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Framework and form: burgage plots, street lines and domestic architecture in early urban Scotland


This article explores some of the ways in which the closely regulated layouts and property boundaries within Scottish medieval towns may have influenced the form and character of domestic buildings during the late medieval and early modern periods. Drawing together strands of scattered evidence from archaeology, morphology, history and architecture, it re-examines how plot boundaries, main thoroughfares and subsidiary access passages acted as site constraints in relation to the design and configuration of individual structures or groups of buildings, focusing in particular on building frontages and so-called ‘encroachments’ such as booths, stairs, galleries and arcades.

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1 Wood M., ‘The neighbourhood book’, The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, 23 (1940), 82100.

2 Tait R., ‘Burgage plot patterns and dimensions in four Scottish burghs’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 138 (2008), 223–38; idem, ‘Urban morphology and the medieval development in Edinburgh and Elgin’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 140 (2010), 129–44; and idem, ‘Burgage patterns in Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Cockermouth’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th ser., 40 (2011), 183–97.

3 National Library of Scotland, map collections, available online at

4 Duncan A.A.M. (ed.), The Burghs of Scotland: A Critical List by George Smith Pryde (London and Glasgow, 1965); Oram R., David I the King who Made Scotland (Stroud, 2004), 81–2.

5 Palliser D.M. (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. I: 600–1540 (Cambridge, 2000), 3270passim.

6 Innes C. (ed.), The Ancient Laws of the Burghs of Scotland, vol. I: 1124–1424 (Scottish Burgh Record Society, Edinburgh, 1868), 51 (no. 105), cited by MacQueen H.L. and Windram W.J., ‘Laws and courts in the burghs’, in Lynch M., Spearman M. and Stell G. (eds.), The Scottish Medieval Town (Edinburgh, 1988), 208–27.

7 Dickinson W.C. (ed.), Early Records of the Burgh of Aberdeen 1317, 1398–1407 (Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1957), xli n. 3; Marwick J.D. (ed.), Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow, vol. I: 1573–1642 (Scottish Burgh Records Society, Edinburgh, 1876 and 1914), 131 (14 Mar. 1588/89); Ewan E., Townlife in Fourteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh, 1990), 40; Friedman D., Florentine New Towns: Urban Design in the Late Middle Ages (New York, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1988), 149, 154.

8 Conzen M.R.G., Alnwick, Northumberland: A Study in Town-Plan Analysis (The Institute of British Geographers, Publication no. 27, London, 1960), 33.

9 Tait, ‘Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Cockermouth’, 193–4.

10 Lawrie A.C., Early Scottish Charters Prior to A.D. 1153 (Glasgow, 1905), 116–19, no. 153; see also Tait, ‘Edinburgh and Elgin’, 135.

11 Tait, ‘Edinburgh and Elgin’, 136.

12 McNeill P.G.B. (ed.), The Practicks of Sir James Balfour of Pittendreich, vol. I (The Stair Society, Glasgow, 1963), 442–3.

13 See below, nn. 18–20; J.B. Paul and J.M. Thomson (eds.), Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. I (1306–1424), 64 (no. 207, 3 Dec. 1365); Webster B. (ed.), Regesta Regum Scottorum, vol. VI (Edinburgh, 1982), 381 (no. 350).

14 Coleman R., ‘The archaeology of burgage plots in Scottish medieval towns: a review’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 134 (2004), 281323; Perry D.R., Murray H., James T.B. and the late Bogdan N.Q., Perth High Street Archaeological Excavations 1975–77, Fascicule 1 (Perth, 2010).

15 A topic discussed by both Coleman, ‘The archaeology of burgage plots’, and Perry, Murray, James and the late Bogdan, Perth High Street.

16 Barrow G.W.S. (ed.), Regesta Regum Scottorum, vol. I (Edinburgh, 1960), 186 (no. 121); Barrow G.W.S. and Scott W.W. (eds.), Regesta Regum Scottorum, vol. II (Edinburgh, 1971), 136–7 (no. 28). Booths, when they were permitted on the public street, attracted rent. In Elgin, for example, many booths, privately owned and rented out for profit, are known to have been located permanently in the central area of the market place, one owner holding a total of 14.

