The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum – formerly The Smith Institute – has played a very special part in the history of Stirling since its foundation in 1874. Established by the bequest of artist Thomas Stuart Smith (1815-1869) on land supplied by the Burgh of Stirling, it is an historic public-private partnership which has continued to the present day. It was founded as a gallery of mainly contemporary art, with museum and library reading room ‘for the benefit of the inhabitants of Stirling, Dunblane and Kinbuck’.
Today, it functions as a gallery, museum and cultural centre for the Stirling area. It is the repository for the historical artefacts and paintings of Stirlingshire, at the same time offering exhibition opportunities for contemporary artists. Over twenty community groups meet regularly in its lecture theatre, and a café and biodiversity garden are among its newest attractions.
According to the Art Journal of 1896 the Smith did “a good work of quiet, unostentatious usefulness”. It has continued to do this and often the public do not recognise the Smith’s collections when they see them. They are used to illustrate many promotional brochures for Stirling and Scotland, from simple leaflets to books and the prestigious City Bid document of 2001. Images from the collection are also used in displays in visitor centres, including the Wallace Monument, throughout the area, and in the pages of national newspapers and in history books.
From the beginning, the Smith has had a collection of considerable historic and artistic significance. Although specialist publications for different exhibitions and aspects of the collection have been issued over the last twenty years, there has been no attempt at issuing a general catalogue since 1934.
When the writer and former suffragette Eunice Murray made her impassioned plea for Scottish folk museums, it was in the wake of the Second World War. She saw the establishment of museums as an essential feature of a peaceful and civilised society, and being familiar with Continental folk museums, regretted their absence in Scotland.
At this time, the Smith Institute was already 70 years old and had a large collection of folk life material relating to lighting, heating, cooking, spinning and weaving, agriculture and Stirling life in times past. Its use as a billet for troops in both World Wars curtailed its potential and kept it closed, in the latter instance, until 1948. The rest of the twentieth century was spent in repairing the damage and recovering from the war, and none of the other rural communities to whom Eunice Murray was appealing, found the resources to set up additional museums. Otherwise, Stirlingshire might well have had museums in Aberfoyle, Bannockburn, Callendar, Cowie, Doune, Dunmore, Fallin, Gargunnock, Killearn, Killin, Kippen, Plean, St . Ninians and Thornhill. The circumstances were right in Dunblane, where the museum was established in 1943. At present, only the Stirling Smith, Dunblane Museum and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum operate within the vast 2,200 square kilometres of the Stirling Council area.
The Stirling Smith has had a chequered history of 130 years which is worth examining in detail. The founder, Thomas Stuart Smith was an artist who wanted the art gallery element of his Institute to predominate.
The Smith Institute first opened to the public on 11 August 1874. It was an occasion for great celebration in Stirling, and the shops in the town closed at 12 noon to allow people to attend the opening. Nevertheless, there were some mixed feelings, for Thomas Stuart Smith, had died in 1869 and the location of the building was felt by many people to be too far away from the old town.
At the opening ceremony, Provost Christie refuted criticism of the location by pointing out that ‘five or ten minutes walk would bring any one to the Institute from the most distant part of the Burgh’ and that the site was chosen on environmental grounds ‘free from the noise and bustle and free from the dirt, dust and smoke, so that the students of art, science and literature could pursue their studies there unmolested and free from annoyance’. It was perhaps thanks to Provost Christie that the organisation came into being at all, for Thomas Stuart Smith’s first thoughts were to leave his money to the Artists’ Benevolent Association.
Thomas Stuart Smith was a man of fluctuating fortune with a colourful history who became an artist of considerable accomplishment, widely admired by his fellow artists. His grandmother was one of the Jaffray family in Stirling. The family story was that Thomas’s father and uncle were in love with the same woman, had a disagreement over her and parted. Thomas was illegitimate and his mother died when he was young. His father, a merchant working in Canada and the West Indies, sent the young Thomas to school in France. When the school fees failed to arrive in 1831, Thomas deduced that his father was dead. Thomas and his uncle Alexander Smith who held the estate of Glassingall, Dunblane were shocked to hear of each other’s existence. Alexander Smith, although he never met his newly discovered nephew, provided some financial support for him from time to time.
Thomas Stuart Smith obtained a post as a tutor to a young nobleman, travelling with the family to Naples, where he obtained for himself some tuition in painting from a master painter “Marsigli, the first painter here and one of the first in Italy”. In 1840 Thomas made “my first attempt at landscape and my first oil picture”. He was funded by his uncle to study and paint in various places in Italy in the 1840s, and by 1849 was exhibiting both at the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Royal Academy in London.
In that year, Alexander Smith died leaving no direct family and no will. Although he had been Thomas Stuart Smith’s main financial support, there was difficulty in proving their relationship, and eighteen people pursued claims on the Glassingall estate. It took Smith from 1849 to January 1857 to secure the inheritance of Glassingall.
