The Early Museums of Falkirk

Falkirk Museum was late on the Scottish scene.  Other town authorities and benefactors across central Scotland, at places such as Alloa, Airdrie, Linlithgow, Paisley, and Stirling all had museums decades before the prosperous town of Falkirk established one in the 1920s.  There were, of course, many private museums in the Falkirk district even in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but these tended to be an odd mix of curios.  One of the more famous and historically valuable collections was that of James Bruce, the Abyssinian Traveller, kept in Kinnaird House.  A visitor in September 1792 wrote that Bruce:

“was obliging enough to accompany us to his museum and to direct his librarian to search for such objects as he thought likely to interest our curiosity.  Upon many of them he himself commented in a very agreeable manner, relating at the same time several little incidents and anecdotes connected with the occasions of procuring them, which enhanced both our entertainment and information.  This repository occupies a large room, and its valuable furniture is arranged in a number of neat glazed cabinets, each having a cupboard below it, beautifully painted with the figure of some curious object of natural history, described by Mr Bruce in his African tour, many of them found on the coasts of the Red Sea and the Nile.  This museum consists, as you will imagine, not solely of articles from the animal, mineral, or vegetable kingdoms, of curious petrifactions, lusus naturae & c, but has many rare specimens of art, distinguished by their singularity or exquisite workmanship, and lastly a collection of Abyssinian and Arabian manuscripts.  As after a cursory survey of some thousand articles, without an opportunity of making notes whilst the objects are before the eye, it is impossible to be sure, that the curious may not have escaped the memory, I find little inclination to specify those, which mine may have retained.  If I mention among the petrifactions, a horse’s knee agatized, or speak of stones more curiously reticulated than perhaps most other collections can exhibit, it is with the mortification of having forgotten many things more worthy of curiosity.  Ores of every description you will naturally anticipate.  The variety and splendour of the shells, not to mention the novelty of many of them is scarcely to be equalled elsewhere.  Among the reptile kind, none perhaps more deservedly claimed our notice than the serpent consulted in divination; but of that you know Mr Bruce has particularly treated in his book.  Anything relative to the Nile, the object of the Abyssinian traveller was sure to attach every spectator, and Mr Bruce himself seemed not unpleasantly interested in displaying his invention, to measure the rise and fall of that river, a brazen bar with a graduated scale ingeniously converted to that purpose from some cramps used in the arches of Egyptian cisterns.  Nor did he, perhaps with less feeling, call our attention to the hilt of a spear marked by bullets discharged at himself, but fortunately missing aim, in an encounter with a desperate banditti of assassins and robbers.  Had Horace himself been at our elbow, and viva voce, sounded in our ears.

Nil admirari prope res est unanumici & c, it had been impossible not to have felt a paroxysm of admiration, when next, we beheld two cups made from horns of the very bullock, who roared through them as sounds of welcome to the bloody banquet, furnished from his own living flesh, to the Royal epicures of Gondar; two cups turned by the delicate hand of one of his Abyssinian Majesty’s daughters and presented by herself to Mr Bruce, as a memorial of his entertainment and reception at that polite court.”

“Before we departed, Mr Bruce obligingly accompanied us to an enclosure in his park to show us his Abyssinian sheep.  They are entirely white, except their heads, which are black.  Their tails are large, and, indeed, the animal is larger than our common sheep, and they are extremely tame.”

Another valuable collection of natural history was gathered in a specially built wing of Dunipace House by the noted naturalist JA Harvie-Brown.  As well as collecting the specimens he published papers on Scottish wildlife and his records are still used as a source for early species observations.  The collection included stuffed birds and animals as well as eggs, insects, and the like.  These were backed up by a vast library of books on natural history.  To house this collection he had a library annex added to the west end of the house in 1892.  Only five years later, in January 1897, a fire believed to have started in this wing, gutted the building –

Doubtless the most serious loss involved is the destruction of the museum and its contents – the gathering of a lifetime – which was not only of private but of great public value, and which cannot be replaced. 

(Falkirk Herald 13 January 1897).
Illus: Dunipace House with the Museum Wing on the left.

Other landowners kept copious volumes and manuscripts of their own family history.  Alexander Baillie of Castlecary, the well-known antiquary and genealogist, had papers not just of his own clan but many others and was often consulted on them.  The Livingstones of Westquarter had good reason to be proud of that family’s long history and its association with the Livingstones of Callendar House.  Over the generations it accumulated a remarkable assortment of historic items, such as family portraits, in Westquarter House.  When Major Livingstone inherited the property in the late 19th century he converted a good part of the interior into a museum, greatly augmenting the contents with weapons of all kinds from his travels abroad.