17 R.H. Leech and R.A. Gregory, Cockermouth, Cumbria: Archaeological Investigation of Three Burgage Plots at Main Street (Cumbria Archaeological Research Reports, no. 3, 2012); Wordsworth J., ‘Excavations of the settlement at 13–21 Castle Street, Inverness, 1979’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 112 (1982), 322–91.

18 Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), Inventory of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1951), 74–8 (no. 14), and other references cited at

19 The authors are grateful to Laurie Alexander for sharing his unpublished research into Linlithgow properties and buildings as recorded in the earliest surviving town council minute books (National Archives of Scotland, B48/91–9, 1620–1739). Of the 250 recorded cases that he has found to have been the subject of council ‘visits’ in the period 1640–1728, 45 concerned advancing to (but evidently not beyond) the street line, and of these only one involved royal approval.

20 Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. I (1306–1424), 42–3 (no. 146, 8 Jul. 1363).

21 M. Livingstone (ed.), Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. I (1488–1529), 238 (no. 1627, 2 Mar. 1507/08); D.H. Fleming (ed.), Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. II (1529–42), 659 (no. 4353, 22 Dec. 1541). In Linlithgow, a case recorded in the town council minutes under 24 Feb. 1643, noted by Laurie Alexander, refers to a warrant granted by King James VI/I in the period 1603–25 for extending a tenement upon ‘his hie way’; in 1665–66, royal assent was again sought and granted for the extension of a forework ‘as farr upon the street as to be equall with the fronts of’ adjacent properties on each side’, Burton J.H. and Paton H.M. (eds.), The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, 3rd ser. (Edinburgh, 1908–33), vol. II, Jan. 1665 – Mar. 1669, 155, cited in Dennison E.P. and Coleman R., Historic Linlithgow (Edinburgh, 2000), 33–4.

22 Laing D. (ed.), Registrum Cartarum Ecclesie Sancti Egidii de Edinburgh (Bannatyne Club, Edinburgh, 1859), 143–4 (no. 96).

23 Perry, Murray, James and the late Bogdan, Perth High Street, 111; Corner D.J., Scott A.B., Scott W.W. and Watt D.E.R. (eds.), Scotichronicon of Walter Bower, vol. IV (Aberdeen, 1994), 457; Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. I, 42–3 (no. 146, 8 Jul. 1363).

24 Wood M. (ed.), Protocol Book of John Foular 1503–13, vol. I (Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh, 1940), 15 (no. 78, 8 May 1504).

25 Ibid., vol. CVI (no. 371, 26 Jul. 1509).

26 Ibid., vol. LXXIX (no. 435, 31 Mar. 1508).

27 Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. II (1424–1513), 697 (no. 3265, 6 Oct. 1508); Bryce W.M., ‘The Burgh Muir of Edinburgh from the records’, The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, 10 (1918), 2263 at 67–70; and Maitland W., A History of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1753), 183. See also Irons J.C., Manual of the Law and Practice of the Dean of Guild Court (Edinburgh, 1895), 325–7, and Morison W.M., Dictionary of Decisions of the Court of Session, vol. XVI (Edinburgh, 1811), 13185 (Forbes v. Ronaldson, 3 Mar. 1783).

28 Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vol. II (1424–1513), 271 (no. 1329, 3 Nov. 1477); ‘Expenses for the common good for 1574’, in Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Canongate 1551–88 (Miscellany of the Maitland Club, Edinburgh, 1840), 283–359 at 332–7.

29 RCAHMS, Tolbooths and Town-Houses: Civic Architecture in Scotland to 1833 (Edinburgh, 1996), 51–3.

30 Lynch M., Edinburgh and the Reformation (Edinburgh, 1981), 3, 9–14; Dingwall H.M., Late Seventeenth-Century Edinburgh: A Demographic Study (Aldershot, 1994), 1321.