The estate was much diminished through the demands of legal fees, and Smith missed the warmth and light of the continent. In 1863 he sold the estate, rented a studio at Fitzroy Square in London and began to build up his own art collection, purchasing from his contemporaries both in Britain and in Europe. With no need to sell his own work, he liked the idea of building an Institute which would house it and his general collection for ‘the welfare of the town and district of Stirling in Scotland’. He drew up a ‘Trust Disposition and Settlement’ for the building of a ‘Museum or Institute’ in Stirling, agreeing to provide £5000 for the building if the town provided a site for it within two years. He had a very specific idea of how the building should be
Composed of three principal rooms of offices and store rooms, with space left on either side for contingent additions. The style of the building to be plain (Italian), but of first-rate material and construction – the three rooms to be a Museum, a Picture Gallery and a Library and Reading Room, adapted for the benefit of the artisan and working classes.
He intended to oversee the construction himself. The Trust Disposition, naming his fellow artist A. W. Cox, his solicitor James Barty and the Provost of Stirling as Trustees was signed in November 1869. On 31 December he died unexpectedly at Avignon in the south of France.
T. S. Smith was something of an artist’s artist. Having had to struggle to study and practice his art, he had great sympathy for others in the same position, and frequently helped others. The first picture he exhibited in the Royal Academy was a painting of two young artists asking for shelter at the door of a convent in Italy. It was bought by Professor Owen, who had it hanging in his London house. According to Sir William Stirling Maxwell, 'The late Sir Edwin Landseer was struck by it and never visited Professor Owen without taking it down from the wall and examining it with some new expression at the masterly qualities which it exhibited.'
Smith was accomplished in landscape, interiors and excelled in portrait painting too. Whilst pursuing his claim to the Glassingall estate, he lived as an art teacher and portrait painter in Nottingham for a time. One of his pupils, James Orrock (1829-1913) recalled his work with delight and remembered him as ‘a man who could paint anything’, who was a close friend of John Phillip RA, and who knew Troyon and most of the other masters of the Barbizon School. Phillip regarded Smith as ‘one of the best living colourists’.
In the last year of his life, Smith submitted two remarkable portraits to the Royal Academy. Both were of black men of African origin. The Fellah of Kinneh depicts a young man in striped robes. The Pipe of Freedom celebrates the abolition of slavery in America. A smaller study of the same man, The Cuban Cigarette, shows the subject in profile. In subject and presentation, these portraits are quite rare in Scottish painting, and were given pride of place in the Africa in Scotland exhibition in Edinburgh in 1996. They also featured in the Black Victorians exhibition in Birmingham in 2005 and in Manchester in 2006. Black people were sometimes included in paintings. The Lost Child Restored by Sir George Harvey in the Smith’s own collection, where the negro servant is depicted in the doorway is a good example of an incidental inclusion. In Smith’s paintings of black men, the subjects are central, handsome, proud, independent and free. With fellow landowners in the Stirling area managing estates in Jamaica, such paintings would not have been popular. However, another member of the Jaffray family, ‘Citizen’ William Jaffray (1749-1828) had attained local fame through assisting a female slave on the way back to the West Indies to abscond and claim her freedom. His national fame was won through vaccinating some 16,000 children and saving Stirling from the small pox epidemics which raged elsewhere.
The work of T. S. Smith is often overlooked or under valued in Scottish art history. This is because the history is largely market-related. Smith had no need to paint for the board room or the market; his paintings were garnered for Stirling. He wanted his paintings to survive in a single collection, and bought back earlier works for that purpose when he was able to do so.
It was said that ‘Smith’s munificence inaugurated what might be called a new era in the annals of the town of Stirling’. Certainly, the desire to have such a facility in the burgh was long standing. The Stirling School of Arts which was part library, part mechanics institute was formed in 1825 with the intention of building such an establishment. It started out with a small lending library in a rented room in Broad Street in November 1825. Throughout its life, it attracted lecturers of national note. Its Annual Soirees were demonstrations of intent. In 1854 for example, the need for ‘a lecture room, library and museum, and a public place where interesting specimens of art may be deposited’ was again reiterated and Sir Archibald Alison declared that ‘Stirling will take its place in literature, science and art, which it has long in Scottish history taken in arms’.
The 1854 Soiree showed the potential of a permanent gallery and museum. The Corn Exchange was hired for the purpose, and the walls hung with tartans and evergreens supplied by the Drummonds. There was also a plough and sheaf of wheat from the Drummond Agricultural Museum. It is evident that the different branches of the Drummond family had given considerable assistance. They were tartan retailers, seedsmen, evangelical and temperance publishers and the owners of the Agricultural Museum (established 1831) to show the latest innovations in agriculture. Along one wall, prints and casts were shown, and there was an arrangement of Grecian statuary in front of the platform. Model steam and water engines were displayed, along with the chair of the Reverend James Guthrie, who had been martyred for his beliefs in 1661. This chair became part of the Macfarlane Museum collection, and is now in the Stirling Smith.
