Elgin Museum CARS Building Works
During the “closed” period, thanks to funding support from the Elgin Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) the Museum will be undergoing an extensive programme of repair and restoration. The roof to the main building and rear extension will both be overhauled, the stone work will be restored, and in places, replaced, the lime pointing will be fixed and there will be works to the rainwater goods and windows. Please bear with us while these works are ongoing!
In other December news, we have appointed a new Education & Outreach officer who will begin planning the 2018 programme of events and activities for children and young people in the New Year.
We opened November with our keynote event of the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology, our archaeology conference: Forgotten, Hidden & Lost – unearthing Moray’s archaeology. The event was a great success with wonderful insights on the region’s archaeology and heritage, culminating in a lively group discussion. The audience heard first about the “hidden” side of archaeology in Moray from archaeological contractors working on building developments including the extensive prehistoric settlement uncovered at Grantown Road, Forres, recent excavations at Macallan distillery which uncovered post-medieval activity, and the fascinating prehistoric cemetery discovered during works at Lesmurdie on the edge of Elgin. Next was Prof Leif Iskasen revealing details of the recently rediscovered “lost” hillfort at Cluny Hill, Forres, an update from Dr Gordon Noble on the Northern Picts project, and a thought provoking consideration of the Iron Age in Moray through its artefacts from Dr Fraser Hunter. The last session of the day took us from Prehistoric Pyromaniacs through the impact of World War II on the Lossie Forest, the prominence of ironworking in Iron Age Moray ending with Underworld Encounters in the Covesea Caves. We are grateful to all who attended, to the staff of the Alexander Graham Bell Centre at Moray UHI, and to our sponsors and supporters: Heritage Lottery Fund, Event Scotland, Glen Moray and Walkers. A publication of the proceedings of the conference is currently in progress, more details will be circulated to conference attendees and Moray Society members once it is available.
Following on from the conference, with thanks to Historic Environment Scotland, we were able to offer a guided insight tour of Elgin Cathedral – many hardy souls braved the cold to hear from experts about the carved stones and medieval stained glass from the Cathedral, as well as the “Elgin Pillar” Pictish stone. This was followed in the afternoon by “Elgin’s Hidden Treasures” a guided walking tour of Elgin’s architectural and archaeological heritage from Museum stalwarts Mary Byatt and Claire Herbert.
November concluded with a walking tour from another familiar face at the Museum. Local historian Morag MacDonald’s walk “On the Urban Trail of the Trades in Elgin” brought events and local characters to life as we learnt about the important role of the Incorporated Trades in Elgin.
During October, we had three jam-packed family friendly event, first creating Ogham inscribed pendants before we moved further afield with a morning of Ancient Egyptian themed activities – standing room only at this event! At the end of October, we welcomed a myriad of ghosts & ghouls for our Late Night Spooktacular as we celebrated the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival.
HHA Guided Tour of Duffus Castle
In September, as part of our Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology programme of events, we travelled back in time to the medieval period as we toured Duffus Castle. Thanks to David Weinczok, “The Castle Hunter”, the castle’s history and inhabitants were brought to life, while Mike Pendery, District Architect for Historic Environment Scotland, shared some of the challenges of managing this much-loved historic site. Sadly, we were once again plagued by rain but persevered with the tour nonetheless!
Doors Open Days 2017
The Museum was also open for this year’s “Door’s Open Days”, and we held a special event, open to all ages, to try their hand at a variety of architectural paper crafts – the room was filled with Eiffel Towers, Roundhouses and Pyramids!
HHA Guided Walk of Aberlour
At the end of August, we hosted a guided walking tour of Aberlour, with fascinating insights into the architecture and history of the town provided by local architect Andrew Wright – the weather was typical of a Scottish summer but the event was well attended and generated much discussion on the day.
