The National Records of Scotland (NRS) holds the official records of vital events of our lives and, every January, the records of people who were born 100 years ago, married 75 years ago or died 50 years ago in Scotland are added to the ScotlandsPeople website.

The entries of people who were born in Scotland in 1923 are now available to search and save on ScotlandsPeople. They are part of over 250,000 images released in January 2024, comprising 64,545 death entries in 1973, 111,902 birth entries in 1923 and 43,747 marriage entries in 1948.

According to the Registrar General’s Report of 1923 (pages xi-xii), of the 111,902 registered births in Scotland, 57,332 were males, and 54,570 were females. The number of registered births was less than those of all years since 1863 except for the war years, 1915 to 1919, and is 3183 less than 1922.

Historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett was one of the greatest Scottish writers of the twentieth century. She was admired by academics, feted by her peers and loved by her readers. Born Dorothy Halliday in Dunfermline in 1923, she died in Edinburgh in 2001. Hers is one of 111,902 birth entries newly added to ScotlandsPeople.

Dorothy Dunnett (née Halliday) was born at Davaar, a maternity home on Grieve Street, Dunfermline, on 25th August 1923. She was the only daughter of Alexander Halliday, a Foreman Engineer, and Dorothy Eveline Millard. They had married two years previously in Birmingham on 18th July 1921. At the time she was born, the family were usually resident at 15 Park Street in Glencraig. The birth was registered on 13th September by her grandfather, Martin Halliday, who lived at the School Lodge in Glencraig.

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Dorothy Halliday's birth entry, 1923

Dorothy Halliday’s entry in the statutory register of births for Dunfermline, 25th August 1923.
Crown copyright, NRS, 1923/424/710

Dunnett was brought up in Edinburgh where she attended James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, made famous in Muriel Spark’s novel, ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ (1961).

In 1940, she joined the Civil Service as an assistant press officer where she worked in several government departments. There she met her future husband Alastair MacTavish Dunnett (1908-1998), who was the chief officer to Tom Johnston, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

They married on 17th September 1946 at Corstorphine Old Parish Church in Edinburgh. At the time, Dunnett was 23 years old and still employed by the Civil Service and living with her parents in Corstorphine. Her husband was 37 years old, employed as an Assistant Editor and living at 163 Maxwell Avenue, Shettleston in Glasgow.

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Entry for Alastair MacTavish Dunnett and Dorothy Halliday in the statutory register of marriages for Haymarket, Edinburgh, 17 September 1946.

Entry for Alastair MacTavish Dunnett and Dorothy Halliday in the statutory register of marriages for Haymarket, Edinburgh, 17 September 1946.
Crown copyright, NRS, 1946/685-1/785

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A photograph of Dorothy Halliday and Alastair MacTavish Dunnett on their wedding day, 17th September 1946

A photograph of the happy couple on their wedding day, 17th September 1946.
Credit: With kind permission from the Dunnett family

Dunnett began writing in the 1950s. She had complained to her husband about running out of reading material and wrote ‘The Game of Kings’ in response to his suggestion that she write something herself. This is the first in her series of six novels, ‘The Lymond Chronicles’, set in sixteenth century Europe, which follow the life and adventures of the fictitious Scottish nobleman and mercenary, Francis Crawford of Lymond. ‘King Hereafter’, Dunnett’s stand-alone novel, is set in Orkney and Scotland in the eleventh century, based on the premise that the central historical character, Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, and Macbeth, King of Alba, were one and the same person. Her final work, ‘The House of Niccolò’, is a series of eight novels set in fifteenth century Europe, which follow the career of Nicholas de Fleury, a dyer’s apprentice from Bruges, who climbs the mercantile ladder of Renaissance Europe. She also penned a series of light-hearted detective stories featuring Johnson Johnson, a portrait painter and spy, each with an independent, smart heroine.

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Image of jacket cover of The Game of Kings 1st edition.