There were various private collections of antiquities in Stirling in the nineteenth century. In the Douglas Room in Stirling Castle was an assortment of arms and armour, including the pikes and other weapons taken from the radical weavers of 1820, and the pulpit of John Knox. The collection of Dr. Alexander Paterson (1822-1897), ‘long one of the chief attractions of Bridge of Allan’ had the skull of Darnley, a piece of Sir William Wallace’s fetters, a fragment of Robert the Bruce’s coffin and the key of Loch Leven Castle. The collection was sold in January 1899 and items from it were gifted to the Smith over the years.
The Macfarlane Museum was assembled by John Macfarlane of Coneyhill, Bridge of Allan (1785-1868) whose wealth was derived from textile manufacture in Manchester. He was the great local champion of the principle of the free library in Stirling where he opened a library and reading room in 1854. In 1881 the Macfarlane Free Library was transferred to the Smith along with the Macfarlane Museum which contained many important local objects and the Smith curator was charged with the additional task of looking after it. The Museum Hall, Bridge of Allan was built by the Macfarlane Trustees in 1887 as a Concert Hall. The marble bust of John MacFarlane was acquired for the Smith collection in 2002.
When the Smith site was selected, it was not in an advantageous part of the burgh. 1400 people signed a petition pointing this out. The building was the second to be built on the north side of the Dumbarton Road, in the King’s Park, which was under development as an up-market residential area. The King’s Park was cut off from the old town by the medieval wall. It remained unconnected until a new vehicular road was driven through at the Corn Exchange when the Carnegie Library was built in 1904. There was no direct road to the Smith. The pathway from the High School of Stirling (now the Stirling Highland Hotel) was created as a main access route to the Smith only after the Institute was opened to the public. The issue of breaching the medieval wall was one which was traditionally opposed by the people of Stirling. Today, these issues would be resolved by public consultation. The autocratic way in which the site was selected and the extinction of the hope for a museum facility in the old town was deeply resented, as shown by the obituary notice in the Stirling Observer which recounted the story of the Stirling School of Art:
‘Died at Stirling, on the 8th ult. of sheer neglect, after a lingering illness borne with the utmost indifference on the part of its professed friends, the Stirling School of Art in the 50th year of its age…So hopeless did the condition of the association become that the Directors mercifully cut its sufferings short by shooting it, as they would have done an old horse that had served its day.’
The obituary writer went on to note that:
‘that centre of intellectual darkness known as Denny, and Airth, Callander, Menstrie and St Ninians all had lectures. The Regime of the Provost of Stirling was like that of Napoleon who made Paris beautiful with boulevards, but did nothing for moral and intellectual welfare of his people. We do not forget the Smith Institute. It is a great boon to the town, and is calculated to be a powerful promoter of that ‘sweetness and light’ which we so much need. But it is the gift of a private individual, and neither the Council nor the Community are entitled to take any credit for it. What have we done for the working classes? As a community, nothing, absolutely nothing. As regards the Smith; its distance from the centre of the town must prevent it from ever becoming a popular resort. It is all very well to say that if a man wants knowledge he will not grudge to walk a mile or two for it. That is true. But what is required is not so much to supply those with knowledge who desire it, as to place it in an inviting form at the very doors of those who have no wish for it, in order that, if possible, such a wish may be begotten.’
If the building was geographically disadvantaged, the lack of a living patron added to the problem. Thomas Stuart Smith had intended to supervise the construction personally. Many corners were cut in the construction, and it is evident from the idiosyncratic structure of the roof that the architect, John Lessels (1808-1883) of Edinburgh , had little direct input.
Most of the building material came from the Raploch Quarry on the northern side of the Castle escarpment, now the site of the Fire Station. Additional sandstone came from a quarry at Dunmore.
The frontage to Dumbarton Road has a tetra style (four pillared) Doric portico. The tympanum carries two relief carvings of the Stirling seal, the wolf on the left side and the Castle on the right. In the centre is a coat of arms purporting to be that of Thomas Stuart Smith, but the heraldic arrangement is unknown and has never been entered at the Court of the Lord Lyon. The inscription on the entablature below reads The Smith Institute, erected and endowed with funds bequeathed by Thomas Stuart Smith of Glassingall Perthshire. There are six steps to the front door. The wrought metal handrail by Phil Johnston of Ratho Byres Forge was added in 2000. At either side of the steps are two plinths for sculpture (at present with urns) and there is an empty sculpture niche on the right side of the building.
The frontage to Victoria Road and the Back Walk is in length and is broken by two gables having three-light Venetian windows which are surmounted by pediments. The pediments are inscribed with bronze lettering as follows: Erected 1873. Trustees George Christie, Provost of Stirling, J. W. Barty Dunblane, A. W. Cox Nottingham and John Lessels Edinburgh Architect.
The west side of the building has a blank wall with no windows, this being the architectural interpretation of the Trust Deed of having ‘space on either side for contingent additions’. The back or north wall has three access doors added in 1985-7 during the refurbishment of the building.