Young Marvels Medieval March
The summer’s Young Marvels programme in ended in style in August, as our Young Marvels marched through the town centre in their medieval costumes to launch a raid on Elgin Castle. They were regaled with fascinating insights into medieval Elgin along the way thanks to volunteer Mary Shand, and welcomed to Elgin Castle by its knightly owner (otherwise known as volunteer Claire Herbert).
July saw the first of our Children’s Activities and Young Marvels events, which continued into August. Thanks must go to the tireless efforts of Mary, Frances and their band of (mostly) willing volunteers, for delivering such a great programme of activities. The Young Marvels activities were delivered on the theme of Medieval Moray, while other drop-in activity sessions were run on themes from the Vikings to the Victorians. It was great to see such a good attendance at these events, which were enjoyed by all, and to see our Young Marvels membership increase to 224! We would take the opportunity to thank The Art Society (formerly NADFAS) for their generous support of this summer’s Young Marvels project.
In June, our focus moved to Forres as the University of Lancaster’s Dr Leif Isaksen led an excavation on Cluny Hill, supported by Elgin Museum’s Year of HHA project, to find out more about this possible prehistoric fort. The excavation allowed locals to try their hand at excavation and archaeological survey; three free guided walks of the site were delivered (and oversubscribed!); and a number of local school groups has their first experience of a real “dig”.
May began with a finds identification day, with a representative from the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit.
We also held our first late night opening event of the year, to celebrate the Festival of Museums, where we showcased our magnificent geology & fossil collections and offered a variety of dinosaur-themed crafts, including dinosaur origami, and even a dinosaur “photo booth” which was a real hit with the crowds.
HHA Guided Tour of Kinloss Abbey
May ended with the first of our outside activities – a guided tour of Kinloss Abbey. The event was oversubscribed, and enjoyed by all – we even managed to offer a “live” video of part of the tour through Twitter/Periscope, which is now available to view on our dedicated YouTube channel.
April ended with a Viking invasion where record numbers of visitors attended the museum to participate in various Viking-themed craft activities and meet Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Jarl Squad.
Easter Holidays Family Drop-in Activities
In April we hosted the first of our Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology family drop-in activities. Over two days, more than 200 children and adults “dropped-in” to try their hand at throwing their own prehistoric pots and creating their own Neolithic carved stone balls out of clay. Some wonderful artworks were created, lots more “Young Marvels” joined up, and a good time was had by all! More family drop-in activities and Young Marvels activities are planned for the summer – keep up to date online and via Twitter and Facebook.
Season Opening 2017
It’s no joke – 1st of April saw the Museum reopening for the season, with an April Fool’s Day theme complete with jesters, jokes and jugglers (thanks to Theatre Modo‘s circus skills workshops). We had craft activities, a jester treasure hunt and more – thanks to all who attended!
2016-17 Winter Lecture Series – “What is Europe?”
March ended with another of our series of Winter Lectures, this time from Dr Lester Borley discussing the Cultural Landscape of Europe. His talk was fully illustrated and put forward the stance that Europe is not divided west to east (which is the common perception), but is really divided north to south, and looked at the geomorphology of Europe as well as the religious and cultural interrelationships which have developed over time.
Embroidering the Past – new exhibition launch
On Friday 31st March, textile artist Ruth Black’s new exhibition exploring the Pictish stones of Moray was officially launched to a specially invited audience. The exhibition, which runs until the 28th April 2017, employs many different textile techniques to explore the wealth of Pictish sculpture in the area. Ruth is a textile artist specialising in embroidery, felt making and weaving, with a particular interest in Celtic & Pictish art which she translates into designs for a wide variety of wearable art and items for the home.
Launching the Year of history, Heritage & Archaeology 2017
At the end of March, we officially launched our year of HLF-supported Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology programme of events with the help of Angus Robertson, MP, Richard Lochhead, MSP, and Visit Scotland’s Regional Director, Jo Robinson.