Museums were not the sole prerogative of the landed classes and businessmen also set up eclectic collections of curiosities, often derived from trips abroad.  There was a vogue for shells and eggs in the nineteenth century.  One collection, that of Mr Gibson, was occasionally made available to schools.  In April 1849 130 pupils of the Falkirk Charity School visited this private museum in the Pleasance which contained almost 2,000 “rare and interesting objects.”  Gibson conducted a tour through the hall explaining the specimens of animals on display (Falkirk Herald 12 April 1849, 2).

From the 1870s the concept of public libraries and museums took a strong hold in Scotland and in 1886 Walter Towers of Bonnybridge wrote into the local newspaper in support of a library and museum for Falkirk (Falkirk Herald 29 May 1886, 3).  They were seen as a cultural imperatives and useful educational tools.  Rev Aitchison of the Erskine Church took up the call and promoted the establishment of a local museum, noting the great benefit that artisans gained from seeing splendid examples of locally made products on display.  His pleas were to no avail.  No private benefactor stepped forward and the town council had other priorities.  In the absence of a local museum discoveries of historic objects had been donated to the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh.  In 1830, for example, William Grosart presented that society with a sword found on the 1746 battlefield at Falkirk the day after the action.  This pattern of handing over new finds continued for the rest of the century.  In 1888 the pattern shaft of the Charlotte Dundas steamboat was saved from destruction by Mr Salvesen and gifted to the same collection.

Museums were growing in popularity and became useful assets for those raising funds for new church buildings.  Many a bazaar in the 1890s and early twentieth century had “museums” consisting of curios lent by private individuals for the purpose.  Items from the British Empire were plentiful and in the Falkirk area material from India or Africa seemed exotic.  There were also plenty of ex-military men around who could lend the odd weapon picked up on some foreign battlefield.  At a bazaar for Falkirk Parish Church in 1891 the medal awarded to Robert Boyd from Grahamston, who was a gunner on HMS Shannon when she faced the American ship called the ‘Chesapeake’ in 1813, was a stirring reminder of the glory days.

The range of items displayed at the museum in the Trinity Evangelical Union Church sale in 1894 is interesting and instructive:

  • an old watch worn by the poet Burns
  • a model ship made on board the Victory by a French prisoner
  • a Chinese ornament made of coins
  • a copy of the Star newspaper bearing the date 23 June 1814
  • a knife, fork and spoon combined, which was stated to have once been the property of Burke of Burke and Hare notoriety, and to be used by him at dinner while working as a navvy making the Union Canal
  • a silver verge watch which belonged to Sir John Moore, and was stated to have been taken by him to the Battle of Corunna
  • a large snuff-box made out of the knot of a tree, the property of James Frew, Grahamston, bearing the following inscription: “From James Frew, to his son Thomas, April, 1853.”
  • bank notes issued by the Union Bank, Falkirk, dated 1814 and 1815
  • bank note issued by Carron Company dated 1794
  • picture made of hair
  • picture of Falkirk High Street from Beanmarket Close to the Steeple 60 years ago
  • candlesticks made of mahogany mounted with brass, 149 years old
  • a piece of wood from the Charlotte Dundas, the first steamer, built in 1801
  • a rustic chair, 168 years old
  • a digger used in the Crimean War
  • a Chinese visiting card and Chinese tray
  • sword found at the Indian Mutiny
  • Chinese shoes
  • an Indian carwell found on the battlefield during the Indian Mutiny by one of the 79th Highlanders
  • a piece of the Atlantic cable
  • a sea horse from the Adriatic Sea
  • a pair of shoes worn by a captain under Admiral Napier at the battle of Trafalgar
  • a glass bottle dated 1756, and another 200 years old, & c.

(Falkirk Herald 28 April 1894, 5).

Schools realised that showing and handling objects was a good way to teach history and technology and so in the 1890s many of the local schools started their own collections.  These were dependent upon the enthusiasm of the teachers.  In April 1892 the Bothkennar School Board agreed to defray the cost of the formation of a school museum there.  W.S. Stevenson was the headmaster and a keen believer in the benefits of such a collection.  The following February he presented a lecture on “The School Museum,” which was followed by a short paper on the subject to the Falkirk and District Teachers’ Association.  Soon there were museums in most schools.  That these objects captured the children’s imagination is shown by a spate of school break-ins where the only objects stolen or damaged were in the museum chests.  The private school at Blairlodge received a constant stream of souvenirs from its former pupils on their travels abroad.  Many served as officers in the army and military paraphernalia from scenes of conflict in South Africa and India arrived in Polmont.

