Tolbooth artefacts will not be returned even if facility re-opens

SOME of the artefacts removed without consultation from Stonehaven’s Tolbooth Museum last month will not be returned by council officers to the town even if the facility re-opens.

This was the message from Kincardine and Mearns area manager Willie Munro who attended at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Stonehaven and District Community Council.

Mr Munro apologised to members for the way the situation had unfolded, saying that it was “not good” and if he had known about what was going to happen he would not have allowed it to go ahead in the manner it did.

However, Mr Munro also said that there were some environmental problems with the Tolbooth - Stonehaven’s oldest building - which were negatively affecting some of the artefacts on display and action would have had to be taken to remove these anyway.

“I don’t think that the continuation of the museum as it was was sustainable even without budget cuts,” he said. “The council is the custodian of these artefacts and it has a duty to keep them in a safe and secure condition and the Tolbooth cannot meet these conditions.

“What has happened rightly or wrongly, is that officers, realising that from April 1 the budget for this was going to be zero, have set about making sure that the artefacts are safe and secure and removed some of them to the council’s conservation store in Mintlaw and returned others to their owners.”

Mr Munro added: “I think we should be looking at this as an opportunity. The Tolbooth has had a fairly static display of a range of artefacts and I think the majority of visitors who might be interested in going in there may well be looking for something different. I think we could see this as an opportunity to have more localised information, we should be making the most of Dunnottar Castle, the interesting geology around the area and each year the Heritage Society put on a really excellent display of photos of Stonehaven through the ages.

“We need to work together to create something that I think visitors are going to appreciate more than simply restoring the museum to the state that it was before, even if that was possible, which I don’t think it will be.

“I’m not going to try and defend what happened because it is not good. What’s been done has been done by officers with the best of intentions but it is really not where we want to be. We cannot turn the clock back - I think the question now is, is that what we really want as a museum and heritage centre for Stonehaven.”

Community Council member Ian Balgowan said: “What does this matter, if these artefacts have been taken away never to be seen again? That stuff belongs in Stonehaven, it should never have been removed from the town.”

Stonehaven and Lower Deeside councillor Graeme Clark said: “We are all really annoyed about what happened but I think this is an opportunity, yes. There were almost 9000 visitors last year, the museum is a great tourist attraction and I think it has to be in the Tolbooth, it has to be down at the harbour.”

Fellow ward councillor Peter Bellarby said: “Mr Munro has been very positive about this, let’s go forward in a positive way and let’s try to get something organised as soon as possible.”

Mr Munro said he would do his best to set up a date this week for representatives from the community council and heritage society to visit the Mintlaw store where the artefacts are being kept.

A small working group made up of representatives from various organisations in the town has been set up to get things moving for the planned re-opening of the museum at the start of June, while an appeal for volunteers to man the facility has yielded a number of responses.

Anyone wishing to volunteer to help the working group is asked to contact the office of Gordon Ritchie c/o Connons, 50 Allardice Street, on 01569 762 971 as soon as possible.