Media Release: Tax rolls on servants and fireplaces shed new light on history of 17th and 18th century Scottish households

HISTORICAL documents including Scotland’s Servant and Hearth tax rolls dating back some 300 years, go online today [29 August 2012].

Begins a spokesperson: “The records show that in 1785 there were twice as many female servants as male and that Glasgow employed twice the number of female servants than Edinburgh.

“Female servants worked mostly in towns – as household servants – while male servants were more likely to be found working as butlers, gardeners and coachmen on landed estates.

“The servant rolls are among new additions to a treasure trove of historical information held on the Scotland’s Places website,, which brings together records from three of Scotland’s national archives: the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the National Library of Scotland (NLS).”

New free-to-access materials include 25,000 Second and later edition Ordnance Survey maps: 7,486 six-inch maps dated 1892-1960 and 17,466 25-inch maps dated 1892-1949.

Meanwhile, subscribers to the ScotlandsPlaces website can now access:

Hearth Tax rolls dating from 1691-1695

These list everyone in Scotland who paid the one-off hearth tax (14 shillings on every hearth, including kilns, payable at Candlemas on 2 February 1691 to raise money for the army). They provide clues about the size of each building, place, estate or parish in the late 17th century and the numbers of poor people and hospitals that were exempt. The hearth tax rolls [see note 4]:

  • represent the first comprehensive survey of all towns, villages and other inhabited places in Scotland, showing the number of households and the names of the people living there
  • illustrate the huge difficulties in collecting the tax, particularly in the Highlands – there are no records for Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Ross and Cromarty

Servant Tax rolls

The Servants Tax was levied on masters of non-essential servants (so the records exclude the majority of the servant class, such as farm labourers and people working in factories, inns and shops). The tax was targeted at wealthy households which employed domestic and personal servants such as butlers, valets, coachmen and gardeners. In Scotland, taxes on female servants were assessed between 1785 and 1792 and on male servants between 1777 and 1798. The volumes, which give the location, name of the master and usually the name of the servant, offer up interesting facts, for example, the 1785 roll shows that:

  • there were nearly 15,000 servants assessed that year, 4,158 male and 10,207 female
  • Glasgow had fewer male servants than Edinburgh (132 v 352) but nearly twice as many female servants (1,043 v 589)
  • 40 per cent of female servants worked in towns, compared to only 18 per cent of males
  • more than a quarter of all non-essential servants (3,735) were employed in Edinburgh and the county of Midlothian, but mostly outside the city
  • non-essential servants in the Highlands and Islands were few and far between. In Orkney only one male servant and 51 female servants were taxable

Ordnance Survey (OS) Name Books

Each OS name book for a county contains volumes of ledgers that outline all of the place names within that county during the latter half of the 19th century and include variant spellings, where the place is situated (giving the corresponding OS sheets maps, as well as descriptive remarks and general observations).

The ScotlandsPlaces website links the user to both the related name book (a subscription resource) as well as the corresponding sheet maps for any given place name (which are freely available).

Name books are being made available for Stirlingshire ca. 1864, Nairnshire 1869, Inverness-shire 1876-1878, Clackmannanshire 1861-1862, Buteshire 1855-1864, Berwickshire 1856-1858 and Ayrshire 1855-1857.

Name books for the remaining counties will be added over the coming months, with a full set available by 2013.

What Scotland’s Places offers

ScotlandsPlaces offers information such as maps and plans; manuscript records and printed books from millions of pages in government and private records; and photographs, plans and drawings of buildings and landmarks.

  • Users can search across the three national databases at once, using geographic locations such as counties, parishes or other place names to start their search, before drilling down through a series of map layers including Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, to refine their search area.
  • Users can then create their own detailed, interactive historical archive maps, by plotting search results within the website or by using external geobrowsers like Google Earth.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said: “This data gives us an insight into Scotland’s history dating back 300 years. The result of an innovative collaboration between RCAHMS, National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland, this project provides rich historical detail about our buildings, our communities and our people. Viewed together, this data provides a fascinating picture of Scotland’s past.”

George Mackenzie, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records, said: “Exciting new resources for local history are now on the internet. Ordnance Survey name books from the 19th century give the earliest comprehensive list of Scottish place names, while the tax rolls from the 17th and 18th centuries list who paid what.

“Together, they give a fascinating insight into the history of buildings and communities across Scotland. National Records of Scotland is working closely with our partners RCAHMS and the National Library to add new local history resources to the ScotlandsPlaces website.”

RCAHMS head of Education and Outreach, Rebecca Bailey, said: “ScotlandsPlaces is a fantastic resource for amateur genealogists and professional researchers alike, providing an unrivalled resource of information on the historical landscape of Scotland from three of Scotland’s national collections.”


For further information please contact Giselle Dye or Stuart Young at Pagoda PR 0131 556 0770 or

Notes to Editors

1) RCAHMS is the National Collection of materials on Scotland’s built environment that connects people to places across time.

2) NRS, an agency of the Scottish Government, is the official archive for government, parliament and the courts in Scotland

3) NLS, one of the major research libraries in Europe, has collections ranging from rare historical documents to online journals and specialises in Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture

4) For more information about hearth tax rolls see the National Records of Scotland guide to taxation records at

5) Subscription packages to access ScotlandsPlaces new resources are priced £15 for three months and more information can be found at All other content on the site is free to access to anyone.

6) A Case study illustrating use of all the new resources featuring John Johnstone Esq (1734-1795) of Denovan and Alva, his servants etcetera – is available on request.

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