Individual councillors were deeply interested in local history and the establishment of a museum in Falkirk was widely discussed.  Bailie Mitchell may well have had the backing to get it up and running but died before it had a chance.  In 1898 the Falkirk Library Committee enviously noted that Airdrie had just built a library and museum.  As Victoria Park was being developed at this time it was suggested that a museum in Thornbank House, which the Council had acquired with the property, could be used as a museum to provide an added attraction to what was then simply a large field.

Letters began to appear in the Falkirk Herald asking why a town the size of Falkirk with so much history did not have a museum.  Often the comments came from Bairns who had moved out of the district in order to pursue successful careers.  Seeing what had been achieved elsewhere they pushed for a public library and museum in their home town.  Amongst these was Charles Green, an eminent designer working in Sheffield.  He suggested:

a room or small hall for a museum (not of odds and ends, but of objects carefully selected, and arranged in some rational order, with a view to useful instruction)” 

It did not need to be in the town centre and could be incorporated into the hall proposed by Major Dobbie at Larbert (Falkirk Herald 25 March 1899).  His letter to the newspaper was supported by Robert Barr who lived at Arnotdale House.  Nothing happened.

Illus: The Camelon Forgery, photographed by J C Brown.

Public awareness of the historic environment was greatly increased by archaeological excavations at Rough Castle and Camelon.  The Mariners of Camelon had been particularly proud of their Roman heritage and since the late 18th century had referred to the small village as a city on the back of it.  Whilst not keen for the objects to be displayed in Falkirk they were even more disappointed to find that they were taken away to Edinburgh.  In 1901 a remarkable Roman gravestone was discovered on a building site of what therefore became the Roman Bar in Camelon.  It depicts a cavalryman riding down a barbarian and was recorded by J C Brown, photographer, at the County Buildings in Falkirk where it had been taken for safekeeping by Mr Gair, the procurator fiscal.  Before long it was claimed for the Society of Antiquaries as Treasure Trove and removed to Edinburgh – another treasure lost.  As it happens the stone was a forgery and one cannot help wondering if it was deliberately made to highlight the losses to the Falkirk area.

In February 1903 the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society was formed.  Amongst its aims were :

the publication of such papers, lists, and catalogues as may be desirable: the formation of a library and museum when deemed expedient; and the adoption all such means as may contribute to the common knowledge of the members.”

Over the next decade the Society held a regular series of talks and walks, promoting the local heritage.  The leading figures in the Society were professional businessmen with influential contacts and slowly the idea of a public museum in the town of Falkirk became accepted policy.  The implementation was set back by the First World War.

It was a question of how to pay for it and it needed someone within the Town Council to push it.  As was often the case, it was decided to start small and grow the institution on a low budget taking advantage of whatever opportunities arose.  The new champion was Provost J G Russell who had been accustomed to managing on a small income.  Using his contacts he persuaded J P Smith, JP, Larbert to donate a glass case in 1920 to the Town Council to start the museum.  Through the Falkirk Herald, Russell than launched an appeal on behalf of the ratepayers for relics of Falkirk’s ancient associations and for more cases.  A few gentlemen did donate items for display though these seem to have been a mixed lot.  Many were the type of curios formerly shown at the church bazaars.  Sufficient were collected to make the Council provide the provost with powers to make temporary arrangements for museum accommodation in November 1921.  The timing was opportune.  Provost Russell had been liaising with Robert Dollar over the gift of Arnotdale House to the Town and this had just come to fruition, creating Dollar Park.  The small estate was to be used for recreational purposes and resulted in the installation of tennis courts, a pitch and put course and a performance area for bands.  The house was seen as an obvious venue for the museum and an art gallery.  However, there were competing demands from other council services and the economic recession made resources scarce.  A massive housing improvement and building programme meant that Arnotdale House was utilised as offices for the Burgh Engineer’s Department and for the Sanitary Engineer.  The arrangement was supposed to be temporary – but in Falkirk that could be a long time.

The museum project was kept alive by the lobbying of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society.  In July 1922 it was announced that the Society would classify the articles presented to the museum and as a consequence the Town Council appointed a Museum Committee to take it forward.  The Committee consisted of Provost Russell and Bailies Muirhead and Gilchrist.  The case donated by J P Smith, along with several others, was moved to Arnotdale so that the work could proceed.

The Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society included some very knowledgeable historians and antiquarians.  James Love had done much to promote local history with the publication of his popular research in the local newspaper.  Over the years he had been given sculptured stones from demolished buildings in the town centre and these now made their way into the museum.  Mungo Buchanan had taken part in the excavations at Rough Castle and Camelon and was a leading authority on the Romans and his knowledge of the objects would be useful.  He had been in charge of the archaeological displays at the Glasgow exhibition in 1911 and in 1919 had been appointed as curator of the Carnegie Museum in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline, a position he held for two years.  Sam Smith of Mumrills was also a capable archaeologist.  These two would have managed the Roman collection between them but they could also call upon the assistance of J Graham Callander, the Director of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, who was a Falkirk Bairn.  A close working relationship with that museum continues to this day.

