Scottish Counties and Parishes:
their history and boundaries on maps

This guide provides information on local government units in Scotland, particularly parishes and counties, focusing on their boundaries and changes over time. Much of the development of these units in the last two centuries is tied up with the growth of local government administration, and the main changes in legislation affecting these units are presented in this context. Some of the most useful cartographic and non-cartographic sources of information are listed for further reference, with links to their availability online.

In this section

  1. Local government units and their histories
  2. Legislation affecting local government units in the 19th and 20th centuries
  3. Information sources

3. Sources for parish information

3.1 For the general location of parishes:

For the bounds of synods and presbyteries, and the location of parish churches in Scotland (1825):

For ecclesiastical parishes in Edinburgh (1888):

For ecclesiastical and civil parishes in Glasgow (1832);

This also includes detailed notes of previous boundary changes.

3.2 Lists of parishes:

I.B. Cowan The parishes of Medieval Scotland. Scottish Record Society, vol. 93. (Edinburgh: Neill & Co., 1967). A list of parishes at the time of the Reformation with information on the appropriation of their revenues, compiled from earlier listings and original research.

1st Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799, edited by Sir John Sinclair, has a full alphabetical list of the parishes in Scotland, including their presbytery and county (Vol. XX, pp. 401-425). It also includes an alphabetical list of "Parishes suppressed, annexed to other parishes, or which have changed their names, with a corresponding list of the Parishes under which they are now included", a useful summary of various parish changes for the years up to 1791 (Vol XX, pp. 426-432).

2nd Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, has a full alphabetical list of the parishes in Scotland, including their county (Vol. 1). It also shows small scale maps of each county in Scotland with the boundaries of parishes shown in colour. These maps are located at the beginning of the information for each county.

3rd Statistical Account of Scotland, 1950 , has listings of parishes by each county, and colour maps in the rear of each volume showing parish and county boundaries. Volume 5 covering Glasgow has a map showing parishes, burghs, and the dates particular areas were added to the City after 1890. The NLS Map Library has the following volumes:

4. Aberdeen

5. Glasgow

6. Dunbarton

8. Lanark

10. Banff

11. Renfrew and Bute

12. Dumfries

15. Edinburgh

17. Moray and Nairn

18. Stirpng and Clackmannan

24. Peebles and Selkirk

View EDINA Statistical Accounts of Scotland

3.3 Ordnance Survey mapping of parishes

According to the Ordnance Survey Act of 1841, the Director General of the Ordnance Survey was charged with the responsibility to:

The original requirement was to show boundaries at the 1:10,560 scale, but until 1975 the requirement was to publish county and civil parish boundaries at a scale of not less than 1:63,360, the boundaries of local government areas at not less than 1:2,500 in urban areas and not less than 1:10,560 elsewhere. Following the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1973, basic Ordnance Survey mapping omitted the civil parish in Scotland, but they were recorded on the 1:50,000 Outline edition and the 1:250,000 administrative area diagrams until ca 1980.

The publication of boundaries on Ordnance Survey maps has never been invested with any common law or statutory significance in evidence, but the development of case law has confirmed that the 1:1250 and 1:2500 maps carry a prima facie indication to a Court of Law on the position of public boundaries. J.B. Harley, Ordnance Survey Maps: a descriptive manual. (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1975), pp. 38-41 gives more details on this, and the way in which boundaries are mered to topographic features.

From the 1930s, a number of specific administrative maps were published by Ordnance Survey:

J.R.S. Booth. Public boundaries and the Ordnance Survey, 1840-1980. (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1980), sets out in authoritative detail the statutory duties and legal requirements of Ordnance Survey with regard to public boundaries and their mapping. Written by a former Superintendent of the Ordnance Survey Boundaries Department, the book covers the role and history of the Ordnance Survey boundary mapping, a chronological list with details of the principal legislation affecting local government and public boundary mapping, the process of making boundary changes, and the Ordnance Survey Boundary Record Library.

3.4 Ordnance Survey Graphic Indexes

1:126,720 indexes to the 6" and 25" County Series maps (1st edition), (1884-1886). Shows parish boundaries and lists parishes alphabetically with their areas.

1:63,360 indexes to the 6" and 25" County Series maps (1st revision) showing parishes in colour (published 1894-1905). This includes an "Alphabetical index to Parish Maps of Scotland", indicating the 1" to the mile sheet(s) that the parishes appear on.

1:63,360 parish index sheets (incomplete). Essentially the same information as above but with each parish published on a separate sheet.

1:253,440 civil parish diagrams. Showing post-1894 parish boundaries and 6" and 25" sheet lines (1890s-1960s).

1:126,720 indexes to County Series and National Grid mapping showing parishes (ca. 1960s).

3.5 Parliamentary Boundaries

In 1832 the Parliamentary Report upon the Boundaries of the several Cities, Burghs, and Towns in Scotland in respect to the election of member to serve in Parliament, produced maps and written descriptions of boundaries for 75 burghs. Three Boundary Commissions (one each for England , Wales, and Scotland) were appointed under the provisions of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 and 1958, for the purpose of reviewing parliamentary constituency boundaries and areas. There were also three Local Government Boundary Commissions (one each for England, Wales, and Scotland) appointed under the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government (Scotland) 1973.

Boundary Commission for Scotland, 1945

Constituted in accordance with the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 and 1958

Initial Report 1947 set out in the Representation of the People Act 1948 2 maps in back of booklet:

1st Periodical Report 1954

2nd Periodical Report 1969 Map 23.d. 3 maps in back of booklet

3rd Periodical Report 1983 Vol. 2 Cmnd. 8794

Further reading

Booth, J.R.S. Public boundaries and the Ordnance Survey, 1840-1980 (Southampton, 1980)

Clarke, J.C. The local government of the United Kingdom, 15th ed., (London, 1955)

Cowan, I.B. The parishes of Medieval Scotland (Edinburgh, 1967)

Dundas, W.C. The development of Local Government in counties in Scotland (London, 1942)

Harley, J.B. Ordnance Survey maps: a descriptive manual (Southampton, 1975)

Oliver, R. Ordnance Survey maps: a concise guide for historians (London, 2013)

Scottish Office. Memorandum by the Scottish Office on the Local Government System of Scotland (London, 1925)

Scottish Office. The Structure of Local Government in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1991)

Shennan, J.H. Boundaries of counties and parishes in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1892)

Whyte, W.E. Local government in Scotland (London, 1936)