31 See, e.g., Stell G., ‘Scottish burgh houses 1560–1707’, in Simpson A.T. and Stevenson S. (eds.), Town Houses and Structures in Medieval Scotland: A Seminar (Glasgow, 1980), 131 at 12–15; Robinson P., ‘Tenements: a pre-industrial urban tradition’, Review of Scottish Culture (ROSC), 1 (1984), 5264; Glendinning M., ‘Tenements and flats’, in Stell G., Shaw J. and Storrier S. (eds.), Scotland's Buildings (East Linton, 2003), 108–26; and Harrison J.G., ‘Houses in early modern Stirling: some documentary evidence’, ROSC, 25 (2013), 4259.

32 Stell, ‘Scottish burgh houses 1560–1707’, 16–18; idem, ‘Timber in Scottish historic buildings’, in J. Kleboe (ed.), Timber and the Built Environment Conference (Historic Scotland, Edinburgh, 2004), 19–26 at 22–4; Crone A. and Sproat D., ‘Revealing the history behind the façade: a timber-framed building at No. 302 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh’, Architectural Heritage, 22 (2011), 1936, at 25–6; Henderson E., Annals of Dunfermline 1069–1878 (Glasgow, 1879), 282–90; Dennison E.P. and Stronach S., Historic Dunfermline (Dunfermline, 2007), 54.

33 Peddie J.M.D., ‘Description of an old timber building in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 18 (1883–84), 465–76; Stell, ‘Scottish burgh houses’, 18.

34 G. Stell, ‘Urban buildings’, in Lynch, Spearman and Stell (eds.), The Scottish Medieval Town, 60–80 at 72–3; Crone and Sproat, ‘Revealing the history’, 25–6; and for engraved examples in Gosford's Close and Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, see Wilson D., Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time, 2nd edn (Edinburgh and London, 1891), vol. I, 232, and vol. II, 156.

35 Harris R., Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings (Princes Risborough, 2004 edn), 56. For a summary of jettying, see also Quiney A., Town Houses of Medieval Britain (New Haven and London, 2003), 118–19 and references cited.

36 Peddie, ‘Description’, 465–76 at 469, Fig. 4; RCAHMS, Inventory of Edinburgh, 168–73 (no. 104) at 169, Fig. 333.

37 A. Rowan, ‘Crichton Castle, Midlothian’, Country Life, 149 (7 Jan. 1971), 15–19; McWilliam C., Lothian except Edinburgh (The Buildings of Scotland, Harmondsworth, 1978), 146–7; Glendinning M., Macinnes R. and MacKechnie A., A History of Scottish Architecture (Edinburgh, 1996), 62.

38 Stell, ‘Scottish burgh houses’, 15 and n. 63; and see also Dennison E.P. and Coleman R., Historic Dumbarton (Edinburgh, 1999), 28–9; Henderson, Annals of Dunfermline, 54; Dennison and Stronach, Historic Dunfermline, 27; Mackintosh H.B., Elgin Past and Present (Elgin, 1914), 9; McKean C., The District of Moray: An Illustrated Architectural Guide (Edinburgh, 1987), 22–4; Tweed J., The History of Glasgow (Glasgow, 1872), 670–1; McKean C., Walker D. and Walker F., Central Glasgow: An Illustrated Architectural Guide (Edinburgh, 1993), 24.

39 Cook M., Cross M. and Lawson J. A., ‘Marlin's Wynd: new archaeological and documentary research on post-medieval settlement below the Tron Kirk, Edinburgh’, Scottish Archaeological Internet Report(SAIR), 55 (2013), 12.

40 Ballon H., The Paris of Henri IV: Architecture and Urbanism (New York, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1991); Friedman, Florentine New Towns.

