For my research project, my central focus is around the functioning of a museum and archives within an operating castle. To study this first hand, I visited Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Scotland in the Highlands. I was given the opportunity to visit the castle for two days while staying in town at a local hunting lodge turned hotel. My first day at the castle consisted of a brief self-guided tour to get a general understanding of the grounds and museum, and a meeting with the estate archivist, Jane Anderson.
I walked through the museum portion of the castle; however, I was only able to take pictures of the great hall but nothing else inside the castle. The entrance of the castle brings you through the entrance hall were museum guides greeted me and gave a brief summary of the flow of the museum. Then I moved to the first rooms that gave blocked timelines of the family, castle, estate and Scotland as a nation. Walking through the rooms then up the portrait staircase. I was brought to the second floor with many beautifully decorated and furnished rooms from the 17th to 19th century. The castle also had specific exhibit gallery rooms. As of now the rooms were filled with exhibits on World War I, the Jacobites and the Atholl Highlanders.
Following my tour, I meet with archivist and curator Jane Anderson in the archive rooms in the clock tower. In 2012, the clock tower roof caught fire and damaged the top of the tower. The estate decided to refurbish the tower and turn the rooms into a state of the art archives. My meeting in these rooms went great, and I gained a lot of knowledge and information. Jane was very open about her role and the role of the archives within the estate and museum. The castle opened to visitors in 1936 a few years after the estate became an independence charitable organization. However, the archives got organized and arranged by the 7th Duke of Atholl in late 1800s. The archives include the chronicles of the Dukes’ family, history of lands with records of land purchases and exchanges, Atholl family correspondences from the 17th century and many other records from the last 400 years. By the end of my meeting, I came away seeing how valuable and under used the archives are for their history of the area and Scotland.
On my second day visiting Blair Castle, I decided to start by going to the Hercules Garden and the Diana Forrest on the estate grounds. Both places have specific importance to the history of the castle and Dukedom of Atholl. The Hercules Garden has its own mini museum galleries in the apple house and curling house. Both include the history of the garden and house with the development and restoration; activities in the garden over the centuries; and things that happened to the land in the area (hunting, fishing, transportation, lumber). The main garden contained a laminated information page at the entrance about a general history of the garden and the restoration, major plants in the garden and key eliminates and structures. I was lucky when getting to visit on my second day. I arrived early in the morning and the night before had rained a lot, so there were hardly any visitors at the castle. I got to walk with gardens with no one else and that made for a peaceful time after the craziness of London.
I also ventured through the forrest around the castle. Up through the forrest there is an old kirk also known as a chapel called St. Bride’s Kirk. Records show the kirk dating as far back as 1275 then is mentioned again in 1475. Then in 1689 the body of Viscount Dundee or Bonnie Dundee were buried at the kirk after his mortal wound at the Battle of Killiecrankie. The battle was fought between the Scottish Highlanders supporting James VII of Scotland and those supporting William of Orange for the English crown. The kirk started falling into disrepair in the 1800s once the town of Old Blair moved locations along the river. The kirk shows yet another place at the estate related to Scottish history and importance.
Concluding my trip through the surrounding area, I ventured back into the castle to view the museum a second time. This time I sought to focus on items from the archives used to support the story being told in the museum. I was able to find many examples of the archive’s being used to tell the castle story. For example in many rooms there were placed copies of furniture and portrait purchases to show ownership and dating of the items in the room. There is also a framed printed copy from 1746 of the outline of the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746. Since the family was so heavily involved in the Jacobite uprising there are many items and documents from the period within the museum.
To conclude my trip to Blair Castle, I visited the castle café to have a coffee and cake. I sat outside staring out to the castle grounds and wrote my notes of my visit. My final thoughts concluded that the castle and Jane Anderson were friendly and welcoming. I was impressed with the professionalism of the staff, the beauty of the castle and grounds, and the overall awe of Blair Castle.