The Smith had residential accommodation for the curator, and this was occupied by a succession of staff until 1959. When the building was requisitioned by the army in 1914, the curator and his family remained in residence. A separate entrance to the curator’s house was created by the army through enlarging a window. This is now the staff entrance, and the former domestic premises are now offices.
There were five public areas to the Smith in 1874. On the left of the entrance was the Reading Room and Library. This was a substantial room measuring 50 by , with an elaborate plasterwork scheme on the ceiling. The ceiling had three sections, each with 15 panels containing casts of the Stirling Heads, alternated with casts of the Arms of Stirling, the monogram of Thomas Stuart Smith and the date of the building. The woodwork was stained to look like oak, whilst the groundwork of each panel was in turquoise blue, the whole being enclosed in bands of soft red. The Library walls were in ‘drab Etruscan’ to harmonise with the ceiling.
When the Library moved to the new Carnegie building at the Corn Exchange in 1904, this became the natural history room. The plaster ceiling (by John Craigie of Stirling who had the contract for all the Smith plasterwork) was lost in the dry rot outbreak and removed in 1974. This room, re-named the Ballengeich Room or Gallery 1 was the first area of the Smith to be refurbished (1977). The room is at present used for temporary exhibitions and the Smith Café.
To the right of the entrance was the Small Museum, used for displaying the collection of original Stirling Heads and other Scottish antiquities. It was later used for ethnographical displays, and in 1984 was fitted out as the Lecture Room. It is used extensively by community groups and the large stained glass window from Springbank House was resited here in 2000, together with other stained glass panels and the original plasters by Albert Hemstock Hodge (1876-1918) for the Stirling Burns Monument.
The centre gallery, Gallery 2, was conceived as the watercolour gallery, and was top lit. It is now used for temporary exhibitions. The large gallery, Gallery 3 was the gallery for the oil paintings of the foundation collection and remained so until 1970. It was also top lit. At present, it houses the Stirling Story exhibition. In 1874 both of these galleries were painted dark marone with the coves in green.
The final area was the General Museum. On the east side of the building with its face to Stirling, it was lit by eight large windows and housed the museum collection. After the difficulties with the building encountered in the 1970s, this area became the storage area, and is no longer accessible to the public.
When the Smith first opened to the public, almost equal amounts space were devoted to the gallery and museum. There was no provision for workshop or storage space and the anticipated expansion on the two acre site did not happen. The pressing need for storage and workshop space has resulted in the loss of a third of the public area for that purpose and most of the fine art collection is at present confined to storage. The pressure for temporary exhibition space keeps Galleries 1 and 2 filled with constantly changing exhibitions, mainly by contemporary artists. The occupation of the Gallery 3, the largest exhibition space, with museum display is a temporary measure until new storage can be found and the splendour of this huge picture gallery restored to its original purpose.
The work of building the Smith was undertaken mainly by local contractors with a couple of exceptions. Sinclair of Edinburgh had the contract for the mason work, and the decoration was undertaken by Bonnar and Carfrae, also of Edinburgh, and one of the foremost in their field. The Bonnar family, tracing their lineage from John Bonnar who became a master painter in 1756, have had many talented artists in the family. One of them, John A. T. Bonnar, worked on the Smith contract and was resident in Stirling. A box painted with an intricate decorative scheme which belonged to him, but possibly executed by his older relative William Bonnar RSA (1800-1853) was presented to the Smith by his descendent, film-maker David Bonnar Thomson. The Smith was a constant source of inspiration for the young David sent by his art teacher, James Atterson, from the High School of Stirling down the Back Walk to study the paintings. The box represents one of several unbroken artistic threads which link the Smith to a family of artists through generations over a 130 year span.
The first Smith curator was Alexander Croall (1804-1885), a native of Angus who acquired a national reputation as a natural historian, and who was also the first curator of Derby City Museum before his appointment to Stirling. As a young man he had trained himself in botany through his frequent field trips. ‘On those occasions he commonly slept on the heather, carrying his slender commissariat in his pocket’. He corresponded with and was respected by other eminent natural historians, including Balfour, Dickie, Hooker and Darwin. In 1855, Sir William Hooker commissioned Croall to prepare a herbarium of the plants of Braemar for Queen Victoria.
Croall is still remembered for his standard four volume work, British Sea Weeds: Nature Printed published in 1860 and illustrated by W. G. Johnston. Such was his passion for sea weed that he had the nick-name ‘Roosty Tangle.’
Croall had the talent for inspiring others. He had much influence on a young boy, David Buchan Morris (1867-1943) who grew up to be Town Clerk of Stirling and was deeply involved in running the Smith in the period 1901-1939. Morris wrote of Croall that:
'Never was there a happier appointment, and never was a man more happy in his situation. The Trustees... placed unbounded confidence in him... People from all parts consulted him on many subjects – objects rather – of natural science and archaeology and he met them in such a genial spirit that he seemed really to thank them for giving him the trouble.'
