Scotland’s industrial past binds us together as a nation. This story is told by a series of museums covering the wealth of Scottish industries: fishing, shipbuilding, textiles, agriculture, mining, engineering, iron and steel production and transport. Most importantly, these museums tell the stories of the people who served as the backbone to these industries.
Scotland is especially blessed in natural resources; with seas rich in fish, fertile soils, and mineral riches buried beneath its fields. Scots have a reputation for inventiveness and acumen, and share a proud merchant history, trading both eastwards to the Baltic, and westward to the Americas and beyond.
New ideas in science and technology took early root in Scotland. Seams of coal and ironstone fuelled the production of iron and a growing prowess in engineering, manufacture and shipbuilding. Blossoming enterprise attracted many to the industrial districts, and provided homes to those displaced by hardships in Ireland and the Highlands. Landscapes were transformed by mines, mills and manufactories, by the mansions of the industrial elite, and by the humble rows of working folk. As the power and presence of the British Empire grew, Scotland provided its workshop and its engine room.
Much of this industrial glory prevailed well into the 20th century; but in a changing post-war world, economic necessity and an appetite for change saw wholesale closures and clearance of traditional industries. Few saw value in recording and celebrating this disappearing world, and it was not until the 1980s that unemployment relief schemes offered the first significant resources for preserving the tools and built heritage of industry.
Most of our museums have their origins in this period and, in the absence of national direction, were created in response to local interests and local opportunities. Many other worthy projects conceived at that time were stillborn or have perished along the way, and all survivors have endured perilous periods in which a sustainable future seemed in doubt.
The new century finally brought a realisation and recognition of the importance of industry to the story of Scotland, and of the precious value of heritage safeguarded by Scotland’s independent industrial museums. While serving a national purpose, each museum remains deeply rooted in the communities that spawned them. Our museums serve not only to preserve the machinery and structures of industry, but keep alive knowledge, interest and culture. Our museums serve as a memorial to the past and an inspiration to the future.
In looking to the future, Scotland’s independent Accredited industrial museums holding Recognised Collections joined together to form Industrial Museums Scotland. Since 2010, this federation has promoted partnership and joint working, and developed to become a model of best practice for the sector. To date, IMS’ projects have included: a capital project to improve IT provision for collections management; participating in the MGS interns programme in 2011-12; audience development research; and funding for a part-time coordinator post. IMS has recently launched its new public-facing brand – Go Industrial – with the aim of promoting members and their Recognised collections to new and wider audiences.
IMS’ next project will focus on the Recognised Collections, to improve their care and promote them further. Objects are at the heart of our museums and caring for those objects is the reason our museums exist. Our Recognised Collections are one of the cornerstones of IMS, and holding this status is of great importance. Not only in terms of the funding and other opportunities this provides, but because Recognition status illustrates the significance of these collections to the preservation of the history of our nation.
Through partnership, IMS will continue to work to spark the popular imagination, open eyes to the wonders of our industrial past, and encourage all to spend a brilliant day out in our museums.
Dr Robin Chesters, Director, Almond Valley Heritage Trust, and Emma Halford-Forbes, Industrial Museums Scotland Coordinator