41 Brown P.H. (ed.), Early Travellers in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1891), 83, 139–40.

42 Dennison and Stronach, Historic Dunfermline, 35, 53–4; Wood M. (ed.), Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, A.D. 1665 to 1680 (Edinburgh, 1950), 315 (12 Sep. 1677); Grant J., Old and New Edinburgh, vol. I (London, 1880), 188–91; Gibb A., Glasgow: The Making of a City (London, 1983), 25–9, 46–51 and references cited; and Marcus T.A., Robinson P. and Walker F.A., ‘The shape of the city in space and stone’, in Devine T.M. and Jackson G. (eds.), Glasgow, vol. I: Beginnings to 1830 (Manchester, 1995), 112–13.

43 M. Wood (ed.), Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, A.D. 1665 to 1680, 177–8 (1 May 1674) and 315 (12 Sep. 1677); Wood M., ‘Survey of the development of Edinburgh’, The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, 34 (1974), 2356; and Marwick J.D. (ed.), Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow, vol. II (Scottish Burgh Records Society, Edinburgh, 1881), 1630–62, 233 (3 Jul. 1652).

44 RCAHMS, Inventory of Edinburgh, lxxi, citing Session Papers, Signet Library Collection, vol. 351, no. 2, 1784.

45 Wood M. and Armet H. (eds.), Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, A.D. 1681 to 1689 (Edinburgh, 1954), 6970 (11 May 1683), 277–9 (25 Sep. 1688), 261 (18 Jan. 1689).

46 See above, n. 27; and for an account of the general development of Dean of Guild Courts, Rodger R.G., ‘The evolution of Scottish town planning’, in Gordon G. and Dicks B. (eds.), Scottish Urban History (Aberdeen, 1983), 7191.

47 Morison, Dictionary of Decisions; Signet Library, Court of Session papers, vol. 531, no. 2.1 (Guthrie v. Brown, 17 Jan. 1784), 1–14.

48 McKean, District of Moray, 23–4; McKean, Walker and Walker, Central Glasgow, 24.

49 Harrison J.G., ‘Wooden fronted houses and forestairs in early modern Scotland’, Architectural Heritage, 9 (1998), 7183 at 72–5; Henderson, Annals of Dunfermline, 439. Harrison (‘Wooden fronted houses’, 75–80) also shows how positions of dormer windows correspond with earlier set-back frontage lines and how external forestairs were often incorporated within advanced ground-floor frontages.

50 For changes in the pend and in the building itself, see, e.g., S. Lilley, ‘302–4 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, Historic Building and Archaeological Watching Brief’ (AOC Archaeology Report 20009, Dec. 2008), Figs. 27–8; see also Crone and Sproat, ‘Revealing the history’.

51 Marwick J. (ed.), Extracts of the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh AD 1403–1528 (Scottish Burgh Record Society, Edinburgh, 1869), 39 (10 Nov. 1480), 69 (24 Feb. 1495) and 141 (19 Aug. 1513); Watson C.B.B. (ed.), Roll of the Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Edinburgh 1406–1700 (Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh, 1929), 55 (14 Mar. 1516/17), 119 (11 Nov. 1566) and 316 (19 Sep. 1487); and Pantin W.A., ‘Medieval English town-house plans’, Medieval Archaeology, 6–7 (1962–3), at 205, 233–9, for English examples of what has been typologically classified as the right-angled and broad plan category of town dwelling.

52 RCAHMS, Inventory of Edinburgh, 81–4 (no. 18) and 166–8 (no. 103).

53 MacGibbon D. and Ross T., The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, vol. I (Edinburgh, 1887), 508–14; see also unpublished drawings in RCAHMS listed under See also Pantin, ‘Medieval English town-house plans’.

54 RCAHMS, Inventory of Edinburgh, 73 (no. 12) and 73–4 (no. 13); see also Wood M., ‘All the statelie buildings of . . . Thomas Robertson’, The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, 24 (1942), 126–51, and idem, ‘Mylne Square’, ibid., 14 (1924), 45–8.

55 RCAHMS, Inventory of Edinburgh, 74–8 (no. 14), and title deed of 3 Jul. 1755, held by The National Trust for Scotland.

