MSP gets tourist view of Douglas

As part of Aileen Campbell’s summer constituency tour she visited Douglas Heritage Museum – a hidden gem that boasts artefacts detailing the history and heritage of Douglas and surrounding area. And it attracts a global audience with its visitor book this summer boasting tourists from Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and America.

“The exhIbits are fascinating but it is wonderful to see the nationalties in the visitors book.” Said Clydesdale MSP Aileen.

“The museum is attracting people from all over the world due to the significance of Douglas to Scotland’s story and through people trying to trace their roots. It’s an absolute gem of a museum that we are lucky to have here in Clydesdale.”

It is no wonder it attracts so many overseas visitors – with a growing interest in genealogy plus exhibits including ancient banners, relics from the old castle and a section dedicated to the Cameronians, the regiment raised only a few hundred yards away – this small museum caters for lots of interests.

But the exhibit which attracts the greatest interest locally is a display of school photos over the decades. “That is the most popular,” said museum treasurer Mary Mitchell.

Mary has been involved with the museum from the word go, since 1973 when enthusiasts were building up the collection but long before they had a building to exhibit anything.

The museum building itself is an exhibit! Originally the dower house for the long-gone castle, it became a school in 1706, then was used as housing until the 1960s when the castle chapel was demolished. At that point the building became St Sophia’s Chapel, an Episcopal church, and it features stained glass windows and a triptych taken from the old chapel. In 1993 use of the church ceased, and the museum was able to lease the building from Douglas and Angus Estates.

The museum also tells the story of the powerful Douglas family, and the tomb of Good Sir James, asked by the dying Robert the Bruce in 1329 to carry his heart to the Holy Land, is in St Bride’s Church mausoleum beside it.

Museum chairman Dr Iain Kane opened the church to let Aileen see the tomb. The Good Sir James never made it to the Holy Land, but was killed fighting the Moors in Spain in 1330. Bruce’s heart was taken to Melrose Abbey, and the body of Sir James Douglas was brought back to St Bride’s. The casket containing his heart also lies in the mausoleum.

Dr Kane told Aileen that Good Sir James is revered in Spain, and visitors come over to lay flowers on his tomb.

There are around 20 volunteers running the little museum, which is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoon until September, and more would be welcome.

Aileen said: “Through dedication and hard work the team of volunteers who maintain and manage this museum are to be congratulated for what they do.

“ They are keeping our local history alive and are ensuring people from around the world understand the rich and significant history of Douglas. To enable them to do even more of that, they are on the look-out for new volunteers. So for anyone with an interest in local history, they should really think about lending a hand to ensure this wonderful museum can grow and flourish.”

Photos show Mary Mitchell and Iain Kane with Aileen in the museum; and Aileen and Iain at the tomb of Good Sir James. Further photos are available.

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