The small town of Falkland is about 50 minutes outside of Edinburgh and was built up around the royal palace. This palace served as a hunting lodge for monarchs over the 16th and 17th centuries and is technically still a royal residence today (though Charles II was the last monarch to stay here).
Upon arrival at the palace, we were met by the National Trust Scotland property manager for the region, along with the conservator (Julie) and curator (Antonia) for this region of Scotland, and led to the chapel. This chapel was used by Mary, Queen of Scots and remains a consecrated, functioning Catholic chapel today. It is used by the local Catholic parish, which has a congregation of about 800 people. I wouldn’t mind having my Sunday masses in this chapel! It is very beautiful and retains some features from as far back the 1490s.
This cross-hatching of functions and use of Falkland Palace is characterise of the residence, though unique amongst heritage properties that are managed by NTS. As a royal residence, the palace retains a ‘Keeper’, who is custodian in the monarch’s absence and has the right of residence. This is a hereditary role and belongs to the descendants of the second son of the 3rd Marquis of Bute (someone who we will heard a lot about during this trip), who inherited this property from his father in the late nineteenth century. The previous keeper, acknowledging that the maintenance of the property would become too much for the family, as well as the historic value of the site to Scotland and the UK, entered into an agreement with the NTS in the 1950s.
This agreement handed over the management of the house to the NTS and created a visitor attraction, though the family would still be custodians of the property, their collections, and maintain the right of residence. The current keeper, now fourth generation, still lives in the Palace and this poses interesting conundrums for the NTS. The palace is a private residence, so how do you present the house to the public? Further to the visitation of the palace by visitors, there are conservation and collection management issues that arise with this property that are not issues with others. In the closed season (November – March), there are a number of rooms that revert back to the sole private use of the family. This includes the drawing room, which is one of the main rooms on the visitor path throughout the palace. During this season, the doors are shut and NTS staff do not go in.
So, these rooms will remain a mystery to NTS until they are opened again prior to the beginning of the visitor season in April. The family has full use of the collection items, fires are lit, and food and drink are consumed. How should the NTS approach a ‘working’ collection such as this, in line with their Conservation Principles and aims as an organisation? For me , this was one of the most interesting elements of the property.
Conservation was the main focus for the day, and I enjoyed being able to engage with a challenge that is so suited to my background. NTS contracts out all its interventive treatments and thus, has an important role in supporting the conservation industry in Scotland, generally. Julie Bon, the NTS conservator for Edinburgh & East, had us brainstorm about conservation issues in specific rooms (Drawing Room, Library, and the Bedroom), with reference to official National Trust for Scotland Conservation Principles and Processes. NTS use risk matrices in their planning, which was nice to see. It was lovely to know that people actually use them, and they’re not just an academic exercise at university.
We also discussed increasing access for the public to these rooms, increasing visibility of the ‘Keeper’ story for the visitors and interpretation/display of the space more generally. This was a really great session. All the participants make the effort to get the most out of these sessions, and Julie & Antonia were wonderful. The staff at Falkland were very welcoming of our suggestions, and provided useful feedback and debated ideas with participants.
Falkland had quite a few tours buses that came and went quickly whilst we were in town – this is because the village is used as the historic Inverness in the Outlander TV Series. I could pretend that I didn’t care, but that would be false.
Our second day at Falkland Palace revolved around interpretation and was led by curator for Edinburgh & East, Antonia. We specifically looked at the Real Tennis Court at the end of the Falkland Palace garden. This is the oldest tennis court in the UK, and Mary Queen of Scots would have played here (having claim to the Mary, Queen of Scots story is prevalent in the Scottish heritage landscape). Legend has it that she was fed up trying to play in a dress, and so played on the court in a pair of breeches. Following a demonstration from Bob and Jim from the local Real Tennis Club, we were asked to consider some specific aims in relation to the interpretation of the court which included: increasing access for all abilities and ages, visual clues inside the palace about the tennis court, making the tennis court an attraction, and increasing engagement and membership to the Real Tennis Club. OPP participants took to the challenge and came up with innovative ways to increase the presence and engagement of the local community with the Tennis Court.
It will be interesting as the programme progresses to compare the different ‘stately’ homes to one another, as I suspect that we will find that there are common issues this these types of properties.
As a side note, I need to mention the gardens at Falkland Palace – they are stunning!