National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland is a museum of Scottish history and culture.

It was formed in 2006 with the merger of the new Museum of Scotland, with collections relating to Scottish antiquities, culture and history, and the adjacent Royal Scottish Museum (opened in 1866 as the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art, renamed in 1904, and for the period between 1985 and the merger named the Royal Museum of Scotland or simply the Royal Museum), with international collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures. The two connected buildings stand beside each other on Chambers Street, by the intersection with the George IV Bridge, in central Edinburgh. The museum is part of National Museums Scotland. Admission is free.

The two buildings retain distinctive characters: the Museum of Scotland is housed in a modern building opened in 1998, while the former Royal Museum buil...Read more

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland is a museum of Scottish history and culture.

It was formed in 2006 with the merger of the new Museum of Scotland, with collections relating to Scottish antiquities, culture and history, and the adjacent Royal Scottish Museum (opened in 1866 as the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art, renamed in 1904, and for the period between 1985 and the merger named the Royal Museum of Scotland or simply the Royal Museum), with international collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures. The two connected buildings stand beside each other on Chambers Street, by the intersection with the George IV Bridge, in central Edinburgh. The museum is part of National Museums Scotland. Admission is free.

The two buildings retain distinctive characters: the Museum of Scotland is housed in a modern building opened in 1998, while the former Royal Museum building was begun in 1861 and partially opened in 1866, with a Victorian Venetian Renaissance facade and a grand central hall of cast iron construction that rises the full height of the building, design by Francis Fowke and Robert Matheson. This building underwent a major refurbishment and reopened on 29 July 2011 after a three-year, £47 million project to restore and extend the building led by Gareth Hoskins Architects along with the concurrent redesign of the exhibitions by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

The National Museum incorporates the collections of the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. As well as the national collections of Scottish archaeological finds and medieval objects, the museum contains artefacts from around the world, encompassing geology, archaeology, natural history, science, technology, art, and world cultures. The 16 new galleries reopened in 2011 include 8,000 objects, 80 per cent of which were not formerly on display. One of the more notable exhibits is the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first successful cloning of a mammal from an adult cell. Other highlights include Ancient Egyptian exhibitions, one of Elton John's extravagant suits, the Jean Muir Collection of costume and a large kinetic sculpture named the Millennium Clock. A Scottish invention that is a perennial favourite with school parties is the Scottish Maiden, an early beheading machine predating the guillotine.

In 2019, the museum received 2,210,024 visitors, making it Scotland's most popular visitor attraction that year.

Royal Museum of the University

In 1697 Robert Sibbald presented the University of Edinburgh College of Medicine with a natural history collection he had put together with his friend Andrew Balfour, who had recently died. The wide range of specimens was put on permanent display in the university, as one of the first museums in the UK. Daniel Defoe, in A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain published in 1737, called it "a fine Musæum, or Chamber of Rarities, which are worth seeing, and which, in some things, is not to be match'd in Europe". Later editions of the book said it had rarities not to be found in the Royal Society or the Ashmolean Museum. In 1767 the museum became the responsibility of the first Regius Professor of natural history, Robert Ramsey, then in 1779 his successor John Walker recorded that he had found the collection was in poor condition.[1][2]

The Regius Professorship, and the museum, was taken over in 1804 by Robert Jameson, a mineralogist whose course covered zoology and geology, who built it up "not a private department of the university but as a public department connected in some degree with the country of Scotland". In 1812 it was renamed the "Royal Museum of the University". An enormous number of specimens were acquired, by buying from other collections and by encouraging travellers abroad to collect and preserve their finds. Packages were delivered duty free, and half of the specimens collected by Royal Navy survey ships went to the museum (the other half going to the British Museum in London). Jameson's natural history course held practical classes three times a week in "the great museum he had collected for illustrating his teaching", including description of exhibits and identification of mineral specimens. With support from the University Authorities, Edinburgh Town Council and the Commissioners for the College Buildings, a new museum was built in 1820 as part of new university buildings (the museum is now occupied by the Talbot Rice Gallery, its main features still in place).[3][4] The taxidermist John Edmonstone undertook work for the museum, and in 1826 gave private lessons to Charles Darwin,[5] who later studied in the museum and befriended its curator, the ornithologist William MacGillivray.[4][6]

The collections, noted as "second only to those of the British Museum", overfilled the available space. In 1852 Jameson suggested proposals, which were put forward by the university Senatus, that the natural history collections be taken over by the government to form a new National Museum adjacent to the university, and integrated into it.[3][7] Jameson was seriously ill during this time, and died on 19 April 1854, shortly after the negotiated agreement was formalised.[8]

Chambers Street Museum

For a few years after the museum first opened, its frontage looked on to a narrow lane. In the 1870s this lane was widened in forming Chambers Street.[9][10] Over the following century, though there were official names, it became popularly known as the "Chambers Street Museum".[11][12]