Whilst this team was working behind the scenes Bronze Age and Roman burials were found on the north side of Nailer Road near Camelon Railway Station in April 1922.  News of this remarkable find spread quickly throughout Camelon, and the scene of the discovery was visited by hundreds of interested people.  It showed the potential both in terms of public engagement and of discoveries to come.  In January 1921 a Bronze Age cist had also been found in Hamilton Street in Camelon.

Mungo Buchanan died in June 1923 and bequeathed his large collection of antiquities to the museum at Falkirk.  At the same time, ex-provost John Russel gifted a valuable dinner service of silver plate to the town.  Without anywhere to display it the decorative silverware was placed under lock and key and insured for £1,000.  Something had to be done about opening the long-awaited museum to the public and as a result of external pressure the burgh engineer was instructed in September 1923 to have the room in Arnotdale in which the antiquities were stored done up as a temporary museum.  Things continued to advance slowly.  In June 1924 Provost Muirhead intimated that it was the desire to have a small museum in the house in the park opened on as early a date as possible.  It would probably be opened on an afternoon and they would have a lecture from the head of the Glasgow Museum on that occasion.  Their desire was to turn the Dollar Park into a pleasure ground or pleasure palace to suit the tastes and desires of everyone.  Five cases were purchased at a cost £68.  In August Judge Russell brought together a fine collection of relics of the Great War and Firemaster Buchan contributed material.  Worked stones were transferred from the Burgh Engineer’s yard.  In November the cases arrived and the members of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society were able to begin the task of arranging and classifying the exhibits and electric lighting was installed.  Robert Dollar approved of these moves and presented to the Dollar Park Museum three signed volumes of his book entitled “Memoirs of Robert Dollar.”

With the museum now a real possibility more donations of objects arrived, including a piece of oak wood from the original roof of Glasgow Cathedral.  More pertinently, James Love had received 38 signed copies of illustrations from the celebrated artist William Gibb as a result of an article that he had written on “The Relics of the Royal House of Stewart” for the Falkirk Herald.  Gibb had been born in Laurieston and although resident in London still received the newspaper.  He also sent ten signed copies of his drawings of “Musical Instruments, Historic, Rare, and Unique.”  These Love handed over to the museum and they were prominently featured.  November 1925 saw the donation by the Falkirk Iron Company of a beautiful cast of a stag which was made by the Company for exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851.  This very fine piece of work was made by J Sands one of the most outstanding moulders in the country.  It is still on show.

D K Paterson was made honorary curator of the Dollar Park Museum and with the help of the committee of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society the exhibits were made ready for the opening on 8 May 1926.  The opening ceremony was to have been performed by Mr R Lockhart Bryden, curator, Glasgow Art Galleries and Museums, but he was unable to be present owing to the difficulties of transport.  Instead he sent a small model of Arthur’s Oven for display.  His place was taken by Mr Thomas McGrouther, president of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society, Provost Gilchrist presiding (Falkirk Herald 15 May 1926, 4).  The Buchanan Bequest formed the bulk of the early section of the display but thanks to Andrew Craig and Thomas McGrouther there was a sizeable nucleus of a collection of Roman and Scottish coins.

The following February the Dollar Park Museum was given a boost when J Hart of Radio Supplies in Falkirk’s High Street passed on a model transmitter which he had been given the previous September  by John Logie Baird, the pioneer of television.

Initially the museum was open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons between the hours of three and five.  No individual seems to have been employed as a custodian and the room was opened by the park’s head gardener, John Watt, who having checked the exhibits continued with his normal work casting the odd wary eye back to the building.  He then returned to lock up.  New donations were made through Watt.  In 1930 the long-time supporter of the museum, Ian Craig of Hull, donated 17 communion tokens, thus starting a part of the collection which was to grow into one of the largest in Scotland.  Those first tokens were placed in Case “D” – each case having been allocated a letter so that self-guided tours could be used.

D K. Paterson moved to Paisley in 1930 and that summer asked to be relieved of the post of honorary curator.  The Town Council offered to pay his travelling expenses and so he agreed to continue.  Over the winter Paterson supervised the rearrangement of the displays necessitated by the additional material available.  All the Roman and prehistoric exhibits were placed in the four central cases, and the coins, trade tokens and communion tokens were given a new case to themselves with plenty of natural light.  There was still only a single room but it was agreed that the following year the museum would also open on Wednesday and Saturday evenings from 6.30 to 8.30 during the months of May, June, July and August, in order to give working people a chance of visiting.  An attendant had to be hired for these occasions.  John Watt remained as the “manager.”  Between 1926 and 1932 the collection and displays trebled in size.

