Not So Old-Fashioned Security Measures
On a return trip to Queen Street this week, to retrieve the inevitable forgotton piece of curatorial kit, I couldn’t resist taking one last look at the room that had been my office for the last seven years.
My old spot was situated on the mezzanine floor at the west end of the building – just out of view in the old RCAHMS photograph – and further along into what is now Findlay Court and which, latterly, I had shared with our Online Curator. The absence of both, endless boxes and sets of twenty-year old index cabinets of reference archive material, only served to emphasise the bars on the windows, which funnily enough, I hadn’t really noticed before.Taking a walk around the outside of the building, it seems that this west mezzanine is the only one to have such protection against the outside world. Could this have been employed to protect the former occupants of this office – the administrators for the Board of Trustees for the National Galleries of Scotland, and possibly the original Trustees, those of the Board of Manufactures – or merely to prevent intruders gaining access to the collections out of hours?
From the early stages of the building’s inception security was a significant concern – in the Gallery ‘pass book’ from the 1890s, the first curator, John Miller Gray, records that whenever a new policeman was on duty, he sometimes had “difficulty in seeing me in [in] the evenings.” As a precaution, in the days before identity passes, Gray insisted that he himself should “be required to sign my name on entering, so as to preclude all risk of a wrong person being admitted.”
This reminds me of another point of interest concerning security, found amongst Portrait Gallery archival material dating from 1913 – during the suffrage campaign the Portrait Gallery was advised: “it is possible that the situation may at once become serious, and the Commissioner would urge therefore the wisdom of exercising special vigilance over the National Treasures in your charge.” Consequently, visitors entering the building wearing muffs and carrying parcels were asked to leave these accessories at the front desk, for fear that a concealed weapon could stray too near the portraits. My, how times haven’t changed! Thankfully, Mary, Queen of Scots, did not happen to go the same way as the Rokeby Venus, in the infamous 1914 incident at the National Gallery, London.