Stranraer Museum occupies Stranraer's historic town hall in George Street. The town hall was built in 1776 and its frontage is topped off with a square tower surmounted by an octagonal spire. The building was extended to the rear in the 1850s and as a result provides considerably more space than you might expect.
The original town hall was entered by a grand door set centrally below the tower. Today you enter via the more modest doorway on the right hand side of the frontage which leads into an attractive and welcoming reception area.
The museum's permanent displays occupy most of the ground floor of the building and you progress around an oblong route that leads you past all the exhibits on view. Upstairs is a large space for the museum's programme of temporary exhibitions as well as some further permanent exhibition space.
When we visited the temporary exhibition was given over to the work of local artists as a preview of "Spring Fling", an open studios art event, held across Dumfries and Galloway each May. But the exhibitions change frequently and other recently held or planned at the time of our visit included "Mapping Galloway", a collection of maps from the 17th century to the modern day which charted Galloway's changing landscape; and "Toy Stories! 100 Years of Childhood Toys and Games".
The upper floor is also home to a fascinating collection of early Christian carved stones from this part of Scotland, often referred to as the cradle of Christianity. Perhaps the highlight is a complete stone looking for all the world like a giant thumb, complete with a roughly carved cross. The Larg Liddesdale cross slab, as it is known, dates back to between 1000 and 1100 and was found on a site just to the west of Stranraer.
Back on the ground floor, the circuit allows you to wander through a number of differently themed areas. Assuming you are progressing in a clockwise direction, an early room highlights some notable local personalities, but also includes transport exhibits ranging from early bicycles to a model of the ill fated MV Princess Victoria. This was an early roll-on roll-off car ferry which sank with the loss of 133 lives on 31 January 1953 when its car deck was swamped by heavy seas en route from Stranraer to Northern Ireland.
Agriculture has always played an important part in the life of Gallovidians, and the museum has a strong collection of exhibits reflecting this. One room majors on the role of the horse in agriculture and includes the Chilcarroch Plough, the only surviving example in the country of this heavy type of old Scotch plough. This type of plough literally helped shape the landscape as its use created the highly distinctive rig-and-furrow field systems that can still be seen in parts of the country. This particular example was first used in 1793, and survived only because it was put away in the rafters of a farm building in 1870 and forgotten until the 1950s.
The agricultural theme continues in another room given over to some very intriguing agricultural implements, while another looks at dairy farming and the butter making process, and includes an original wooden churn. Nearby, and less obvious unless you know the history of the area in some detail, is an exhibition of shipbuilding tools, reflecting that side of Galloway's maritime heritage.
The prehistory of the area is certainly not overlooked, and the museum has an excellent collection of nicely presented artefacts covering farmers and hunters from 4000BC to 2000BC including flints, stone axe heads, cup and ring marked rocks and shards of pottery. Meanwhile the section on farmers, metalworkers and warriors from 2000BC to 750BC has metal axe heads, more and better preserved pots, and an interesting collection of quernstones.
Museums come in all shapes and sizes, and Stranraer Museum is well worth a visit for anyone spending any time at all in the town. The presentation is nicely done throughout, and the topics covered throw an interesting perspective on the area you are visiting: on more than one occasion we found ourselves taking note of places mentioned which we just had to visit as a result.