On 4 February 2013 it was announced that the National Museum of Costume would not reopen in 2013, in effect meaning it closed for good at the end of the 2012 season. For the moment the rest of this page remains as written before the closure announcement took place, allowing virtual visitors a glimpse of what the museum had to offer.
The main car park lies close to the A710 amid the attractive woodland at this end of the Shambellie estate. From here you walk up through the grounds, catching your first glimpse of the house itself as you go. Disabled visitors may park at the house, and the ground floor exhibition areas and basement tearoom are fully accessible. The first floor exhibition areas are accessed by means of the staircase.
Your first impression of the museum is, inevitably, of Shambellie House itself. This is a beautifully proportioned mansion house of relatively modest size, built in 1856 by the notable Edinburgh architect David Bryce. The style is Scots Baronial, a confection of turrets and gables that took the country by storm and which today virtually defines grand Victorian Scottish mansions.
You can tell a lot about a house within moments of walking in, and Shambellie House feels comfortable and welcoming, like a house that provided a happy home for the family that lived here. The family in question were the Stewarts of Shambellie. They had been landowners in and around New Abbey since the 1400s, and they did particularly well by developing the estate for forestry from the 1770s. The bookcase you can see in the library today was made with timber felled on the estate.
Shambellie House was commissioned by William Stewart. The story of its building was a difficult one, with client and architect arguing frequently over costs and the scale of the proposed house. The house that eventually emerged was far smaller than David Bryce's original proposals, though it has to be said that it is perhaps more attractive because of it.
William Stewart's great grandson, Charles Stewart, was a designer, an artist and a dancer and, above all else, an avid collector of costume and accessories. He amassed a personal collection of over 6,000 items spanning three centuries and in 1977 he gave his collection to the Royal Scottish Museum, a predecessor to National Museums Scotland, along with Shambellie House, on the condition that it would be used as a museum of costume. What was initially known as Shambellie House Costume Museum opened to the public in 1982, and Charles Stewart's collection now forms a part of National Museums Scotland's costume collections. Charles Stewart lived to see his vision become reality, and remained a frequent visit to the museum until shortly before his death in 2001.
The National Museum of Costume presents a series of core exhibitions which examines fashion and social etiquette over the century from the 1870s to the 1950s. Each of the rooms within the house are presented to show a function or gathering taking place at a particular moment in time within a country house setting. Each year part of the museum is given over to a different special exhibition. In 2009 an exhibition covered the life and work of the Scottish clothes designer Jean Muir. Pictured on this page is the 2010 special exhibition, "Marriage in the Movies", featuring beautiful costumes worn by brides from film and TV productions, including "Pride and Prejudice", "Mansfield Park", "Howards End", "Tess" and "Frankenstein". During the currency of the exhibition brides arriving at the museum in their wedding dresses gain free admission.
Assuming you start your tour on the ground floor, the dining room represents a family gathering to receive guests for dinner in 1895. The evening dresses on display are sumptuous, and there is also a mourning dress trimmed with jet. The room is completed with period furniture, much of it on loan from the Stewart family, and paintings that include a portrait of the mother of William Stewart, the man who built Shambellie House.
The drawing room has a very different feel, and captures a moment in May 1945. Many of the clothes on view are the product of wartime austerity measures and include the use of fabric originally intended for furnishings and rayon. The 1945 atmosphere is enhanced by the soundtrack playing in the background.
The library presents another complete change of feel, and though it is not immediately obvious, another move forward in time. It is 31 December 1952 and the family are gathering prior to going out to the annual Hogmanay Ball held by the Dumfries Chamber of Commerce. The 1950s evening dresses worn by the mother and daughter are splendid, as is the library setting. The portraits on the walls are all associated with the Stewart family and as already noted the bookcase is made from wood felled on the estate.
Upstairs in the bedroom, the timeframe shifts back to September 1945 and a grandmother and her granddaughter are getting dressed for a ball to celebrate the end of hostilities and the return of many of the combatants to their homes. The grandmother is coping with austerity very well, while the young girl's dress is made of red velvet cut down from an adult's dress. The nearby nursery moves the timeframe to August 1913 and portrays a mother, her infant, and a son wearing one of the sailor suits very popular at the time. The walls are decorated with samplers.
The sitting room, again on the upper floor, is set on a late summer afternoon in 1882 and showcases four women's dresses dating from between 1873 and 1880. Two of the dresses are made of silk, including a grey wedding dress. One room on the upper floor has been left primarily as a viewpoint over the grounds while another houses parts of the collection that cannot readily be shown as tableaux. When we visited this featured a fascinating collection of fancy dress, including a Pierrot costume made from curtain material.
The grounds and gardens that surround Shambellie House are also very attractive, and a striking statue of a "Willow Lady" created by local artist Trevor Leat stands near one corner of the house.
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The museum closed at the end of the 2012 season.