Friday Gem – Mosaic


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Dumfries Museum recently had an enquiry about this particular gem. At first glance, there may seem to be no clear association with Robert Burns, but the story behind it reveals all!

Whilst clearing a house, the enquirer found a circular mosaic approximately two inches in diameter in a small, thin square box lined with velvet. As you can see from the images, the mosaic depicts what looks to be some sort of Italian scene.

The text of the inscription reads:

This Mosaic is said to have been owned by Burns the Poet, who gave it to Dr Curry of Chester – author of the Life & Writings of Burns. Dr Curry presented it with this History to Mrs Hughes of Toxeth Park, Liverpool City. That Lady presented to the undersigned her Grateful & affectionate nephew Sam: Vernon Stade, August 12th 1824.

It appears that Burns and Currie only met once. The inscription suggests that Currie presented the mosaic to Mrs Hughes along with a “History” – this was perhaps one of the editions of his writings on Burns? It does feel like Mrs Hughes of Toxteth Park  was an acquaintance of Currie, or a person he wished to impress. She has then passed the mosaic to her nephew.

The story stops there I’m afraid. Although information is available on Dr Curry, the other two protagonists largely remain a mystery. Staff at Dumfries Museum would love to reveal more about not just the object, but the people mentioned in the inscription. Please do get in touch (either through the Museum or via my contact info on this blog) if you can provide any further information.


Friday Gem – Lochlea Farm


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This week, items which relate to Robert Burns often unhappy time at Lochlea Farm. Robert was 18 years old when his family moved to Lochlea Farm in 1777. Here he was faced with the prospect of attempting to transform 130 acres of treeless, rain soaked moorland 400 feet above sea level in to fertile agricultural land. The strain of the effort which he was required to exert in pursuing this objective, hastened his death. Around 20 of Lochlea’s 130 acres was occupied by standing water. This took the form of a small loch. It was unremarkable, although during dry periods in the summer when the water level dropped, a small island would emerge some distance from the shore.

The items shown below all were found in and around Lochlea Crannog and reflect the intensive agricultural work that has taken place over many centuries in this area.

Piece of Socketed Wood

The farmland was very mossy and William Burnes had problems paying his rather high rent. Robert and his brother Gilbert worked long hours on the farm and earned a modest wage. Robert took dancing classes and often found himself falling in and out of love with local girls.

Wood Carving Cast - This is a cast of a carving found on a piece of ash wood in Lochlee Crannog.

William had made an agreement with his landlord David McLure but didn’t have a written contract. William and his landlord disagreed about rents. William took his case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and won but legal costs took the last of his money. On 13 February 1784, a few days after winning the case, William died. Robert later wrote: ‘When my father died, his all went among the rapacious hell-hounds that growl in the kennel of justice.’

Bridle Bit

Burns is said to have roofed the barn himself and upon its demolition an engraved lintel from it was incorporated into the new farmhouse that replaced it. Robert and Gilbert leased nearby Mossgiel Farm in spring 1784.



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Following on from my recent Pinterest feature, I’ve unearthed another exciting new social media platform. I can already hear the groans from some quarters, but stay with me!

It’s called Storify, and it’s basically a way to tell stories using social media such as tweets, photos, and videos. Users search multiple social networks from one place, and then drag individual elements into stories. You can basically create your own stories on any number of things, from events to individual objects.

Click on the image to go straight to my very first Storify!

I’ve mainly pulled bits from content I’ve already created, but you can begin to see the possibilities for creating interactive stories which are rich in context.

As with any social media platform, the key is interaction! The more you interact with people, the more you can get back.

As you can see, it’s already being used to cover key events such as the economic problems in Greece, and the Republican Primary race in the US, but I’ve not come across many cultural institutions which use Storify. This is somewhat surprising, when you consider the many possibilities and how easy it is to pull content from all manner of sources.

Described as ‘drop-and-drag curation’, it’ll be fascinating to see if this service takes off in the same way Pinterest has done in recent months.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching developments closely. I’ve already thought of a few interesting ways to use this for my own project. So watch out for the launch of the new Distributed National Burns Collection site in the coming months.

Friday Gem – Royal Mail Stamps


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This weeks Friday Gem concentrates on a new Burns related acquisition here at Dumfries Museum. Issued to mark the bicentenary of the poet in 1996, these are First Edition stamps from the Royal Mail.

Awarded as part of a contest, the lucky winner also won a special bicentenary diary along with the stamp presentation pack.

Take a look at the pictures below to see the splendid detail of the illustrations!

In 1793 Burns also wrote the lines Scots, Wha Hae, the Poet’s imagined rallying cry of Bruce to his men at Bannockburn. It was never published in his lifetime, but is now a national song of Scotland.

In Auld Lang Syne Burns reworked a traditional air and added his own verses in 1788, one of hundreds of songs he saved or recreated, so giving the world a universal anthem sung at the close of gatherings worldwide.

A Red, Red Rose contains a lasting testament to the pain of a lover’s parting. An amalgam of several traditional ballads, it shows Burn’s genius for reworking folk material and creating a poetic gem. It was composed in 1793 in Dumfries.

