Places to Visit in Scotland
- Hunterian Museum, Art Gallery and Mackintosh House
Dr William Hunter
Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) bequeathed his collection of books, manuscripts, coins, anatomical and geological specimens to Glasgow University and his collection was put on display in a custom-built section of Glasgow University When it opened in 1807, the Hunterian was Scotland's first public museum and it has expanded over the years, with a particular emphasis on Roman antiquities, geological specimens (the Bearsden shark is a well-known exhibit) and coins (30,000 of them, only a proportion on display at one time). The manuscripts and books (Hunter left 10,000, many from the 16th century) are now part of the University library.
The museum first opened in a specially constructed building off the High Street in the centre of Glasgow, adjoining the original campus of the University. When the University moved to its new site at Gilmorehill (to escape crowding and pollution in the city centre) the museum moved too. In 1870, the Hunterian collections were transferred to the University’s present site and assigned halls in Sir George Gilbert Scott's magnificent neo-Gothic building, with the river Kelvin flowing below and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on the other side. With the new Riverside Museum of Transport within a short walking distance there is a fantastic variety of exhibition halls within easy reach.
The Hunterian Museum has undergone a number of refurbishments and the illustrations in this article show it as it was after re-opening in 2012 featuring a new permanent gallery devoted to the Romans in Scotland and new opening hours of 10:00-5:00 Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00-4:00 Sundays (and closed Monday).
Scotland - Rome's Final Frontier
Romans in southern Scotland suffered repeated attacks by the tribes further north, and constructed a wall right across the country between the rivers Clyde and Forth. The Antonine Wall, unlike Hadrian's Wall, the stone-built fortification further south, was constructed from a stone base but with turf instead of stones on top. It was protected by sixteen stone built forts with a number of small fortlets between them; troop movement was facilitated by a road linking all the sites, known as the Military Way. The soldiers who built the wall commemorated the construction and their struggles with the barbarians in a number of decorative slabs, twenty of which still survive. But the wall was abandoned after only twenty years, and the garrisons relocated behind Hadrian's Wall. The Antonine Wall has been listed as an extension to the World Heritage Site "Frontiers of the Roman Empire" in 2008.
The Hunterian Museum displays a large collection of sculptures, monuments and artefacts from the Roman occupation of southern Scotland and these have been set up as a major presentation - probably the largest area allocated to one subject in the entire museum. As in the other parts of the museum, there are plenty of information boards explaining the background to the items on display.
William Hunter began the museum's large coin collection with his bequest and more have been added since museum opened over 200 years ago.
The three coins above are first of all a King David II "noble" which was the first Scottish gold coin to be minted at Edinburgh in 1357. The middle coin is a coronation medal commemorating the coronation of King Charles I in June 1633. It is made of gold mined in Scotland. The final coin above is a King William II/III "pistole" of 1701. This £12 Scots coin was minted in Edinburgh from gold obtained in Guinea by the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, the group that was responsible for the Darien Disaster in Panama that led to the Union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707.
The coin on the left is from the original William Hunter collection and is described as "A copper cast gilt to imitate the original coin of Shah Jahan of the value of 300 gold rupees". The original coin, reputed to be the largest gold coin in the world, was issued by this Mughal emperor in 1653.
Although the Hunterian packs in a lot of items in their galleries, space is limited, so there are few large items on display (unlike Kelvingrove Museum with its elephant and giraffe, for example) But the zoology collections at the Hunterian has a particular strength in the insect - of the 600,000 specimens in its zoology collections, 90% are insects. The displays include exotic and local butterflies. The historical core of the collection is William Hunter’s natural history material of which shells, insects and corals are particularly well represented.
One item that particularly caught my eye was a display cabinet showing the tiny nest of the long-tailed tit (the picture on the right is of a youngster). I've seen these delightful birds many times but hadn't realised that their nest was quite so small. Adult long-tailed tits are around 5.5 inches long - of which the tail is 3.5 inches. They usually flock together in large groups in the countryside and they are amongst the most acrobatic of all the tits and finches.
Some years ago the Hunterian Museum set up a model of a Tyranosaurus Rex on the grassy slope beside the museum, rearing up in a typically aggressive pose. While regular drivers going up University Avenue got used to it, strangers to the area were liable to be startled by the 14ft high replica. It eventually had to be removed and the dinosaurs on display inside are the more conventional skeletons.
