Surprising Scotland – Glasgow Museums Resource Centre
Perhaps my favourite element within this strange job of mine is when I see something familiar from a completely different perspective. I spend a lot of time investigating what Scotland has to offer and, while I’m generally in a state of constant appreciation, it’s a great feeling when I unearth a place that completely takes me aback. Especially when it’s been right under my nose the whole time. The Glasgow Museums Resource Centre is one such place.
I’ve spent the last several weeks blazing a culture trail through my home town, which is ultimately what brought me to this off-the-radar spot in the city’s south side. Kelvingrove, The Riverside, GoMA and others have all seen a visit as I’ve looked to capture what truly lies behind the generally accepted view that Glasgow is one of Britain’s leading cultural hotspots. But these guys are common knowledge to all. The GMRC, contrastingly, has managed to hide from me in plain sight – keeping its precious collections and endless array of priceless items away from my gaze.
An uncertain drive through an industrial area to the west of Pollok Country Park will have many wondering if they took a wrong turn, but there’s no mistaking this giant facility when it emerges. In essence a storage base for any of the many objects not on display in the city’s more renowned museums, it would send Aladdin into overdrive. Home to a staggering 1.4 million objects, 17 ‘pods’ make up the different spaces for the astonishingly diverse range of items that make up Glasgow’s crown jewels. I learn that as little as 2% of Glasgow’s objects make it out on display at any one time, the rest are kept here. Fine art to imperial relics and everything in between.
The main collections tucked away within this NASA-like complex cover Archaeology, Art and Painting, Arms and Armour, Natural History, Transport and Technology and World Cultures. Quite like Kelvingrove in a holistic sense, then. I’m helplessly drawn to the armoury, beside myself at the endless aisles of swords, guns and body armour that have seen centuries’ worth of conflict. Or just centuries’ worth of time decorating someone’s mantelpiece, either or. Delicate cutlasses lie aside brutal claymores and intricately carved duelling pistols stare down their barrels at savage naval volley guns. For someone who has always been unavoidably drawn to military history, I stare on in a sense of absolute awe.
As with Kelvingrove, World Cultures is an area that my explorer’s mind can’t help but be drawn to. My fabulous guide Anna permits me to hold a small relic (see image below) dating back five and a half thousand years that would have been buried with a mummified corpse in Ancient Egypt. How often are you going to get to do that?! Indiana Jones gets to do that, where do I get off having such an opportunity! But this is the nature of the place. Where a slab of the legendary Antonine’s Wall is underneath the same roof as the priceless Burrell Collection. Or where subtle and deeply thought-provoking Botticelli artwork sits aside a John Byrne of Billy Connolly in his baby blue high heels. Loud and classy? It must be Glasgow.
Great care goes into protecting, preserving and indexing the items and the taxidermy element perhaps best underlines this. Under the attentive watchful eye of Lawrence, an army of animals fall into his care as he endlessly sets about freeze drying, stuffing and tinkering with the minutest detail. From owls and small garden birds to giant tigers and giraffes, it’s quite a zoo. The GMRC is even where random deceased animal finds (including roadkill believe it or not) are sent to see if they can be ‘restored’ and added to the collections. Fortunately, a little humour kicks in hence the Buckfast-induced, Tunnock’s Teacake munching hare in the cover image above.
There’s also something about the Transport and Technology pod. The smell hits you with a smack on entry. Cue the wry smile as memories come flooding back from my childhood wanders around the Transport Museum. Musty, metallic but strangely comforting, this seems a fitting nod to Glasgow’s hard past. Old engines, machinery and industrial works of art spread out in all directions. Some are visible, some hidden away undercover but centuries worth of craft, sweat and ingenuity reside here.
This is not your standard tourist attraction by any means. You’ll not find a café or gift shop, but that’s very much part of its unique appeal. The guided tours are intimate and are a great way to appreciate all that is on offer. Calm and atmospheric, I found a deeper immersion than I generally do when casually drifting through a typical gallery. While you’re always aware that this is a working area and that a team of perfectionists are constantly striving to maintain world class standards, I can’t help but feel that I actually prefer this as an overall ‘experience’.
Open 7 days throughout the year this place is one for all the family. School trips and kid-focussed events make up a huge part of the appeal and there’s an energetic buzz about the place (outwith the super-serene pods of course) that I had not expected. Whether educational or just for fun, the Centre’s excellent staff regularly oversee a lot of happy little faces. Booking in advance is essential to get yourself on one of the guided tours but the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre is very much open to all. Free of charge, naturally.
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