Edinburgh Boundaries viewer - About the Boundaries

This application shows a selection of traced boundaries relating to Edinburgh, including the boundaries of landownership (1804-1817), Police Wards (1822-1848), Sanitary Districts (1864-1880), Municipal Wards (1852-1902), and Registration Districts (1865-1902).

We have also traced the extensions of the Royalty Boundary from 1685 to 1885, and Bartholomew's Chronological Map of Edinburgh (1919).

Edinburgh Royalty of the City expansion (1685-1885)

This map of 1885 by W. & A.K. Johnston shows the expansion of the area controlled by the Edinburgh Town Council (the Royalty of the City of Edinburgh) from 1685 to 1885. The Ancient Royalty was the term for the Old Town and was the relatively small, darkly-coloured areas at the upper (western) end of the Royal Mile. The large yellow-coloured area was predominantly acquired in 1767, and 1809, but with important exceptions that influenced developments - for example, the Earl of Moray’s land at the western end, the village or Barony of Broughton, and McClelland Feu where the St James Square was laid out.


Chronological Map of Edinburgh (1919)

This map of 1919 by J.G. Bartholomew uses different colours to indicate the dates of the city’s expansion: with a red tint used for ‘Old and Medieval Edinburgh’, i.e. before 1750; blue for ‘Renaissance’ i.e. neo-classical Edinburgh, 1750-1850; and brown for ‘Modern’ Edinburgh, 1850 to 1919, with shades of these colours indicating shorter periods within these broad ones. Edinburgh’s pattern of growth was of course much more intricate and interesting than a simple concentric expansion outwards, and the map captures this admirably: for instance, through the red colouring applied to a number of old roads, castles, tower houses, mansions and place-names even where these had become submerged amid later development. The map was included as a fold-out sheet with ‘The Early Views and Maps of Edinburgh 1544-1852’ in Vol. 35 of the Scottish Geographical Magazine (1919).


Land-ownership boundaries (1804-1817)

We have traced the landownership boundaries from two early 19th century maps of Edinburgh. Whilst being of great value in showing intended improvements, Ainslie's 1804 map also shows land ownership at the beginning of the 19th century. The top five landowners in 1804 were the earl of Haddington (514 acres), James Rocheid of Inverleith (352 acres), Boswall of Blackadders (200 acres), Sir John Nisbett and his Dean Estate (181 acres) and Heriot's Hospital (133 acres). John Ainslie (1745-1828) was one of Scotland’s foremost cartographers, as well as an Edinburgh resident from 1778 until his death.

Kirkwood's plan of 1817 is also overlaid with landownership information. This map covers a wider area than Ainslie, and so the ranking of landowners and areas is different primarily for this reason. The largest five landowners were the earl of Haddington, whose full extent of Holyrood Park was 583 acres, followed by the marquis of Abercorn’s Duddingston Estate (479 acres). Third was William Henry Miller, who owned 380 acres at Craigentinny and Seafield; fourth, Heriot’s, (376 acres); and fifth, James Rocheid of Inverleith (352 acres). Altogether, Kirkwood's map names 632 landowners, who collectively owned 6,371 acres, but with a heavily skewed concentration: the top 30 landowners owned 76% of this land. Both plans omit cadastral information for the very detailed, and complex landownership patterns in central Edinburgh.

Robert Kirkwood (1774-1818) was born in Perth, but moved with his father James to Edinburgh in 1785 or ‘86. Town Council records confirm that on 18 October 1815 Robert Kirkwood applied for access to the plates and plans of John Ainslie, to make a new plan that was up to date. Access was granted, and while this would have been helpful for the central part of Kirkwood’s plan, surveying was necessary for all the areas beyond, as well as to achieve the central purpose of updating Ainslie.


Police Wards (1822-1848)

The Police Commission was first established by the 1805 Police Act with six electoral wards in Edinburgh. The number and arrangement of wards was revised by subsequent Police Acts in 1812 (26 wards), 1822 (30 wards), and 1832 (32 wards). Police Commissioners had wide-ranging powers relating to law and order as well as public health, with responsibilities for water, gas, lighting, building regulations, the regulation of markets, and sanitary policies, including street-cleaning and the distribution of collected manure. Their administrative roles in public health were absorbed partly by the Town Council, and the Police Wards were replaced by new Sanitary Districts and Municipal Wards.


Sanitary Districts (1864-1880)

In 1863-4, Henry D. Littlejohn, Medical Officer of Health for Edinburgh (1864-1908), created 19 Sanitary Districts as an improved basis for understanding the mortality and morbidity of the city. This spatial framework and its boundaries accorded closely with contemporary understandings of the social and cultural topography of Edinburgh. There are further details, along with statistics collected for these areas, in Littlejohn's report: Henry D. Littlejohn, Report on the sanitary condition of the City of Edinburgh, with relative appendices, &c (1865). For further details of Littlejohn, his report, and related urban boundaries, see P. Laxton & R. Rodger, Insanitary City, (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2013).


Municipal Wards (1852-1902)

The Police Commissioners and Town Council were merged in 1856, and the municipal boundary was extended to coincide with the parliamentary boundary. Municipal Wards defined the catchment areas for electoral purposes, including elections to the Town Council, as well as for Parliament. Municipal Wards were revised at regular times over the following half-century. The complex and confused earlier boundaries were simplified, and they were all revised in 1882. Thereafter, there were extensions and additions: Blackford Hill was added to Newington Ward (1885), and Braid Hills was added to Newington Ward, whilst Inverleith was added to St Bernards Ward (1890).

The Great Reform Act of 1832 expanded the Scottish electorate from 4,239 in the 1820s to over 65,000 after 1832. This 16-fold expansion also increased the Scottish burgh representation in Parliament from 15 seats to 22, while Glasgow and Edinburgh were each given two MPs. Subsequent Reform Acts in 1867 and 1884 further increased the numbers of males eligible to vote. In 1918 all men over 21 were eligible to vote and all women aged over 30. Whilst only males were able to vote from 1832 to 1918 in parliamentary elections, women could vote in municipal elections. Unmarried women and married women, not living with their husband, who were proprietors or tenants, could vote for burgh councillors from 1882, and county councillors from 1889.


Registration Districts (1865-1902)

The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1854 provided for the division of Scotland into registration districts. Registrars were appointed in each district to maintain the registers of births, deaths and marriages. Two copies of each register were kept, one held locally and the duplicate being sent to the Registrar General for Scotland in Edinburgh. Registration Districts were based on the parishes and burghs but some of these units were divided and others united to form new districts. Within Edinburgh, the City Parish was divided initially into five Registration Districts, which grew to seven by 1902. As Edinburgh's population and built-up area expanded, Registration Districts grew to cover a wider area. This viewer shows the various Registration Districts in Edinburgh between 1865 and 1902. The National Records of Scotland holds a list of the Edinburgh Registration Districts, their numbers and dates of operation.

These boundaries were traced by the Visualising Urban Geographies project, 2009-11. You can read more about Visualising Urban Geographies in the following paper: R. Rodger, C. Fleet, S. Nicol, Visualising Urban Geographies, ePerimetron 5(3), 2010.

We are always keen to add to our collection of boundaries, if you have data you are happy to pass on to us.

Please email maps@nls.uk for further assistance, or to provide general comments/feedback.