Even so, these fossilised dinosaur eggs from over 6o million years ago are impressive but on a different scale.
Another noteworthy exhibit is the 'Bearsden Shark', the most complete shark of its age. Found in a burn in Bearsden, a suburb to the north west of Glasgow, this 330 million year old shark has a strange, toothed fin-spine behind its head. Of course, as Bearsden is an affluent residential area, the reference to "Bearsden sharks" is intentionally sometimes used as a double entendre!
Crystals and Stones
The Hunterian has over 120,000 rock and mineral specimens in its collections, as well as around 1500 cut gemstones, and 70 meteorites.
The mineral collections include several very important older collections including those of William Hunter (one of the few surviving 18th century mineral collections), Thomas Brown of Lanfine (Scottish and world minerals), Scotsman James ‘Paraffin’ Young, and Alexander Thoms (mostly Scottish). Many of the minerals come from Scotland including the Leadhills-Wanlockhead area, Scottish Carboniferous zeolites, greenockite (a rare cadmium mineral first recognized in 1840 in Bishopton, Scotland, during the cutting of a tunnel for the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway). The mineral was named after the land owner Lord Greenock. The displays also include samples of Australian gold deposits and gemstones.
The picture here is of quartz crystals from Vera Cruz in Mexico.
Lord Kelvin and Science
William Thomson - Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) was born in Belfast but came to Glasgow at the age of six when his father became Professor of Mathematics at the University of Glasgow. He was taught by his father (he never went to school) and entered University at the age of 10 (and is in the Guinness Book of Records for that feat). He was later appointed Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University. He developed the science of thermodynamics, developed the second law of thermodynamics and formulated the "Kelvin" scale of absolute temperature. He was responsible for many inventions including the mirror galvanometer, the Kelvin ampere balance and an electrostatic voltmeter and supervised the laying of the first trans-Atlantic insulated electric telegraph cable, which revolutionised world communications. He was knighted in 1866 for his contribution to telegraphy and created Baron Kelvin of Largs 1892.
With such a background, it was appropriate that the Hunterian should create a permanent exhibition based around the life and work of Lord Kelvin to explain to visitors a wide range of scientific principles using a mix of hands-on activities, original scientific instruments, demonstrations and computer-generated images, aimed at a non-specialist audience - especially the younger generation of budding scientists.
The Lord Kelvin displays are on an upper floor of the museum but there is a lift so those in wheel chairs or unable to climb stairs are fully catered for.
Other items on display include a large porcelain collection, stone age flints, arrow heads, a slightly gruesome collection of medical specimens - and many other items. So despite its relatively small floor area, it packs in a lot! "Guid gear goes in little bulk" as our Scottish forebears would say.
The Hunterian's mummy, "Lady" Shep-en-hor, is over 2500 years old and comes from Thebes in southern Egypt. The ancient Egyptians preserved bodies to help the deceased make the journey to the afterlife. The hieroglyphs on the brightly painted coffin are spells and charms to keep her safe.
Hunterian Art Gallery
The Hunterian Art Gallery is on the other side of University Avenue and houses a collection of paintings by Whistler, Rembrandt, Ramsay and Reynolds as well as a collection of many of Scotland's best artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also a Sculpture Courtyard and the entrance to the gallery is formed by a magnificent cast-aluminium door by Eduardo Paolozzi (who was born in Scotland).
Adjoining the art gallery is an amazing reproduction of the inside of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's house at 78 Southpark Avenue where he lived from 1906 to 1914. Mackintosh had remodelled the house and the sizes, proportions, windows and lighting of the hall, dining room, studio-drawing room and bedroom have all been perfectly reproduced in a building which is only 100 metres from the original (which had to be demolished because of subsidence). All the original furniture from the Mackintosh house has been retained and the colour schemes, decorations, carpets and curtains are based on contemporary descriptions and photographs. The level of detail is remarkable. If you appreciate Mackintosh design, you will find the overall effect stunning. While we now associate the various motifs with Mackintosh it must have been even more astonishing in the original Edwardian days when he created them for the first time.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the art gallery or the Mackintosh House and the illustration of the external aspect of the modern building does not do justice to the interior. However, there is a Mackintosh House Web site as part of the overall Hunterian Museum on the Web.
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