In July 1933 the public was shocked by the theft of two daggers from one of the sealed cases in the museum room at Arnotdale.  The robbery occurred during the Wednesday afternoon opening in broad daylight.  The lid had been carefully unscrewed.  One of the stolen daggers was a handsome specimen of a Serbian weapon adorned with a beautifully ornamented handle, presented to the museum by Pipe-Major Honeyman of Larbert.  The other was a German weapon used in the Great War.  The loss was immediately reported to the local police and a hue and cry raised creating considerable public indignation.  A few days later an unaddressed parcel was dropped into the pillar box at the General Post Office in Vicar Street.  With the view of ascertaining either whence it had come or to whom it was intended to be despatched the post office staff opened the packet and found two daggers similar to those which had been reported as stolen from the Dollar Park Museum.  The police were informed and John Watt was asked to call and say whether or not he could identify the weapons as those which were missing from the Museum.  This he did (Falkirk Herald 15 & 19 July 1933, 7).

In October that year the curator appealed to the public to hand over any of the Roman coins that had been spirited away by workmen at the time that the huge hoard was found in the Bell’s Meadow.  D K Paterson was given permission to offer such men an amnesty from prosecution as the coins should have been given in at the time of discovery in accordance with the laws of Treasure Trove.  Two coins duly appeared and within weeks were displayed in Case E.

More discoveries arose from the extensive programme of council house construction.  In October 1933 workmen dug up an old piece of iron at the Thornhill housing scheme.  After cleaning it was identified as a bayonet of the mid 18th century and it therefore seemed likely that it had been used at the Battle of Falkirk in 1746.  It too went on show.

At the end of the 1934 season, in September, D K Paterson resigned and on his recommendation his place was taken by Douglas Leishman.  DK Paterson also suggested that the museum should be attended by the caretaker all the time it was open to the public and this was also agreed to.  For his years of service Paterson was awarded an honorarium of five guineas.

The collections continued to grow, especially with the help of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society which was now more active in the field.  To reflect this change the name of the organisation was changed to the Falkirk Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1935.  It helped in the recovery of coats-of-arms from Westquarter House and an article about these by R. L. Hunter, the president, appeared in the Society’s new journal.  A carved stone was also removed from a boundary wall at Parkhill by the Society and gifted to the museum by Miss Gray-Buchanan.  It had been part of a Roman funerary monument associated with the nearby fort at Mumrills.  Yet another stone came from a building being demolished in the Pleasance.  Hunter arranged for the Burgh Engineer to recover it.  The corbel stone depicted a human head, probably that of St John the Baptist, and stylistically dated to the first half of the 15th century.  It had evidently come from the south transept of the parish church.

The museum was now a source of civic pride and it was clear that its mere existence was encouraging further activity and research.  Grangemouth, though an 18th century creation, decided to follow suit and in April 1939 the Library Committee of the recently extended Victoria Public Library appealed for articles to form a museum.  This was delayed by the Second World War

Illus: The 15th century corbel stone over a late 17th century doorway in the Pleasance, Falkirk, c1930.

Those living through these momentous years realised that they were historically significant.  Some museums actively sought material related to the Home Front at the time and in Falkirk 15 year old Elizabeth Mackie of Pleasance Gardens offered the Dollar Park Museum an apron that she had made to raise money for the local Spitfire fund as a relic of the people’s efforts in the war.  She made the patchwork apron with a thousand pockets.  Embroidered around the waistband in red were the words “Falkirk Spitfire Fund”.  She then carried it from door to door devoting an hour each day to the task.  Many admired the apron and few refused to donate – a coin for each pocket.  Each was sewn in place and each day it got heavier.  When all of the apron pockets had been filled the coins were removed and handed over, totalling £17 10s 7d (Falkirk Herald 28 December 1940).

Not all gifts were so appropriate and after the war many items with no direct connection to the area were taken in.  More space was required and in 1949 the other room at the front of Arnotdale House was made available.  A reassessment was called for.  Miss Anne S. Robertson, Curator of the Hunterian Museum of the University of Glasgow, was asked to produce a report on the way forward. She indicated that a considerable amount of work would be required if the Museum was to be restored to some order and kept in proper condition.  This could only be done adequately by the appointment of a caretaker or curator who would spend all or most of their time in the museum and have the use of a workroom for cleaning, repairing, mounting and labelling of specimens.  She also indicated the arrangement and treatment which might be adopted for the two rooms now available and submitted plans showing the proposals.  The report was considered by a sub-committee of Falkirk Council consisting of Bailie Middlemas, Provost Symon, Bailie Stewart and Councillor Forbes who accepted most of the recommendations.  As a preliminary, an invitation was placed in the local Press for applications from suitable persons to catalogue, arrange and prepare the museum, the showcases, and other material required.  The sub-committee were also of opinion that the salary for such an appointment, which would be a temporary one, should be adjusted according to the qualifications of the applicant appointed, and they recommended accordingly (Falkirk Herald 27 April 1949). 

