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100 years on from the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913

11 September 2013

One hundred years ago, the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act was passed into law – one of the many building blocks that eventually led to the creation of Historic Scotland.  

The Act was an amalgamation and extension of several earlier Acts. The earliest was The Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882, which was followed by further Acts in 1900 and 1910.

The 1882 Act created ‘Commissioners of Works’ who had the power to acquire monuments with the consent of their owners, either by gift, purchase or guardianship (where title remained with the owner).  It also created the first inspector of Ancient Monuments, General Pitt-Rivers.

The 1900 Act extended the scope of the legislation to include medieval monuments.

For the first time, it allowed properties, including great medieval castles such as Edinburgh Castle, to be managed as historic monuments by the then Office of Works (a predecessor of Historic Scotland, English Heritage and Cadw).  

The 1913 Act was significant as it introduced a compulsory Preservation Order, which led to  a number of unoccupied  monuments of national importance coming into care, including Burleigh Castle, near Milnathort, and Dunglass Collegiate Church, near Dunbar.   It also, for the first time, required there to be arrangements for public access to ancient monuments in public ownership. It is this aspect that Adrian Cox, one of Historic Scotland’s archaeologists, says was transformative:-

“The concept of public access formed an important part of the 1913 legislation.  Along with preservation, education was one of the main motivations of the Act and this was quite revolutionary for its time.  The Act also made it a requirement that monuments recommended for scheduling or taken into state care had to be of national importance. “  

Today the idea of public access, which we sometimes take for granted, underpins the heritage tourism industry. The Nations Brand Index of 2012 showed that out of 50 nations, Scotland is ranked 13th for tourism overall, and 12th for the richness of its historic buildings and monuments.  Historic Scotland is the biggest single provider of heritage visitor attractions: we now manage 345 sites, of which only 78 charge for admittance, with 3.4 million visitors per annum.    

Alongside the new powers to acquire, or take into guardianship, monuments of outstanding importance,  the 1913 Act introduced scheduling (legal protection) of the most important parts of the nation’s heritage in private hands. This involved compiling a list (a ‘Schedule’) of monuments deemed to be of national importance and once a site was scheduled, it became a crime to damage it.

Scheduling widened the scope of protection to the thousands of monuments on private land, rather than just those in government or local authority care. Over 260,000 archaeological sites and monuments are currently recorded in Scotland, of which around 8,200 are now legally protected.  These remain in the hands of their owners, with whom Historic Scotland works to help ensure they survive for future generations.  

Between the two World Wars, there was an increase in the number of historic sites taken into care – to mention a few, Kelso Abbey came into state care in 1919 and Tolquhon Castle in 1930.   Historic sites passed into government hands for a variety of reasons - many landowners could not afford the upkeep and repair, others thought the state could best preserve them.

So, 100 years on, we celebrate an Act which was a fundamental step forward in safeguarding Scotland’s historic environment and enabling its understanding and enjoyment.

Notes to editors:

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

  • 2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland, inspiring our people and our visitors to celebrate Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty, landscapes and biodiversity as Scotland prepares to welcome the world in 2014 and beyond. Find out more about Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty at

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For further information

Laura Shaw
Media & PR Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8588 or 07854 366 805