Mr Croall set a very high ideal of this place and work in his new sphere of life. He looked upon the Smith Institute as the shrine of art and science in Stirling, and himself as their high priest.
Working with Stirling High School art master Leonard Baker, Croall mounted an exhibition of contemporary art in 1878. Out of this grew the Stirling Fine Art Association. Croall also established the Stirling Field Club whose members helped build up the collections of the Smith Institute. In the early years the Field Club met in the Smith, and the successes of the museum are recorded in the printed transactions of the society 1878-1938. He was eloquent and inspirational. His paper Weeds – what they are, and what to do with them (November 1883) is a lyrical lecture on the biodiversity of Creation, and typical of his teaching. His daughter Annie Croall (1854-1927) also made a significant contribution in Stirling. After finding a baby abandoned on the Back Walk, she opened a house for homeless women and then the Stirling Children’s Home. Her story is recounted in Fifty Years on a Scottish Battlefield 1873-1923.
When Alexander Croall died, the Trustees appointed his son-in-law James Sword, who had been working in the County Council Office, as curator. During Sword’s curatorship (1885-1921), the specialist history and antiquities collections were built up through small but significant purchases and donations. Sword was a keen natural historian and sportsman and with skills in taxidermy. It was he who created the large collection of stuffed birds and animals, and put together the collection of communion tokens. He also did much to improve the grounds, making pavements, concrete kerbings and bases for the iron railings.
A regular feature of the Smith’s programme between 1881 and 1938 was the three yearly Stirling Fine Art Association Exhibition. There were eighteen of these exhibitions in all, usually running from January to March. Season and family tickets could be purchased. Many of the best known names in the Scottish art world exhibited at the Smith, including Cadell, McTaggart, Bessie MacNicol, Gemmell Hutchison and Anne Redpath. The local artistic community included William Kennedy, Joseph Denovan Adam, Nellie Harvey, D. Y. Cameron, Henry and Isobel Morley, and stained glass designer Isobel Goudie. In 1910, Stirling architects Crawford and Fraser exhibited their drawings for Henry Morley’s new house ‘The Gables’ which was ‘the speak o’the toun’. Other architectural plans and cartoons for stained glass windows were exhibited from time to time.
The triennial exhibitions were accompanied by a lecture and concert programme. The speakers and musicians were accommodated on a platform at the back of the large gallery. It was at these concerts that the work of the young Muir Mathieson was premiered. Son of artist John G. Mathieson who ran a gallery at 16 Allan Park, he went on to become famous as a composer for the British film industry. Many of the concerts in the 1930s were organised by Adam R. Lennox, musical director of the Stirling Operatic Society and organist of Chalmers’ Church. He worked in the Town Clerk’s Office for David B. Morris. Alexander McIntosh OBE, at that time a young assistant in the Town Clerk’s Office sometimes had the duty to show people to their seats at the Smith concerts.
The Constitution of the Stirling Fine Art Association allowed the purchase of works of art to be added to the Smith collections from any surplus funds, after all expenses incurred by the exhibition had been defrayed. Unfortunately, these circumstances rarely occurred.
The work of the Smith came to an abrupt halt in 1914 with the outbreak of war and the requisitioning of the building for military purposes. This happened twice in the twentieth century. From 1914-1921 and 1939-1948 the Smith was rendered inoperable as a gallery and museum, being used for the billeting of troops and other military purposes. Stirling was a garrison town from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, and the billeting of troops in times of crisis was one of the domestic hazards of life in the burgh for most people. The Smith suffered badly from the experience of the two wars. The damage list of 1919 makes for particularly dismal reading – damaged front steps, broken and bent railings; choked valley gutters leading to dampness, water ingress and damage to the collections stacked high in the side rooms; broken windows, plaster, flooring, lamps, ventilation grating; eleven sheets of roof glass broken; flooring stained with oil and urine; doors and door furniture removed; damage to the boiler. An entrance with rough wooden steps for the curator and his family had been created on the east side of the building. Worse still, the public were banned from coming near the building: “Loitering of any kind on any portion of the Institute grounds to be rigorously prevented by the Military Authorities. No person other than troops to be permitted with the grounds…”
To have this rough treatment for lengthy periods twice within twenty-five years was an experience from which the Smith scarcely recovered. The paintings had to be crammed into the museum spaces to leave the two large galleries free for troop accommodation. There were no washing facilities, even for the eating utensils of the troops. Food was served through hatches burst in the west wall, from a field kitchen erected in the grounds. The wrought iron railings were removed from the front of the building to aid the war effort in the 1940s.
The Smith’s third curator, Joseph McNaughton served from 1921 to the derequisitioning of the Smith in 1947. With the aid of his nephew Duncan, he managed to publish a catalogue of the collections in 1934.
