Cromarty Courthouse Museum: linking the past with the future
This elegant Grade A listed former courthouse, built in 1773, now houses fascinating exhibitions about the historic town of Cromarty and the neigbouring parish of Resolis. The Courthouse is more than just one of the oft-photographed eighteenth century buildings and tourist attractions in Cromarty, it is the repository for the cultural heritage of the town. As such it has a responsibility to:
- collect and protect the memory of the area
- share and maintain the collection for the future
As is the case with all museums, the collection is much more extensive than the items on display. We hold not just a collection of interesting artefacts, but documents recording the history of developments over the centuries: papers relating to commerce, industry, societies, buildings; early photographic collections and personal memorabilia gifted by members of the public for safe-keeping. Much of today’s ‘history in the making’ is now being documented on-line and how we capture these ‘born-digital’ records for posterity is another challenge.
Work goes on throughout the year and behind the scenes to ensure the safe keeping of the museum artifacts. A major exercise recently was to take everything out of storage, check the condition, update the catalogue and record the location to ensure ready access for retrieval. This proved to be a satisfying task (despite the cold of a 250 year-old building in winter) in terms of order and organisation, but for newer trustees and volunteers, allowed insight into the unique and varied items held, including:
- hospital signage
- records of meetings to alleviate poverty
- Cromarty Town Council records
- military insignia
- personal memories
Some of the archaeological finds from detectorists and the excavations in Reed’s Park are of particular national significance. These must be sent to the Treasure Trove in Edinburgh for validation before being passed to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer who deals with ownerless property and decides whether we can hold them in the museum.
Tourism is the most obvious way in which the museum attracts visitors and shares the history of the town. Approximately 5,000 people visit each year and there are countless reasons for doing so, but often there are connections with the military history, the Black Isle ‘diaspora’ or even the Shipping Forecast!
Exhibitions, events and learning activities help to promote engagement.
Displays are taken to other events further afield too, for example the Black Isle Gathering and Fort George, Culloden, archaeological seminars and, currently, in Inverness Art Gallery & Museum. The changing exhibitions (usually two or three a year) highlight aspects of local cultural history.
There is also outreach work, including:
- links with the History Society
- talks and workshops in schools
- work with Clan Urquhart
- special out-of-hours visits for groups and organisations
The beautiful walled garden to the rear of the building is a community garden that has been nurtured over the last few years as a wild-flower garden and orchard. It has been included in the Cromarty Open Gardens events, hosted weddings, tea-parties and kept some of the locals in plum jam!
Digitisation is another strand to sharing the collection, potentially to a world-wide audience. This is at an early stage, but all accessioned items are gradually being recorded on a database called e-Hive, which can be accessed by members of the public. To date around four or five hundred items have been logged, but ultimately, we will have the entire collection recorded online.
Building maintenance is an essential component in preserving not only the collections, but the building itself. The Courthouse is owned by the Highland Council so structural maintenance is dependent on their budget and consequently an on-going challenge in these straitened times.
(Adapted from an article by Fran Sadler in the Spring 2018 edition of Chatterbox)