In 1841 the Montrose Natural History and Antiquarian Society realised that its lodgings in part of one of the town’s schools was fast being outgrown by its collection of geology, natural history, ethnography, fine art and the hundreds of other items that might find themselves in a typical Victorian collection. A fund was begun, and the museum opened 1842 making it one of the first purpose built museums in Scotland.
The museum is designed to look like a true ‘temple of learning’, with Ionic columns on either side of the doorway and ‘museum’ written above the lintel in elegant gold relief. Inside the beautiful neo-classical building a series of displays are housed in the spacious atrium, mezzanine and galleries charting the life of the town and art of its people.
It is now part of Angus Council’s museum service and the displays and collection have evolved from the eclectic wonder-shop that it was in the nineteenth century whilst retaining the atmosphere of a traditional museum. It is now very firmly locked in the heart of the community.
The visitor moves through the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, to the decorated stones that are the remains of the Pictish civilisation of Circhen, now Angus. The life of the busy burgh is revealed, its trade, religion and industry including the famous Montrose Silver and Dryleys pottery. The collection also includes objects illustrating events in the broader history of Scotland; the Marquis of Montrose, his role as both a Covenanter and Royalist, the role of Montrose in the Jacobite uprising and the history of the local militia. The Maritime Gallery has a superb fleet of model shipping, scrimshaws, whalebone items, flensing tools, harpoons and other relics of the once thriving East Coast whaling industry.
The museum also houses an art gallery with a lively programme of changing exhibitions from the museum’s collection of paintings and sculptures by local artists such as William Lamb, Edward Baird and George Paul Chalmers, and from local community groups. There are also a series of afternoon talks, children’s activities and occasional evening events.