Permanent Exhibition for Lewis Chessmen
14 June 2012
This article is taken from the Hebrides News website
of the world famous Lewis Chessmen will be displayed in a permanent
exhibition in the Hebrides it has been confirmed.
They would pull in large
number of tourists and be the jewel in the crown in a proposed new
modern state-of-the art museum centre at the historic Lewis
There is massive global
fascination in the chessmen and even a fraction of the number of
visitors which presently flock to see them in the British and
National museums would be a significant economic boost to the
From time to time the actual
pieces will change but around six of the iconic Viking treasures,
which are around 1000 years old, will be on public display in the
Western Isles - ultimately on centre stage in the planned heritage
hub within a redeveloped Lews Castle complex overlooking Stornoway
Presently in a perilously
decayed state the historic castle is being rescued at a cost of £13
million. Its redevelopment will allow other Hebridean collections
currently held at the National Archives of Scotland to be returned
to the islands.
Some 23,000 people attended
the Lewis Chessmen exhibition in Stornoway in five months last
summer - the first time they were seen on the islands for 12
Around 60% of people visited
specifically to see the chessmen and cruise ships laid on buses for
their passengers - giving just a taste of their massive
A crowd also turned up when
a handful of the chessmen spent a day at the Uig museum overlooking
the large expanse of Uig Bay where they were discovered in
The promise of a rush of
extra tourists see their chessmen in their historic context and
spending cash around the islands sparked efforts for some of
1000-year-old Viking treasures to be based on the Western Iles
The loan agreement has
resulted from a formal partnership between Comhairle nan Eilean
Siar and the British Museum and the new gallery space will be a
partnership gallery with the British Museum.
Isle development chief
Archie Campbell said the Lewis Chessmen held a "unique appeal" and
the homecoming is the outcome of a strong partnership with the
He said: The Council is
committed to raising the profile of the rich heritage and culture
of the Outer Hebrides. These amazing little pieces will undoubtedly
attract new visitors to the islands and once they are here visitors
will find there is a lot more to see, enjoy and learn. Heritage is
one of our most important assets and will make an increasing
contribution to the economy of the islands."
Both National Museums
Scotland and the British Museum are supporting the development of
the £4.6m Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Lews Castle project and this
partnership will result in a wider selection of loans to both
support the new interpretation at the Castle and to give local
people and visitors an opportunity to see significant world objects
in a new and different setting. National Museums Scotland and
Museum nan Eilean are currently finalising a list of further loans
to the project.
Neil Macgregor, Director of
the British Museum said: "The loan of some of the chessmen and
other objects from the British Museum is part of a long-term
partnership with our colleagues at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. We
are delighted to be partnering the Council on the redevelopment of
Lews Castle and the partnership gallery which promises to be a
major attraction for the Western Isles. The British Museum is
committed to lending its world collection and to working with
partners across the UK to share objects and expertise for the
benefit of the widest possible audience.
Colin McLean, Head of
Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "We are delighted to
acknowledge this excellent example of partnership working which
will help underwrite our major capital investment in the Lews
Castle museum project. It's great to know the Lewis Chessmen will
be on display where they were originally found and that local
people and visitors will be able to learn about and enjoy them for
the first time."
Delicate negotiations by
Western Isles Council and the Scottish Government after their
"homecoming tour" devised a deal to get at least a handful
repatriated to the island of their discovery rather than an
occasional visit every decade.
The British Museum stresses
they are also national treasures and their shared locations London
and Edinburgh are more accessible to the wider population and
But it developed an
agreement with Western Isles Council for future loans of the
chessmen and historical artefacts to the islands.
Today's announcement also
paves the way for more seasonal outreach displays of the historic
figures in Uig.
Hidden on the Uig machair
for centuries, the walrus ivory chessmen were discovered amongst
stone bothies in a small glen by the stunning sandy beach at
Ardroil by crofter Calum Macleod of nearby Pennydonald.
They are believed to have
been made in Norway, during the Viking period and imported via ship
on one of the Norse' expeditions to the Hebrides.
As the largest and best
group of early chessmen to survive, they are one of the most
significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland and
are of major international importance.
The four sets are split
between the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland. The
two museums pooled a third of their gaming pieces for last year's
National Museums Scotland
has a five year partnership focused upon sharing skills to help the
Western Isles museum service, Museum nan Eilean, achieve its
ambitions for a modern twenty-first century museum service and
offering increased support for the local, village and independent
museums across the Outer Hebrides.