Above: Annan museum. Photo by Richard Dorrell.
Annan, in the South West of Scotland is situated on the river that bears its name and has a population of a little under 10,000. One of the institutions at the heart of community life is Annan Museum, situated on Bank Street off the main High Street. The museum is housed in what was once the old library building which dates from mid 1900s. Designed by Edinburgh architect George Washington Brown, it was funded largely by a donation from the industrialist, Andrew Carnegie and was opened by Lord Loreburn the Lord Chancellor on October 11th 1906. Today it is home to wide array of artefacts which reflects Annan’s rich and varied history, here are some of the highlights.
Annan Museum’s collection dates from 1955 with a few objects donated by the town’s Rotary Club. A renovation of the building in 1991 established a museum and exhibition space in the two floors of the former library expanding on the Rotary Club’s original donation. The upper floor museum is set out in the upper floor with a section close to the entrance devoted to the local area’s prehistory. A large selection of objects excavated from across South West Scotland are presented, these include a Quern-stone, found at an Iron Age earthwork site near Johnstonebridge which was used to grind grain for flour, nuts and seeds. Also displayed are items from the Birrens Roman Fort which is also north of the town near Ecclefechan.
Annan is the ancestral home of the Bruce family and the Royal line, including the famous King Robert the Bruce. James V, King of Scotland (1512 – 1542), granted the town Royal Burgh status in 1538. Riders would cover the town’s boundaries. In time this became the tradition called the Riding of the Marches and one cabinet is devoted to the annual event. The Riding of the Marches are held on the first Saturday of July with the riders led out by the Cornet and Cornet’s lass to cover the old boundary before a grand parade in Annan later in the day. The positions of Cornet are elected earlier in the year and one notable Cornet was Robert Robinson who led the 1925 Riding of the Marches. During 1917-18 he served on the Camel Corps with Colonel T. E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, attacking and disrupting the Hejaz Railway built to connect the far-flung realms of the Otterman empire. The Ridings in its current form dates from 1947 and the Cornet’s rosette from that event is among the large amount of memorabilia on display.
To return to the museum, in a case devoted to People and Places one of the many plates on display commemorates Scotland’s bard Robert Burns. During the early 1790s Burns worked in the town as an excise officer and often stayed on the High Street in the building which today houses the Café Royal. It is here that he wrote The Deil’s Awa wi the Exciseman, a song about how happy the town’s people were when the Devil came to take away the exciseman. Considering Burns’ position at the time, this seems a rather mischievous and perhaps self-deprecating piece. Also included are items relating to mathematician and historian, Thomas Carlyle. These include a plate commemorating his birthplace a lock of hair and a bust of the famous polymath.
The Museum has a rich collection of, late 19th and early 20th century art work, including works by William Ewart Lockhart and George Wright. The ground floor, in contrast however has the temporary display space which has hosted exhibitions such as Dinosaurs or Wacky, Weird Eccentric and Ingenious Inventions. The museum is family friendly and many of the exhibitions have interactive elements with activities provided for children and young people.
Annan has many local heroes, such as those discussed above, but a 2018 exhibition, focused on one of its heroines, Lady Florence Dixie. Born in 1855 to the Parliamentarian Archibald Douglas, the 7th Marquis of Queensberry, Lady Dixie was brought up on the Kinmount Estate, roughly five miles from Annan. She married Sir Alexander Beaumont Dixie in 1875 and in the 1880s and 90s joined the political campaign for Scottish Home Rule and woman’s rights. Items from the exhibition were later relocated to the upper floor of the Museum in the People and Places display. Florence Dixie was a recognised author, and first came to prominence with the travelogue Riding Across Patagonia in 1880. An original copy of her 1900 children’s book The Two Castaways, a story set in Patagonia, is on display in the Museum.
Annan Museum is a seasonal venue usually open from mid March to late October. In view of Covid 19, however, the Museum’s 2020 season has been curtailed but an opening is planned for September 1st with entry booked in advance. Enquires can be made at www.dgculture.co.uk.
* * *
Stuart Gibbs is a graduate of Glasgow School of Art; Stuart has participated in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. Venues have included Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park, Annan Museum, North Ayrshire Heritage Centre, and the Peoples History Museum in Manchester. Stuart has written for Shekicks the Football Pink, Discover Magazine and he has also contributed to MG Alba’s Honeyballers and Rose Reilly documentaries, as well as a historical advisor for the Futures Theatre Production Offside.