Recent visitors to Burns cottage may have noticed something new. Our volunteers have been spending time demonstrating different 18th Century crafts inside the cottage. These crafts are all skills women in the 18th century would have been very familiar with and it is easy to imagine Agnes Burnes (Robert Burns’ mother) toiling away at these chores over the course of the day in the cottage.
One of the crafts underway is a project to make new rag rugs for the cottage. A group of volunteers have been busy starting this process over the winter and have just begun to demonstrate their new skills to visitors.
Rag rugs were popular because they were easy to make and materials were cheap. All you need to make your own is some hessian and lots of scrap material. Our volunteers started with a large hessian lining which would make up the back of the rug. Their first task was to draw a border which they wanted to fill with black material. Using old clothes kindly donated to us, our volunteers cut the material into strips to add to the rug.
The process is very simple: the material is simply pushed through the hessian using wooden pegs and because the material is tightly packed together it will stay in place.
The volunteers have now finished the black border and have been adding the colourful material to the centre of the rug. The material used for the rugs needs to be quite hard wearing and wool cloth is best; this makes the rugs heavy and warm.
The rag rug team will be demonstrating their crafts on Monday afternoon and we recommend popping in to watch them in action!
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.
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.
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.
Hi my name is Catriona and I am the Learning and Volunteer Intern at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum !
How long have you been volunteering for at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum?
6 months, I volunteer along side my job here in the Learning Team.
Why did you start volunteering at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum?
I volunteer with the Learning Team to gain invaluable experience in Heritage and Museum education. Also get to work alongside an excellent team of staff and volunteers and contunue learning about 18th century Scotland (one of my favorite things ), and I get to understand Robert Burns and his work abit better. I grew up in Ayrshire and Burns featured strongly in my school education, it is nice to learn the more gritty things about his life !
What kind of things do you get up to when you volunteer?
I do a variety of things, from maintaining school stats to delivering workshops to organising events to drinking lots of tea and eating biscuits!
What has been your most memorable experience volunteering here?
It is really hard to pick out one experience. I think the whole of January and most of February was memorable experiance – we were ran of our feet with schools, events and Burns ‘fans’ coming to the museum. I discovered that I love being part of museum education although it was the sheer enthusiasm of the school pupils and visitors which kept me going !
That whole month and a bit is a blur!
What is your favourite thing about RBBM?
School workshops, particularily when you get a class who are very disengaged at the start and by the end they dont want you to leave because they are loving what they are learning it makes the volunteering all worth while ! …… close second is the catering though…. the scones and cakes are pretty awesome.
5 years ago, I saw an ad in the Ayrshire Post . Volunteers needed for a new museum opening in Alloway, this was the New Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
I had just retired and was looking for something to fill my time, not just to do charity work but to keep the learning ethos on going , hence I started on the journey (I shall call it ), my knowledge of Robert Burns was very limited. As a school girl we were bused down from Paisley to visit the cottage, I was so bored I threw toffee papers at the film of Tam and Meg as they galloped over the fields.
Today it is a different story ,I am now a guide at RBBM .I am often to be found taking school groups around the site in all kind of weather, I was standing on the Brig O’Doon ,the snow swirling round me ,I was telling a class of 6yr olds about Robert Burns, one little schoolgirl tugged my coat and asked “are you Robert Burns sister” as I knew so much about him
Now another hat I wear is shop assistant in the “Burns an’ a’ that ” shop in the town, we sell NTS goods and local crafters work .
Its a great way of interacting with the public, I am often to be found at the Highlight Talks held in the Museum every Wednesday where one of the volunteers will give an in depth talk on one piece in particular ,it’s an excellent way of getting the knowledge to enhance the visitors experience.
So I would say to anyone thinking about volunteering with the NTS, jump on board ,the journey is amazing.
I am so glad I answered the advert in the Ayrshire Post!
