Between May and August 2016 Molly Miller, an Architectural Conservation - MSc student, travelled to a series of historic sites around Scotland to investigate former residential buildings that have been given new life as local history museums. Her dissertation research was funded by the Saltire Society, who gave her £1000 to undertake the project. The funding meant she could remain in Scotland during the dissertation period, and travel to the museum locations to conduct case study research. The aim was to explore “the origins of these museums and the constraints and opportunities of using historical homes.”
“When a former home is given new life as a local museum, the historic building and museum operations enter into a symbiotic relationship,” said Molly in her research statement, “These places have been largely ignored by museological and architectural studies, as they occupy a grey area on the fringe of the house museum typology.”
In all, Molly looked into eight case study sites across Scotland, these were Castle House Museum in Dunoon, Callendar House in Falkirk, the Old Bridge House Museum in Dumfries, the Nairn Museum, the Dunblane Museum, Glencoe Folk Museum, Orkney Museum, and the Museum of the Cumbraes. Research on the latter three was conducted via email, due to time constraints on the project.
“One important conclusion is that the adaptive reuse of at-risk former homes by converting them into local history museums can be a viable way of protecting examples of Scottish residential architecture,” said Molly, “The majority of locations that I studied were facing demolition before their new museum uses were found, and the fact that they are all now recognised for their contributions to local and national heritage vindicates the work of community groups, charities and local authorities across Scotland.”
“Unfortunately, my research also found that these museums and their historical buildings are often under threat from improper care by property owners and shrinking financial resources.”
These two sides to the story of these museums was something that Molly hadn’t expected to be so widespread when she set out, particularly the financial hardship at some of the sites. “It was painful to hear stories about how they sometimes cannot afford to make repairs, properly store artefacts, or fully utilise their historical buildings due to strained budgets,” she said. In her research statement she wrote, “It is hoped that this dissertation will raise awareness and contribute to the discourse on these threatened resources.”
“My research would not have been possible without the help of the dedicated individuals who promote and protect local heritage at each of the sites included in my research,” said Molly, “and my interactions with them remain the most memorable part of my dissertation experience.”
The Saltire Society was founded in 1936 to improve the quality of life in Scotland and restore the country to its proper place as a creative force in Europe. International in outlook, the Society seeks to preserve all that is best in Scottish tradition and to encourage new developments which can strengthen and enrich the country’s cultural life.