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Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland: Tracing heritage back to 1784

Written by Jess Sturman-Coombs
October 19, 2023 at 10:00 AM



The Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland gets a PastView refresh!

First established in 1784, the Highland Society of Edinburg, later to become the Highland Society of Scotland and then The Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) was set up to promote and develop the Highlands. Typically industry and agriculture had been focused within the central belt, but the society heavily centred itself around Highland culture to include everything from agriculture, education, and language to trees and fauna, with much more besides. The first meeting was conducted in an old tavern along the Edinburgh High Street but the society has since grown exponentially, abiding by the Royal Charters. There are a total of FIVE Charters in place with Education and Charity being of significant focus.


Charity being of significant focus  

Another focus is The Royal Highland Show, a flagship event of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland, attracting approximately 200,000 people over four days, and well over 6,500 animals. Prior to 1960, the show toured the eight divisions of Scotland but since then has enjoyed running from a single, permanent location.

Aside from the nationally famous show, RHASS works tirelessly in respect of charity and education with their Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) division, successfully bringing the classroom into the countryside to educate children on everything from agriculture to how food gets to their plate. This includes exciting farm visits and is of huge benefit to city children where seeing and spending time in the countryside is often a rare or non-existent experience.


So what’s new with PastView?

RHASS’s physical archive is an extensive one and has proven time and again to be a valuable tool for learning and education. An extension of this, the RHASS website acts as a searchable repository for all of their important transactions reports dated between 1799-1969. These reports record actions and doings from the previous year, taking important information back to members, directors, and the wider public. The transactions are an edited version of everything in the archive, publishing reports and results of the previous year’s show. The society has also asked for reports, such as environmental and weather statistics, to be undertaken, which historically it has awarded medals for based on quality. The older transaction reports detail the recipients of these awards and highlights whether those recipients achieved a Bronze, Silver, or Gold award in recognition of their efforts.

The transactional reports also trace the heritage lines of the Highland Show’s winners. Because they record these winners year-on-year, it is possible to spot interesting trends and patterns. The records really act as a valuable snapshot of what has happened throughout the year and the data gathered shows that people are typically searching for things like family names, animal names, and related awards. This is what they are really interested in researching and ascertaining. As a general rule, visitors first come to the PastView website where they find the Transactional Reports, conducting their own, independent research, and this leads them to ask more specific questions that they direct to RHASS who can support them using the physical archives. 


Main PastView Benefits:

RHASS are now enjoying the following combined PastView benefits:

  •  A modern look and feel – The recent refresh has really modernised the presentation of the website, which is sympathetically mirrored to RHASS’s existing brand and style. This is a sleek and fluid extension of the RHASS website, beautifully drawing visitors in to learn and discover more about their local heritage.

  •  Improved look-up service – PastView has, without question, improved the look-up service offered by RHASS, enabling archive staff to confidently offer an outstanding, personal approach to supporting visitors in their research. Their audience is truly diverse, spanning farmers, schools, family members, and collectors. They have even been approached by people who collect and research labels!

  •  A powerful portal – RHASS’s PastView website is proving to be a real portal for initial enquiries, leading visitors to delve further and deeper than ever, before making more targeted enquiries through the PastView email service.

  • Opportunity to grow digital collections – One of the great benefits of PastView is that it opens up the option for scanning in-house and adding steadily to digital collections over time rather than relying on extensive, large-scale digitisation projects, and all that entails. This is an approach that RHASS intends to take, building their online gradually.


RHASS - Case Study


What we are doing today is history tomorrow, and PastView is helping to futureproof this.

Alain Wright

House & Heritage Officer


What’s next?

RHASS also produces a Society Magazine which paying members receive three times a year. For this publication, there is a back catalogue reaching as far back as the 1800s, and this is something that they would really like to make accessible through their website. The recent website upgrade is the first in ten years and this has renewed efforts to digitise more content, adding to their PastView website as time and budget allow.

The society is also home to a vast and fascinating collection of photographs, including images of royalty, such as Princess Anne, the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Duke of Edinburgh. It also contains images of animals, the society’s famous show, and aerial photographs. The photograph collection runs into its thousands, and the society would like to get these on the website too. These are definitely exciting times for RHASS, so watch this space!