Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Inverclyde history project launched | Greenock | News | Greenock Telegraph

Museum symbolA history project focused on the area of Inverclyde is looking for contributions:

BOOKWORMS flocked to the launch of an exciting history project at South West Library earlier this week.

My Inverclyde: Local Studies in Local Libraries aims to give residents the chance to produce stories about their area.

The £17,000 initiative was prompted by an increased demand for access to local information across Inverclyde’s libraries.

Five different groups are now starting a 10-week course, representing My South West Greenock, My Gourock, My Inverkip and Wemyss Bay, My Kilmacolm and My Port Glasgow.

The project will allow researchers to build up material which reflects their own area.

via Inverclyde history project launched | Greenock | News | Greenock Telegraph.


January 19, 2014 Posted by | Civilian, council, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland’s Recognised Collections

History book

I wasn’t even aware of the existence of Scotland’s Recognised Collections until a few weeks ago, when I came across the term in another blog, didn’t recognise it, and decided to do some digging.

I found that this referred to a group of collections (38 at the time of writing) managed by Museums Galleries Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government, under the Recognition Scheme, which was introduced in 2007 to identify and support the most important, best-quality, collections of historic artefacts and artworks in Scotland’s local and regional museums and galleries:

Speaking in 2013, Scottish Government Minister, Humza Yousaf, said:

Our Recognised Collections contain some of Scotland’s most important, best quality historic artefacts and artworks held in museums and galleries right across the country, from Kirkwall to Annan and Dundee to Inveraray. Many Scots have a Recognised Collection practically on their doorstep.

The Year of Creative Scotland has been an unparalleled celebration of our nation’s rich creativity. Now it has drawn to a close I urge all Scots to help build its legacy by searching out and visiting the many treasures in our brilliant Recognised Collections.

Museums Galleries Scotland manages the Recognition Scheme on behalf of the Scottish Government.  Joanne Orr, Chief Executive of Museums Galleries Scotland, added:

In Scotland we enjoy some of the finest museum collections in the world. The Recognised Collections represent the absolute best of what some of our museums and galleries have to offer. From Orkney to Dumfries and Galloway visitors are inspired by collections of remarkable historic and social significance – whether they contain great wonders of past ages to everyday objects that were the essence of life for our ancestors.

Museums Galleries Scotland has a list of all the collections which fall within the Recognition Scheme, in the form of a pdf document which can be found here:

The Recognised Collections – A full list of the Recognised Collections with descriptions

I would have listed them, but it would only have become confusing, as some collections are spread over a number of museums in different locations, while some museums hold a number of collections.

You really need to look at the full listing in the document noted above.

However, by way of illustration, these ten collections were listed with the 2013 article mentioned above:

  • The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Collection of Glasgow School of Art
  • The entire collection of the Hunterian. University of Glasgow
  • The industrial and associated social history of North Lanarkshire Council
  • The entire collection cared for by Pier Arts Centre, Stromness
  • The Palaeontology and fossil collection at Elgin Museum
  • The RRS Discovery and Polar Collection cared for by Dundee Heritage Trust, Discovery Point, Dundee.
  • The Jute Collections cared for by Dundee Heritage Trust, Scotland’s Jute Museum @ Verdant Works, Dundee
  • The entire collection held by the British Golf Museum, St Andrews
  • The entire collection cared for by the National Mining Museum, Newtongrange
  • The core collection cared for by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, Bo’Ness

Looking at the whole list, it looks like something that would take a considerable time to work one’s way around – and plan carefully too, given the cost of fuel, and ferries.

February 4, 2013 Posted by | council | , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

National Museum of Scotland set to re-open after refurbishment

Museum symbolPrior to its closure for refurbishment, and in the ‘bad old days’ when such Scottish museums charged for admittance, I used to go through to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh once a week, when the museum stayed open until 8 pm, and entry was free after 5 pm. Because I wasn’t subject to time or cash limits – I must have totalled about 150 hours of visits – I was able to take my time and explore the place in detail.

The tricky part was making sure I arrived in Edinburgh at the right time, just as the street parking charges expired at 6:30 pm. Getting there too early meant the zealous traffic wardens would pounce without mercy, and being too late would mean the spaces vacated by workers in the area were gone – and that would waste valuable visiting time.

In the beginning, I didn’t even realise that the older building in Chambers Street was part of the newer building seen from King George V Bridge, which had been receiving most/all of the publicity, being relatively new. It was some time before I realised that the new and old building were connected by a series of walkways connecting the floors – which actually worked out quite well, as I was able to concentrate on the newer building, then discover the older building and its collections.

