Celebration at the Town House

On the evening of 14 June a special event was held in the Town House to mark the completion of the Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers project.

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L-R: Vice-Principal Professor Marion Campbell, Dr Andrew Simpson, Dr Edda Frankot, Dr William Hepburn, Lord Provost Barney Crockett, Dr Jackson Armstrong, Dr Claire Hawes, City Archivist Mr Phil Astley. Photo Credit: Norman Adams / Copyright Aberdeen City Council.

The eight earliest-surviving council register volumes were on display, and music and talks highlighted vignettes from the new resource created by this project, Aberdeen Registers Online: 1398–1511. Lord Provost Barney Crockett spoke on behalf of the City of Aberdeen, and Vice-Principal Professor Marion Campbell on behalf of the University of Aberdeen.

The event opened with a performance on recorder by Ruaraidh Wishart, Ed Friday, Kate Friday, and Marie McLean of a special composition entitled Fantasia for a Doric Fishman. The piece drew inspiration from the so-called ‘Fishman’, one of the most well-known decorations in the registers (see ARO-2-0102-01). Until recently moving to Abertay University, Ruaraidh Wishart was a senior archivist with the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives.

Short talks and highlights were given by LACR members, including Jackson Armstrong, Phil Astley, Edda Frankot, Andrew Simpson, and Claire Hawes. The evening also showcased some creative follow-on projects in response to the registers.

William Hepburn introduced Playing in the Archives, his Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Creative Economies Engagement Fellowship, which investigates how Aberdeen’s registers could provide the inspiration for video game development. William explained how he is assessing the effectiveness of video games as a scholarly medium for examining the burgh records and the historical subjects they inform.

Claire Hawes and musicians Davy Cattanach and Paddy Buchanan performed four Songs from Medieval Aberdeen. Claire’s introduction to their music explained that their composition project was made possible with a 2018 Creative Funding Award from Aberdeen City Council. The trio set out to explore how songwriters can use historical material in their work. These original songs were the result, inspired by stories and themes from the records, and the Scots language of the registers.

There was also a special cake, decorated by Aberdeen cake makers O’Caykx, which displayed some of the information about the words and languages of the registers in icing.

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ARO Infographic Cake: Showing proportions of Latin and vernacular words in each register through the scrumptious medium of icing. Photo credit: Jackson Armstrong.

The cake icing depicted the proportion of words in each register in Latin (dark icing) and Scots (light icing). The small amount of orange marked in registers five and six reflects the appearance of a small amount of Dutch (or Middle Low German) in those volumes. The later registers have a greater proportion of content in Scots, and a greater number of words overall. It was a delicious way to mark the completion of the project!

Bakers’ marks and bread boards: ‘Marking’ the completion of William Hepburn’s and Claire Hawes’ roles with LACR

In February 1458 the Aberdeen town clerk recorded the marks of the ‘baxstaris of bred’ who were permitted to perform their craft in the town. An Aberdeenshire woodworker has created two beautiful oak bread boards inspired by these marks. They were presented to Claire and William by the LACR team.

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Bread boards inspired by the bakers’ marks, made by Dan Stewart.

William Hepburn and Claire Hawes joined LACR in summer 2016 and this month we recognised the completion of their roles with the project. For two years they have been at the cutting edge of the largest transcription effort in medieval Scottish history perhaps since the nineteenth century – building a corpus of some 1.75 million words from the earliest eight register volumes.

Those who follow the Aberdeen City Archives on Facebook may have seen these marks on World Baking Day. In the 1450s the council was minded to record those men who had permission to bake bread. At other times in the fifteenth century measures were taken to regulate the standard of baked goods, and the use of ovens. In June 1470 an ordinance set out that the bakers as a group were to be held in the tolbooth until all of them paid fines for breaking the standard weight (‘pase’) of bread at 13 ounces. If any were to break the standard in future ‘thair craggis’ (necks) were to be put in the ‘stokis’ (stocks) ‘and sall be bannyst fra the craft for a yer and ilke baxtar that has ane howine sal ansuer to the bailyeis that na brede [be] bakin in thair howynnis bot that sall halde the samyn pase’ . (And they shall be banished from the craft for a year, and each baker with his own oven shall answer to the bailies if any bread is baked in their ovens that isn’t of the standard weight).1

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Bakers’ marks, ACR, volume 5/1, p. 337.