To a Mouse shows the Poet’s sympathies extending to all living things trying to overcome the frailty of existence. Autobiographical, it was written in 1785 at Mossgiel farm, Mauchline, and published the following year in the book of his verse which launched his fame.

Rozelle House


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Tucked away in Rozelle Park is Rozelle House Galleries, a beautiful building which contains many beautiful artworks. It is perhaps best known for displaying the series of 54 Alexander Goudie paintings of the fabled Tam O’ Shanter poem.

It would be easy to overlook Rozelle given its close proximity to Alloway and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, but to do so would be a mistake as it contains a wealth of material relating to the life and times of the bard.

Last week, I spent two fruitful days digitising the collection held at Rozelle. All manner of items were encountered, from prints to jugs, and books to bowls! The combination of two and three dimensional items proved fascinating to work with. I’m currently editing the images created, so it’s not possible to preview any yet. However, you can view the full collection with the launch of the newly redeveloped National Burns Collection site.

The most important part of any Gallery, the Tearoom!

Sneak peak of the set-up I use to capture 3D objects. Who said digitisation wasn't glamorous?

Friday Gem – Posters


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This weeks Friday Gem differs slightly from the usual Burns items which draw upon the collections of the National Burns Collection. Instead, I’ve decided to concentrate upon these fantastic poster offered by the Scottish Poetry Library. Such a simple and effective way of promoting the poetry of Burns!

Just take a look for yourself.

“A phrase plucked from one of the most famous of all love poems, A Red Red Rose by Robert Burns. Perfect for Valentines Day, for expressing undying love in all its forms.”

SPL Poster Seas Gang Dry Robert Burns

“A companion poster to our International Version of Robert Burns‘s last verse of ‘A Man’s a Man For A’ That.”

SPL Poster National Robert Burns

Robert Burns is not just admired by Scots – his poems have been translated into many languages. We’ve created a multi-lingual version of the last verse of ‘A Man’s a Man For A’ That’ to celebrate his international fame.
Top to bottom: Esperanto, French, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, German, Scots.”

SPL Poster International Robert Burns

Robert Burns reminds us of the pleasures to be had if we were to wander out and take the air, in this short phrase taken from his poem ‘Epistle to Davie, a Brother Poet‘. To be fixed to a door maybe.”

SPL Poster Commoners of Air Robert Burns

“Whatever our intentions, it’s good to be reminded that things don’t always work out as we planned. Here’s an appropriate line fromRobert Burns‘ popular poem ‘To a Mouse’.”

SPL Poster Best Laid Schemes Robert Burns

“Succinct and to the point, the title of Robert Burns‘ famous song ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That‘ reminds us that we are all the same and that we all have the potential to share a common dignity, whatever our circumstances.”

SPL Poster A Man’s a Man Robert Burns_0

All posters courtesy of the Scottish Poetry Library website:



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Part of my role as Museums Officer for the Burns Recognition Project involves looking at new and interesting ways to engage with audiences. Pinterest is one such avenue which I’m starting to explore.

‘But wait!’, I hear you say. Do we really need another social media network to keep up with and constantly update? Well, yes, I would argue, especially if it broadens the appeal and interacts with users in a new and positive way.

Click on the image above to go to the Burns Scotland Pinterest page.

Founded in 2010, it was not until 2011 that it became the latest trend in the social media world. Jumping from around 1 million users to over 4 million between August and December 2011. Pinterest is basically centred around images. If you like an image, you can add it to your own board, re-pin it, like it, common on it etc.

In a nutshell, it’s one giant communal pinboard. As you can see from my own page, I’ve begun to promote the collections of the National Burns Collection and the various digitisation efforts I’ve been involved in. ‘Pinning’ images onto specific boards from a number of affiliate sites (this blog, Flickr page etc.) allows me to direct traffic and increase awareness of the collections held by the partnership.

I’m still in the early stages of trying to work out how best to achieve these aims, but it will be fascinating to see how other museums, libraries, and archives adapt Pinterest to their own needs. Various museums are already pinning their own content, but what interests me is how else they will engage with users.

Don’t forget to follow Burns Scotland on Pinterest by simply clicking the button below! If you have your own page, or want to share your own thoughts and ideas then please do get in touch or leave a comment.

Thanks to the following people for blogging about Pinterest and encouraging me to try it out for myself:

ArchivesInfo – Pinterest for Cultural Hertiage

Museum Diary – Museums and Pinterest An Introduction

Best of 3 – Pinterest and Museums

Follow Me on Pinterest

Friday Gem “Wi airle-pennies three”


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This week’s Friday Gem concentrates one of the most seemingly ordinary and mundane of objects, the humble coin. The poems and songs of Robert Burns contain many references to money in general and certain coins in particular. Several poems make reference to ‘airles’ or an ‘airle-penny’, the coin exchanged to seal a bargain. The opening verse of ‘O, can ye labour lea’ illustrates this admirably:

I fee’d a man at Michaelmas

Wi airle-pennies three.