Industrial Museum of Scotland

The site for building, bought earlier to ensure unobstructed light to the university buildings, had been occupied by two properties west of Jameson's museum; an Independent Chapel with seats for 1,000 fronting West College Street, and the Trades' Maiden Hospital girls' school beside Argyle Square. The grounds of these buildings were bounded on the north by a narrow lane connecting North College Street to the square, and on the south by the Flodden Wall.[7][9]

Industrial Museum (Scotland) Act 1860Act of Parliament 
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Long titleAn Act to confer Powers on the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings to acquire certain Property in Edinburgh, for the Erection of an Industrial Museum for Scotland.Citation23 & 24 Vict. c. 117Territorial extent ScotlandDatesRoyal assent28 August 1860Text of statute as originally enacted

In 1854, the government chose to transfer the university's collection into an enlarged natural history museum combined with a new institution educating the public about commerce and industrial arts. It established the Industrial Museum of Scotland under the direction of the Board of Trade's Science and Art Department in London, and approved purchase of the site. The brief was to emulate The Museum of Practical Geology of "London, but embracing, in addition, the economic products of the animal and vegetable kingdoms". The general director of the museum would be responsible to the Board. The university's Regius Professor of natural history continued as Keeper of its collection, with access to specimens to illustrate lectures, and also reported directly to the Board. In 1855 George Wilson was appointed as the museum's first director, he pressed ahead with preparations while the Board of Works organised designs, but died in 1859.[13][14][15] Thomas Croxen Archer was appointed director on 10 May 1860, and the Industrial Museum (Scotland) Act 1860 was passed on 28 August.[16][17] Design work was carried out by Captain Francis Fowke, Engineer and Artist of the Science and Art Department, and architect Robert Matheson of the Office of Works in Edinburgh. Contract documents were signed in May 1861, and construction began. In ceremonies on 23 October 1861, Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of the General Post Office on Waterloo Place, then the foundation stone of the museum. This was his last public appearance before his death six weeks later.[18]

Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art

The institution became the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art in 1864,[19][20] with two divisions; Natural History, and Industrial Arts. The natural history collection was transferred from the university in 1865–1866. Prince Alfred formally opened the first phase on 19 May 1866,[13][21] with public access to the east wing and about a third of the Great Hall (now the Grand Gallery). A temporary wall formed the west gable of this space, displays in it included models and machinery of architecture, military and civil engineering, including lighthouses. A small hall (now Living Lands) accommodated manufactures. The natural history collection took up the large hall in the east wing (now Animal World),[21][22] a corridor link to the university formed a "Bridge of Sighs" over West College Street. On the western half of the site, "old buildings" which had formed Argyll Square were in temporary use for agricultural and educational exhibits.[21][23]

 Corridor connecting the museum to the university

George Allman became Regius Professor and Keeper of the natural history collection in 1855. Issues developed over access to specimens for teaching, particularly when some were lost, and he apparently neglected curation. Wyville Thomson took over in 1870, and the Board of Trade redefined duties, but curation was not his priority. For a reception in the Spring of 1871, the museum stored refreshments in the "Bridge of Sighs" corridor, but students found this and no drinks were left for the Edinburgh worthies, so a door restricted access from the university. Wyville Thomson went on the Challenger expedition for four years.[24][14][23] The museum severed ties with the university in 1873, and appointed Ramsay Traquair as its Keeper of the Natural History Collections.[25][26] The bridge was closed (at some time later it was reopened and for a while prior to the museum's temporary closure during World War II it provided limited access between the museum and University).[27] The university had lost use of the museum specimens, so started a replacement teaching collection in its old museum space.[28] This became intolerably cramped, eventually James Hartley Ashworth raised funds and a new teaching laboratory and museum was opened in 1929 at the King's Buildings campus.[29]

In 1871 work began on widening the street to the north of the university and museum to form Chambers Street, linked to George IV Bridge.[10] The central section of the Museum of Science and Art building, including the rest of the Great Hall, was completed in 1874 and formally opened to the public on 14 January 1875. The west wing was completed in 1888, rooms were opened to the public when they were fitted out, until the last one opened on 14 October 1890.[30][31]

Royal Scottish Museum  Percy Pilcher's Hawk glider, restored after his fatal crash of 1899, and on display in the Royal Scottish Museum from 1909.[32]

Administration of the museum was transferred in 1901 from the Science and Art Department to the Scottish Education Department, and in 1904 the institution was renamed the Royal Scottish Museum.[33][34]

Electricity was introduced, replacing the original gas lighting, and powering the first interactive displays in the museum: push-button working models, starting with a marine steam engine and a sectioned steam locomotive.[35][22][36] During the period 1871 to 1911 much of the day-to-day running of the museum was undertaken not by the director, but by the curator.[37]

