1957-1978); John Dunbar (1978-1990); Roger Mercer (1990-2004); Diana Murray (2004-)
Sir Herbert Maxwell (1908-1934); Sir George Macdonald; Sir John Stirling-Maxwell; David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss (1949-1985); Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford (1985-1995); Sir William Fraser (1995-2000); Kathleen Dalyell OBE (2000-2005); Professor John Hume OBE (2005-)
Other notable past Commissioners include:
- Charles J. Guthrie
- Gerard Baldwin Brown
- Thomas H. Bryce
- Francis C. Buchanan
- William Thomas Oldrieve
- Thomas Ross
- A. O. Curle
- George Macdonald
- Ronald Munro Ferguson, 1st Viscount Novar
- James Curle
- James A. Morris (appointed 1932)
- John Graham Callander (appointed 1934, died before 1946)
- Sir John Stirling-Maxwell (appointed 1934)
- Sir Iain Colquhoun (appointed 1934)
- Reginald Fairlie (appointed 1938)
- V. Gordon Childe (appointed 1942, resigned on departure from Scotland)
- Ian Richmond (appointed 1944)
- Stuart Piggott (appointed 1946)
- W. Douglas Simpson (appointed 1946)
- David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss (appointed 1949)
- Vivian Hunter Galbraith
- William Mackay Mackenzie
- Ian Gordon Lindsay
- William Croft Dickinson
- Annie I. Dunlop
- Angus Graham
- Rosemary Cramp
- Howard Colvin
- Gordon Donaldson
- James Dunbar-Nasmith
- Archibald A. M. Duncan
- Kenneth H. Jackson
- Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford
- Leslie Alcock
- Lord Cullen
- T. C. Smout
RCAHMS currently has a staff of around 110 based in their offices in Edinburgh. The staff work within ten groups, each with an operational manager, and the groups in turn sit within six departments:
- Survey and Recording
- Architecture and Industry;
- Data and Recording;
- Project Development and Communities;
- Collections, including the National Collection of Aerial Photography;
- Education and Outreach;
- Information Systems; and
- Corporate Affairs.
- 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).
- Scheduled Ancient Monuments data.
- National Monuments Record of Scotland data.
- Data on Listed Buildings and Designed Landscapes and Gardens.
- Known as SMRs (Sites and Monuments Records).
- "Changes at the Buildings at Risk Register as of 1 April 2011". Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland: News. RCAHMS. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
- "Our Commissioners". RCAHMS. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
- Graham, A (1950). "The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Part I: History". The Archaeological News Letter 2: 193–195.
- Dunbar, J.G. (1992). "The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: the first eighty years". Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society 36: 13–77.
- Ritchie, JNG (2002). "James Curle (1862–1944) and Alexander Ormiston Curle (1866–1955): pillars of the establishment". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132: 19–41.
- Official website
- Scotland's Places
- National Collection of Aerial Photography
- RCAHMS on Facebook
- RCAHMS on Twitter
- Option appraising RCAHMS 18 Nov 2011