Museum to reopen its ‘secret courtyard’

The courtyard of the Museum of Edinburgh. Picture: Lloyd Smith
The courtyard of the Museum of Edinburgh. Picture: Lloyd Smith
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A “SECRET courtyard” featuring centuries-old stonework and engravings is set to open at the Museum of Edinburgh for the first time in a decade.

Museum leaders said the opening had been made possible by groups of volunteers – including former offenders on community payback – who helped clean and landscape the hidden space.

Lintels, grave slabs, ancient canonballs and an old Grecian statue are among objects on display, as hopes grow that the courtyard will quickly emerge as a major new performance, concert and leisure space in the Old Town.

Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, it was closed to the public around ten years ago after falling into a state of neglect and becoming “completely overgrown”.

News of the reopening was confirmed as council leaders unveiled two new interactive screens – billed as a first for the city museums service.

Gillian Findlay, senior 
curator for history at Edinburgh Museums and Galleries, said: “The objects in the courtyard are fascinating mainly because they span 500 years of life in the city of Edinburgh – some of the earlier pieces date back to the 1500s.

“Many of them are stones that would have featured in buildings around Edinburgh, and provide a snapshot of everything from Edinburgh’s civic past to its commercial history over the centuries.”

Ms Findlay said one of the new interactive screens would allow visitors to “transport” themselves back in time to recreations of the secret courtyard in times gone by.

Another will focus on the museum’s Earl Haig Collection, which explores the 1st Earl’s life from a military and personal perspective through a set of 
period objects.

Visitors will also be able to “manipulate” items via touch display, accessing historical facts which reveal how each one relates to the Earl’s life.

Leaders at Edinburgh-based Insurgent Studios, whose staff helped design the interactive screens, said the technology was installed to tell “old stories in new ways”.

“Our approach to digital conservation allowed us to work with the team at the council’s Museum of Edinburgh to show some items from the collections which would not otherwise be on display,” said Craig Hunter, the firm’s managing director.

“We believe that these installations will appeal to everyone by literally putting history at their fingertips.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, culture leader, added: “This digital trial is a first for the council’s museums and galleries service and will be an exciting opportunity to discover how our cultural offering might be able to use new technology to shape visitors’ knowledge of the past.

“Appealing to visitors of all ages, the hands-on experience will allow anyone with an interest in Edinburgh’s history to physically connect with some of the museum’s artefacts.”

The Museum of Edinburgh houses a collection of artefacts relating to Capital’s origins, 
history and legends. Highlights include the Greyfriars Bobby Collection, a Sedan Chair which functioned as one of the city’s first taxis, the National Covenant, Scottish pottery and porcelain dating back to the 1760s.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com