Tales from the Road: Staff Visit to Dalgarven Mill

Way back in July we announced that the entire staff (and the board) of MGS would be visiting Scottish museums of all shapes and sizes over the summer months. The exacting science of choosing which staff would go where was beyond me (there was a big map with pins in it and complicated equations…) but I was excited none the less. The one thing we all have in common at MGS is we love museums and sometimes you have to see it with your own eyes to really understand the amazing work that they do.

My partner on the road, Heather Doherty, and I were tasked with visiting sites in Ayrshire which is how we ended up driving out of Edinburgh at the crack of dawn one sunny September morning . Our first port of call was The Museum of Ayrshire Country-life and Costume at Dalgarven Mill in Kilwinning. The museum makes a lasting first impression as you face the fully functioning water wheel, which powers the mill machinery inside, upon exiting the car park. We were greeted by Robert Ferguson whose family have owned the mill since 1892, and who is now Chairman of the charitable trust set up to run the museum.

After a quick cup of tea in Miller’s Kitchen, the cafe attached to the mill, we were treated to a guided tour by Rob and his grandson Chris. Chris represents the sixth generation of the Ferguson family to be directly involved in the running of the Mill/Museum and he was a great help to his Grandfather on our visit, often piping up with little nuggets of information about items in the collection that had caught my eye. It was a real privilege to be guided the collection by Rob as he regaled us with stories as to how parts of the collection were acquired and their stories behind them.

The ground floor of the museum is entirely given over to costume from many different eras and whilst not all are from Ayrshire they all have a connection of sorts to the area, right down to the rare spools of antique crochet linen thread from the Knox Thread Mills in nearby Kilburnie. There are no ropes or perspex here, a rare occurrence in museums these days, which allows you get close and truly appreciate the exhibits.

Progressing further up the Mill the museum focuses on the industries of the area, predominantly agriculture and Ayrshire white work embroidery. The latter highlighting the exquisite lace that was produced in Ayrshire.


The top level shows much more about the lives of the people who lived and worked in rural Ayrshire, with rooms showing how a typical home would have looked. The persistent thumping noise that followed us through the museum was explained as we were able to view the mill machinery in action at the end of the tour. Until recently the mill was still used to produce flour however European legislation means the flour can’t be used for human consumption. It’s a real shame that the flour can’t be used in Miller’s Cafe, especially with all the baked goods they produce. The smell of scones baking is something else followed us through the museum and Heather and I got to try some scone and cake with lunch in the cafe. The quality of the food was amazing and has actually left me craving scones since then.

Before we left Heather and I also got a chance to see the new storage shed on site that was built with funds awarded by us in 2010. Whilst it was fantastic to see the collections it was also really rewarding to see an example of how funds awarded through us had made a real impact on a museum.

Dalgarven Mill is just the first of many trips to Ayrshire this month and Heather and I will report back on our next visit soon!


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