Strathnaver Museum is a community run fully accreditated local history museum telling the story of the Highland Clearances and the social history of north west Sutherland. The idea for a museum emerged over 50 years ago when a dedicated band of local volunteers, supported by historian and broadcaster Dr Ian Grimble, decided to tell their own story. Making use of a redundant building that was in danger of falling into disrepair they put out a call to the public to help build a collection to tell the story of north west Sutherland.
Today the museum remains community run and the collection continues to grow through innovative community research projects and generous donations of objects and family histories from supporters. The collection encompasses the story of our area from pre-historic times, such as through the intact Bronze Age Chealamy Beaker pictured below, to contemporary accounts of life in Mackay Country.
Ceramic artist Lorraine Robson with the Chealamy Beaker which inspired her artist residency in 2012
We welcome thousands of visitors every year and use our collection in engaging community projects exploring the heritage of our area.
Despite our long history we face a number of challenges as our historic building is in urgent need of repair and maintenance. If our building falls into further disrepair there is a real danger that the museum will have to close and the collection put into storage.
Our project will do more than just carry out essential repairs though as we want to improve the visitor experience by making our building more accessible, improving our displays and interpretation, increasing access to our collection by creating a public research room and installing heating to make the museum more comfortable. At the moment our displays are cramped but we will create an additional building to house our larger agricultural and fishing exhibits. You can view our architects drawings on our website here: https://www.strathnavermuseum.org.uk/current-projects/refurbishment/
Visitors in the main room of Strathnaver Museum with the pulpit in the background
Our building is perhaps the largest object in the collection as it is an important piece in the story of the Clearances. From the pulpit which still dominates the main room of the building, Rev. David Mackenzie, was obliged to read out eviction notices to his congregation during the Strathnaver Clearances. Later in 1883 it was where crofters and cottars gathered to give evidence to the Napier Commission which eventually led to security of tenure. Betty Mackay who was 16 at the time of her removal from Skail gave evidence in the church in 1883 and said:
"Our family was very reluctant to leave and stayed for some time, but the burning party came round and set fire to our house at both ends, reducing to ashes whatever remained within the walls".
Part of our new interpretation will include recordings of testimonies such as Betty's being played in the main room.
Artwork created by Melvich Primary School telling the story of the Highland Clearances
We have secured significant funding towards the refurbishment and are awaiting the outcome of a number of funding applications but we require £30,000 to take us to our target. This funding will enable us to:
- remove the inappropriate cement render on the outside of the building revealing the original stonework and restoring the building to its original façade;
- remove the external staircases which are later additions and are subsiding, a fire escape will be installed to the west gable to comply with fire regulations;
- create a welcoming entrance space and reduce draughts from the east entrance;
- repair the original plaster work which is debonding from the ceiling;
- create a Mackay Centre in the upper west floor with new digital displays, a film, oral histories and traditional displays;
- install a bridge link joining the east and west upper floor recreating the view that would have been available before the galleries were removed in 1882;
- create additional gallery space in the currently unused east upper floor;
- create a public research and reading room opening up access to more of our collection;
- install insulation in the ceiling and a heating system which will allow us to extend opening in the winter months;
- build an annex building to the rear of the graveyard to house our agricultural and fishing exhibits freeing up space in the main building;
- install new family friendly accessible interpretation, digital displays and handling exhibits.