Robert Burns 'treasure trove' goes on display at poet's museum

The manuscripts, which include letters, poems and songs, were part of a private collection sold in 2021.

Robert Burns ‘treasure trove’ goes on display at poet’s birthplace museum in Alloway, Ayrshire

A “treasure trove” of 12 Robert Burns manuscripts and a book which were saved for the nation have gone on display at the poet’s birthplace museum.

The manuscripts were donated to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) by the Friends of the National Libraries in 2022, following a campaign to raise funds to secure the items which were part of a private collection put up for sale in 2021.

The manuscripts, which include letters, poems and songs, are on show at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, South Ayrshire, as part of a new exhibition titled Homecoming which opens on January 13.

Also part of the exhibition is the Burns First Commonplace Book, which was given jointly to the National Library of Scotland and NTS from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library by the Friends of the National Libraries in 2022.

The book was last displayed in Scotland in 1896 at the major Burns exhibition held in Glasgow.

Sarah Beattie, curator for NTS in Dumfries and Galloway, said it is “incredibly special” to show the items in the place where Burns was born, and as enthusiasts around the world prepare to celebrate Burns night on January 25.

She said: “It’s fantastic, they have been in a private collection for well over 100 years and they have not been seen by members of the public, so for us to have ownership of them and for them to be on display now, particularly at Burns season, is fantastic, it means we can open up Burns and his writing to many more people.”

The commonplace book is a journal the poet kept between 1783 and 1785 when he was living in Ayrshire and includes drafts of poems, observations about writing, people and places and thoughts about his own aspirations.

NTS chief executive Philip Long said: “What we’re celebrating here today is the public display for the first time in over 100 years of literary works by Robert Burns that give an even greater insight into his career and life, which had not been seen since the late 19th century.

“We’re here at the Robert Burns museum in Alloway where Robert Burns was born and many of these manuscripts would have been written in this area, certainly in Scotland and so we named this exhibition Homecoming.

“We’re celebrating the return of this treasure trove of material by Burns here at the Robert Burns birthplace museum where people will be able to come and see this collection.”

He added: “Burns was inspired by nature, beauty and heritage, and his work is of deep significance to Scotland.

“As the custodians of the place where Burns was born, and many of his most important works, the National Trust for Scotland is honoured to add these important pieces to our collection and to share these with the public through our new exhibition.”

The manuscripts include letters, the poems Donocht Head and Queen of the Lothian, and the songs As I was walking up the street and O wat ye wha’s in yon town.

They join more than 5,000 Burns-related items which are in the care of NTS at the museum, which includes the cottage where Burns was born in 1759.

The 12 items were part of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library collection which includes manuscripts by the Brontes, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.

A campaign to save the collection from being sold privately at auction, led by the Friends of the National Libraries, raised £15m to acquire the Honresfield Library for the nation.

Every manuscript and printed book acquired has been donated to nearly 70 libraries and writers’ houses across the UK so that they are accessible to everyone.

The Homecoming exhibition runs until March 12.

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