Tightening the Belt on Heritage

Written by Sarah Greenwood

We can’t ignore the impact of our current national belt tightening on our heritage. The climate of austerity has some victims. Shambellie House in Dumfries & Galloway was until now, Scotland’s Museum of Costume. Scotland’s museums service has decided to close it to save money.

Shambellie was the home of 20th century book illustrator, Charles Stewart, who devoted his life to collecting costume, particularly from the 1830’s, but from the early 19th century to the 1950s. Most of this extensive collection he squirreled out of junk shops and charity shops in London and Edinburgh and satisfyingly it includes underwear and accessories.


Some of the costumes at Shambellie House

Anyone who visited Shambellie and was agonisingly laced into a Victorian corset will be daily thankful they weren’t born 150 years ago. Charles Stewart left the collection to the Royal Scottish Museum and the house to the Department of the Environment in 1977; it was opened to the public in 1982. Always a bit forgotten, most people will not even have been aware it was there; the new Museum of Scotland has rather distracted our attention in the past decade.


Dinner is served at Shambellie House

Shambellie, itself, is a fanciful house built for the Stewart family by David Bryce in 1856, about the time he was designing Edinburgh’s Fettes College buildings. The static displays of costumes in the rooms there tried to convey typical moments in the life of the house – Christmas Eve and family parties. The costume collection will revert to the main museum in Chambers Street in Edinburgh, where it would be marvellous to see it given space for display.

The future of Shambellie must now be uncertain, but at least the walled garden has been rescued by local gardener, Shelia Cameron, and is now restored around the rebuilt Victorian greenhouse and its surviving fruit trees and camellias.

shambellie gardens

Shambellie Gardens

It is more cheerful to hear from Christopher Boyle about his brave enterprise in rescuing ruined Kirklinton Hall in Cumbria. His family were last here when it was a bleak Border fortress in the 12th century but such a long time away from the place has not put Christopher off the task of rescuing this massive ruined mansion.

Once a pretty 17th century house, it changed hands several times and was doubled in size in the good times with Victorian wealth. When a dodgy enterprise, in which the Kray twins had an interest, ended with a destructive fire in the 1970s, it looked like Kirklinton’s life was over.

kirklinton hall oct 2012

Kirklinton Hall October 2012

Enter Christopher, who has a plan to rebuild the 17th century heart of the house while running a series of events under a temporary roof in the Victorian section. It’s quite a backdrop – a spectacular gaunt outline against the Cumbrian sky – and sets off a wedding, a performance or even a picnic like nowhere else. Kirklinton Hall is having an open day the Easter Monday where you can see what has happened with the restoration so far and what the plans are. You can even record your memories of your day at Kirklinton Hall with their Oral History table. For more information see Hudson’s Heritage.


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