Bailie John Stewart had published a well-researched series of articles in the Falkirk Herald on the history of Falkirk and in 1940 they appeared as a book called “Falkirk; its Origin and Growth – a History of the Burgh.”  He was clearly the moving force behind the museum development which stalled when he died just a few weeks after they had been approved.  It was March 1951 before a suitable candidate was appointed to the post of curator.  The Falkirk Herald looked forward to the result:

Those who remember the museum when it did open occasionally before the war will recall that the exhibits were piled up in array like the goods in a Dickensian curiosity shop.  To make matters worse, they were crowded into one room.  Now, I understand, an additional room is to be provided, and the many interesting exhibits will be arranged in such a way that they can be readily examined”

(28 March 1951).

The curator was Miss Doreen Hunter, daughter of R. L. Hunter.  She had studied archaeology and assisted her father in his excavations at Torwood Broch and Mumrills Roman fort and expressed a desire that the archaeological features of interest in the Falkirk area should be faithfully mirrored in the Dollar Park Museum.  The emphasis on the local area was also to be reflected in the historical items to be displayed.  The two rooms at Arnotdale were redecorated, fluorescent lighting installed, along with fans and heating.  A sink, bench and shelving were provided for the workroom and £8 was spent on chemicals, laboratory equipment, ironmongery and drysaltery.  One of the most expensive items was the new display cases.  The re-organised displays were officially opened on 30 October 1951 and the hours were extended to cover Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 6pm.  Again the Falkirk Herald stressed the improvements:

: “It is an offspring of the museum which was formerly housed at Arnotdale, but under the critical direction of the curator, Miss Doreen Hunter, it is no longer the victim of haphazard accumulations and gifts.  Miss Hunter has wisely sought to systematize the exhibits, and much that was tawdry has been banished.  Visitors who remember the old museum for instance, will look in vain for the stuffed owls and pickled snakes, the models of the Taj Mahal, and all the clutter of Victorian curios.  Instead, they will find that the museum has taken on a fresh interest and that the exhibits are presented with a dignity which is rarely to be seen in the smaller municipal museums.”

It continued: “Falkirk’s industrial achievements are not forgotten.  The rudder of the “Charlotte Dundas,” the first practical steamship, the engines for which were made at Falkirk, is one interesting link with the past. 

Illus: Sir Ian Bolton re-opening the Dollar Park Museum on 30 October 1951 with Doreen Hunter in the foreground.

There are examples of moulding, showing to what a high pitch of craftsmanship the Falkirk foundrymen can attain.  One striking example of the iron-workers’ art is a beautifully designed stag by J. Sands, which was shown at the 1851 exhibition, and which has been presented to the museum by the Falkirk Iron Company.  No doubt there are in the Falkirk foundries or elsewhere, many more examples of the art and craft of the pattern-maker and moulder.  It is hoped to extend the museum as soon as possible – with the provision of additional office accommodation either at Glebe Street or Westbank for the municipality it should become possible to release the whole of Arnotdale for housing the town’s museum – and it would be well to collect as many industrial exhibits for the benefit of posterity as possible now before they are irretrievably lost.”

(Falkirk Herald 31 October 1951).

The Natural History and ethnological collections which formed a feature of the old museum were put into storage for future display.  Some of this foreign material also went into a “Children’s Room” at the back of the house.  The exhibits were not to be static and special displays were to be made from time to time.  It was expressly stated that the policy of the museum was to carry out research on its objects and any in private collections.  It would encourage individual research into the burgh’s past.  It was also hoped to organise field work in the summer months and archaeological volunteers were sought.

Illus: Sir Ian Bolton OBE Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire at the re-opening in 1951.  Amongst those attending were Provost Andrew Wallace; RBK Stevenson, curator of the National Museum of Antiquities; Stuart Maxwell, assistant curator of the National Museum; Richard Feachem of the RCAHMS; RJC Atkinson of the Archaeology Department of Edinburgh University; Dr Allan, Royal Scottish Museum; Ann Robertson, Hunterian Museum; Robert Broom, local historian; and Dr James S Richardson late of the Office of Works.
Illus: Room 1 featuring the Roman and prehistoric displays.  The objects were supported by maps, plans, diagrams and models.

