One year ago today, we celebrated the launch of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) – a new lead body charged with caring for, promoting and protecting Scotland’s historic environment.
On 1 October 2015, our organisation brought together the skills and resources of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). To celebrate, we’ve selected just a few highlights from a packed first 12 months!
We Will Rock You
Ten of our talented stonemasons and apprentices battled it out in a show of creativity and skill as part of a new Stone Carving Competition. Armed with only chisels and mells – traditional craft tools – they each had three days to hand-carve their block of Hazeldean stone and bring their designs to life, which ranged from a Minion to a Lewis Chessman.
We Volunteer As Tribute
In January we appointed Volunteer Scotland to carry out a study on volunteering across the historic environment sector. The results were published in June, and showed at least 17,000 people giving up their free time to support the sector in 2015!
Of that total, 319 volunteers gave 1,067 hours of their time to support our Ranger Service, collections, data and recording staff, and visitor facing teams from Duff House to Linlithgow Palace. And of course our Board volunteered their time too.
A Tale of Two Cities
Our first exhibition as HES in December 2015 told A Tale of Two Cities. This multimedia exhibition told tales of Edinburgh and Nanjing using drawings, photography, and digital touch tables.
A new version of A Tale of Two Cities has now been developed and is currently on display at the Museum of Lisbon, exploring similarities between the Scottish and Portuguese capitals.
Money, Money, Money
We announced over £14million of funding, including the availability of £10 million for Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme projects (stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement on where this will go), and awarded over £4 million in Building Repair Grants.
Our grant funding initiatives benefit local communities, and help breathe new life into historically and culturally important buildings across the whole of Scotland.
Elgin’s carved stones return home
In March 2016, we shed fresh light on a 700 year old bishop when over 100 medieval carved stones went on public display at Elgin Cathedral for the first time in 20 years. Spread across eight rooms in the cathedral’s north and south towers, the exhibition features expressive carved faces, flora and fauna, lions and lizards, and a section of a rose window dating to the 1200s – all cleaned by specialist conservators, studied by researchers and now theatrically lit for your viewing pleasure.
We unveiled our all new website, including this very blog, following a two year project to find out exactly what makes our users tick. We re-wrote all our content and placed users at the centre of our design, with the aim of making Scotland’s history more accessible.
The new website has seen over an 8% increase in traffic in comparison to the old HS site, and 783% in comparison to old RCAHMS websites, highlighting how much we have to offer! The site includes a new heritage portal that publishes information on scheduling, listing and scheduled monument consent. This is the place to go for information about Scotland’s gardens, battlefields and monuments.
Stan Laurel remembered with Commemorative Plaque
Our Commemorative Plaque Scheme celebrates significant people from history by erecting plaques on the buildings where they lived or worked. Recipients are nominated by members of the public, and in our first year as HES we had some outstanding suggestions. Nominees included figures in the fields of engineering, architecture, literature, science, politics, and the advancement of women’s rights – as well as one very famous comedian.
Although born in Cumbria, Stan Laurel of ‘Laurel and Hardy’ fame, moved to Glasgow when he was a boy. He made his stage debut in the city’s famous Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest, still-used music hall. His plaque will be mounted on the Glasgow tenement building where he spent many of his formative years.
For All Our Futures – We launched our first HES Corporate Plan
Scotland’s heritage sector flocked to Paisley Abbey for the launch of our first Corporate Plan. The day-long event set out our aims, missions and values as well as our aspirations for the future of Scotland’s historic environment.
So many books, so little time
We’ve published several books this year, including St Kilda: The Last and Outmost Isle. This was the result of an eight-year-long research project involving two of our archaeologists.
The book brought together detailed archaeological survey work and rare, previously unpublished images to shed new light on the iconic archipelago 100 miles off the west coast of Scotland. We were thrilled when it was shortlisted in the 2016 British Archaeological Awards.
Archaeological Discoveries Abounded
A rare and almost complete underground building, dating back 4,000 years to the Bronze Age, was discovered in Orkney, close by to the archaeological site of the Links of Noltland. It is thought the complex could once have been used as a sweat house or sauna. Meanwhile in Perthshire, evidence was uncovered of the earliest farming in Scotland 10,000 years ago, and further south in Galloway, Viking Treasure was seen for the first time in a thousand years.
We had a record breaking summer for visitor figures, with 1,964,118 visitors coming to our paid-for sites between April and July. This included our best ever turnout for Spectacular Jousting at Linlithgow Palace, with 11,763 visitors over the weekend – a rise of 22% on last year’s event.
Further to this, as part of our efforts to reach out to new audiences and get them engaged with Scotland’s history, we teamed up with the Scotlanders blogger collective and got Scotland’s history trending with the #HistoryHunters campaign, which reached 1,276,494 million people online.
The Crown of Scotland, which you can see on display at Edinburgh Castle, still plays an important role after 500 years in post. This summer, it helped signal the opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament when it was presented before Her Majesty the Queen at Holyrood. One of our most popular blog posts of the year (with 1,297 hits) took viewers behind the scenes as our collections team prepared the crown for its appearance.
Want to keep up to date with what the next 12 months will bring? Register for updates every time we post to the Historic Environment Scotland blog.
Ali works in our Digital Team coordinating our social media and blog content. She enjoys helping our expert staff across the country tell their stories in new and interesting ways.
View all posts by Ali George