Public invited to explore 250 years of canal history for first time

The public will soon be able to delve into the 250-year-old tales of Scotland’s inland waterways as Scottish Canals’ historic records are transferred to the National Records of Scotland for the first time.

The archive features an array of hand-drawn plans, maps, and other records stretching back to when the canals were industrial highways carrying coal, goods and people across the heart and highlands of Scotland. Among the collection’s items of national significance are the diagram for the Monkland Canal’s Blackhill Inclined Plane – a precursor to The Falkirk Wheel which carried boats over a height difference of almost 100 feet via a rail system; and a notice from the British Office of the Admiralty ordering the Crinan Canal to ‘extinguish all lights’ at the outbreak of WWII. The collection contains thousands of records dating from 1790 to the present day.

The historic material initially accepted by National Records of Scotland amounts to around 20% of the records currently held by Scottish Canals, and will see NRS take on responsibility for their storage, conservation and care. The project means that the records will be publically accessible for the first time and cared for by a group of highly qualified experts, safeguarding the history of Scotland’s canals for generations to come.

“Our records stores hold some incredible documents that give a real insight into the elegant engineering and unforgettable stories of Scotland’s canals. From the notice to extinguish the lights of the Crinan Canal at the outbreak of World War II to the original designs for the ingenious Blackhill Inclined Plane, our collections provide a snapshot of pivotal moments in both the history of our canals and Scotland itself.

“We’re delighted that National Records of Scotland will be caring for these historic documents, safeguarding them for generations to come and, for the very first time, allowing the public to explore them.”

Angharad Stockwell, Records Manager at Scottish Canals

As well as documents from the canals’ days as the thoroughfares of the Industrial Revolution, some of the more recent documents in Scottish Canals’ collections will also be cared for by National Records of Scotland. These include documents related to the Millennium Link project, which restored Scotland’s canals to a navigable state for the first time in decades, as well as maps and plans for the creation of The Helix and The Kelpies.

Tim Ellis, Chief Executive of National Records of Scotland, said: “We are delighted to add these records of Scottish Canals to our already extensive archive of company records, letters, reports and more relating to Scotland’s waterways.  They include some fascinating additions to the NRS collection of maps and plans, one of the finest in the UK, and the care and diligence of our archivists will ensure that they are preserved and accessible for future generations.”

Scottish Canals is also seeking oral histories from anyone who worked, played or lived on Scotland’s canals in the recent past. Anyone with a story to tell is urged to get in touch with Scottish Canals via

Anyone wishing to view the Scottish Canals records deposited with National Records of Scotland can do so by contacting the enquiries team at National Records of Scotland.

Notes to Editors

About Scottish Canals

Scottish Canals is responsible to the Scottish Government for the management and development of five Scottish canals as well as the surrounding estate and The Falkirk Wheel.

As well as the waterways themselves, Scottish Canals care for bridges, buildings, locks, The Falkirk Wheel, The Kelpies and 19 water supply reservoirs in locations across Scotland. The reservoirs cover an area equivalent to 7,494 football pitches and supply the canals with the 332 million litres of water which flow through them each day.

The Forth & Clyde, Union and Monkland canals in the Lowlands, the Crinan Canal in Argyll and the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands, together extend over 137 miles from coast to coast, across country and into the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

Built two hundred years ago to fire the Industrial Revolution, today the canals contribute to the Scottish Government agenda of developing a Greener; Healthier; Smarter; Safer and Stronger; and Wealthier and Fairer Scotland by acting as a catalyst for sustainable economic development, regeneration and tourism; contributing to education, biodiversity, heritage and promoting active living and healthier lifestyles.

The Forth & Clyde, Union, Monkland, Caledonian and Crinan canals are recognised as Scheduled Monuments and attract 22 million visits per year. See for more information.

About National Records of Scotland

National Records of Scotland is Scotland’s record keeper and official source of demographic statistics – information about population, households, migration, births, deaths and marriages, life expectancy and electoral statistics. As the official Scottish national archive, a cultural institution, NRS are guardians of over 800 years of irreplaceable national documents, conserving and managing more than 80 kilometres of records, spanning the 12th to the 21st centuries and touching on virtually every aspect of Scottish life. General Register Households our ScotlandsPeople family history search rooms, as well as our Historic and Legal Search rooms, all open to the public.

Contact – Ross Truslove at NRS on 0131 535 1382 or email


For further information, please contact:

Chris McDonald at Scottish Canals on 07917217608 or email

Nicola Sturgeon at Scottish Canals on 07767383557 or email

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