In the first of a new collection of blogs highlighting Edinburgh's amazing art galleries and museums, I'm introducing you to a museum dedicated to all things Edinburgh - it's the Museum of Edinburgh!
This amazing building on the Canongate in the Old Town is easily overlooked. Many visitors will see the outside of the building (or the lane behind it, which has some Outlander connections) without actually taking time to explore the museum itself.
Formerly known as the Huntly House Museum, the building which houses the exhibition dates back to the late 16th century, and was known locally as 'the speaking house' because of the panels of Latin text on the front of the building. As well as its exhibition features, the museum provides a fascinating glimpse into what these historic buildings were like on the inside, offering a chance to imagine what life would have been like for people who lived in them.
Entering through a small courtyard to the left of the building on the Royal Mile, you access the first of the museum's rooms via a narrow wooden staircase. (In common with many Edinburgh attractions, and the city itself, accessibility can be problematic....) The first wood panelled room introduces a few key features of the city, including one of the original sedan chairs which formed Edinburgh's first taxi service in the late 7th century.
Nearby is an original copy of the National Covenant, signed in the 1630s as a statement against interference by the monarchy in the religious operations of the Church of Scotland.
The collection of objects on display is quite remarkable, and all of them have direct connection to Edinburgh and its inhabitants. The diversity of the exhibits is itself a reason to go exploring the museum!
In cases in the next room you can find a strange assortment of pieces which all belonged for former occupants of the city, including a spectacles case which once belonged to Protestant reformer John Knox (his spectacles are long gone), a golf ball belonging to Robert Louis Stevenson, and a wicker basket made by Adam Smith's mother!
Look out also for a piece of the tree which held the rope by which witches were 'ducked' in the Nor' Loch to assess their guilt or innocence, some sections of the old city water pipes, and what could be the original bore stone which held the flag of James IV as he assembled his troops ahead of the Battle of Flodden, in 1513...
As you explore the museum you'll move between several original buildings, and many features of the original structures survive intact, from the original windows and doorways, to primitive security features, and from fireplaces to roof beams. I often wonder what the people who lived in these properties over the last five hundred years would make of visitors strolling through today!
Special collections of artefacts are linked to Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who was born on Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town and became a major military leader of British troops in the First World War, and Edinburgh's extensive glass and pottery factories which operated in the Canongate area into the twentieth century.
You'll also find objects which are intrinsically linked to Edinburgh's history, including the original New Town plans drawn up by James Craig in the 1760s, and the collar, bowl and licence provided for Greyfriars Bobby by the lord provost of the city, William Chambers, in the 1860s.
The museum as a whole is charming and intriguing, and gives a rare opportunity to find out not just the facts about Edinburgh's history, but to see some of its historic Old Town buildings up-close and from the inside. Despite the museum being fairly small you could easily spend an hour or more browsing the exhibits, and I guarantee you'll find something to intrigue, surprise or amuse you!
The Museum of Edinburgh is well worth taking the time to explore during your visit, and like all the publicly owned museums and galleries in the city, entry is free! Check the city council's website for updated opening times, and details of any special exhibitions or events.
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