Both buildings contained stunning collections (and should have even more now), and the evening opening brought an advantage I only came to appreciate in later years – peace and quiet to explore and enjoy the exhibits.

One of the best aspects is that the Edinburgh museum can be recommended as a great place to visit without any detriment to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, as the two are quite different, and complementary.

The Chambers Street building has been closed in part for some three years, while a £46 million refurbishment has seen the original interior restored and storage areas turned into public space to make it one of the UK’s largest museums – with 20,000 objects across 36 galleries, staff have been busy installing 8,000 objects into 16 new galleries.

The new galleries are due to re-open on Friday, July 29, 2011.

The project was jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government, and private donations.

Although it’s part of the new building, rather than the Chambers Street section, I suggest you don’t miss the door that leads out onto the roof of the museum. It was certainly something of a secret when I was visiting, and had so little signage to identify it that I only noticed its existence when I saw some other visitors coming back indoors. At the time, I wasn’t even sure visitors were allowed to go there. The view is superb.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Scots and Canada

One of the recurring things that always struck me when I was actively researching and writing about the Isle of Bute was the number of times I read about people boarding ships bound for Canada. This was emphasised by the participation of numerous contributors at the time, who turned out to have chosen to move to Canada, or were descendants of family who had moved there in the mid to late 1800s.

The who know the island will also be aware that many departed from their place of birth, and were waved off by their families from the hill which gave the best view of the departing ships, and which came to be known as Canada Hill.

Because I was busy concentrating on other subjects, I didn’t really notice how often this was referred to (a bit of ‘wood and trees’ syndrome I think), however I have come to realise that the connection between Scotland and Canada was much stronger than I had previously thought – even though I know some of my own family departed for Ontario many years ago.

The thought was re-awoken this week, when I happened to chance upon a web site created by the Scottish Government, as part of its Learning and Teaching Scotland scheme.

This is their Scots and Canada web site, which opens with the following paragraph:

Scots and Canada

In the 2006 Canadian Census an incredible 4.7 million Canadians said that they were of Scottish origin. At the time, the entire population of Scotland was just under 5.2 million.

So, why are there so many people descended from Scots living in Canada today?

Why was there a mass emigration of Scots to the wild and unexplored shores of Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries, and why did the number of emigrants continue to rise until the middle of the 20th century?

The story of the Scots in Canada is a tale of adventure and heroism, of explorers, traders and settlers who carved a life in the inhospitable wilderness. It is a story of dangerous journeys and terrible loss, of triumph against the odds, and of hope as the Scots fought to hold on to their native culture and language.

The first is John Alexander Macdonald (1815-1891) Canadian statesman, born in Glasgow, Scotland, he emigrated to Canada with his family in 1820. The first Canadian Prime Minister (1867-1873), he served a second term in office (1878-1891).

Also included is:

Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892) Canadian politician. Born in Logieraith, Perthshire, Scotland, he emigrated to Canada in 1842. First Liberal Prime Minister of Canada (1873-1878) and Leader of the Opposition (1878-1880).

And possibly the most well-known:

John Buchan, lst Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940), British author and statesman born in Perth, Scotland. Governor-general of Canada 1935. Novels include The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) and Greenmantle (1916).

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

BBC Scotland article: Manuel ‘should not have hanged’

It’s not often you spot a serious report that catches your eye because it has some sort of major significance, but whenever the name of Peter Manuel appears, even though is somewhat “before my time”, I do pay attention.

In this particular case, the relevance is that the country area he haunted and carried out his killing in included an area favoured by my family, and my mother in particular.

This was long, long before I was born though, and it’s no longer country either, but that’s yet another story.

However, it is one of the stories I always remember with no difficulty. Whenever Manuel was mentioned, it always reminded my mother of the evening he joined her as she made her way along the road to visit a friend (no, I’m not saying where – this isn’t a Facebook personal info free for all – the stories tell of his various haunts around Glasgow), and walked along with her for a while, making polite conversation. At the time, she had no idea who he was walking along the road beside, and later described him as a polite and well-spoken young man, who then disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

It was only after his capture, identification, and the publication of his photograph in the papers that she realised who had been walking along the road with, and what may have been a lucky escape, as others nearby were not so fortunate at roughly the same time.

