Robert Burns: bringing history to life through maps

This Saturday the 25th of January is Burns night, when the works of national bard Robert Burns are celebrated with haggis, whisky, and readings. Evidence of his life can be found throughout our map collections.


1859 Ordnance Survey map extract of Burns' cottage

This map from 1859 shows the cottage where Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, South Ayrshire. The P.H. abbreviation signifies that at the time of this map it was a Public House licensed to sell beer, wine and spirits. The Cottage was subsequently restored as Burns’ home by the National Trust for Scotland.

Sites and events of historical importance are often marked on maps, and can give a real sense of life to history. Maps can aid historical understanding and add visual interest to a research project or essay.


Dumfries 1852 highlighting where Burns lived and his mausoleum

This map of Dumfries from 1852 shows where Burns lived and his mausoleum. The marking of a person’s life on these Ordnance Survey maps highlights their significance in history. We can also see that his house lies on Burns Street.

The naming of streets after Robert Burns is quite widespread. There are 72 street names in Glasgow alone named after him, the places he lived and worked, and events in his life. Across the United Kingdom there are 720 street names.

1952 map showing streets named after Robert Burns

This map from Newlands in Glasgow shows a cluster of streets named after Ayrshire places significant to Robert Burns:

  • Alloway Road after Burns’ place of birth.
  • Lochlea Road and Mossgiel Road after the names of the farms he lived on.
  • Kirkoswald Road after the location of his village school.
  • Tarbolton Road after the location of the Batchelor’s Club that Burns co-founded.

The works of Burns have also found their way onto maps through the naming of buildings. One of his most famous works, Tam o’Shanter, sees the poem’s character Tam make his way from Ayr to the Brig o’Doon (Bridge over the River Doon) near Alloway late one night.

1855 town plan of Ayr showig the Tam o'Shanter Inn

The poem starts with Tam enjoying some time at an inn after a day at the Ayr market, while his wife waits at home across the Brig o’Doon. The 1855 Ayr Town Plan above shows Tam o’Shanter Tavern.

Tam wanders home drunk in the dark, eventually reaching “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk” and flees to the old Brig o’Doon as the story reaches its dramatic conclusion.

1859 map of Alloway Kirk and the old Bridge of Doon

In the 1859 map above, Alloway Kirk and the Old Bridge of Doon can be seen. We can also see a Burns Hotel and Burns Monument in reference to Alloway being his place of birth.

We have plenty of copies of Tam o’Shanter and Burns’ works in our English MB700 section of the library on level 9, or in Archives and Special Collections on Level 12.


Digimap extracts of Mount Oliphant with the farm buildings highlighted, historical to the left, and current to the right.

Maps are perfect for researching how a site of historical interest has changed over the years. Robert Burns lived and worked at Mount Oliphant farm in Ayrshire. The boundaries of the farm buildings on the 1896 Ordnance Survey map on the left have been highlighted using annotations on the Digimap Historic Roam service.

Opening these annotations in current digital mapping service Digimap Ordnance Survey Roam allows us to see that there has been very little change to the buildings themselves in the past 124 years, other than a small addition to the north east building.

Digimap’s features can be used in this way to bring history into the present. We can help UofG staff and students with maps and your research projects using databases like Digimap.


If you’d like to know more about our map collections and how to use them for your research, just get in touch with us at the Maps, Official Publications and Statistics Unit on Level 7 of the library. We’re open Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, and can be contacted on 0141 330 6740 or library-mapsandop@glasgow.ac.uk


References:
National trust for Scotland. 2020. Burns Cottage. [Online]. [Accessed 23 January 2020].
Oliver, R., (1993). Ordnance Survey maps: a concise guide for historians. Wiltshire, Charles Close Society.
Royal Mail Group. 2019. Rabbie’s Roads: Burns inspires hundreds of British addresses. [Online]. [Accessed 22 January 2020].

Map References in order posted:
Ordnance Survey. (1859). Ordnance plan of the parish of —– in the county of Ayr. [County Series Sheet 33.14 1:2500]. Southampton. Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey. (1852). Town Plan of Dumfries and Maxwelltown: surveyed 1847-51. [Town Plan Sheet 6 1:1056]. Southampton. Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (1952). Ordnance Survey: national grid plans: scale 1:1250. [National Grid Sheet NS5660NE 1:1250]. Southampton. Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey. (1855). Town plan of Ayr: surveyed 1855. [Town Plan Sheets 8 & 9 1:1056]. Southampton. Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey. (1859). Ordnance plan of the parish of —– in the county of Ayr. [County Series Sheet 33.14 and 39.2 1:2500]. Southampton. Ordnance Survey.



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