Gallery Three in particular was used during both wars to billet troops especially when they were training on the King’s Park. It must have been the practice to clean weapons and ammunition while there as live rounds of Lee Enfield and 707 bullets had been found over the years. When Gallery 3 was about to be reconditioned the central heating duct in the middle of the room had to be carefully searched to remove any remaining ammunition. The workmen reported having found some more ammunition as a result of this search and subsequent works.
After retiring from the police force in 1950/51, my grandfather, Robert Moffat became caretaker of the Smith Institute. He stayed with granny in the adjoining house.
My brother, sister and myself stayed every weekend and all school holidays. Each day was an adventure with the history and stories that papa told us.
His office was on the right hand side as you walked in the entrance. I remember the shelves being packed with books, ledgers and files. He sat at the huge desk in front of the window where he would write with a quill. Although I tried, I never managed to master it and was left with blobs of ink on the paper.
Going through the glass doors was like entering another world, full of history and wonder.
In the room on the left, there were lots of glass cases which had birds eggs, large and small. Also butterflies of outstanding colours, down to plain creamy ones, and moths, some of them so large, it gave you the shudders.
As you entered the room on the right, you stopped dead in your tracks, because, there in front of you was a stuffed wild cat which looked alive and ready to pounce on you. The stuffed birds of prey looked every bit as alive as the wild cat, especially one of the eagles. I used to duck as I ran past it. In the glass cases against the wall, there were snakes in liquid in tall glass jars, also creepy crawlies. Not my favourite part of the museum, as it gave me nightmares. There were steps which led into another part of the room. There was a stone age display of bowls, round grinders with a hole in the middle to put a stick so you could turn it to grind corn, etc. What was so interesting was that man had made these, and the tools that were needed for cooking.
At the very top of this room were all the ancient coins and paper money which was not so old. You could get into the main gallery from this room, but I preferred to walk back to the passage and enter through two glass doors into a small room before going into the gallery because all the armour was here. Shields and swords were put up on the walls and chain gauntlets. When the film Rob Roy was on at the Allan Park Picture house, papa was given permission to supply the shields and swords for display at the entrance in the picture house. He was given free tickets for the film which we all enjoyed and also added to the history in the museum for us.
In the main gallery, marble busts of famous people stood proudly around the edge of the floor. Paintings were hung on the walls, some nice but some, to me anyway were not so nice, but, it was history, and the scenes were real. At the back of the gallery was a stage where many concerts were held.
There was a private door leading from the house into the passage in the museum, and I used to love peeping out to watch the people who were dressed so smartly. I remember some of the ladies wearing long dresses and fur stoles, like my granny used to wear. Sadly I can’t remember the concerts.
The house itself was an adventure of sorts as a ghost used to walk about upstairs. There were four bedrooms, and at the top of the stairs was a room which had windows and curtains and had lots of trunks and boxes on the floor.
Downstairs was a dining room. At Christmas, papa got a tree that reached the ceiling. It was covered in glitter and fancy balls. The logs in the fire crackled cheerily adding to the excitement.
The bathroom was long and narrow, but the kitchen was big, and always smelled of baking and jam making. The two parrots, Polly the Amazon green, and Sunshine the African grey, sat in their cages on top of the dresser. Both had a wonderful vocabulary and seemed to have the knack of saying the right thing at the right time. In the cupboard next to the gas cooker was a peep hole where I could look into the stone age part of the museum.
Going down the stairs at the side door, and turning left, was the boiler room. My initials are in the cement there.
Papa loved his garden. The rose garden was in the front. At the side of the museum were trees and daffodils. Occasionally Mr Mclarin brought his horse over to graze in the side. Further up, and going through the gates was a garden the width of the grounds. Strawberries, gooseberries, rasps, rhubarb, red and blackcurrants, then there was potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, mint. Then the flowers, peony roses, poppies, marigolds and lots of others.
Going out the gate and turning right was the orchard. There were plum trees, apple and crab apple trees. One day as I was walking, I noticed that one of the gratings was loose on the side of the wall. I decided to see where it led, and crawled in. Well I didn’t get too far along the tunnel when I got stuck. My brother was too frightened to come in so he got papa, who came with a pulley rope and made a loop at the end. He kept throwing it until it slipped over my feet. Slowly he tugged, and pulled me out. My hips and legs were all scraped, but that didn’t stop me from getting spanked for going in in the first place.
On my thirteenth birthday, papa gave me a gold signet ring. After my birthday tea, I went out to the orchard. I was so thrilled at getting a gold ring, that I flung out my arms and birled round. Suddenly, as I was spinning round, my ring flew off my finger. I hunted and hunted until papa came to see if I was okay. Tears streaming down my face, I told him what had happened. I was heartbroken, but papa said that that would teach me to think before I did anything every again.
When papa died in 1957, three years later, I walked around his treasured gardens and the orchard. I looked again on the chance that I might just find my ring, papa’s gift to me, but it remained hidden.
I lived opposite the Smith (or the Smith Institute as it was then known) from 1956 until 1968. My father was the Baptist minister and until 1968 the manse was at 23 Albert Place. During these years, we did visit the museum often, but my more vivid memories are of the grounds and the house attached to the museum.
