Month: September 2015

Object Focus: Burns’s Brolly

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Burns' umbrella. Accession number 3.7503.
Burns’ umbrella.  3.7503.

Although unmistakably an umbrella, this item is very different from the modern light-weight models that we are accustomed to today. The key difference is in the type of materials used for its construction: the frame is of wood, the spoke-ends and handle of ivory, and the canopy of oiled-silk. This combination would have resulted in a heavy, unwieldy object and it’s hard to imagine anyone holding it for long periods without getting tired – although Robert’s years of tough farm work would have left him more than up to the task.

Burns' umbrella. Accession number 3.7503.

In eighteenth century Britain, the umbrella was still a fairly new invention, having first been popularized in Paris before making its way across the English Channel. In London, Jonas Hanway pioneered its use, and was ridiculed for many years as a result. By the 1780s, however, it appears to have been firmly established as a daily part of city life. In Scotland, it may have been less common, certainly outside of the major cities, and may well have been frowned on by some of the Old Lights in the Kirk, since they still considered rain to be “heaven-sent.” Although the use of an umbrella is perhaps at odds with our notions of Burns as a son of the soil, he was always keen to stand out from the crowd. He certainly would have done so using it in 1784 in Mauchline, which is where the date stitched into the silk would place him.

Burns' umbrella. Accession number 3.7503.

Irn Bru Scones: They’re Phenomenal!

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IMG_20150915_103930After experiencing the deliciousness of Irn Bru cake we decided to have a look at for other recipe ideas. Once we came across this scone recipe from the Ranald Hotel in Oban we knew we had to try it out!


3 cups self raising flour

1 cup double cream (room temp)

1 cup Irn Bru (room temp)

2 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

Step 1

Pre heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius

Step 2

Mix the dry ingredients together (remember to sieve your flour so there are no lumps.)


Step 3

Make a well in the centre and add the cream and Irn Bru


Step 4

Mix the ingredients together until all combined. If the mixter is too wet for handling add more flour.

IMG_20150915_095620Step 5

Amass it into a ball and turn out onto a floured surface.

IMG_20150915_103456Step 6

Roll the dough flat, fold into three. Roll again, fold into three again and roll until about 3cm thick.


Step 7

Cut out scones using a floured cookie cutter (ours was heart shaped)!
Brush the tops of the scones with milk or beaten egg.


Step 8

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack and then EAT!

IMG_20150915_104236The scone should come out with a slight hint of the Bru that we love so much! To get a stronger Irn Bru taste we suggest making a reduction of Irn Bru.

How did you become a…Facilities Manager?

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gav 1
Gavin Pettigrew is our Facilities Manager and helps us install our exhibitions as well as maintain our site.

My early years were spent at Belmont House School in Newton Mearns. My main interests were Art, Geography and any type of sport. I have always had a creative side and enjoyed making things. Fairly young I started getting an interest in buildings and design and, when I was 16, I spent some time through career development at school in an Architects firm. This experience made me apply to study Architecture at University. In 2002 I moved to Dundee to start a degree in Architecture at The University of Dundee.

In 2005 I achieved a BSc in Architecture, I then I went on to receive a BA honors of Architecture in 2007 and I graduated in 2008 with a Masters of Architecture. In 2007 I was a nominee for the Urban Design Award, Six Awards, Lighthouse and had my work exhibited in the Lighthouse in Glasgow. In 2008 I was a nominee for the Shanghai Biennale, International Student’s Exhibition and again had my work exhibited in Shanghai.

As part of an Architecture degree you have to take a year out after your BSc (year 3) and find a work placement. I got a job with Parr Architects in Glasgow. This taught me about the real world of Architecture and equipped me with a greater knowledge and understanding of the industry. After I graduated in 2008 I got a job as a part 2 Architect with Zone Architects in Edinburgh. Unfortunately my graduation was badly timed and my exit from University landed me in the middle of a recession, a recession that would badly hit the building industry, and in 2009 I was made redundant. I found myself living back home with my parents who had recently just moved to Ayrshire. Not knowing what to do with myself I applied for a job as a Museum Technician at The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, part of the National Trust for Scotland. The job had many things that appealed to me especially the practical side of things and there were also some overlaps between the Technicians job and Architecture.

I worked as a Museum Technician for 2 years and then the post of Facilities Manager came up at the Museum which I was successful in getting.

gav 2My job is to manage the facilities at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum to a high standard of operation and safety; to oversee the management of tenanted properties in the Burns Group; to install and maintain museum displays and to ensure that facilities across the wider Burns Group are maintained to excellent standards of presentation, safety and collections conservation and security. I am responsible for the annual property maintenance budget. I line manage 5 members of staff, 4 Museum Domestic Assistants and a Health and Safety Coordinator. I project manage the work of external suppliers and supervise teams of NTS staff and volunteers on the installation of exhibitions and other projects. My work as a Facilities Manager always keeps me busy across many different fields. It is a job I enjoy and a job I feel is a vital part to what the National Trust for Scotland is all about; the promotion and conservation of Scotland’s heritage.

“Alloway’s Auld Kirk” Research Project

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When I started as a volunteer and just walked around the Kirk yard I wanted to know more about the Kirk and the people who were buried there. During a tour someone asked me about a headstone, and this started the project of writing down the 219 headstones so I could learn more and be able to answer the any questions.

It started off as just a project to learn more, but it has now become more involved with research of many families, guided tours, and talks on the Kirk yard. It has taken a year to finish it, with the Kirk yard laid out as is on an A1 sheet of paper.

The most well known headstone is of course William Burnes, the flat stone in front is very worn, but it is the resting place of Isabella Begg (Robert Burns’ youngest sister and two of her children Agnes and Isabella, they were all in their 80s when they died.

William Burns's headstone, Alloway Kirk
William Burns’s headstone, Alloway Kirk
Headstone for Charles Acton Broke
Headstone for Charles Acton Broke

Do you have a favourite headstone (or stones!)

One is a headstone in remembrance of Charles Acton Broke who was the son of Rear Admiral Sir Philip Bowes Acton Broke. This man was a Captain of a ship during the war with the Americas in 1812, and was the first to defeat and capture an American ship.

There are two headstones of people who died in their 100th year!

My favourite one I cannot read the writing, but on the reverse are two fluted panels with a heart and a tear in each corner. I would love to know who they were.

Also the headstone of John Tennant, as there is so much detail on the stone which I have great pleasure in relating to visitors.

Headstone from Alloway Kirk that shows a blacksmith shoeing a horse
Headstone from Alloway Kirk that shows a blacksmith shoeing a horse

The next step in the research is to write out a Kirkyard plan based from a survey done in 1995 , when completed you will be able to compare the difference in the headstone conditions between 1995 and 2015 many of which are completely eroded.