Commenting, Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said:
“The Heritage Lottery Fund is a key partner in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and it’s our ambition that people of all ages will have the chance to discover something new about the heritage they care about. We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, Elgin Museum will be opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year.”
Jo Robinson, Visit Scotland Regional Director for Moray Speyside:
“From World Heritage Sites to ancient monuments, cultural traditions to our myths, stories and legends – Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 will spotlight some of our greatest assets and icons as well as our hidden gems.
The historic environment forges connections between people and the places where they live and visit. I’m certain both visitors and locals will be inspired be the variety of things to see and do at the exciting and educational programme of activity at Elgin museum.”
Janet Trythall, Vice-President, The Moray Society:
“It’s great to have the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the exciting programme of activities and events we have planned for the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology, especially as it means we’ve been able to engage archaeological experts to run hands-on training”
2016-17 Winter Lecture Series – The Pattern and Distribution of Early Medieval Sculpture on the Spey
Also in February, we welcomed back an old friend of the Musuem, John Borland from Historic Environment Scotland. John talked to us about Pictish art in Moray, with particular reference to the Spey Valley.
A Visit from the Engineers
In February we opened our doors to some of the Engineers stationed at Kinloss Barracks, who enjoyed a guided tour of the Museum with Janet Trythall.
On Thursday 8th September, Dr Rona Walker, Regional Collections Manager (North) for Historic Environment Scotland (HES), kindly gave us a personalised tour of Elgin Cathedral.
The visit was a follow-on to the donation by the Museum of a collection of carved stone originating from the Cathedral that had been languishing in our cellar for many years. After detailed study and recording by carved stone specialist, Dr Mary Markus, the stone fragments are now housed in the “Bishop’s House” where they are available for study and comparison with other Cathedral stones. The Museum also has a collection of Medieval glass from the Cathedral, now on loan to the Cathedral and forming part of a new and stunning display.
It was wonderful to learn more about the Cathedral, as well about the construction of the new exhibition and the huge amount of work that Dr Walker and her HES colleagues have put in to bring it together. The stones and medieval stained glass are beautifully and innovatively displayed within the Cathedral towers, and the brilliantly imaginative display of “Bishop Archie”, created in association with Napier University (Edinburgh), has to be seen to be believed! Even the “biblical” rain couldn’t dampen our spirits on the day!
August 2016 – Young Marvels Trades Banners project
We have been running a special project for our junior membership, the Young Marvels, based on the theme of the ‘Incorporated Trades of Elgin’. This has involved the children and their parents making modern day ‘Trades’ banners. The project ran for six weeks over the summer holidays and resulted in a march around Elgin Town Centre on 9th August 2016 to show off the banners that have been made. This was followed by a ‘Trades Trail’ for families in conjunction with the C2C2C Project.
After much discussion, five modern day ‘Trades’ were selected by the children to focus on:
- Military – some of the parents involved are from the local RAF/Army bases
- Medical – the area has a large base of medical personnel, both military and civilian
- Sport – the local football team and sport venues in the area are popular
- Engineering – links with military and civilian engineering work
- Elgin Museum – the children thought that this was a good opportunity to showcase the museum itself
As well as creating their own banners based on these trade themes, the group learned about the conservation of an original trade’s banner in the Museum’s collection, the “Hammermen’s Banner”, from Museum Assistant Heather Townsend, and were given a short talk on the history of the Elgin Trades from Museum volunteer Sara March.
Historic Environment Scotland also very kindly sponsored a group visit to Elgin Cathedral to look at the links with the Trades that could be found within the Cathedral grounds.
The culmination of the project was the march around Elgin with the banners that the children had created. They had a hard time controlling the banners due to the strength of the wind but managed to keep their banners – and their feet – firmly grounded. One of our Young Marvels carried the replica of the Town Drum and used this to great advantage to get the attention of shoppers around the town.
The children and their parents worked really hard over the previous six weeks and we would like to thank them for their efforts and their creativity. We would also like to thank Museum volunteers Sara and Louise for their support with the project and Liz from the C2C2C project. We are looking forward to our next project with the Young Marvels – it’s going to be a challenge to top this!
