The Museum of... Our pick of the UK's specialist collections - Museums Association

The Museum of… Our pick of the UK’s specialist collections

Anstruther's Scottish Fisheries Museum was created when a group of concerned people realised that the industry was in decline, learns Louise Gray
Louise Gray

“Anstruther, at the East Neuk [corner] of Fife,” says Jennifer Gordon, acting curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum (SFM). Gordon, normally the assistant curator, is providing maternity cover for the curator.


“We have a national collection that covers the industry from prehistory to the present,” says Gordon. The museum’s collection has been designated as one of national importance.

The harbour-front museum is housed in a series of buildings, each with their own history and centred around a 13th-century courtyard. The museum’s 19 historic vessels, including the Reaper, are moored in the harbour opposite.




Most of the permanent exhibits are dedicated to fishing history. “At the last official count, we had 66,000 items in the collection,” says Gordon.

The museum holds photography and documentary archives, fine art – including pictures by John McGhie and Sam Bough – and material relating to trades ancillary to fishing: barrel-making, chandleries, whaling, ship-building, and the knives and costumes relating to the “fisher lasses” of the herring trade.

It also houses the collection of Frank Buckland, “an eccentric Victorian scientist who had a forward-looking view on fish stocks,” says Gordon. The Reaper, a sailing drifter launched in 1902, was bought in the 1970s by the museum and restored.

Help at hand

Four full-time members of staff: a director, an office manager, curator and assistant curator. In October, the museum will employ another full-timer, its first learning and access officer. Part-time staff cover the tea-room and cleaning duties. There are 70 volunteers.


The Scottish Executive and Fife Council cover 40 per cent of the museum’s costs. Adult admission is £6. The shop and the tearoom are important income sources.


In 2009, 97,326 came to the entire facility.


“A lot of people visit because they have family history associated with fishing, but they don’t have photographs of their ancestors,” Gordon says. “There is a lovely McGhie painting of my great-great-great grandfather making a basket for fishermen. For me, it’s nice to have that link.”

Sticky moment

“We had a difficult time with another vessel, the Research, a Zulu-class herring drifter,” says Gordon. “When we took her on, funds fell short to keep her sea-worthy. One winter she began to sink. The locals were not pleased. We were rescued by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

Survival tip

“Get the community involved. They need to keep coming back,” Gordon says. She says that museums need to make their collections work for them. The Reaper, crewed by volunteers, toured the west coast of Scotland on educational visits earlier this year. The museum also uses its premises for various events.

Future projects

In 2011 the museum will be one of nine European museums in A Taste of Europe, an exhibition about food across the nine venues.

Image: Detail from Gutting Herring by John McGhie, a Glasgow artist who specialised in portraying maritime life

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