Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum by Barbara Fairweathen Curator

I have been asked to write an article on the Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum. There has always been a close link between the Museum and the Clan, though we are strictly an area museum rather than a clan museum. The original museum building was opened by D.J. Macdonald, the Clan Historian. It was another MacDonald, Mrs. Macdonald Clarke (a descendant of the murdered Chief) who opened the present larger building to which we moved in 1972. Clan members helped to get the project under way by holding ceilidhs in the glen and passing artefacts on to the museum.

The last time I wrote for the magazine our thoughts were on the 300th remembrance. The museum has changed its direction since then. Our outlook and actions have varied very much since that date. It was a question of “would we join the Museum Council or not?” In many ways we were hesitant as we felt we would have to respond to every objective in a uniform way. One change was that we became recognised as a charity. Under the change we can no longer sell or dispose of items we no longer need. We must first get permission from the council. The object is offered to any museum at a price set by the council; if it is not sold, it is returned to the museum which may then sell it. In return we can apply to the council for grants. Many objects are offered to museums, at times, in perfect condition but sometimes they have been damaged by well meant “improvements”. We may get the full cost or sometimes 50%. It is a great help to small museums. Many firms give most generously to this work. It helps to save many priceless items of Scottish heritage and many less spectacular. Those of you who have’ visited the Glencoe Museum in the past may remember the large MacDonald genealogical chart. We had an arsonist set fire to the museum and the chart got damaged from water and smoke, and we could no longer show it. By a grant from the council the chart was restored, the money coming from the Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust Paper Conservation Fund. As it happens we have no regrets about joining the council. The museum was so interested in the chart, they asked if they might use a photo of the repair work being done, for publication. We have had nothing but help from them. This past year we have had a further grant to get a fine piece of old weaving repaired, through the generosity of a grant from The Cloth Workers Foundation. We also had a survey done through the help of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Cleaning and restoring items are not always straight forward. As an instance it is permissible to polish medals but coins should not be so treated. I have been told is is because coins are not normally polished but medals can be. Then there is quite a lot of discussion as to whether pewter should be polished with anything but a dry clean cloth. Some say using a metal polish brings the pewter to look like poor silver. Old materials have to be tested as so many of them do not suit modern technology.

On the 29th of June Mrs.Grant (the President) and I were in Edinburgh. The museum was recognised for I was given the M.B.E. It came to me as the one who started the museum. Certainly all the workers past and present are covered by the award. It was a splendid day and we have a memento of it in a professional video of the scene.

1994 was the tricentennial of the opening of the Ballachulish Slate Quarry. There had been some work done in 1693 in the West Quarry but it did not develop as well as the East Quarry. The East Quarry brought some considerable fame to the district. To celebrate this anniversary we commissioned the making of a model of the quarry showing its workings. We republished “A Short History of the Ballachulish Slate Quarry”. It is larger than the original. We had two copies made of grave stones from the island. One was of a boy killed in a quarry accident when working there. It was reported that a dove dropped a strand of ivy on his brow as he lay dying. This story is depicted on the grave stone. It was the custom for slate workers and others to use slate for many purposes: fields can be fenced with slate, floors flagged with slate, paths made with it. The men of this area used to make boat houses of slate. These are now listed buildings, as they are not known in any other part.

In 1994 the Museum republished “Places to see in North Lorn”, “Eilean Munda”, and “A Short History of Glencoe”, and introduced one new book, “The Cook in her Kitchen”. This book was written round a recipe book begun in 1770. The manuscript belongs to Mrs. Reid who is a member of our committee. The book is a family recipe book and is printed with all its assorted spellings and directions – as, when writing on the amount of sugar to use, “as you will” or perhaps “what pleases you”. Apart from this there is some brief history connected with food and the old tools. Not only did the household cook and preserve but they made many of their own medicines, their own soap, and lighting from rushes, etc. Recipes were exchanged among friends. In the recent edition the recipes for most medicines are omitted as their safe use by an amateur is not recommended. There was a great deal of brandy used so I fear they would not suit the N.H.S. Mrs. Barrow, a local artist who is also on the museum committee, illustrated the cook book with attractive drawings of the tools of the past.

In 1992 we were troubled by our burglar alarm going off from time to time. It might go off in the daytime and it certainly went off at night. During 1993 we had a thorough check. It appears that Glencoe electricity comes in uneven surges of power and this caused our alarm to go off. Once the cause was found we went ahead with installing an adjustment to end the trouble. I would like to say how much we appreciated the attitude of the village, who made no complaint at the noise of the alarm – which I can assure you was terrific. I am happy to say that this year we only had one false alarm during the season. Another problem faces us. There has been talk of having yellow lines in the village. At one time it was to be on both sides of the street, but I think it may only be on one side.

I would like to thank all Clan Donald members for their help in the fortunes of the museum.