‘Disgrace’ as Abbotsford show ignores Selkirk link

Souters have voiced dismay at Selkirk being swept from history in the exhibition about Sir Walter Scott’s life at Abbotsford’s new multi-million pound visitor centre, writes Sandy Neil.

“I am disappointed and disgusted,” Selkirkshire Councillor Gordon Edgar explained to TheSouthern: “We feel we were let down by the Abbotsford Trust, that it’s all purely about Abbotsford.

“Although we supported them to raise money, it doesn’t reflect the promises we got. We were told there would be links to Selkirk and all the other parts of the Borders Scott was associated with.”

Cllr Edgar raised the issue at a public meeting last week before members of Selkirk’s Chamber of Trade, which is trying to revive the fortunes of local businesses after a report revealed Selkirk had lost 30 per cent of its shoppers between 2008-2011 – the biggest drop of all Border towns.

Mr Edgar’s comments were later reinforced by Viv Ross, a volunteer organiser for the Scott’s Selkirk festival for many years, who is also now helping a group of Souters draw up a community action plan to regenerate the historic Royal Burgh and boost tourism, and apply for £1.4million lottery funding to pay for it.

“It’s a disgrace there’s nothing about Sir Walter Scott’s connection with Selkirk,” she told us. “We’re all pretty cross about it. We want to strengthen ties with Sir Walter Scott. We’re talking about links and paths to Abbotsford, but it’s all one-way traffic, sadly. Selkirk is pointing the way to Abbotsford, but we want Abbotsford to point the way to Selkirk.”

In 20 story panels and 10 glass display cases in Abbotsford’s new exhibition, TheSouthern spotted just three brief references to Scott as the “Sheriff Depute of Selkirkshire”, and no mention, or even a picture, of the town or courthouse where Sir Walter Scott dispensed justice for 33 years from 1799 until his death in 1832.

Both Mr Edgar and Ms Ross told us that while they’d enjoyed the exhibition, they felt a huge chunk of Scott’s life was missing, and that the point had to be made.

“They thought they had the be-all and end-all of Scott tourist attractions,” Mr Edgar added, “but it wasn’t true to his life: Scott spent half his life as an advocate and sheriff in Selkirk, yet nothing is written about it. He is revered as the ‘Shirra’ in Selkirk. Abbotsford would not have existed if Scott hadn’t worked in Selkirk.

“I told them this just wasn’t on. I want to see Selkirk represented in the permanent exhibition, and a better connection to the Borders. The Borders is proud of Scott.”

Responding in a statement, the Abbotsford Trust’s chief executive, Jason Dyer, spoke of the charity’s wish to rectify the situation, and keep good relations with the town.

“The Abbotsford Trust is very proud of and keen to promote Scott’s links to Selkirk and all the Borders towns,” he said, “and is working with organisations like the Selkirk Regeneration Committee and local community councils to that end.

“The exhibition in the visitor centre gives an overview of Scott’s life and legacy, and does include information of Scott’s time as Sheriff of Selkirkshire. This exhibition will be evolving and changing over time, based on responses from visitors and the local community.

“Our visitor centre staff are well trained and well aware of Scott’s link to towns and villages in the Borders, and actively encourage people to visit places with connections to him.

“In addition, once the main house opens next summer, there will be a dedicated temporary exhibition space, and we are already planning a special exhibition on ‘Scott as Sheriff’ to display here.

“We believe the restoration of Abbotsford will benefit Selkirk and the whole of the Borders region by acting as a magnet for visitors from across the globe, and we are working with as many organisations as possible to achieve that aim.”

Abbotsford’s new, free Visitor Centre is open seven days a week from 9am to 4pm.