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Historical Property Records Go Online.

The Valuation Rolls of 1885 offer genealogists and other history researchers a fascinating picture of Victorian Scottish society, including figures ranging from William McGonagall to Dr Sophia Jex-Blake

Property records containing the names and addresses of more than 1.4 million people living in Scotland in 1885 has been released on ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, the government’s family history website.

Called Valuation Rolls, the new records comprise over 77,000 digital images taken from 144 volumes, and cover every type of property which was assessed as having a rateable value in 1885. As the records include details of owners, tenants and occupiers of property, they offer historians and genealogists an excellent online resource for researching Scottish society in the late Victorian age.

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Visitors to the website will be able to search the 1885 Valuation Rolls by name and address, with the records listing the names of owners, tenants and occupiers of each property – in many cases occupations are also included. Since the Rolls list every type of rateable property in Scotland, these new records include people from all the social classes.

Some famous episodes in Scottish history can be traced using the Rolls. As the 1880s witnessed mass protests by crofters in the Highlands and Islands, ScotlandsPeople researchers looked at Rolls that contain the names and addresses of people who were imprisoned following the ‘Battle of the Braes’ on Skye in 1883.

Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, one of the first female medical students of Edinburgh University, was running her pioneering medical practice in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, for the benefit of women and children, and the Rolls reveal that she owned the house in Grove Street that was rented by her out-patient clinic, the Edinburgh Provident Dispensary for Women and Children.

Elsewhere in the Capital tenants were moving into Well Court in the Dean Village, a new housing development for the working class paid for by John Ritchie Findlay, proprietor of The Scotsman. Meanwhile his more famous project of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street was still under construction, and was valued at only £40.

Perhaps the only person who is listed in the Rolls as a ‘poet’ is William McGonagall, living in humble rented accommodation in Dundee, where he eked out a precarious livelihood performing his work and working as a weaver. Elsewhere in the town William Arrol, the famous engineer, was supervising the building of the replacement Tay Bridge, following the destruction of the first bridge in 1879. He had moved temporarily from Glasgow during the contract.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, said:

“ScotlandsPeople is a superb digital resource for those who to wish explore their family pasts, both for Scots who live here now and for those whose ancestors left Scotland as part of the Diaspora. I hope that researching these new online records will inspire people to visit Scotland to see the places where their ancestors lived and worked, making their own journey of discovery in this year of Homecoming.”

Tim Ellis, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said:

“The Valuation Rolls of 1885 are a wonderful quarry for people wanting to find out more about the lives and homes of their Victorian ancestors – or for those who are interested in the rich stories and characters of that period. The National Records of Scotland is committed to continuously improving and enhancing its services, and I’m delighted that we’ve now been able to make these fascinating records available online through our ScotlandsPeople website.”

Annelies van den Belt, the CEO of DC Thomson Family History, who enable the ScotlandsPeople website on behalf of the National Records of Scotland, said:

“We’re extremely pleased to add this new set of historical property records to the ScotlandsPeople website. We’ve now released five sets of Valuation Rolls, covering the years 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915 and 1920. With this new release we’ve again chosen a mid-point between censuses, as we believe this will help family historians to find out more about those ancestors who moved address and/or changed jobs between census years.”

The 1885 Valuation Rolls will be available on the ScotlandsPeople website, at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh, and at local family history centres in Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Hawick and Inverness.

Houston Born Sir William Arrol (1839-1913), the engineer who built the replacement Tay Bridge and the Forth Bridge.

William Arrol was an engineer and leading railway contractor. He was born on 13 February 1839 in Houston (Renfrewshire), the son of a spinner. He started work in a cotton mill at the age of only 9, but by 1863 had joined a company of bridge manufacturers in Glasgow. By 1872 he had his own business, the Dalmarnock Iron Works in the east end of the city.

William Arrol was the contractor responsible for building the Forth Rail Bridge (1890) and the replacement Tay Rail Bridge (1887), which were the two most substantial bridges in the world of their time and remain in constant use today. He was also responsible for Tower Bridge in London (1894), bridges over the Nile at Cairo (1908) and multi-span bridges over the River Clyde at Bothwell and the River South Esk at Montrose. His company also built the Bankside Power Station in London, which now forms the Tate Modern Art Gallery.

A search of the 1885 Valuation Rolls for William Arrol returns 10 results, highlighting the extent of his property and business portfolio in Glasgow and Dundee. The Dundee entries are especially interesting, given that Arrol was the engineer who planned the building of the replacement bridge over the Tay. So, in 1885, Arrol was in the middle of the 4-year project to build the new Tay Bridge.

In the first Valuation Roll entry (VR/98/55/174) for Arrol in Dundee, we find him listed as a tenant on ground at Tay Bridge Station owned by the North British Railway Company. The entry also includes the address of 47 Magdalene Green, which would appear to be where the site office for the new Tay Bridge project was based.

In the second Valuation Roll entry (VR/98/55/223), Arroll is listed as a tenant of a dwelling house at 24 Strawberry Bank. As Strawberry Bank is a side-street on the Perth Road that leads straight down to the Tay Bridge area, this would most likely have been Arrol’s main residence in Dundee during this time. So not only do we discover Arrol between censuses in 1885, but we also find him working on his project to build one of the world’s most famous bridges.

 

Valuation Roll entry for William Arrol in Dundee – VR/98/55/174

Valuation Roll entry for William Arrol in Dundee – VR/98/55/223

Line drawing of William Arrol (if using this photo, please include a courtesy and copyright notice for The British Newspaper Archive)
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