As children, the grounds of the museum were our playground. The long grass and the leafy trees were places of adventure, especially during the summer holidays. We ran around playing imaginative games, climbing trees and playing football until we were called in to go to bed. At other times of the year we enjoyed bonfires and fireworks in the grounds.
Often we played with the grandson of the caretakers, Bob and Bessie McLeish. They lived in the house attached to the museum and I remember going from the house, through a large door, into the museum office which was full of papers. The curator came from Glasgow every day by bus, getting off the bus just outside the museum.
Bob McLeish had served in the Royal Artillery in the First World War. After retiring from the REME workshops, he felt he needed some occupation, so became caretaker of the Smith. When he arrived, the grounds had become neglected so he spent a great deal of time restoring them. He kept the garden beautifully and was able to provide year-round flowers and greenery for the Baptist Church where he and Bessie were members. Many residents of the surrounding area admired his garden and thanked him for keeping it so beautifully. When not gardening, he was often seen riding a large, elderly bicycle at speed down Albert Place. The brakes on the bicycle were somewhat inadequate, so he had to jump off when he wanted to stop!
During the years we lived in Albert Place, the museum appeared to be rather neglected. The galleries seemed quite bare, but my brother and I have memories of a butterfly collection in the first room on the left. In a room on the right there were stuffed animals: particularly memorable were a wild cat and a bird of prey. At the back of the building, there was a very large room which had an enormous painting on the back wall as well as some portraits on the other walls. Occasionally there were special exhibitions; certainly there was a local art exhibition from time to time and one of our neighbours used to regularly contribute paintings to these exhibitions. Very rarely, there would be a concert to attend.
The Smith Institute and its grounds were an important part of my childhood. I am delighted that the Smith has been kept open and is now flourishing.
Many museums in Scotland, like the Smith, were founded by a private individual or an archaeological or scientific society, and were run with private resources for public benefit. Libraries developed in the same way. With encouragement from Andrew Carnegie, public libraries became the mark of a civilised society, and the Public Libraries Act made their funding by the local authority mandatory. Gradually, many local authorities also took on the responsibility of running their local museums, but this remained an option rather than a duty. Various letters from concerned experts were addressed to the Smith Trustees during the difficult years, urging them to hand over the Smith to the burgh council.
During the years of the Great Depression, the money left by Thomas Stuart Smith failed to return much by way of interest. The building began to develop problems, made worse by the Second World War. By the 1960s, the underfunding and lack of development was serious, and the enduring memory that many Stirling citizens have of the building in this period is the sound of rain being caught in numerous metal buckets and tin cans, spread around the floor at strategic points.
In 1970, the Trustees, on the advice of the Keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities, signed over the original Stirling Heads to the Department of Ancient Monuments (now Historic Scotland). It was feared that these important early portraits were in danger because of the condition of the Smith and that they should be returned to their original home, Stirling Castle. (Interestingly, the National Museum Trustees have not elected to return the three Stirling Heads in their collection to Stirling Castle.) Additional proposals sought from other experts recommended the dispersal of the art collection, and the use of the history collections for exhibitions in various historic buildings in the upper town.
At one point, the building was in such poor condition that the only viable option seemed to be demolition. In 1973, the Friends of the Smith, a body of concerned citizens was formed to save the building and its collections. Working in partnership with the local authority, they effected a rescue package.
Elsewhere in Scotland, museums and galleries were the responsibility of the district councils. In Stirling, the situation with the Smith was so serious, that the regional council was persuaded to enter into the partnership, providing half of the public funding package. The Joint Committee of Stirling District Council and Central Regional Council was the Smith’s governing body from 1975 until the disappearance of the Regional Council in 1996, and during those years, it alone of all the Regional Councils in Scotland invested money in a local museum and gallery.
A major programme of refurbishment was undertaken in the mid 1980s, and the collections were moved out to various stores during the contract period. Some of the cost cutting measures undertaken by the original builders came to light.
In 1984 during renovation of Gallery 2, an initially straight forward contract became suddenly much more expensive and difficult. We were called through to the room by the contractors to look at a problem they had encountered with the dividing wall between galleries 2 and 3. I had to climb up to look at the top of the wall which appeared sound but that was not the problem. One of the builders leaned gently on the top of the wall and we all had the distinct feeling that the scaffolding was swaying dramatically. It was not the scaffold but the wall that had moved about a foot at the top. Since this wall was supposed to be holding up the roof at this point it was rather worrying. It turned out that the Victorian builders had built a wall only two bricks wide but forty feet high. Thankfully the main roof beams were able to support the roof and had in fact been holding the wall in place for one hundred and ten years. The entire wall had to be demolished and a new wall six bricks wide with a five foot foundation, rebuilt in its place.