On Wednesday 27th April, we at the Museum were delighted to welcome Mosstowie Primary School to the Museum. School pupils took over the running of the Museum for the day, having found out, before then, all that had to be done to welcome visitors etc during the day.
The school issued a press release for the occasion:
Press Release: Elgin Museum
Take-Over the Museum Day 2016
On Wednesday the 27 th April 2016 Mosstowie Primary School had the opportunity to run Elgin Museum. Before the day the pupils worked hard to organise their morning: tour times, practising pop-up exhibitions and learning how to promote the morning through social media. The morning started quite slowly but the Viking pop-up exhibition found themselves with quite a big audience. Miltonduff Nursery provided the pupils with a younger audience. However they were captivated by the Fossil Handling Box and exhibition, who gave them the opportunity to do some fossil rubbings. The morning flew past and the pupils thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to take the reins and run the museum. From the comments in the visitor book, they did a fantastic job!
The Dandaleith Stone
The stone arrived at the museum on 1st March 2016. It was brought by Graciela Ainsworth and two colleagues from Edinburgh where it had been conserved. Also returned were the majority of the museum’s existing carved Pictish/Early Medieval stones that had also been with Graciela for conservation. With the help of the Elgin Marble Company the Dandaleith stone was lifted into position the following day. The Elgin Marble Company provided a lifting frame and manpower free of charge and their assistance is greatly appreciated.
New shelving to display the museum’s carved Pictish/Early Medieval stones had been manufactured by Graciela Ainsworth and was assembled in the Rear Hall and the stones fixed in place. Two Burghead bull carvings together with a cast of another Burghead bull have been mounted on the wall. The display shelving has integral lighting that illuminates the stones very well. The overhead lighting has been configured to illuminate the entire reimagined display. Brown coir matting covers the dais and new interpretation panels are in place.
Opening Day 2016
As well as the excitement of opening with our new Dandaleith Stone, we also had the opening of a small exhibit in the Upper Gallery about Albert Bonici, who did much in the Sixties and Seventies to further the entertainment scene in the North of Scotland.
The exhibit was researched and assembled by David Dills, who hails from San Francisco. He had heard much of the ‘Beat’ scene created around the Park Cafe and the Two Red Shoes Ballroom, which were opened by Albert Bonici and as well as the publishing of a blog (scotbeat.wordpress.com), he wanted to display some of the artefacts from the time. To commemorate the exhibit, a local band from that time, Windy Miller came to play a short set to give us a flavour of the era. It gave an excitement to the opening day, especially when three members of Johnny and the Copycats, another group from that time, also played a few numbers.
On Saturday 16th May, the Museum held a children’s day of “Medieval Mayhem” with a total of 260 visitors in the 4 hour open period. All who visited were hugely enthusiastic about the most enjoyable day. Volunteers, dressed in medieval costume, told stories, made swords, taught medieval dancing, offered samples of medieval food.
The day was also the launch day for the new children’s club, Elgin Museum Young Marvels. 25 new members were signed up on the day and lots of application forms were taken away to fill in at home. Details of the club can be found in the membership pages of the website.
Dr Douglas G. Lockhart made further use of the Elgin Trades papers which were donated to the Museum when the Trades wound up. He gave us a most interesting talk in 2014 about some of the planned villages in north-east Scotland. His recent work on the land surveyors of Moray is presented as an article in the magazine of the Scottish Local History Forum (Issue 91 – Spring-Summer 2015), and Douglas has given a copy to the Museum Library. It is full of useful leads to local estate and town plans, and two of the illustrations are of the vignettes on Thomas Hutcheon’s Plan of Burgh of Elgin, 1855. I recommend the article as a good read.