Over the past two centuries Burns has been the subject of a number of medals. What you can see in the Flickr slideshow is two such examples kindly shown here from Annan Museum. They are exquisitely detailed yet show standard images of Burns and the Mausoleum. Have a look for yourself in the Flickr slideshow below…

There are a bewildering away of medals celebrating the life and work of Burns, but the commemorative medal reached its zenith at the close of the nineteenth century, but declined rapidly in popularity as other commemorative media were developed.

If you have any Burns medallions at home, then please feel free to send me an image and share the stories behind them!


Dumfries Museum & Robert Burns


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The second feature highlighting partners of the DNBC focuses upon Dumfries.

Burns obviously had close links with the area and after his death in 1796 the esteem with which he is held in Dumfries has only risen. Dumfries itself has been described as a ‘living museum to Burns’. Being based at Dumfries Museum also gives me access to these wonderful surroundings and heritage which the area is steeped in.

These fantastic images of Dumfries Museum, Burns House, and the Robert Burns Centre were all done by the very talented illustrator Clare Melinsky.

The slideshow below is one example of recent efforts to digitise the collections held within the partnership of the National Burns Collection. These Burnsiana postcards had previously been lying dormant. It is hoped that by providing access to the incredibly rich resources of the NBC the legacy of Burns can continue to grow. The postcards themselves represent a unique insight into how appreciative the people of Dumfries are when it comes to celebrating Scotland’s National Bard.

Take a look at some of the amazing images of Burns collected over the years at Dumfries Museum!

Find out more about the origins of Burns associatin with Dumfries by reading exercpts of ‘Celebrating the Legend’ by David Lockwood below:

First Contact

Robert Burns’ first contact with Dumfries and Galloway came in 1787 during a short tour of the Borders with his friend Bob Ainslie, a law student. Following the success of the Kilmarnock edition of his poems he found himself acclaimed as ‘Caledonia’s Bard’ by Edinburgh Society. The 3000 copies of the new Edinburgh edition were selling well and his fame had been further increased by an article about him in the ‘Lounger’, a weekly magazine. He arrived in Dumfries from Carlisle on 4th June. Dumfries Town Council immediately made him an honorary burgess, little knowing that one day he would come here to live. The main reason for his visit was to look at a farm offered to him by Patrick Miller, a director of the Bank of Scotland and chairman of the Carron Company in Falkirk. Miller, an admirer of Burns, had recently purchased the estate of Dalswinton, 6 miles north of Dumfries. He offered him the tenancy of one of the farms, Ellisland, on the banks of the Nith, at an advantageous rent:- seventy pounds a year restricted to £50 for the first three years. Burns had always been doubtful of earning his living by his pen and was looking for another means but when he saw the farm he was not impressed and was worried that the ‘bargain’ might ruin him. In March 1788, despite his misgivings, he signed the lease. Shortly before, however, he had written to Robert Graham of Fintry, a Commissioner of the Scottish Board of Excise, that he “wished to get into the Excise”. Graham, another admirer, used his influence and arranged for Burns to receive a position in the Dumfries area as soon as one became available.

Burns Night


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Today is of course Burns Night, where the life and poetry of Robert Burns is celebrated up and down Scotland.

This year sees events taking place across Scotland marking the birthday of the bard. From the Birthplace Museum’s unveiling of a new £25,000 statue in Alloway, to the extraordinary range of events taking place in Dumfries as part of the Big Burns Supper, there really is a myriad of options for all Burnsians out there.

It should be remembered that Burns Night is not simply celebrated in Scotland, but across the world:

In the Year of Homecoming, 3,600 Burns Night Suppers were held in 80 countries, with only a third of those taking place in Scotland. Burns continues to appear around the world often in the most surprising places. Take the artist Chiang Yee, who painted Burns in traditional Chinese peasant garb. Or the recent story (can it be true?) that Michael Jackson recorded an album of Burns songs before his death. Where next for Burns? *

Not everyone see’s the positive side of Burns Night however, with The Sun columnist Rod Little giving his controversial view on Burns Night.

Never one to dwell on the negative, a recent post on the Facebook page of the Birthplace Museum pretty much sums up better than I ever could the joy of Burns Night:

And, on a day when pubs and restaurants are falling over themselves to find new gimmicks to get people to buy tickets to their own Burns Nights – from Haggis sushi to rap versions of Tam o’ Shanter – let’s also remember how this all started – with one incredible man from Alloway, whose remarkable poems and songs discovered the power of the common good that lies in every human being and celebrated brotherhood, love and liberty above all.

If you’re wondering what all these pictures of poems are, they were taken around Dumfries and organised as part of ‘Windows for Burns Night’. Several locations throughout Dumfries have had their windows filled with short poems following a call out for contemporay poems to be displayed in windows of some of Rabbie’s favourite haunts. A neat idea to fill up some empty shop windows and celebrate comtempoary poetry at the same time.

* Quote taken from the excellent blog over at the Scottish Poetry Library.