Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Closure of National Museum of Costume in Dumfries and Galloway mooted (and confirmed in 2013)

Museum symbolWhile I’m unlikely to ever support the closure of any museum, and I’m also pleased to note that it is a subject I have not had need to comment on for a while, I find I have mixed responses while reading reports about closure of the National Museum of Costume, based in Shambellie House for the past 30 years – a Victorian country house in New Abbey, near Dumfries.

National Museum of Costume

The house dates back to 1856, and was left to the nation in 1977 by local artist and designer Charles W Stewart, who had started collecting clothes from before World War I, found in friends’ attics and market stalls. The house had been built by his great-grandfather, to a design by Edinburgh architect David Bryce.

Stewart left the family home and his fashion collection to the then Royal Scottish Museum in a bid to keep the collection together, as he feared it would be dispersed after his death and “cast away to the dangers and squalors from which so much of it had been rescued”.

But bosses at the Edinburgh-based organisation say it can no longer continue to operate the site, which costs £23 per head per visitor to run and maintain.

And that figure of £23 per head is the one that causes me a problem, and stops me from automatically being against any thoughts of closure.

A spokeswoman confirmed an internal consultation was underway, with a result expected before the end of next.

Items from the original Stewart collection are on display at the museum, along with items from the vast collections held by the National Museums Scotland organisation.

Even so, as one who had to run a business and write the wages cheques at the end of every month, I can’t help but think something is wrong somewhere if it costs £23 per visitor at Shambellie.

Not enough ‘bums on seat’, or cost that are way out of control?

Either way, it just can’t continue as a money pit, or has to find a different way of being funded. Simply holding a hand out in the hope that those on high will drop more cash there is not any way forward, and just means postponement, not salvation.

They’ve announced a review. I hope it doesn’t end with all involved simply saying, “Well, we’re not accepting any cuts.” If it doesn’t bring radical changes, then they might as well shut the doors and disperse the collection and property now.

November should bring the result.

National Museum of Costume facing closure in cost-cutting programme – Fashion –

New Abbey Museum of Costume closure concerns raised

Update – November 2012

Looks like November’s meeting didn’t resolve much:

Museum chiefs have rejected calls for a 12-month reprieve for the closure-threatened National Museum of Costume near New Abbey.

They say a final decision on Shambellie House will be made in February.

A statement on behalf of the trustees of National Museums Scotland said this would allow enough time for further consultation with interested parties.

A debate in the Scottish Parliament last week heard calls for a year’s reprieve to discuss all options.

However, the trustees said they believed such a postponement would prolong uncertainty for both the region and museum staff.

NMS has said high costs per visitor and reduced funding means it has to take action at Shambellie House.

New Abbey Museum of Costume reprieve attempt rejected

Update – January 2013

Looks like they want to dither into February (is something good being negotiated, but not confirmed), since all they could positively rule out was running for another year to see if they could improve things:

New Abbey Museum of Costume future discussed

Update  – February 2013

That didn’t take long, and wasn’t really anything of a great surprise, since no-one brought anything new to the table.

Even the local MPs played their part, and came up with the standard “They had already decided to close it before all this started” routine, followed by cries of “their” corner of the world being forgotten, and that “All options were not looked at”.

It’s a shame that it has to close, but with no visitors to speak of, there is no real decision to be made, and it is a pity that the local MPs could not work around that, rather than merely come up with the usual accusations of some sort of attack on their area. But then again, isn’t that how the game of politics is played?

New Abbey Museum of Costume closure announced

National Museum of Costume to close – Arts –

It is now planned to display a selection of items from the former museum’s costume collection in the new art and design galleries which are scheduled to open in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, in 2016.

Shambelie House itself will revert to Scottish Government ownership, and a feasibility study for its options for use has been funded by the Government:

Exploring Shambellie House options

Update May 2014

This is becoming another marathon I had no idea I would be following!

The findings of a report on potential future uses of the former National Museum of Costume near New Abbey will be released “shortly”.