Whilst Manuel confessed to killing eighteen people following his arrest, he was only tried for eight murder charges, with another being attributed to him by an official inquiry some time following his trial. Peter Manuel hanged in HM Barlinnie for his crimes on July 11, 1958, and was the second last prisoner to do so.

In 2009, a BBC programme Inside the Mind of a Psychopath argued that the authorities colluded to ensure Manuel was hanged, despite the fact that he was a known psychopath. This issue was raised earlier, BBC News Website (April 2008) Call to examine 50s killer case.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Discovering Bute

Old Bute mapRCAHMS (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) has recently announced a number of previously unrecorded archaeological sites on the Isle of Bute, made by a survey team working with local volunteers, and the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme (DBLPS).

The survey is reported to have covered more than 600 new and existing sites during its seven week period, with 185 formerly unrecorded sites being identified, and the precision of existing information enhanced by the use of GPS (Global Position System), and the opportunity is also being taken to update the recoirds further, with information from historic Ordnance Survey mapping, eighteenth century estate maps and the Ordnance Survey Name Books.

The overall project will last for three years, and one of the long term aims is the provision of local training in archaeological techniques, so that the community may carry on the work begun by RCAHMS and DBPLS, and field work will resume in March 2010.

Findings from the current work have already been integrated into Canmore, which provides access to the RCAHMS database collection, and brings together the results of all its survey and collections material, combining location information, site details and images on more than 280,000 archaeological, architectural, maritime and industrial sites throughout Scotland.

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Old digital archives secured

clockworkcomputerOne of the subjects I’ve written about in recent years is the danger of technological advances rendering relatively modern digital archives and objects useless.

Potential examples would be digitally archived documents, images and computer programs which are recorded in formats which have become obsolete and disused, leading to them falling out of use, abandoned, and forgotten – as may the equipment needed to read them. A similar fate could await future Classic cars, and Formula 1 race cars. Both are dependent on customised software and and microprocessor based system in order to be maintained, and a current Formula 1 car will not even start without external hardware attached. Current Classics need little more complex than screwdrivers and spanners, and perhaps a hammer.

In effect, this means any digital record is at risk, and it seems that there is already a substantial portion of digitally archived material that is considered to be unreadable. The use of proprietary formats by some archiving systems is no help either, although customers who saw the danger of this locking them into the suppliers’ price plan soon saw that idea off, and more transportable file formats were generally adopted.

A newly announced project will hopefully provide old digital objects dependent on outdated and obsolete system to live on into the future, and not be lost due to something as simple as an inability to access them.

The KEEP (Keeping Emulation Environments Portable) project will develop an Emulation Access Platform to enable accurate rendering of both static and dynamic digital objects: text, sound, and image files; multimedia documents, websites, databases, videogames etc. The overall aim of the project is to facilitate universal access to our cultural heritage by developing flexible tools for accessing and storing a wide range of digital objects.

KEEP will address the problems of transferring digital objects stored on outdated computer media such as floppy discs onto current storage devices. This will involve the specification of file formats and the production of transfer tools exploited within a framework, and taking into account possible legal and technical issues. KEEP will address all aspects ranging from safeguarding the original bits from the carrier to offering online services to end-users via a highly portable emulation framework running on any possible device. In addition to producing a software package, the project will deliver understanding about how to integrate emulation-based solutions with an operational electronic deposit system. Existing metadata models will be researched and guidelines will be developed for mapping digital objects to emulated manifestations. Overall, KEEP will create the foundation for the next generation of permanent access strategies based on emulation.

Although primarily aimed at those involved in Cultural Heritage, such as memory institutions and games museums, the Emulation Access Platform can also serve the needs of a wide range of organisations and individuals because of its universal approach. The project is expected to take something like three years to complete, and is costed at something in the region of 4 million euro, so is not a trivial exercise.

The result is considered to be worth the cost and effort, with an estimated £2.7 billion being wasted in the delays caused by problems in accessing old digital records. Using emulation to access the records is also considered to be a better than continually migrating the ageing records, which has the inherent risk of loss and corruption of the data each time the operation is performed.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | Lost | , , , , | Leave a comment

Highland Historic Environment Record and the wolves

One of our recently introduced “hunting grounds” on the web just earned itself a mention on the BBC. Now available on the web, the Highland Historic Environment Record (HER) represents some twenty years of work by not only the staff of Highland Council, but numerous heritage groups and members of the public. Nice to see our earlier mention, when it was released, didn’t doom it to an early end.

