There is something truly adventurous about discovering the past at museums- whether it be through artefacts, pictures or paintings… it’s satisfying for the soul. I’m also a strong believer in remembering to humanise the past. This is because it’s easy, when exploring the historical record, to look at it abstractly and one-dimensionally.
However, when I’m at a museum, I continuously remind myself to think about what I’m looking at from a more personalised perspective. In other words, I need to try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. So, if I’m examining some pottery or dishware, I try to think about the individuals who used them. What must it have been like for them during their time period? Were they poor or well-off? What were their daily lives like? It’s incredibly exciting to transport yourself back in time through the mind and explore the history of others.
With that in mind, this week we continue our museum series with an examination of a museum that I think is sometimes overlooked by tourists who only hear more about some of the larger Edinburgh museums. But I am here to tell you that the Museum of Edinburgh is a must-visit spot if you want to get an authentic look at the history of Edinburgh. It is located on the Royal Mile next to the Bakehouse Close. This Close is now famous as it was an Outlander filming location- which you can learn more about on our Wee Golden Walk tour.
Telling Stories: From Documents to Dogs
There are a few different themes that the Museum features, but one of my favourites is the “City of Stories” one. Of course, this probably is not too surprising as we provide walking tours of the Edinburgh. Telling stories is our trade, and it’s what we are passionate about. Therefore, with this blog post, I would like to highlight some of the artefacts and even some of the stories they tell.
An important artefact on display at the Museum is also one that is a key part of Scottish history- the National Covenant. The Museum outlines how a group of Scottish people called the Covenanters came together to sign a covenant because they wanted to ‘defend their religious beliefs’. The document ‘called for all Scots to band together against religious and political changes imposed upon them by King Charles I.
The National Covenant parchment that is on display is one of the copies created (they made copies to be taken throughout Scotland to be signed) and, according to the Museum, was ‘signed in the South Kirk of Edinburgh on the 13th, 20th, and 27th March 1638, making it one of the earliest surviving copies’.
We now turn to a more light-hearted story in Edinburgh history. One particular exhibit at the Museum is especially meaningful for us and that’s the story of Greyfriars Bobby. We obviously adore dogs at Wee Walking Tours as we have our famous canine tour guide, Sawyer. The story of Greyfriars Bobby will warm the hearts of anyone who loves dogs and the loyalty they show to their families.
There has been a lot written in both fictional and nonfictional accounts regarding Bobby, the Skye Terrier. However, the most well-known version of the story, as the Museum points out, says that he ‘undertook a 14-year vigil by his master’s grave’. On display at the Museum are Bobby’s drinking cup, dinner dish, and collar. If you would like to learn more about this captivating and heart-warming story, you can book one of our Wee Golden Walks. Both of our tours take you to Greyfriars Kirkyard where you can learn more about the dog who holds the hearts of so many Scots and visitors from around the world.
Edinburgh Residential Life
The Museum of Edinburgh also does a wonderful job at exhibiting how it was for Edinburgh residents historically. In particular, there is an incredible scale model of the city that shows from the Castle all the way down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It provides a glimpse into how the city looked historically.
In a display of a little more wealth, you can find exquisitely preserved, painted wooden beams. These beams originally came the Pinkie House in Musselburgh (just outside of Edinburgh). According the Museum, the Pinkie House was a tower house built on the site of the battle of Pinkie. ‘The fragments of the ceiling…date from around 1613’.
What is particularly fascinating about these beams is that they weren’t discovered until 1953 during alterations to the house. The Museum provides more insight by describing how ‘painted ceilings like this one were a particularly popular form of interior decoration in the period between 1550 and 1650’. If you look at the picture below carefully, the design reminds me a bit of Norwegian rosemaling. It certainly is quite beautiful, and it would be lovely to have such decorations throughout a house.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last. My favourite part of the Museum of Edinburgh is the Courtyard Collection. As accurately described in its name, it’s located in the Museum courtyard and is filled with various 'archaeological and architectural fragments'. This is the location where many former monuments, building decorations, and historic markers have come to rest. It most certainly is a place of beauty, peacefulness, and contemplation; a wonderful spot to get away from the bustle of the city and relax.
Visit & Learn Much More
I’ve obviously only skimmed the surface of what the Museum of Edinburgh has to offer- simply highlighting some of my favourites. However, we highly recommend that you visit this free admission Museum (donations are certainly welcome and appreciated) whenever you are in Edinburgh. You can learn more about their hours of operation on their website. That way, you can get a more in-depth look at the history of Edinburgh, its rich culture, and the fascinating stories just waiting to be discovered.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!