Geology and palaeontology
Dr Sue Beardmore After 12 months of specimen and box, checking, the work in the West Store is almost complete. The fossils comprising the Recognised Collection have all been examined, listed in a new database and placed in protective material, either small cardboard trays or acid free paper. Although specimens were returned to the same grey plastic boxes they were stored in beforehand, they are now re-organised so that each box contains like-specimens. Boxes are also colour coded based on age (Middle Devonian, Upper Devonian, Permian, Triassic), with further divisions based on source locality and then type of fossil; other categories have been established for fish from unknown localities, invertebrates and plants. Most numerous by far are the fish fossils collected from places like Tynet Burn, Dipple Brae and Lethen Bar, followed by reptiles of either Permian or Triassic age from Findrassie, Spynie and Lossiemouth, forming, in short, a high diversity of vertebrate animals from only a handful of sources. All of the boxes are now accessible with stacks of no more than two high as opposed to the 12 observed at the start of the project. A final improvement, with the help of Tomas Christie and Graham Robertson, has been the moving of a stack of shelves in to an alcove, greatly improving access to an otherwise unusable stack and allowing the examination of the last few fossiliferous blocks.
The completion of work in the West Store was marked by the very successful ‘Moray Geology: Past, Present, Future’ conference. Financially, the project has gained considerable support with awards, to date, from the Geologists’ Association (Curry Fund), Palaeontological Association (meeting support) and Museums Galleries Scotland (Recognition Fund). Our final number of attendees was almost 100 from all over the UK – our attendee from Berlin got caught in a Lufthansa strike! The event, and therefore the Museum, will be publicised in a proceedings booklet, reports to the above mentioned organisations. Several further related articles have been proposed for the geo-conservation magazine ‘Earth Heritage’, geology magazine ‘Deposits’ and Palaeontological Association Newsletter. These follow a recently published article in the ‘History Scotland’ magazine describing the importance of one particular fossil of Stagonolepis robertsoni housed in Elgin Museum, albeit with a slight geographical error on the editor’s part. Elgin is not in Midlothian!
After the publications and reports have been completed my contract at Elgin will be finished. I hope to remain in the area until the end of May to see any local sites I have not yet visited. Beyond this I have no firm plans but believe a holiday is in order, perhaps to America for more fossil excavations in the deserts of southern Utah or somewhere quieter to finish up various publications still awaiting my attention. In any case, I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their help during my stay.
Dandaleith Pictish Stone
I am delighted to be able to announce that Elgin Museum has been allocated a rare treasure, the Dandaleith Stone, a Class I Pictish Stone which was uncovered by a farmer in a field at Dandaleith, near Craigellachie.
The Class I Pictish symbol stone was found in May 2013 during ploughing at Dandaleith Farm, near Craigellachie. The stone, a solid pink granite boulder, measures 0.5 x 1.68 x 0.36m and weighs c.670kg. It has incised decoration on two adjoining faces; the other two faces show no obvious signs of carving. Face 1 is incised with a large crescent, with crescent and V-rod below. Face 2 is incised with a mirror case symbol, with notch rectangle and Z-rod below. The stone may be unique in having two pairs of symbols carved on the same orientation on two adjoining faces. The stone has been conserved before going on display at the Museum. Due to delays in organisation of funding, it is doubtful that it will go on show until after the upcoming seasonal opening.
The stone will be a wonderful addition to our existing collection of carved stone and the stone will be got into place as soon as we have overcome the problem of raising necessary funding and solving the logistical problems of transporting it to Elgin and getting it in situ in the Museum.
We are delighted that the Museum continues to be a useful resource for many students and researchers. It is good that the collection is able to be used to help with research on Scotland and its history.
Chris Stewart-Moffitt , Masters student from Bute, studying our Neolithic stone balls for his dissertation
Dr Keith Bland, entomologist from National Museums Scotland with Martin Cook, Moray and Nairn Bird Recorder and Elgin Museum volunteer, curating, cataloguing and rationalising our entomology collection.