The Development of Guidebooks for Heritage Sites in Scotland


The design and contents of heritage guides have changed markedly over the last three decades. This post is aimed at showing the development of site guides in the post Second World War period, though the origins lie in the 1930s. Visitors to sites could use the Illustrated Guide to Scotland with individual entries on sites.


The earliest guides were issued by the Office of Works, for example in the style of this guide to Melrose Abbey, or to Tantallon Castle.

1937 (2nd ed. 1950)

The Ministry of Works Guides, such as the ones for Inchcolm, Skara Brae and Jarlshof followed the format developed in the pre-war decades. Note that the colour for the covers was not standardised.

1965 (1969)

They were succeeded by the MPBW ‘blue guides’. These tended to use an image associated with the site.

1973 (1974)
1973 (1974)

In the 1970s the HMSO produced a series of guides, including the foldout plan for the Antonine Wall.

1951; 2nd ed. 1958 (5th impress. 1970)
Skara Brae

From 1970, the official HMSO guides for sites in Scotland adopted a paler blue for the covers than their counterparts in England and Wales.

1957 (4th ed. 1978)
1957 (4th ed. 1978)
1951 (3rd ed. 1982)
1951 (3rd ed. 1982)
1970 (2nd ed. 1983)

In the 1980s there was a move towards a card covered guide. This one for St Andrews Castle was published by HMSO for the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Development Department. The guide for Skara Brae was in the same style.

1982 (3rd ed. 1987)

The Historic Scotland ‘blue’ guides then emerged.

Melrose Abbey
1981 (rev. 1989)

These were followed by a more striking cover such as at Melrose Abbey.

1987 (2nd ed.; 2nd impress. 1990)

A new type of guide started to appear from 1990, such as for Crichton Castle.

HMSO 1989 (Historic Scotland 1996, 2001)
HMSO 1989 (Historic Scotland 1996, 2001)

More colourful covers were developed  in the 1990s with Historic Scotland.

2002 [2009]
2002 [2009]

Some of the more popular sites were given souvenir guides.

2003 (2009)
2003 (2009)

This format continued into the 2000s.


A distinctive style was then adopted for the official souvenir guides that ranged from small booklets, to large format guides (such as Iona), as well as short leaflets.


Author: David Gill

David Gill is Honorary Professor in the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent, and Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History and an Academic Associate in SISJAC at UEA; Professor of Archaeological Heritage.

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