Edinburgh City Council’s museums own
over 200,000 objects between them –
too many to be on permanent display,
so the overflow gets sorted and stored at the
Museum Collections Centre. Visiting the
place is like going backstage at the biggest, most random film production ever
mounted. Trying to work out a narrative structure would be taxing for even the
most experienced Hollywood script doctor.
What story could incorporate a Roman Vestal Virgin statue, the 18thcentury
St Giles clock mechanism, a small copse of hooded hairdryers, a rack
of King’s Theatre panto costumes, a 1970s toddler-sized Tippy Tumbles doll
(“She’s tricky … she’s flippy!”) and a bank of vintage televisions? Perhaps
you’ve accidentally walked into Terry Gilliam’s brain …
You’ll be shown round the neural pathways by one of the in-house
conservators, who are experts on all things monumental and also helped
restore many of the pieces you see around the city. You can get answers to
all your best monumental questions: no, the pig’s ear story about the statue
of Bucephalus outside the City Chambers isn’t true, though sculptor Sir John
Steell must have been pretty peeved at not being paid for fifty years.
There’s quite a menagerie here. If you miss the plump pigeons from
Elm Row, they’re roosting under this roof. It was in this workshop that the
wonderful Wardrop’s Court dragons were restored to their turquoise and gold.
If you’re lucky on your visit, something interesting will be being brushed up,
sanded down or restuffed in the workshop.
But the most fascinating items are the less glamorous everyday objects in
the social history section, cataloguing the changes in domestic and work life.
Gadgets of the past, like Bakelite radios, cast-iron typewriters and enormous
1950s prams. Signage from shops on the edges of living memory: William
Leith & Co., J. Williamson & Son, John Herdman & Sons. All ready for their
close-up at a museum near you, whenever they call “Action”