HER records number in excess of 50,000 entries, and range from wolf traps through wartime defences, buildings, graveyards, shipwrecks, natural features and many other categories.

As for the wolves, it seems that in Scotland they died out in 1743 near Findhorn, just after the last one killed two children. But then again, there’s another tale that the last one was killed by Sir Ewen of Lochiel in 1680. Or could the carved stone by the side of the A9 near Brora hold the truth, as the carving claims to mark the site where the last wolf in Sutherland was killed by a man called Polson in 1700.

Looks like a good example of the need to do at least a little research before making a statement.

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Project preserves World War II memories

Ten museums and galleries will take part in a project aimed at gathering recollections and memories of life during World War II while the opportunity to do so is still available. The intention is to concentrate on personal accounts, diary entries, photographs, news items and the like, to ensure that these remain available to be referred to by future generations.

This will be the second phase of a larger initiative that began with Their Past Your Future Scotland Phase 1, organised by Museum Galleries Scotland which commemorated the 60th anniversary of World War II through a touring exhibition and a series of community events including local exhibitions, entertainment, and events specifically created to generate intergenerational learning opportunities.  One of the biggest outcomes of this exercise was the gathering of numerous first hand accounts, unique experiences and veterans’ stories that would otherwise have remained unknown. The majority of these were extracted through interaction with schoolchildren or groups of young people.

Following on the success of the initial phase, the second project will bring together young people and older generations in communities across Scotland capturing oral histories which on World War II and subsequent conflicts. The outputs from these oral history projects will be a series of some 300 online mini-exhibitions or vignettes – oral histories and illustrative or contextual items from local and national collections which may include diary extracts, newspaper articles, old photographs, archival film, documents, paintings, and photographed objects. Together, they will create a vivid story of a person, event or location.

Their Past Your Future Scotland will culminate with the launch of a website in 2010.  The vignettes and other outputs generated will available as a classroom teaching aid via Learning and Teaching Scotland’s new Scottish schools’ intranet, Glow.

The ten museums and galleries and their projects are:

  • Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling “Pull Up A Sandbag”
  • Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow  “The Glasgow West War Story”
  • Kildonan Museum, South Uist, “Proiseact Beinn na Coraraidh”
  • Museum nan Eilean, Isle of Lewis “Lewis At War”
  • Renfrewshire Council “Re-Solve”
  • Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, “Fortress Orkney”
  • Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, “Post-War Conflicts and Peace-Keeping Missions”
  • The Museum of The Black Watch, Perth, “In Peace And War”
  • West Dunbartonshire Council,  “Singers, Sirens and Silent Heroes”
  • West Lothian Council “West Lothian and The Forgotten War”

More details can be found in the original news release.

A similar project can be seen on the World War II in the Highlands web site.

The Scottish input is part of a larger scale project covering the UK.

Their Past Your Future Phase 1 ran between February 2004 and July 2006. It was an educational programme led by the Imperial War Museum and supported by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Their Past Your Future Phase 2 is a UK-wide educational project which will build on the experiences and successes of Their Past Your Future Phase 2.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | World War II | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Sceptred Isle – The History of Britain

this sceptred islethis sceptred isleThose with the stamina to endure the duration (216 episodes of 15 minutes each) may be interested to know that the BBC’s 1995 series This Sceptred Isle is now being repeated on BBC7.

The series begins today, with Land of the Druids: Anna Massey narrates the History of Britain. The story begins in 55BC with the Pro-Consul of Gaul, one Gaius Julius Caesar. Episode 1 of 216.

The programme’s title is a quotation from act 2 scene 1 of Shakespeare’s King Richard II, attributed to John of Gaunt: “This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars … This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England“.

Daily broadcast time is 13:45 to 14:00, and you can listen to BBC7 on digital radio or on digital tv (Freeview 708, Sky 0131, Tiscali 633 and Virgin Media 910) and through your computer, via the BBC Radio Player.

Using your computer means you don’t have to adhere to the daily schedule (or miss an episode) thanks to the BBC’s Listen Again option, where programmes become available the day after they are broadcast, and you can can listen to any of BBC7’s output from the past six days.

You can also Listen Live, which not only does the obvious thing, but also provided an extended listing of a number of recent broadcasts which you can listen too. Unlike Listen Again, some programmes listed here can appear just after being broadcast, and some stay available for more than six days – but not all!

The series was partnered with This Sceptred Isle: Empire in 2005, which covered the history of the British Empire in a similar way, this time over 90 episodes.

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment


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