When the museum collections were in storage in the old High School (now the Highland Hotel) we made use of five rooms on the main wing, three on the ground floor and two above. The third room on the second floor was not used for anything important as it had a tendency to flood in heavy rain. The water came in at one point and, had to be collected, otherwise it could have flooded the room below which did contain museum objects. We did this with a fifty gallon oil drum and during wet weather it was part of the routine to check if the drum was filling. When it was sufficiently full (not too heavy) it was dragged over to the door that connected to the spiral staircase below the observatory and tipped down the stair. There was no other way to remove the water. Luckily these stairs went all the way to ground level and out onto Spittal Street. It must have been a strange sight to see a rush of water out of the bottom door but no-one ever mentioned it.
To give an account of how the Friends of the Smith worked to ensure a future for the Smith would take a book in itself. David Brown, who was a member of the Executive Committee of the Friends, 1986-1996, and twice Chairman in that period, gives a flavour of what the work involved.
Hans Meidner was Chairman when I joined the Friends. His portrait painted as a demonstration piece by James Fullerton in 1½ hours is now part of the Smith collection. The brochure of 1981 produced by Hans Meidner refers to the anonymous donor of £12,000, which made possible the opening of the Ballengeich Room in 1977, who is now known to be Mrs F. W. Saunders, later President of the Friends; when she made that generous gesture which surely saved the Smith from ignominious extinction, she was Miss Mary Service, Honorary Secretary.
Hans was succeeded by Noel Connal in 1984 and until he left Stirling in 1996 he was the backbone of the committee which deferred to him in all matters, particularly as he and Mrs Saunders were our representatives on the Joint Committee.
Noel’s untimely death in February 1986 saw his vice, Alex Ross take over; he it was who persuaded me to become Honorary Treasurer. During the Chairmanship of Angus Davidson, whose sterling service is commemorated by the Rowan tree at the entrance to the car park, the next memorable event – apart from Plant Sale, Jazz concerts, Children’s Art Competitions, Operation Skylark, etc, etc – was the massive effort made by Matilda Mitchell in raising over £25,000 to restore works held by the Smith. The first of these was ‘The Pipe of Freedom’ by T. S. Smith which features in the Friends brochure of 1991 produced during my time in the dual role of Chairman/Treasurer following Susan Ward’s two years in office.
The highlight of Susan’s chairmanship was the raising of £8220 in five weeks to ensure the purchase of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Mrs Callander; the Friends actually provided more than one quarter of the purchase price of £40,000.
Maureen Anderson relieved me of the Treasurer’s duties in 1992 and Catriona Brown was appointed chairman in March 1993.
During 1993 and 1994 I was happy to work for the good of the Smith as an ordinary member of the Friends committee; my main contribution was as convenor of the Plant Sale sub-committee. In 1995 the most memorable event was the Margaret Marshall concert on 1 October and it was during the Children’s Art Competition in December that I found myself once more in the chair.
In 1996 the Plant Sale was again one of my main concerns, and during July, August and September, the Denovan Adam Exhibition’s success was supplemented by the presence of Highland cows and rare breeds of sheep and goats in what is now Ailie’s Garden. I got much pleasure from assisting with the care of the animals – “mucking out”, feeding and grooming, particularly Hamish, officially appointed PRO of the Smith, and teaching the goats to dance during evening feed time.
Hamish’s Farewell Party with the Central Region Schools’ Pipe Band was on Sunday 15 September when Sion Barrington transferred him to the Farm Life Centre at Dunaverig.
After the successful concert “From Vienna to Moscow” given by Anne McLennan-Scott and the Morley String Quartet (all members of Scottish Opera) on Sunday 22 September, I once again resigned as chairman, but when Hamish returned in September 1997 I was his full-time carer; the grass was waist-high and he couldn’t eat it, nor could I find his droppings! So with a borrowed scythe I set to, to create a usable paddock and a reserve of fresh straw for his comfort and consumption.
From 1996-1999, John Scott was Chair of the Friends. During this time, the Smith won one of the first Woodmansterne Awards for the conservation of the Hugh Howard portrait of composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Paul Woodmansterne was so delighted with the project that he brought an early music ensemble from St. Albans to perform Corelli’s Christmas Concerto and other works in a celebratory concert in the big gallery.
John Scott was also personally involved as part of the team constructing the William Wallace exhibition of 1997, the Victorian Stirling exhibition in 1998, and the Stirling Story exhibition in 2000. Each of these was a major production showing different aspects of the Smith’s collections.
Margaret Gray’s time as Chairperson was distinguished with the production and delivery of Ailie’s Garden, the biodiversity and play area at the rear of the Smith in 2002. A membership drive, assisted with the first colour-printed Friends leaflet, took the membership to over 900, a significant achievement for a small museum. Moira Lawson who became Chair in 2004 was heavily involved in the fund raising and project management for Ailie’s Garden, as well as in the fundraising for the purchase of the Wallace painting. Her culinary skills are important in providing the special social events which punctuate the Smith’s year – the exhibition openings, celebrations and children’s events.