56 Harrison, ‘Houses in early modern Stirling’, 50; Ewart G., Gallagher D. and Harrison J., ‘Argyll's Lodging, Stirling: recent archaeological excavations and historical analysis’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 140 (2010), 179206 at 179–87.

57 See, e.g., Whitehand J.W.R. and Alauddin K., ‘The town plans of Scotland: some preliminary considerations’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 85 (1969), 109–21; Brooks N.P. and Whittington G., ‘Planning and growth in the medieval Scottish burgh’, Transactions of the British Geographers, 2 (1977), 278–95; and Adams I.H., The Making of Urban Scotland (London and Montreal, 1978), 3147.

58 Turner G.L’E., ‘Some notes on the development of surveying and the instruments used’, Annals of Science, 48 (1991), 313–17, at 313. In general, however, there appears to be a paucity of evidence for the identities and activities of specialist surveyors in laying out streets and plots: see, e.g., Beresford M., New Towns of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1967; Gloucester, 1988), 35, 14–28, 142–53; Lilley K.D., Urban Life in the Middle Ages, 1000–1450 (Basingstoke and New York, 2002), 159–60 and references cited; and Lilley K., Lloyd C., Trick S. and Graham C., ‘Mapping and analysing medieval built form using GPS and GIS’, Urban Morphology, 9/1 (2005), 515.

59 For English ‘viewers’, see especially Chew H.M. and Kellaway W. (eds.), London Assize of Nuisance 1301–1431: A Calendar (London, 1973), passim; Loengard J.S., London Viewers and their Certificates 1508–1558 (London, 1989); and Bickley F.B. (ed.), The Little Red Book of Bristol, vol. II (London, 1900), 65. For the staking out of the old street lines and land parcels and the viewing of the rebuilding of the burnt-out city of London in 1667, see Cooper M.A.R., Robert Hooke and the Rebuilding of London (Stroud, 2003), 134–5 and 150–63.

60 See, in particular, Scrase A.J., ‘Development and change in burgage plots: the example of Wells’, Journal of Historical Geography, 15 (1989), 349–65, and Quiney, Town Houses, 86–90. See also, more generally, T.R. Slater, The Analysis of Burgages in Mediaeval Towns (Working Paper Series, Department of Geography, University of Birmingham, Dec. 1980); idem, ‘The analysis of burgage patterns in medieval towns’, Area, 13 (1981), 211–16 at 215; and D.M. Palliser, T.R. Slater and E.P. Dennison, ‘The topography of towns 600–1300’, in Palliser (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. I, 153–86 at 169–72.

61 For the effects of the subdivision of burgage (haimald) plots, see, e.g., Jones S.R., York: The Making of a City 1068–1350 (Oxford, 2013), 210–14, and for the effects of encroachment, see, e.g., Keene D.J., A Survey of Medieval Winchester (Oxford, 1985), vol. I, 4950, and vol. II, 548–9.

62 For the Merchant's House, 58 French Street, Southampton, see Coppack G., Merchant's House, Southampton (English Heritage, London 1991), and Goddard] [L., Medieval Merchant's House, Information for Teachers (English Heritage, London, 2002); for The Rows, Chester, see Brown A. (ed.), The Rows of Chester (English Heritage, London, 1999); Morriss R.K. and Hoverd K., The Buildings of Chester (Stroud, 1993), 1318; and Alcock N.W., ‘The origins of the Chester Rows: a suggested model’, Medieval Archaeology, 45 (2001), 226–8; and for Winchester and erstwhile features in Stricklandgate, Kendal, see Brown, Rows of Chester, 59 and references cited.

* The authors are much indebted to Richard Rodger for kindly reading and commenting on two early drafts of this article, and to Laurie Alexander and John Harrison for discussing and providing comparative information on, respectively, Linlithgow and Stirling. An anonymous referee also offered welcome suggestions on its arrangement and content.

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