Ten years have passed since the late Magnus Magnusson opened the Museum of Abernethy on a sunny Saturday in May. Recently I had a look at the video recording of his thoughtful, scholarly speech. I was so impressed with it that I decided to capture the entire text of the speech on paper and we now have copies available in the museum. I will include an extract here and then try to summarise as best I can what progress has been made with the museum project in the past ten years. Have we lived up to his vision? Also where do we go from here?
“Now one of the aspects of this new museum, and I had the privilege of a sneak preview round it this morning, is its fluidity.... It’s not just an exhibition of stuffed birds and plaster casts of dinosaur footprints. It is a facility on the community, for the community, which will be developed by the community. It can be infinitely flexible, responding to the needs and express wishes of the community itself. ...What a marvellous resource this museum is going to be to generations of children to come in the area and to their parents, and for their own posterity as well. What immense potential for the future a museum like this has. To me the Museum of Abernethy here is a spring harbinger of the summer to come, when the story of our nation is told and felt in terms of the people who lived here, the people who built remarkable structures like the Abernethy Tower, the people who lived those turbulent centuries which brought us down the ages to the present day. You see I believe passionately in devolution for museums, and I’m not just talking of the Elgin Marbles going back to Athens. I want people to have the opportunity of finding for themselves history on the hoof as it were, of feeling history where it happened, of being able to sense history in the context of the living present.”
In early 2000 the museum seemed a dauntingly large empty building. How were we ever going to create displays of interest to fill this space in time for a May opening? At least we had the millennium quilt, recently assembled by Christine Macintyre and her team. It is still a star exhibit. Somehow we managed to make and assemble display boards and attach them to the old stone walls. We had no display cabinets. These we acquired for free from Thirlestane Castle for our second year displays. However by May we had an interesting collection of old photos on various themes plus features on the Picts, Abernethy’s Town Council, local place names, large scale maps and the true story of the Abernethy biscuit.
In subsequent years we have examined several aspects of the Abernethy story in a more considered and detailed fashion. In roughly chronological order these include Abernethy in World War Two; Fruit Growing; Farming; Salmon Fishing; The Church; Weaving and Garment-making; The School; The Romans in Abernethy; Shops, Trades and Businesses; Sport in Abernethy; Abernethy’s Logboat; The Abernethy Hall of Fame; Mugdrum Island. This year’s new display features 100 Years of Girl Guides. This is the first of several local clubs/societies about which dossiers of facts and pictures may be compiled for display in album form.
While in 2000 our worry was “how do we fill this large space?” Now our problem is to find space to mount new stuff since we are reluctant to dismantle existing displays. In 2006 we developed a new “garden gallery” at the back of the museum. This houses the farming and fishing displays. In 2008 the upstairs display area was expanded. However, ten years on, I think we have gone as far as we can. Storage space is needed as well as display space. A balance has to be struck. Of prime importance to this local history museum is the building up of a photographic archive of life in the parish. We hope to have at least one digital screen to display themed sets of images as slide shows. This enables many images to be shown without the need for extra display boards.
The museum organisation evolved from the Auld Abernethy Association, the local history society which was founded in 1981. Meetings of the AAA were regularly held in the old school across the Wynd. Since the museum opened it has been used as a winter venue for monthly local history lectures. Every October part of the main gallery is cleared of displays and a bijou auditorium is created. The museum’s social committee (formerly the Friends of the Museum) also use the building for a number of events such as drama performances, barbecues in the courtyard garden, guided walks and other social gatherings for members. The committee also raises funds for the museum at the annual Craft Fair.
Much has changed in Abernethy in the last ten years. At least eight new streets have been added to the village. Many new people have come to live here. The museum has benefited from the skills of many newcomers, as well as from those with longer associations with the parish – a good blend. We have a faithful band of volunteer workers, we are not in debt, and we have not run out of things to do or ideas to develop. From the comfort of his black chair in Valhalla I hope Magnus approves of our efforts. Suggestions on how the museum could develop over the next ten years are very welcome. As he says “ It is a facility of the community, for the community, which will be developed by the community”.