If you pop into our little Museum, you may notice that there is a selection of pamphlets available in our gift shop (which are purchased regularly by visitors and make for a quick but informative read)! You can also buy a book titled ‘Highland Heritage’ and one can be viewed on display in an exhibit about the founding of the Museum... what’s that book doing behind glass in a museum you might wonder? Well, these are no ordinary reading materials; these are quite unique and special to our Museum because one of our founders (and our first Curator) researched and wrote them!
‘Highland Heritage’ is a book written by Barbara Fairweather and published through Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum (as our Museum was called at that time). It was first published in 1984 and printed locally by Nevisprint Limited in Fort William.
The cover photo on the dust jacket is the iconic painting of Glencoe by Horatio McCulloch, reproduced with kind permission from Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum (now Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum). We recently wrote a blog on McCulloch’s Glencoe paintings which covers this masterpiece that Barbara chose as the front cover. It certainly is awe-inspiring and includes the hugely recognisable view of the “Three Sisters” mountains, arguably even more famous nowadays because it is one of the most photographed spots in Scotland! However, we now have a Glencoe McCulloch painting in our own collection, so perhaps the Museum obtained it after the book was published…
‘Highland Heritage’ has 244 pages and is split into 18 chapters, each focussing on a different topic. The introduction gives background information on the Museum and how the book came about. It states that the Museum opened in 1967 and the next year it started publishing new booklets annually. It was suggested that they gather these booklets and “incorporate them into a single volume” which they succeeded in doing and this book is the result! The only chapter which was a brand-new addition was chapter 17 – all the others had been produced into booklets, but in this form, they’ve been expanded upon and new photographs or drawings were added for visual stimulus. We learn that much of the information gathered was through consultation with local people. Indeed, the content for the chapters on the Ballachulish Slate Quarry and Living in Old Glencoe was almost entirely gathered through interviews with elderly residents within the area who had memories of those times, and the chapter on folklore was written through recording oral histories completely! One of the few criticisms of the book is that there are no references to these people or the other sources Barbara consulted in her research. It concludes by stating that the Museum is run by a small voluntary group and is open from mid-May until the end of September; this is quite out-of-date with four paid staff members currently and our open season tends to run from April to October.
There is no introduction to the writer in these sections, which is usually the custom, so the reader of this book wouldn’t learn anything about Barbara. However, we can share that she was born on 20 May 1916 and she moved from Glasgow to Duror in 1960. She was described as energetic, having a wide knowledge and fascinating character, with a great sense of humour too – for example, she referred to herself as “Scrounger Fairweather” as she was always on the lookout for interesting artefacts to add to the Museum collection. She achieved a lot: publishing this book, winning awards for the Museum whilst building its reputation, and she was even awarded an MBE for her services to the arts.
Barbara retired from the Museum in November 1999; as a present to acknowledge and celebrate all her hard work, she was given a wonderful personal portrait of her sitting in her home, surrounded by trinkets looking out to the Pap of Glencoe, with her cat Amber sitting on her lap. In this portrait, you can even see the ‘Highland Heritage’ book sitting underneath her chair! Barbara passed away on 2 January 2001, a huge loss to the community as she contributed a huge amount of time and passion in the pursuit of preserving and sharing the area’s heritage.
In the acknowledgements section of the book, thanks are expressed for the permission to use photographs and extracts from various sources including neighbouring heritage site, West Highland Museum, in Fort William. Furthermore, it also states that the Glencoe Foundation Trust Inc of USA gave a generous grant which allowed the publication of the book possible.
Chapters 1-8 cover a variety of topics, which don’t always connect with one another. There is a chapter on Lismore, Duror and Strath of Appin; an area Barbara would have been familiar with as she lived in Duror before moving to Invercoe. Chapter 6 is noteworthy as it’s filled with photographs of the past with minimal writing. Found in other chapters are intimate portraits of Ballachulish Slate Quarriers, farmers at work and festival celebrations which add depth to the book.
Chapters 9 – 12 are about the natural world: including topics like farming, wildlife and plants. This makes sense as Barbara is said to have had a strong interest in birds and flowers especially. There are some lovely illustrations and photographs in these chapters as points of reference. Chapters 13-17 are all travel themed. Chapter 18 stands alone as the final chapter and it is about the Jacobite Uprising in 1745. Barbara knew this period of history well as she was the secretary of the 1745 Association for many years.
Praise was given to the book in a review published in a newspaper based on its large format, which gave “great clarity” owing to the simplicity of its layout. In fact, you might be interested to know that the book won the “Publications Prize” at the Museum of the Year Award for Scotland ceremony in 1986, which would have been a fantastic achievement for Barbara both personally and professionally. This award, as well as a photo of Mrs Rae Grant accepting the award on behalf of Glencoe Folk Museum, is on display in our ‘Making a Museum’ exhibit.
Apparently 2000 copies were made, of which 150 were sent immediately to USA. It was available to buy from Barbara directly at her home in Invercoe House at the price of £12.95 excluding post and packaging. It wasn’t uncommon for Barbara to have visitors at her home as she decanted the Museum every winter and held the collections there for safekeeping. It didn’t seem to be sold anywhere but the Museum’s gift shop, but it was featured in a display of Lochaber themed books complied by the library in Fort William.
The book is a treasure trove full of facts, stories and photographs of days gone by. It is written as a stream of consciousness, so as a reader, you get a sense of what Barbara was like. Undoubtedly, she was an amazing asset to whichever team she was a part of. We’re proud to be a women founded Museum and we continue to be governed by a Board of Trustees that are all women. As we continue in the footsteps of Barbara by recording oral histories of local people as part of our research and interpretation process for redeveloping our Museum into a better, multi-functional, accessible and comfortable space; we hope that new pamphlets may be printed yet as we discover more stories worth sharing for future generations about our small corner of the Highlands.