The Victoria and Albert Museum was also circulating exhibitions and in 1954 an exhibition of the work of some of the most important French and English sculptors of the century was staged at the Dollar Park Museum.  Though the pieces were necessarily comparatively small they included work by Henry Moore.  This was followed by another exhibition, also from the V & A, of British prehistoric pottery.

The following year, 1955, the Sanitary Inspector’s Department and the Burgh Engineer’s Department moved from Arnotdale to Westbank and it was decided to allocate the two ground floor rooms at the back of the house to the museum in addition to the two at the front.

Doreen Hunter soon became a well-known and prominent personage.  She was often called out to look at discoveries on building sites throughout the area and undertook her own archaeological excavations in the summer, including those on the important 16th century pottery kilns at Stenhouse.  In June 1953 she was the first lady to speak at the weekly luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Grangemouth.  In March 1954 she approached the Director of Education with a suggestion that she might organise a travelling school museum service and visit secondary schools in the county and give talks in them.

Illus: Doreen Hunter in Room 2 given over to the later historic material (image – Falkirk Herald 19 February 1955, 5).

One of these, the cloakroom, was for the industrial collection and the other for natural history.  Looking to the future, the use of the upper floor as an art gallery was also considered.  In October the museum closed for three months to allow the alterations to take place.  New specimens had to be purchased for the natural history section as those already in the collection were mostly faded and dishevelled, nor were they representative of the local fauna.  This room was popular with school classes and youth clubs.

Writing of these years Robert Hunter, Doreen’s brother, said:

It was her particular delight to talk about archaeology and local history to school children who wandered into the museum”. 

One of these was John Reid, whose research into local history is well known.  School visits restarted in 1958.  Her own research had included transcribing the Burgh Court Records and the Town Council looked into the possibility of publishing this.  Doreen Hunter had overseen the revival of the museum at Falkirk and now started to look around for a professional post in one of the national museums or universities to advance her own career.  In February 1964 she took up the position of research assistant at the General Register House in Edinburgh.

The appointment of a new curator was delayed, and, following an advisory visit by SMK Henderson on behalf of the Museums Association and the Carnegie Trust, a report was produced recommending museum expansion and, on completion of the new Municipal Buildings in West Bridge Street, for the museum to be located in the old Burgh Buildings in Newmarket Street, Falkirk.  The project, however, failed to materialise.  Arnotdale became a day centre for the elderly and, under the supervision of the Council for Museums and Galleries, the museum collection was boxed by Mr F Shearer and stored in the Stable Block of Callendar House.

Meanwhile the small museum at Grangemouth Library had also been developed.  A local man, Robert Porteous, was made honorary curator and a major library extension in 1964 allowed him to re-organise the displays which were in the reference room up the stairs.  Over the following years he did much research and in 1968 published a book on Grangemouth’s Ancient Heritage, followed three years later by Grangemouth’s Modern History

In 1972 the Librarian, Alex Howson, supported by the Falkirk Arts & Civic Council, re-opened the issue of a museum and a professional museum curator for the town.  At this point a new library and museum facility was proposed at a site located in the centre of the town.  In December 1973 John M Sanderson took up the post of curator but the bid for the new premises failed and temporary premises were provided in Orchard Street, Falkirk, and for the first time it was known as “Falkirk Museum.”  The old Dollar Park Museum collection was found to consist of the contents of one hundred cardboard boxes of which 40% were considered to be curios of limited value.  The storage place at the old stable was not secure and some had gone missing.  Some of the stuffed animals and birds had to be disposed of as they had deteriorated in the damp conditions.  The premises at 15 Orchard Street had the benefit of being within a short walking distance of the town centre and the ground floor was converted into display areas using new cases, the bases of which were constructed by an in-house joiner (the tops being all glass with no wooden frame).  It opened to the public in 1975.

It was in 1975 that, as a result of local government re-organisation, the museum became a district service within a new department of Libraries and Museums.  The museum at Grangemouth Library now fell within its remit.  Robert Porteous had died in 1973 and few records existed relating to the collection there.  The room had been closed to the public and it was refurbished and opened in 1977, initially staffed by the library.

Illus: Kinneil Museum.

The old coach-house on the Kinneil Estate which formed a park on the western edge of Bo’ness had been renovated for use as a museum by Bo’ness Town Council in 1973/74 and now fell to be filled.  The Library Committee at Bo’ness had been collecting material in an ad hoc way since 1902 but it only had a small collection.  One of the first tasks in 1975 was to acquire more objects for display and appeals to the public brought forth pottery made in Bo’ness – some on loan, some as donations and some was purchased.  Cast ironwork from the town was also acquired and loans were obtained from the Bo’ness Seabox Society.  Kinneil Museum opened in 1976 and immediately won a special prize at the Museum of the Year Awards.  For many years it served as the flagship of the service with travelling exhibitions staged there each year.