New Abbey Museum of Costume future use report due ‘shortly’

Update June 2014

After the local MP moaned about the state of the grounds, which apparently became the responsibility of the Scottish Government after NMS walked away, the Scottish Government confirmed it would undertake the required maintenance. I’d make a joke about that, only the NMS is just another bit of the Scottish Government, so the money comes from the same pot.

At the same time, it was noted that a report by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which had been commissioned by the Scottish Government to produce a report on the future of Shambellie by last November, was yet to be published.

Grounds pledge – DnG24 – News – 7th June 14


October 14, 2012 - Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , ,


  1. Dear Sir, I could not agree with you more. The cost per head is astounding. I visited the museum for the first time in a few years last week. The house is beautiful. The grounds wonderful. The displays? Old fashioned and frankly, not very inspiring. Maybe this is because as a man, I am not interested in whether a dress I made by xyz from Paris or abc from Edinburgh. Surely this is true of most visitors though? Are young children really interested in a dress from 1950? A man dressed in evening wear? The costumes on display COULD be so much more interesting. They could show rural Scottish life through the years. Costumes/uniforms of working people. Costumes from films. Yes, they do show costumes from films occasionally, but not very often. When they do, how do they display them? Old fashioned manequins or set up an exciting moving display with a clip from the film? I was actually quite uneasy with the manequins used for some settings. They looked quite eerie. They too could be changed, with some imagination. This museum does not know what it is. It seems to try to show some clothes from the time the house was built. So is this a museum of life in the 1850’s? Partly yes. Largely no. My email now seems almost as confused as the museum is. This is my point. The museum is an elitist display of a few items of clothing which may or may not have anything to do with Scotland. This is the National Museum of Costume. The displays need to be bigger and better. More interactive. The few items of clothes visitors can try on are mainly for girls and mainly for aged 14 and over. If you really want visitors to come, make it clothes for a whole range of ages, sexes AND cultures. Have saris, traditional crofters clothes, Borders made cashmere. Reduce the entry fee. It is far too high!. When the house is closed, charge a small fee for car parking so people can walk in the grounds. The grounds. Now the grounds are beautiful. Worth a look on their own. So why is this venue not used more regularly for events? weddings, corporate events. A marriage at Sweetheart Abbey and reception at Shambellie. Lovely. But is this being actively promoted? No. I fear the existing management needs changing. Not necessarily by changes of staff, but their views, ideas and opinions need to change. This place could make money. More people need to visit. But the existing displays, atmosphere and character need to change. I want it to succeed. Peter cahill.


    Comment by Peter Cahill | October 23, 2012

  2. Interesting – and thanks for a detailed and thought through comment.

    Frankly, if I got any comments, I expected then to be hostile, or at least in disagreement, since I believe one is supposed to oppose any suggestions of closing anything without considering its value (or just because some think nobody should lose their job, regardless.)

    I’ve never made it to this museum, a bit far away, and it was always closed whenever I was in the area, so your first hand account is highly appreciated.

    My own forte is the more technical or engineering related museum, but it seems that like these – and dare I add the rather depressing so-called ‘Science Centres’, the Museum of Costume also seems to be a ‘dumbed down’ to an extent. Or is merely falling into line with the others and following a credo that dictates the emphasis should be geared toward keeping things simple, and getting (in the eyes of the management at least) children and/or young people interested.

    Frankly, if I was (still) ‘young’, I reckon I would be bored stiff at most of the attempt to interest me, due to their simplicity.

    I would echo and endorse your final remark about the management requiring a change.

    A often say this – and come under fire for it for criticising “Hard working people doing their best in tough times” or some such.

    In reality, they are like bad tightrope walker, scared stiff too look to their side (lateral thinking or innovation), and frightened to do anything perceived as ‘different’ in case they lose their jobs.

    To use a phrase from my own industry: “No-one ever got fired for using Microsoft.”

    They actually do need ‘new blood’, and new thinking with some eyes open.

    Love the remark about the mannequins, I think some museums get theirs by going ‘skip-diving’ at night, to save money 🙂


    Comment by Apollo | October 23, 2012

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