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Our history

For almost 90 years, we’ve been committed to protecting and celebrating Scotland’s rich heritage.

A brief history of the National Trust for Scotland

We take great pride in our own history. From our very beginning, we have existed to protect Scotland’s places of historic interest or natural beauty.

The National Trust for Scotland serves the nation as a cabinet into which it can put some of its valuable things, where they will be perfectly safe for all time, and where they are open to be seen and enjoyed by everyone.’ (Sir John Stirling Maxwell, at the Trust’s first Annual General Meeting in 1932)

Maxwell was Vice-President of the Association for the Preservation (now Protection) of Rural Scotland (APRS) and was a prime mover behind the establishment of the Trust. In 1929 the APRS was offered the Loch Dee estate in Galloway as a gift. It appears that the APRS was either unable or perhaps unwilling to hold land in Scotland, so it was decided to discuss this offer with the National Trust in England. The National Trust had been set up in 1895 and was actually empowered to hold land in Scotland – it was just sheer chance that it had not done so until this point.

There may have been strong feelings about the idea of the National Trust acquiring property in Scotland, and so the idea of a separate Scottish Trust was proposed, to preserve and hold land and buildings north of the border.

Throughout 1929 and 1930 there were moves to set up a National Trust for Scotland, and the minutes of APRS meetings record enthusiasm for this new venture. Alongside these more formal meetings there were also relaxed discussions held in the Cedar or Smoking Room at Pollok House, the home of Sir John Stirling Maxwell.

A view of the entrance to Pollok House, seen from the surrounding woodland.
Pollok House

All of these discussions, both formal and informal, led to an open letter dated 6 August 1930 being sent out from the APRS offices stating that: ‘at a meeting of the Council of the APRS it was unanimously agreed that a National Trust for Scotland was very necessary, indeed essential.

Other notable figures who, alongside Maxwell, helped to set up this new organisation include Sir Iain Colquhoun who was chairman of the APRS and became the first chairman of the Trust’s Council; the 27th Earl of Crawford & Balcarres, the Honorary President of the APRS who became a prominent member of the Trust’s Council; and the 8th Duke of Atholl, who was also involved in the early days of the APRS and became the first President of the Trust in 1931.

Events moved very quickly and on 30 November 1930, just four months after the APRS letter was sent out, the first meeting of the Provisional Council of the Trust was held. It was decided that the quickest and simplest way to get the new Trust off the ground was to incorporate it under the Companies Act. 

On 1 May 1931, the organisation was formally constituted as the National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty Ltd. The first meeting of the Trust after its foundation was held on 27 May 1931. The Trust also received its first property in 1931: Crookston Castle in Renfrewshire.

It was later decided that the Trust should seek a private Act of Parliament, and so the original limited company was dissolved and greater powers were given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1935 via a Confirmation Order Act. A further Act in 1938 extended those powers to preserve articles and objects of any description having artistic or antiquarian interest.

A sepia photograph of a ruined Crookston Castle, with bare trees growing either side.
Crookston Castle was the first property given to the Trust, in 1931.

We’re now the biggest conservation organisation in the country, and part of our work is to continually improve our understanding of the past through detailed historical research.

Historical documents need to be found, researched and interpreted, and qualified historians are experts in accessing and interpreting a complicated range of original sources. Even then, we can’t be certain that every document we turn to is reliable – historical documents have been written by all kinds of people, each of whom has their own point of view, which often makes their writing biased.

Historical research helps inform our interpretation of our properties, the experience of visitors, and the information we include in our guidebooks. You’d be amazed how much new information is still out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Our Learning pages contain some fact files and articles about key events, people and places that have shaped modern Scotland.

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