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National Museum of Scotland

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Title: National Museum of Scotland  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Economy of Edinburgh, Art in modern Scotland, Prehistoric art in Scotland, Stirling torcs, Scottish art
Collection: 1866 Establishments in Scotland, 1998 Establishments in Scotland, Asian Art Museums, Category a Listed Buildings in Edinburgh, Decorative Arts Museums in Scotland, Egyptological Collections in Scotland, History Museums in Scotland, History of Scotland, Industry Museums in Scotland, Infrastructure Completed in 1866, Infrastructure Completed in 1998, Listed Museum Buildings in Scotland, Museums Established in 1866, Museums Established in 1998, Museums in Edinburgh, Museums of Ancient Near East, National Museums of Scotland, Natural History Museums in Scotland, Old Town, Edinburgh, Romanesque Revival Architecture, Romanesque Revival Architecture in the United Kingdom, Science Museums in Scotland, Technology Museums in the United Kingdom
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland
The Museum of Scotland building, part of the National Museum of Scotland
General information
Architectural style Victorian Romanesque Revival and modern
Town or city Edinburgh
Country Scotland
Construction started 1861
Completed 1866 and 1998
Inaugurated 1866
Renovated 2011
Design and construction
Architect Benson & Forsyth
Structural engineer Anthony Hunt Associates

National Museums Scotland was formed by Act of Parliament in 1985 [1], amalgamating the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and The Royal Scottish Museum. The National Museum of Scotland, National Museums Scotland. Admission is free.

The two buildings retain distinctive characters: the Museum of Scotland is housed in a modern building opened in 1998, while the former Royal Museum building was begun in 1861, and partially opened in 1866, with a Victorian Romanesque Revival facade and a grand central hall of cast iron construction that rises the full height of the building. This building underwent a major refurbishment and reopened on 29 July 2011 after a three year, £47 million project to restore and extend the building led by Gareth Hoskins Architects along with the concurrent redesign of the exhibitions by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.[1]

The National Museum incorporates the collections of the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and the Royal Museum. As well as the main national collections of Scottish archaeological finds and medieval objects, the museum contains artefacts from around the world, encompassing geology, archaeology, natural history, science, technology and art. The 16 new galleries reopened in 2011 include 8,000 objects, 80 per cent of which were not formerly on display.[2] One of the more notable exhibits is the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first successful clone of a mammal from an adult cell. Other highlights include Ancient Egyptian exhibitions, one of Elton John's extravagant suits and a large kinetic sculpture named the Millennium Clock. A Scottish invention that is a perennial favourite with school parties is The Maiden, an early form of guillotine.

In 2013, the museum had 1,768,090 visitors during the year.[3]


  • Collections 1
  • Architecture 2
    • Royal Museum building 2.1
    • Museum of Scotland building 2.2
  • History 3
  • Gallery 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The galleries in the newer building present Scottish history in an essentially chronological arrangement, beginning at the lowest level with prehistory to the early medieval period, with later periods on the higher levels. The Victorian building, as reopened in 2011, contains four zones (each with numerous galleries), covering natural history, world cultures (including galleries on the South Pacific, East Asia, and Ancient Egypt), European art and design, and science & technology. The Grand Gallery contains a variety of large objects from the collections, with a display called the "Window on the World" rising through four storeys, or about 20 metres, containing over 800 objects reflecting the breadth of the collections. Beyond the Grand Gallery at ground level is the "Discoveries" gallery, with objects connected to "remarkable Scots ... in the fields of invention, exploration and adventure".[4]

Notable artefacts include:

Detail of chape from the St Ninian's Isle Treasure.
Some of the 11 Lewis chessmen in Edinburgh
Scottish antiquities


The Grand Gallery of the former Royal Museum building on reopening day, July 29, 2011,

Royal Museum building

Construction was started in 1861 and proceeded in phases, with some sections opening before others had even begun construction. The original extent of the building was completed in 1888. It was designed by civil engineer Captain Francis Fowke of the Royal Engineers, who is also responsible for the Royal Albert Hall. The exterior, designed in a Venetian Renaissance style, contrasts sharply with the light-flooded main hall or Grand Gallery, inspired by The Crystal Palace.

Numerous extensions at the rear of the building, particularly in the 1930s, extended the museum greatly. 1998 saw the opening of the Museum of Scotland, which is linked internally to the Royal Museum building. The major redevelopment completed in 2011 by Gareth Hoskins Architects uses former storage areas to form a vaulted Entrance Hall of 1400 sq M at street level with visitor facilities. This involved lowering the floor level by 1.2 metres. Despite being a Class A listed building, it was possible to add lifts and escalators.[2]

Museum of Scotland building

The building's architecture was controversial from the start, and Prince Charles resigned as patron of the museum, in protest at the lack of consultation over its design. [6] The building is made up of geometric, Corbusian forms, but also has numerous references to Scotland, such as brochs and castellated, defensive architecture. It is clad in golden Moray sandstone, which one of its architects, Gordon Benson, has called "the oldest exhibit in the building", a reference to Scottish geology. The building was a 1999 Stirling Prize nominee.


The history of the museum can be said to begin in 1780 with the foundation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which still continues, but whose collection of archaeological and other finds was transferred to the government in 1858 as the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, based in Queen Street in the New Town, Edinburgh.

In 1861 construction of the Industrial Museum of Scotland began, with Prince Albert laying the foundation stone. In 1866, renamed the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art, the eastern end and the Grand Gallery were opened by Prince Alfred. In 1888 the building was finished and in 1904 the institution was renamed the Royal Scottish Museum.

The organizational merger of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum took place in 1985, but the two collections retained separate buildings until 1995 when the Queen Street building closed, to reopen later as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. In 1998 the new Museum of Scotland building opened, adjacent to the Royal Museum, and connected to it. The masterplan to redevelop the Victorian building and further integrate the architecture and collections was launched in 2004, and in 2006 the two museums were formally merged as the National Museum of Scotland. The old Royal Museum building closed for redevelopment in 2008, before reopening in July 2011. [2]

Initially, much of the Royal Museum's collection came from the Museum of Edinburgh University, and there is a bridge connecting the museum to the University's Old College building. The students saw the collection as their own, and curators would often find the exhibits rearranged or even missing. The final straw came in the 1870s, when students who were holding a party found that the museum was also holding a reception for local dignitaries, and had stored refreshments in the bridge. When the museum found the refreshments missing, the bridge was bricked up the next day, and has remained so since.

The Royal Museum displayed prank exhibits on April Fool's Day on at least one occasion. In 1975, a fictitious bird called the Bare-fronted Hoodwink (known for its innate ability to fly away from observers before they could accurately identify it) was put on display. The exhibit included photos of blurry birds flying away. To make the exhibit more convincing, a mount of the bird was sewn together by a taxidermist from various scraps of real birds, including the head of a Carrion Crow, the body of a Plover, and the feet of an unknown waterfowl. The bare front was composed of wax.[7]


See also


  1. ^ "BBC News - National Museum of Scotland to reopen after £47m refit". 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  2. ^ a b c NMS press release for the reopening
  3. ^ "2013 Visitor figures". Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  4. ^ NMS press release on reopening
  5. ^ "UK | Scotland | Dolly goes on display". BBC News. 2003-04-09. Retrieved 2012-04-07. 
  6. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY | 13 | 1991: Prince quits in museum design row". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  7. ^ "The Bare-Fronted Hoodwink". 1975-04-01. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 

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