The Royal Scottish Museum displayed prank exhibits on April Fool's Day on at least one occasion. In 1975, a fictitious bird called the Bare-fronted Hoodwink (known for its innate ability to fly away from observers before they could accurately identify it) was put on display. The exhibit included photos of blurry birds flying away. To make the exhibit more convincing, a mount of the bird was sewn together by a taxidermist from various scraps of real birds, including the head of a carrion crow, the body of a plover, and the feet of an unknown waterfowl. The bare front was composed of wax.[38]

Royal Museum of Scotland

In 1985 the museum was renamed the Royal Museum of Scotland, and its administration came under the newly formed National Museums Scotland, along with the Museum of Antiquities which in 1998 moved to a new building constructed as an extension to the Royal Museum at the west end of Chambers Street.[39]

National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland

The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland was founded in 1780. It still continues, but in 1858 its collection of archaeological and other finds was transferred to the government as the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and from 1891 it occupied half of a new building in Queen Street in the New Town, with its entrance hall shared with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which occupied the other half.[40]

Museum of Scotland

The organisational merger of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum took place in 1985, but the two collections retained separate buildings until 1995 when the Queen Street building closed, to reopen later occupied solely by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. In 1998 the new Museum of Scotland building opened, adjacent to the Royal Museum of Scotland building, and connected to it. The masterplan to redevelop the Victorian building and further integrate the architecture and collections was launched in 2004. The split naming caused confusion to visitors, and in 2006 permission was granted to remove "Royal" to achieve a unified brand.[35]

Merger – present day

On 2006 the two museums were formally merged as the National Museum of Scotland. The naming had been changed for practical reasons, including strategy and marketing.[35] The old Chambers Street Museum building closed for redevelopment in 2008, before reopening in July 2011.[41][42]

Staff at the museum took several days of strike action at points during 2015 and 2016, called by the Public and Commercial Services Union.[43][44][45]

In August 2023, the museum began preparing for the return of the Ni'isjoohl totem pole to the Nisga'a people of British Columbia, Canada. The 36 feet (11 m) pole was carved in 1855, and arrived in Scotland in 1929 after being stolen from the Nisga'a. It was sold to the museum by Canadian anthropologist Marius Barbeau.[46]