The commitment of the District Council to the new museum service was demonstrated with the appointment of Denise Gray as the district archaeologist.  In her first year she dealt with the discovery of Roman burials north-west of the fort at Camelon which were being destroyed by gravel quarrying.  This illustrated the importance of the role and when she sadly died in 1976 the post was retained (subsequent holders being Frances Murray (1978-1981), David Devereux (1982-1984) and Geoff Bailey (1984-2022)).  The result has been a significant increase in our knowledge of the remote past and the formation of the third largest collection of Roman material in Scotland.

One of the new curator’s first projects had been to establish a photographic collection which over the years has grown into a substantial and invaluable resource.  Photographic copying and reproduction facilities were installed.  An unusual step was taken in 1979 when a professional photographer, Tom Astbury, was hired to record the demise of the area’s industries.  This post he held until 1983, producing unique and evocative images of the district at that time.

The production of thematic surveys of this kind was further aided by the involvement of up to 40 adult and youth training personnel (MSC and YTS or YOP) between 1977 and 1987.  Surveys included the district’s ironworks, brickworks and the rural fabric.  Objects were collected as part of this work.  Large numbers of these staff catalogued the new and the existing collections and produced cross indexing.  At that time this work meant filling in thousands of cards.  It was only in 1985 that the first computer appeared on the scene and the long process of transferring the information began.

Much of the new material was of an industrial or agricultural nature and included quite large equipment.  Fortunately, an industrial unit was made available for the museum as a store in 1977 at Abbotsinch Industrial Estate in Grangemouth.  Before long Falkirk Museums had one of the largest industrial collections in the country and the store was soon filled.  So, in 1984 a larger unit just along the road was acquired and the collection moved there.  Up until then the smaller objects had been kept in the basement of Bo’ness Town hall and these were also moved to the new store.

There had been an education service since 1975 but in 1982 this was temporarily stopped due to lack of financial support from the schools.  It resumed in 1988 with the backing of the Education Authority.  In the first period it was very active and published a number of small booklets on local history such as that by Alison Massy in 1983 “The Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal” and Allan “There is a Canal.”  The museum archaeologist also produced a series of trails or guides featuring town centres and country parks.

In 1989 the Libraries and Museums Department was amalgamated with a reduced Amenity and Recreation Department to form the Leisure Services Department.  The Museum Curator was re-designated the Principal Officer Museums with additional responsibility for the District Council’s Youth Training Project.  Provost Dennis Goldie now took on the role of championing the restoration of the derelict Callendar House and its refurbishment as a district museum.  The House had been compulsory purchased by the Council in 1963 and in the early 1980s it had spent significant sums of money on making it wind and watertight.  In 1990 the Architects’ Department carried out a structural survey and over the next few years drew up plans and contracted the building work.  The scale of the project meant that the work was executed in phases and in 1993 the ground floor was opened to the public.  The first exhibition in the temporary display gallery was appropriately “Made in Falkirk” featuring many of the local industries.  Callendar House opened fully in May 1998 having cost £3.7 million.  It incorporated the headquarters of the museum, the archives, and exhibition rooms with interpretive areas for “living history.” 

Illus: Callendar House.

The latter included a watchmaker’s shop, a printing shop, a grocer’s shop and a working kitchen from the late 18th century.  The drawing room was converted into a conference room, retaining the period appearance.  Having period interiors for the entrance hall, temporary gallery, living room, conference room, library (archives), and kitchen meant that visitors who, judging from the exterior appearance, expected to see a stately home were not disappointed.  A modest entrance charge was levied to help with the maintenance of the building.

As part of the development of Callendar House the Museum Service was expanded.  In August 1992 a Museum Archivist, Elspeth Reid, took up post; a Designer, Walter Simms in 1993; and in 1994 a Collections Manager, Carol Whittaker, arrived.  For the museum Callendar House had changed everything; suddenly it had a major and imposing building set within a park, giving it a huge public profile.  However, the appointment of several people to management posts within the new departmental structure began the process of diminishing the role of heritage within the service – but that is a story for another day.


Hunter, D.M. (ed)1991The Court Book of the Barony and Regality of Falkirk and Callendar, Volume 1 1638-1656.  Stair Society.
Lettice, J1794Letters on a Tour Through Various Parts of Scotland: In the Year 1792.
Porteous, R.1994Grangemouth’s Modern History, 2nd ed.
Service, J. 2003‘Reminiscences of the Falkirk Archaeological and Natural History Society 1903-2003, Calatria 19, 79-83.

G.B. Bailey, 2022