The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, was formed in 2006 with the merger of the new Museum of Scotland, with collections relating to Scottish antiquities, culture and history, and the adjacent Royal Museum (so renamed in 1995), with collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures. The two connected buildings stand beside each other on Chambers Street, by the intersection with the George IV Bridge, in central Edinburgh. The museum is part of National Museums Scotland. Admission is free.
The two buildings retain distinctive characters: the Museum of Scotland is housed in a modern building opened in 1998, while the former Royal Museum building was begun in 1861, and partially opened in 1866, with a Victorian Romanesque Revival facade and a grand central hall of cast iron construction that rises the full height of the building. This building underwent a major refurbishment and reopened on 29 July 2011 after a three-year, £47 million project to restore and extend the building led by Gareth Hoskins Architects along with the concurrent redesign of the exhibitions by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
The National Museum incorporates the collections of the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and the Royal Museum. As well as the national collections of Scottish archaeological finds and medieval objects, the museum contains artefacts from around the world, encompassing geology, archaeology, natural history, science, technology, art, and world cultures. The 16 new galleries reopened in 2011 include 8,000 objects, 80 per cent of which were not formerly on display. One of the more notable exhibits is the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first successful clone of a mammal from an adult cell. Other highlights include Ancient Egyptian exhibitions, one of Elton John's extravagant suits and a large kinetic sculpture named the Millennium Clock. A Scottish invention that is a perennial favourite with school parties is The Maiden, an early form of guillotine.
In 2016, the museum had 1.81 million visitors over the year, making it Scotland's most popular visitor attraction during that period.
The galleries in the newer building present Scottish history in an essentially chronological arrangement, beginning at the lowest level with prehistory to the early medieval period, with later periods on the higher levels. The Victorian building, as reopened in 2011, contains four zones (each with numerous galleries), covering natural history, world cultures (including galleries on the South Pacific, East Asia, and Ancient Egypt), European art and design, and science & technology. The Grand Gallery contains a variety of large objects from the collections, with a display called the "Window on the World" rising through four storeys, or about 20 metres, containing over 800 objects reflecting the breadth of the collections. Beyond the Grand Gallery at ground level is the "Discoveries" gallery, with objects connected to "remarkable Scots ... in the fields of invention, exploration and adventure".
Notable artefacts include:Assyrian relief of King Ashurnasirpal II and a court official, from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud, excavated by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840s; the medical pioneer James Young Simpson gave the panel to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who passed it into the national collection.
St Ninian's Isle Treasure
11 of the Lewis chessmen. (The rest are owned by the British Museum)
Celtic brooches, including the Hunterston Brooch
Torrs Pony-cap and Horns
Pictish stones, such as the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, Woodwrae Stone, and Monifieth Sculptured Stones
the Cramond Lioness, Newstead Helmet and other items from the Roman frontier
Sculptures by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, housing prehistoric jewellery
A Union Flag and Scottish Flag raised by the Hanoverians and Jacobites respectively at the Battle of Culloden
The Maiden, an early form of guillotine
the stuffed remains of Dolly the sheep
Paintings by Margaret MacDonald
Sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, inspired by the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton
Construction was started in 1861 and proceeded in phases, with some sections opening before others had even begun construction. The original extent of the building was completed in 1888. It was designed by civil engineer Captain Francis Fowke of the Royal Engineers, who is also responsible for the Royal Albert Hall. The exterior, designed in a Venetian Renaissance style, contrasts sharply with the light-flooded main hall or Grand Gallery, inspired by The Crystal Palace.
Numerous extensions at the rear of the building, particularly in the 1930s, extended the museum greatly. 1998 saw the opening of the Museum of Scotland, which is linked internally to the Royal Museum building. The major redevelopment completed in 2011 by Gareth Hoskins Architects uses former storage areas to form a vaulted Entrance Hall of 1400 sq M at street level with visitor facilities. This involved lowering the floor level by 1.2 metres. Despite being a Class A listed building, it was possible to add lifts and escalators.
The building's architecture was controversial from the start, and Prince Charles resigned as patron of the museum, in protest at the lack of consultation over its design. The building is made up of geometric, Corbusian forms, but also has numerous references to Scotland, such as brochs and castellated, defensive architecture. It is clad in golden Moray sandstone, which one of its architects, Gordon Benson, has called "the oldest exhibit in the building", a reference to Scottish geology. The building was a 1999 Stirling Prize nominee.
The history of the museum can be said to begin in 1780 with the foundation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which still continues, but whose collection of archaeological and other finds was transferred to the government in 1858 as the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, based in Queen Street in the New Town, Edinburgh.
In 1861 construction of the Industrial Museum of Scotland began, with Prince Albert laying the foundation stone. In 1866, renamed the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art, the eastern end and the Grand Gallery were opened by Prince Alfred. In 1888 the building was finished and in 1904 the institution was renamed the Royal Scottish Museum.
The organizational merger of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum took place in 1985, but the two collections retained separate buildings until 1995 when the Queen Street building closed, to reopen later as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. In 1998 the new Museum of Scotland building opened, adjacent to the Royal Museum, and connected to it. The masterplan to redevelop the Victorian building and further integrate the architecture and collections was launched in 2004, and in 2006 the two museums were formally merged as the National Museum of Scotland. The old Royal Museum building closed for redevelopment in 2008, before reopening in July 2011.
Initially, much of the Royal Museum's collection came from the museum of Edinburgh University, and there is a bridge connecting the museum to the university's Old College building. The students saw the collection as their own, and curators would often find the exhibits rearranged or even missing. The final straw came in the 1870s, when students who were holding a party found that the museum was also holding a reception for local dignitaries, and had stored refreshments in the bridge. When the museum found the refreshments missing, the bridge was bricked up the next day, and has remained so since.
The Royal Museum displayed prank exhibits on April Fool's Day on at least one occasion. In 1975, a fictitious bird called the Bare-fronted Hoodwink (known for its innate ability to fly away from observers before they could accurately identify it) was put on display. The exhibit included photos of blurry birds flying away. To make the exhibit more convincing, a mount of the bird was sewn together by a taxidermist from various scraps of real birds, including the head of a carrion crow, the body of a plover, and the feet of an unknown waterfowl. The bare front was composed of wax.
Staff at the museum have taken several days of strike action at points during 2015 and 2016, called by the Public and Commercial Services Union.