^ "Natural History Collections: First and Second Collections". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 April 2021. ^ Daniel Defoe (1727). A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain. printed, and sold by G. Strahan. W. Mears. R. Francklin. S. Chapman. R. Stagg, and J. Graves. p. 36. ^ a b "Natural History Collections: The Royal Museum of the University". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 April 2021. ^ a b Adrian Desmond; James R Moore (29 October 1992). Darwin. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-14-193556-0. ^ McNish, James (16 October 2020). "John Edmonstone: the man who taught Darwin taxidermy". Natural History Museum. Retrieved 24 April 2021. ^ Darwin, Charles (1958). Barlow, Nora (ed.). The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With the original omissions restored. Edited and with appendix and notes by his granddaughter. London: Collins. p. 53. ^ a b Grant (1884). "The Chair of Technology". The Story of the University of Edinburgh During Its First Three Hundred Years. Longmans, Green, and Company. pp. 354–361. ^ The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. Constable. 1854. p. 3. ^ a b Side-by-Side Museum site on OS Town Plans of Edinburgh, 1849 and 1876, National Library of Scotland. ^ a b William Paterson (1881). The tourists' shilling handy guide to Scotland. p. 13. ^ "Obituary. The Late Professor Archer". Forestry; a journal of forest and estate management. Vol. X. Edinburgh: C&R Anderson. 1885. p. 467. The Chambers Street Museum is perhaps the best monument of its late energetic and laborious chief. Edinburgh men who remember the modest beginnings in the old Argyle Square under the genial inspiration of the late Professor George Wilson .... ^ Charles McKean (2000). The Making of the Museum of Scotland. National Museums of Scotland Pub. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-901663-11-2. Founded in 1854, the new museum (popularly known as the Chambers Street Museum) was formed from the merging of Edinburgh University's Museum of Natural History with the Industrial Museum; and it was completed in 1864 as the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art. ^ a b Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art (1869). Catalogue of Industrial Department, second edition. Edinburgh: Science and Art Department. pp. iii–v. ^ a b Department of Science and Art (1871). "Appendix A. (4.) Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art". 18th Report. HMSO. pp. 46–47. ^ Swinney, Geoffrey N. (2016). "George Wilson's Map of Technology: Giving shape to the 'Industrial Arts' in Mid-Nineteenth -Century Edinburgh". Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. 36 (2): 165–190. doi:10.3366/jshs.2016.0184. ^ Joseph Haydn (1861). A Dictionary of Dates Relating to All Ages and Nations: for Universal Reference: Comprehending Remarkable Occurrences, Ancient and Modern ... and Particularly of the British Empire. Moxon. p. 235. ^ Royal Society of Edinburgh (1888). Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. pp. 111–112. ^ Tate, Jim (21 October 2011). "150 years old and still going strong!". National Museums Scotland Blog. Retrieved 23 April 2021. ^ Elizabeth Edwards; Sigrid Lien (17 February 2016). Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of Photographs. Routledge. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-317-00552-0. ^ Clarke, Amy. "From Royal to National: The Changing Face of the National Museum of Scotland" (PDF). Great Narratives of the Past. Traditions and Revisions in National Museums Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Paris 29 June – 1 July & 25–26 November 2011. Dominique Poulot, Felicity Bodenstein & José María Lanzarote Guiral (eds) EuNaMus Report No 4. Linköping University Electronic Press. Retrieved 1 May 2022. ^ a b c "The Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art". The English Mechanic and Mirror of Science. Fleet Street, London: George Maddick & Co. 7 August 1868. pp. 422–423. Current plan (April 2021). ^ a b "Explore, History of the National Museum of Scotland". National Museums Scotland. 5 November 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2021. ^ a b "Natural History Collections: The Museum of Science and Art". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 1 May 2021. ^ Swinney, Geoffrey N. (1999). "Wyville Thomson, Challenger, and the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art". The Scottish Naturalist. 111: 207 224. ^ Department of Science and Art (1883). "History of the Science and Art Department". 30th Report. HMSO. p. lxxxiv. ^ Swinney, Geoffrey N. (1999). "A Natural History Collection in Transition: Wyville Thomson and the Relationship Between the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art". Journal of the History of Collections. 11 (1): 51 70. doi:10.1093/jhc/11.1.51. ^ Swinney, Geoffrey N. (2019). "Projecting the Museum: Moving Images in, and of, Scotland's National Museum". Museum History Journal. 12 (2): 129 152. doi:10.1080/19369816.2019.1703154. S2CID 214464867. ^ "Natural History Collections: The Third Natural History Collection". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 1 May 2021. ^ "Natural History Collections: The Department of Zoology". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 1 May 2021. ^ Department of Science and Art (1895). Calendar, History, and General Summary of Regulations. HMSO. pp. 69–71. ^ Michael Lynch, ed. (2007). The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Oxford University Press. pp. 538–539. ISBN 978-0-19-923482-0. ^ Thorns, Gemma (15 January 2016). "Preparing Pilcher's Hawk to Fly Again". National Museums Scotland Blog. Retrieved 10 May 2021. ^ Historic Buildings at Work: A Guide to the Historic Buildings of Scotland Used by Central Government. Scottish Civic Trust. 1983. ISBN 978-0-904566-03-1. [in 1866] it was renamed the Museum of Science and Art. From the beginning it was a National Museum, administered first by the Department of Science and Art and from 1901 by the Scottish Education Department. It was renamed again in 1904 as the Royal Scottish Museum ^ Smithsonian Institution (1905). Report Upon the Condition and Progress of the United States National Museum. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 560. ^ a b c Miller, Phil (14 October 2006). "Museum drops its royal title to avoid confusion among visitors Queen gives her seal of approval to changing name of building after 102 years". The Herald. Retrieved 11 October 2016. ^ Staubermann, Klaus; Swinney, Geoffrey N. (2016). "Making Space for Models: (Re)presenting Engineering in Scotland's National Museum, 1854 to present". International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology. 86 (1): 19 41. doi:10.1080/17581206.2015.1119483. S2CID 112138895. ^ Swinney, Geoffrey (1998). "Who Runs the Museum? Curatorial Conflict in a National Collection". Museum Management and Curatorship. 17 (3): 295 301. doi:10.1080/09647779800501703. ^ "The Bare-Fronted Hoodwink". Museum of Hoaxes. 1 April 1975. Retrieved 20 December 2011. ^ Hourihane, Colum (2012). The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–. ISBN 978-0-19-539536-5. ^ "National Museums Scotland Archive". Archives Hub. Retrieved 25 June 2018. ^ Cite error: The named reference autogenerated1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Brown, Mark (28 July 2011). "New National Museum of Scotland unveiled after £47m revamp". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2016. ^ "National Museum of Scotland staff take strike action". BBC News. 24 August 2015. Retrieved 18 December 2016. ^ "National Museum of Scotland staff walk out". BBC News. 16 April 2015. Retrieved 18 December 2016. ^ "National Museum of Scotland workers step up strike in pay row". BBC News. 18 March 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016. ^ "'Stolen' totem pole prepared for return to Canada". BBC News. 28 August 2023. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
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