AROUND 2000 people have backed a campaign to save a museum which details Scotland’s Roman history.
The residents have signed a petition calling on Falkirk Council to retain and enhance the threatened Kinneil Museum on the outskirts of Bo#ness, West Lothian. Campaigners say the building is part of a site of “national importance”.
The local authority announced in February controversial proposals to close the museum and split its collection between Callendar House in Falkirk and the Hippodrome, an old cinema being refurbished in the centre of Boâ€™ness.
The Council cited low visitor numbers for Kinneil. But local people and heritage groups have attacked the closure plans, saying the museum and surrounding estate have suffered from a lack of advertising and promotion by the Council.
They also argue the museum has a vital role – telling the rich history of Kinneil Estate, which lies at the eastern end of the Antonine Wall, the most northerly frontier of the Roman empire.
Adrian Mahoney, the chairman of the Friends of Kinneil – the group which organised the petition- said: “Kinneil Estate has a wealth of historic buildings and artefacts which have a national importance.
“The very name Kinneil means ‘Wall’s End’ and the Antonine Wall – bidding for World Heritage Site status – runs through the parkland. The site also includes an excavated Roman fortlet, the ruins of a medieval church, and the site of a medieval village.
“The land at Kinneil was gifted by King Robert the Bruce to the Hamilton family, and it was at Kinneil where the Dukes of Hamilton built the imposing Kinneil House, which stands to this day.
“In its shadow is a cottage used by inventor James Watt to develop the steam engine, which, in turn, powered the industrial revolution.
“The museum tells the important story of all these things. To close Kinneil Museum and move its collection, would, in our view, be unacceptable.
“We think that properly publicising the site – and refreshing the displays within the museum – is the way forward. For instance, no leaflets have produced to advertise Kinneil for several years. We think this is unacceptable.
“I hope the petition and the public outcry from local people will convince the Council to have a change of heart. Already two stormy public meetings have given the council a very clear message: that local people don’t want Kinneil Museum to close.”
Schoolchildren from across Scotland visit the estate to learn about the Roman occupation of the country. As part of the shake-up, the Council is understood to be considering a proposal to centralise this work to its main museum, Callendar House in Falkirk. It also plans to centralise its main Roman exhibition for the district at Callendar House.
Campaigners say this would further erode visitor numbers and leave Kinneil Museum, housed in a 17th century former stable block, with an uncertain future.
Said Mr Mahoney: “The council claimed that moving Roman interpretation from Kinneil Museum to Callendar House would establish a closer link to the Antonine Wall – yet the line of the wall is just a few feet from the door of Kinneil Museum. Kinneil also boasts the remains of a Roman fortlet. There is no fort or fortlet to be seen at Callendar House. And, most crucially, the eastern end of the Antonine Wall is in Bo’ness, not Falkirk.”
The proposals have been the subject of a consultation exercise, which ends next Friday (June 30). Councillor Robert Spears, the council’s convener of environment and heritage committee, said: “We recognise that there is great public feeling about the future of Kinneil Museum and we want to hear as many opinions as possible on its future. We also want to find out what people think of our plans for the Hippodrome and to give the local community a chance to be involved in its development.”
However, Jack Sanderson, the council’s former cultural services manager, wrote to the local paper, telling it: “The exciting story of Kinneil Estate can only be experienced on site and the museum is a vital starting point.”
He added: “Visitor figures for the museum are low due to severely reduced opening hours. I believe if proper marketing, signage and user-friendly opening hours could be put in place, visitor figures would be improved.”
The Friends’ petition was being delivered to the Council’s community services’ director, Maureen Campbell, today (Wednesday, June 21).
The Council will go into recess at the end of the consultation period. It is expected that a final decision will be made in the autumn.
Roman wall heritage bid backing
Visitor numbers campaign gears up http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/tayside_and_central/4985260.stm
A timeline on the Kinneil consultation
(with links to local press coverage)
Friends of Kinneil
For more information, please contact
The Friends of Kinneil
T: 01506 823714 /// 07967 150560