North Berwick | Revisiting the past

North Berwick Town Council, funded with the help of a grant of £650 from the Carnegie Trust, opened the North Berwick Museum in 1957. The prime mover behind the venture was Dr J.S. Richardson (see Miscellany), who became the first honorary curator.

In 1975, on the reorganisation of local government in Scotland, responsibility for the museum was taken over by East Lothian District Council. A management committee was formed locally with representation from the local authority, the community and the secondary school. The responsibility of the committee was to develop the museum and to present the display of its collection.

The museum is housed on the upper floor of a former burgh school – a grade C listed building – with static displays in the smaller rooms and changing displays and exhibitions in the corridor and the large spaces beyond, created when storage was relocated in 1996 in the new facility in Haddington. The museum is open from April to October. The collection consists of items of national importance ranging from Scottish pottery to regalia of the Ancient Order of Foresters. Items of local significance include pewter communion vessels, communion tokens, documentation on the history of the burgh, and archaeological finds from local sites.

Expansion and reorganisation of the museum was identified as needing consideration in 1983 when a report on museums was prepared by the Council for Museums and Galleries in Scotland, now the Scottish Museums’ Council. Subsequent plans were prepared for alteration and extension of the building, housing both the museum and the library, but as funding was not available these remain thoughts on paper. The East Lothian Museum Service was formed in 1990 with its first museums’ officer, the late Sue Jenkinson.

In 1984, the Friends of North Berwick Museum was formed by a group of enthusiastic supporters. The object of the friends was to promote interest in the museum by arranging a programme of meetings and events, organising visits to places of interest and lastly, raising funds for acquiring items for the collection and helping to arrange exhibitions. The friends won support from both the management committee and the district council. Their major fund raising event each year ranged from an antiques evening to lectures and film shows. Further talks were held monthly throughout the winter months. The enthusiasm is still there today although the funding requirements have changed. The friends still flourish as a small group of dedicated people with the interests of the museum in their hearts. Each week a small band of volunteers meet in the museum to continue the work. Funds continue to be raised and recently they have equipped the newly formed education room on the ground floor.

The future of the friends may be uncertain with talk of a possible merger with a proposed new history society, but the museum will continue to give pleasure to both visitors and residents alike .