I retired from full time work 6 years ago and having spent the first 5 of those with The Conservation Volunteers, I came to the RBBM just over a year ago as a “Buggy” driver which involves meeting and greeting visitors, transporting them on the buggy between the Museum and Burns Cottage, or any other places the buggy will reach, and helping with other information and advice where I can.
As with most volunteering the role rarely stops there and I now find myself helping out from time to time in all sorts of other ways which I find very rewarding , stimulating and helps me feel part of the team.
Driving the buggy allows me to meet a whole range of interesting folk from all four corners of the planet and I am constantly amazed at how well Robert Burns is known even in the smallest and most remote of islands but these global travellers offer a wide range of stimulating conversation which is rarely restricted just to the “Bard”.
The Volunteers at RBBM also help run a Garden shop, situated in the grounds of the museum, and a gift shop in the nearby town of Ayr which offers a wide variety of goods manufactured by local crafters and is also a shop window for the RBBM itself. The main purpose though of both these venues is to raise funds for the restoration and improvement of the Burns Monument which is just one of the bold and innovative ideas being developed by the management team at RBBM.
One variation on the theme, which I particularly remember, was the great fun we all had on Halloween: volunteers and staff together, creating and acting out a costume drama incorporating the Burns Cottage, Poets Path and “Auld Kirk” and providing lots of “bloodthirsty” and scary moments for those visitors brave enough to come back after dark !
I find volunteering a great way to keep fit, active ,meet new people and maintain a standard of life which rarely falters and you may go a long way before finding a better place to do all this than with the team at RBBM and the beautiful countryside surrounding it.
I was one of the second group of volunteers taken on board at the RBBM. I started as a Tour Guide, moving on to driving the buggy, assisting with Craft Fairs and helping out with the Pop-up Shop in Ayr – “Ayrshire Gifts an’ a’ that”.
When I heard about the role of volunteer at the RBBM, it captured my attention as I thought it would be good fun – which it is! The variety of the “job” is amazing, from taking part in events, helping with the admin side of the Pop-up Shop, assisting in the organisation of the volunteer/staff day trips, to trying to answer people’s questions about Burns (the most popular one is “what did he die of?”). I have also taken part in special events, such as Alloween, playing the part of an old witch in the kitchen. Some people may say that I was typecast !!
It is difficult to pinpoint a single memorable experience, as the customers are all different, and I have a lot of good memories from meeting “neighbours” of the Museum to those from the far corners of the globe, and other volunteers from other properties of the Trust. I was also very lucky to be one of the few chosen to go on a trip to London to visit the British Museum (for afternoon tea, a private tour and then for a Museum awards ceremony that evening). HRH Prince Charles donated tickets for a Highgrove Tour and I was fortunate to win a pair too !!
I have been volunteering now for over 4 years, in fact since the museum opened. I mainly volunteer at the weekend, guiding visitors round the museum. I find it enjoyable and rewarding. After I took early retirement from my employment as a Radiographer I was employed at an Historic Scotland property and I particularly enjoyed doing that. When I read about the opening of RBBM I wrote hoping they would require volunteer guides. I was lucky as training was just about to start and I was invited along to take part. I am very proud of the museum and want to make it come alive to as many people as possible. Seeing how much our visitors appreciate the collection and how much pleasure they get from their visit matters to me. It is important that our visitors take away a greater understanding of Robert Burns’ life and work. Occasionally after the tour, visitors seek me out and want to learn about other attractions in the area. I am pleased to help as it is very important for tourists to leave with the best impression possible. There is much to experience during a visit to the RBBM site and it is important to be enthusiastic and informative about everything that we have to offer. I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction out of guiding. It has heightened my desire to keep on learning as much as I can about Robert Burns. To ensure that I have first hand knowledge of the places that were important in Robert’s life I have visited related sites in Dumfries, Kilmarnock, Kirkoswald, Mauchline and Tarbolton. I could say my favourite thing about RBBM is the Cheese Scones! Seriously I just think the whole package has so much to offer……something for everyone. Team Burns are a talented, lively group of people and I am proud to be part of it.