Nicola Moss writes about the most recent pop-up, when the Fed headed West to see The Secret Collection.
It was with a feeling of intrigue that I headed to the most recent Scottish Museums Federation event at the brand new Paisley: The Secret Collection. Having never visited Paisley before, I certainly had very limited knowledge of the town itself and its history and I was keen, as always, to learn more. Although I managed to get lost between the train station and the High Street (in what is almost a straight line) I stumbled across the Secret Collection in a very subdued part of the street. With its modern exterior, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re heading straight into a nightclub – which some people do!
Greeted by members of staff of Renfrewshire Leisure and all signed in, our small group made our way downstairs to the Learning Centre – a good-sized space, set aside for learning activities and sessions such as ours and with, of course, the extremely important complimentary biscuits!
The group was given an in-depth introduction by Christine McLean, Heritage Manager of Renfrewshire Leisure: Cultural Services. Paisley itself is currently seeing a lot of redevelopment. From the collections centre to a new museum, new Creative Learning Hub and refurbishment of several buildings in the centre, things certainly appear to be non-stop in this small west coast town.
Christine gave us a brilliant overview of the entire Museum development project of which the Secret Collection is only one part. She also entertained us with stories of ‘Buddy the Lion’ who would appear later on our tour. Buddy appears to be very well known throughout Paisley! Having died of natural causes when in Bostock’s Zoo (forerunner of Glasgow Zoo) during the 1920s, his remains were passed on to the Museum. Many of those who used to visit the old Museum have memories of going to the swimming, followed by getting some chips at the local fish and chip shop and finally visiting the Museum to give Buddy a friendly pat – it’s not very clear how many people washed their hands after eating said chips and needless to say, Buddy is apparently looking a little worse for wear these days!
It is hoped that the project as a whole will be finished by late 2022. With the presentation finished and joined by more members of staff, our group began to make our way around the guided tour of the stores.
While the entrance to the collection is on the High Street itself, the collections are stored downstairs in beautifully designed stores. Large interior windows ensure that visitors can see into the stores even on days when there is no physical access. The colour scheme itself has also been part of the design! Artist Toby Paterson developed the interesting yellows, reds and burgundies throughout the collections centre ensuring that he and Collective Architecture have created a very distinctive feel to the Secret Collection.
There are currently stores dedicated to textiles, archives, art, natural history, ceramics and world cultures, social history and a research room for both staff and outside researchers. In addition to this, the space also houses a conservation room, workshop, quarantine room, kitchen and plenty of toilets! At the moment, there are roughly 350,000 objects in the collection making this one of the largest in Scotland. The collections also house a vast selection of around 1200 Paisley shawls, some of which, thanks to an upcoming open day, was on open display for us to get an excellent look at!
There were lots to see in the stores themselves from artworks, antique furniture, Buddy the Lion and of course, some of the Curators themselves(!) who were on hand to answer a mix of our questions. The social history collection is apparently what gets most groups talking amongst themselves and our group was no different! From train timetables to doors, every corner held a memory for someone in the group.
We followed up our tour with a final presentation from Christine about the most recent developments for the upcoming redeveloped Paisley Museum. I’ll certainly be back for a visit to the Museum once it’s open to the public – and can highly recommend a tour of the Secret Collections if you have any interest at all in Paisley’s collections, or indeed, just enjoy a well-planned out store!!
To book your free tour, please visit https://www.renfrewshireleisure.com/thesecretcollection/