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History Through the Ages at the Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum

Would you like to step back in time and take a stroll along a Victorian street? Perhaps you might be interested in learning about the Polish soldiers who stayed in the Upper Clydesdale region of Scotland. Or you maybe you would like to explore fascinating artefacts that will tell you more about Scotland’s earliest people. If this piques your interest (and I’m hoping it will), join us as we set out on a virtual visit to South Lanarkshire, Scotland, and the wee town of Biggar!

The Wee Walking Tours family absolutely love museums and take the opportunity to visit them whenever we can. We are quite fortunate to live in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, where there are many world-class museums. In fact, we’ve written about many of them, including the Museum of Childhood, The Anatomical Museum, and The Writers’ Museum to name just a few.

However, we also visit museums throughout Scotland, and, while we appreciate the bigger museums, we are also quite partial to the smaller ones. This is because…. come closer because I’m going to share a secret that many do not know.... the smaller museums are often the wee gems among the museum crown of Scotland. And nestled in the Southern Uplands is the town of Biggar- home to the Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum. This museum may be small, but is chock full of history, artefacts, and fun!

It’s the stories of people that capture the imagination and help us picture what life must have been like in different time periods. The Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum does a wonderful job at telling these stories and provides a fantastic visual narration of history through the ages in the area.

The Museum starts off with ancient history explaining that “Upper Clydesdale has the earliest known traces of human presence in Scotland. Distinctive flint tools from around 14,000 years ago were discovered at Howburn, four miles north of Biggar”.

One aspect that stood out for me were the detailed models of various types of houses spanning the centuries.

Model of a souterrain (earth house) which was an underground structure.

Model of a hilltop fort.

Model of a broch which was a circular tower home.

Model of the Roman Fort- Crawford Fort. It had the smallest headquarters (only 2 acres) in the Roman Empire.

Of course, as is the case with so many places throughout Scotland, the Museum tells us about the local connection to Mary Queen of Scots. The link to Mary is through the House of Fleming who were from Biggar and had built Boghall Castle there.

Model of Boghall Castle owned by the Fleming Family.

The Flemings were associated with the Stewarts going back to King James II and an infamous event known as, ‘The Black Dinner’ (we talk about this in our Macabre Tales from Edinburgh Castle post). Sir Malcolm Fleming was also killed as part of this gruesome tragedy. Most likely out of guilt, James II made Malcolm’s son, Robert Fleming, a lord, and Biggar into a Burgh of Barony (which means they had a royal charter that allowed them to hold markets and fairs thereby bolstering the local economy).

The connections between the Stewarts and Flemings continue in quite an interesting way. James IV (Stewart) and his mistress, Isabel Stewart (yes, you read that correctly, Isabel had the same surname as she was a distant cousin of James IV) had a daughter- Janet Stewart. Janet married Malcolm Fleming, 3rd Lord Fleming. One of their daughters, Mary, was one of the famous ‘Four Marys’ that accompanied Mary Queen of Scots to France when she left Scotland as a child.

The Fleming family’s devotion to Mary Queen of Scots continued with Mary Fleming’s brother, John, who was an ardent supporter. In fact, the Museum highlights how he supported her through much of the drama and trauma she endured when she returned to Scotland as an adult. He even protected her when she fled Holyrood to Dunbar after the murder of secretary, Rizzio (which you can read more about here).

One of the most fascinating stories told of historic residents might be a bit unexpected. During the Second World War, a group of Polish soldiers were evacuated and stationed in the area. The Museum points that, while they were only stationed there for three months in 1940, they left a much longer legacy.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the thousands of young soldiers so far from home in a foreign land. However, the Museum highlights how the Church of Scotland set up a canteen at St Mary’s Hall in Biggar where locals could stop in to play games with the Poles and visit. Residents went even further by inviting them into their homes. “They ‘adopted’ them, offering baths, clean clothes, cups of tea and camaraderie. These welcoming gestures marked the beginning of a long-lasting friendship”.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Museum, one of my favourite sections was the Gladstone Streetscape. There, you feel as if you are stepping back in time to a Victorian street with shops of every kind, filled with a variety of goods and services. Scroll through the slideshow below to take your own exploration (click on the black arrow):

Hopefully our brief journey to the Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum has made you want to see more, and that it deserves an in-person visit. Now we realise that time is often limited for those of you coming to visit Scotland. However, if you are driving through or visiting the South Lanarkshire area, be sure to pop in and say hello to our friends at the Museum. It’s only an hour’s drive from Edinburgh and the area is beautiful. You can find more information on their website.

Furthermore, if you’ve enjoyed this museum adventure and are interested in more articles we’ve written on museums in both Edinburgh and throughout Scotland, head over to our blog homepage and type ‘museum’ into the search bar at the top of the page. While you’re there, why not subscribe to our blog so that you can get our articles on museums and much, much more as soon as they’re published?

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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