In 1458 eleven ‘baxstaris’ marks were recorded in the registers, denoting those men who were permitted to perform the craft of baking. Those who are listed against their marks are: Androu Baxstar, William Club, William Atkynson, Thom of Spens, William Buchane, Thom Imlach, William Catnes, Robert Ranyson, John Quhit Hud (no mark given), Will Baxstar, Thom Glede, and Androu Mair.2

Dan Stewart of Fettercairn Woodcraft was asked by Jackson Armstrong if he would make two bread boards in a creative response to the bakers’ marks.

Dan said: ‘I was really excited to take on this challenge. I thought it was a lovely way to bring these medieval bakers marks into a useful contemporary item. It felt very fitting to use pyrography (burning the marks into the wood) and the resulting effect pays respect to how the marks may have looked branded onto a loaf of bread. I thought the gift for William and Claire was a lovely idea and I couldn’t wait to get started’.

These boards were presented by the project team to William Hepburn and Claire Hawes in recognition of the completion of their roles in the LACR project.

William said ‘The board is beautifully crafted and makes a great memento of my time working with the Aberdeen Council Registers’.

Claire said ‘It’s been a real privilege to work on this material. This transcription of Aberdeen’s burgh registers is going to open up many exciting new avenues for research on Scotland’s late medieval towns, and beyond’.

William Hepburn and Claire Hawes now hold Honorary Research Fellowships in the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies.


  1. ACR, 6, p. 20 (16 June 1470). 
  2. ACR, 5/1, p. 337 (6 Feb 1457/8). 

Transcription volumes 1-7 completed!

by Edda Frankot

An important project milestone was reached last month when the last words of volumes 1-7 were transcribed on the afternoon of 18 January. The transcription of the first seven volumes, up to the year 1501, is now complete. Over the past eighteen months or so, the project’s two research assistants, Claire Hawes and William Hepburn, with a small amount of assistance of yours truly, have transcribed 4027 pages – no mean feat!

This does not mean, of course, that the project as a whole is now finished. The checking of the transcription and annotations is still in full flow. Once that is completed a final phase of getting the corpus ready to go online will commence. In the meantime, thanks to generous additional support from Aberdeen City Council to enhance the project, Claire and William have begun the transcription of volume 8. This volume will at least partly be transcribed traditionally, but there are also ongoing investigations into the possibility of having this book machine-transcribed for us by a project called READ. Watch this space for updates on that! Overall our final corpus will in part contain a level of annotation enhanced beyond our original specification.

Now that the transcription of volumes 1-7 is complete, it has been possible to do a word count. This count confirms our suspicions that volume 6 includes a relatively large amount of material, but also brings up some other fascinating facts. The total count as it stands now (this number will most likely change slightly during the final stages of the checking process) is 1,391,217 words. To put this in perspective: Shakespeare’s complete works total 884,421 words. A significant chunk of our nearly 1.4 million corpus (so far) is taken up by volume 6: 539,254 words (39%). By contrast, volume 7, which has 137 pages more than volume 6, contains ‘only’ 332,392 words (24%). On average, then, there are about 547 words on every page of volume 6, but only 296 on those of volume 7. The average across all volumes is about 300 words per page. The scribe of a large part of volume 6 used more of the pages (he only left one of the margins blank, rather than both), he placed his text lines closer together and appears to have written in a smaller hand. The volume with the lowest amount of words per page is volume 2, at only 189. This results from many blank spaces left between court entries, and blank pages.

Above: An illustration of different page word densities and lay-outs: ACR, 6, p. 752 (left) and ACR, 7, p. 508 (right).

LACR Corpus Word Count

It has also been possible to differentiate between words in Latin and in Scots (and those from entries in ‘multiple languages’, that is to say entries with a lot of switches between Latin and Scots, which typically occurs in lists of names). Overall 58% of the corpus is in Latin, 41.1% is in Scots and 0.9% in multiple languages. Two entries are in Dutch. In volumes 1 and 2 (1398-1414) only slightly more than 1% of the words are in Scots. In volume 4 (1433-1447) this rises to nearly 9%. By volume 6 (1468-1486) the division between the two languages is almost exactly 50-50, whereas in volume 7 (1487-1501) more than 68% is in Scots. Much more detailed research into this phenomenon is of course undertaken by our former text enrichment research fellow, Anna Havinga. Anna not only distinguishes between words and entries in Scots and Latin, but she also analyses the development of the language shift by year. But even the very coarse overview given here already throws up some fascinating first indications which future research will hopefully be able to elaborate upon.