Archive of the Society of Writers to HM Signet, Edinburgh

Scope and Content

The Archive Catalogue of the Society of Writers to HM Signet, Edinburgh

The Archive comprises the institutional records and papers of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet in Edinburgh, the largest and oldest private corporate body of solicitors in Scotland. These records map the development and activity of the Society, its officers and members, and the various charitable and educational institutions in which it has been involved.

It forms part of the wider Signet Library, which the Society founded in 1722, and this archive catalogue complements and should be used in conjunction with the central Signet Library catalogue. Whereas this Archive Catalogue maps the life and activities of the Society, the Signet Library Catalogue describes the Society's collecting of books and manuscripts. There are points of crossover: the Society's collections of law court papers are described by the Signet Library Catalogue, but the papers of law firms and solicitors in the Society's possession, along with its collections of artifacts and ephemera appear in this Archive Catalogue. (Likewise, the papers and documents relating to the administration of the Signet Library are present in the Archive Catalogue and not in the Signet Library Catalogue).

The written records in this archive commence with the opening of the Society's first sederunt book in 1594, although the Society itself has medieval origins and was a founding constituent of the College of Justice in Scotland in 1532. Alongside minute and sederunt books, the archive comprises financial records, letters and papers of office holders, records of property ownership and charitable administration, the records of the social life of the Society and the administrative records of the Signet Library.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet is the oldest corporate body of solicitors in Scotland with a history reaching back over 500 years. Originally officers charged with responsibility for documents passing under the Signet, the seal of the Kings and Queens of Scotland, Writers to the Signet evolved into lawyers and, in 1532, were recognised as the original solicitors for litigation in the Supreme Courts as members of the College of Justice established by King James V. The Society is a corporation under Scottish common law, the earliest form of incorporated body, and from earliest times, it has given financial and practical support to a host of charitable and public causes, from national defence to civic improvement, from education to medicine, from welfare to recreation. The Society's ancient ethos as a not-for-profit organisation and custodian of national heritage endures into our modern day. In 1722, the Society founded the Signet Library, which remains a key centre of legal work in Scotland and a hub for scholarly research.

Access Information

Some files are restricted access in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Access is by prior agreed appointment only.

Separated Material

Certain parts of the Archive were placed on deposit with the National Records of Scotland, most notably:

The Papers of Sir Arthur Mitchell (1826-1909)
The Papers of Dr John Jardine (1715-1766), Minister of Liberton Parish, Edinburgh
The Letters of Jack Wedderburn 1900-1901

Details will be provided on request.

Custodial History

The Archive has been accrued by the Society since its written records began in 1594 and most of the material has been in the possession of the Society since its creation.


Further accruals are likely.


The Archive was described in Scottish Archives 2015 no. 21 pp.113-129 James Hamilton 'The Archive of the Society of Writers to the Signet at the Signet Library, Edinburgh'