{Scotland} Writer’s Museum

April 23, 2014

Scotland

There are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps. (R.L.Stevenson)

Seeing as it’s World Book Day today, what better occasion to introduce you to the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh.

writers museum

Part of the family of Edinburgh Museums & Galleries, run by the City of Edinburgh Council, the Writer’s Museum is situated in Lady Stair’s House in one of Edinburgh’s infamous closes of the same name. The historic house dates back to the 17th century and is named after one of it’s former owners, the Dowager Countess of Stair. The house was gifted to the City of Edinburgh in the early 20th century for use as a museum.

writers museum sign

The Writer’s Museum celebrates the lives of three of Scotland’s most famous authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, with a section of the museum dedicated to each of them. Their stories are told through books and manuscripts, as to be expected, as well as photographs, paintings and personal objects – for example Stevenson’s smoking pipe and fishing rod, Scott’s walking stick and a lock of his hair, or portraits of Burns. Each section also includes a soundtrack recording related to the relevant author, e.g. readings from Stevenson’s works or a conversation between Scott and his printer Ballantyne, regarding the publication of his Waverley novels.

writers museum RLS

You don’t need to be familiar with the authors’ novels to be fascinated by their history. In the section on Stevenson, you can find out all about his adventurous lifetime and travels, including his final years in Samoa, where he died in 1894 aged 44. The displays include many treasures from his various expeditions. And one of my favourite exhibits was a wall of photographs showing Stevenson aged 4 all the way through to age 35.

The section on Scott not only focuses on the life and works of the man himself, but also on the construction of the Scott Monument – one of Edinburgh’s famous landmarks – and its architect George Meikle Kemp. There is a scale model of the monument itself, photographs of it during construction, and an admission ticket to the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone in 1840. Other highlights relating to Scott include the printing press on which his famous Waverley novels were printed, and his rocking horse from childhood, which has one foot rest higher than the other as he contracted Polio as a child which left him lame in one leg.

And finally, the section of Burns looks at his legendary rise from ‘ploughman’ to revered poet celebrated around the world, including an exhibit on – how else could it be – the celebration of Burns Night.

writers museum stairwell

Outside the museum in Lady Stair’s Close is the Makar’s Court, a collection of literary quotes from some of Scotland’s greatest writers, beyond those three exhibited in the museum, including for example Muriel Spark, Iain Crichton Smith and George Mackay Brown. A ‘makar’ is a Scottish term for a poet or bard.

writers museum courtyard

The Writer’s Museum is open from Mondays to Saturdays, and on Sundays during August. Due to its location in an historic building, access is by stairs only, so unfortunately it’s not suitable for wheelchairs and prams. There is a small gift shop. Admission is free, though donations are welcome. You can check out the full visitor information on the museum’s website.

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  1. {Scotland} Another Mini Museum Marathon in Edinburgh | Museum Diary - February 18, 2016

    […] The Writers’ Museum is situated at the top of the Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, in one of Edinburgh’s infamous closes. From the courtyard outside, you can catch the stunning view down to Princes Street below. The museum itself celebrates the lives of three of Scotland’s most famous authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. You can find out more about it in my previous review >> {Scotland} Writers’ Museum […]

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