Image of jacket cover of The Game of Kings 1st edition. 
Credit: The Game of Kings (1E) G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, 1961. Artwork by John Alan Maxwell

Part of her archive is held at the National Library of Scotland, (NLS) in Edinburgh. The rest is in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Dunnett was also a renowned professional portrait painter and exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and other institutions.

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Dorothy Dunnett self-portrait, 1940s

Dorothy Dunnett, Lady Dorothy Dunnett, 1923 - 2001 (Self-portrait), 1940s.
Credit: National Galleries of Scotland. Gifted by the Dunnett family, 2002

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Double Portrait by Dorothy Halliday, 1946.

Double Portrait by Dorothy Halliday, 1964.
Portrait of Dunnett’s son, Ninian, and her husband Alastair.
Credit: © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Museums & Galleries Edinburgh – City of Edinburgh Council

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Duncan Macrae (1905–1967), as Jamie the Saxt by Dorothy Halliday, 1953

Duncan Macrae (1905–1967), as Jamie the Saxt by Dorothy Halliday, 1953.
Credit: © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Glasgow Life Museums

Dunnett was a trustee of the NLS and a board member of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In 1992 she was appointed OBE for services to literature and became Lady Dunnett in 1995 when her husband was knighted.

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The heraldic arms of Dorothy Dunnett, 1996

The heraldic arms of Dorothy Dunnett granted by Letters Patent in the Lyon Court in 1996
Credit: Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Lyon Office

She founded the Dorothy Dunnett Society (DDS) in 2001 to promote interest in the periods of history she wrote about and to encourage communication among her readers. The Society is based in Scotland, run by volunteers and has just under 800 members all over the world.

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A photograph of Dorothy Dunnett in the conservatory, September 2001

A photograph of Dorothy Dunnett in the conservatory, September 2001.
Credit: Alison Dunnett

She died aged 78 on 9th November 2001 in Edinburgh and was survived by her two sons and grandchildren. Her husband, Alastair, predeceased her in 1998.

In 2006, the DDS arranged for a memorial stone in the Makars’ Court, near the entrance to the Scottish Writers’ Museum, at Lady Stair’s Close, on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The stone is inscribed with Dunnett’s coat of arms and a short quote from one of her books: ‘Where are the links in the chain… joining us to the past?’

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Dorothy Dunnett’s memorial stone with a floral tribute in the Makars’ Court

Dorothy Dunnett’s memorial stone with a floral tribute in the Makars’ Court.
Credit: the Dorothy Dunnett Society

To mark the centenary of her birth in 2023, the DDS created the Dorothy Dunnett Centenary website to celebrate her extraordinary life and achievements, which includes readings and recollections from fellow writers such as Val McDermid and Alison Weir.

Dunnett’s exceptional legacy of meticulously researched books is vibrant with life, wit and consummate storytelling; her legions of fans across the globe still meet in person and online, to fiercely debate her deviously plotted novels.

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Dorothy Dunnett reading a book, autumn 2000

A photograph of Dorothy Dunnett reading a book, autumn 2000.
Credit: Alison Dunnett

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this feature was published as part of an article, ‘International Women’s Day: A spotlight on Scottish authors in our records’ on the National Records of Scotland’s blog, Open Book.

The photographs of Dorothy Dunnett, her portraits and memorial stone are used with kind permission from the Dorothy Dunnett Society and her family. The NRS is very grateful to them both for their helpful comments and suggestions before publication.

Further reading

Statutory Register of Births record guide on ScotlandsPeople

Copson, B.  Dunnett [née Halliday], Dorothy, Lady Dunnett (1923–2001), novelist and artist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 06 Dec. 2023, from https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-76440 (Subscription or UK public library membership required)

Dorothy Dunnett Centenary website Accessed December 2023

Dorothy Dunnett Society Accessed December 2023

Dorothy Dunnett website Accessed December 2023