Council cuts to close JM Barrie’s camera obscura

ONE of the last camera obscuras in Scotland, gifted by Peter Pan author JM Barrie to the town where he was born, is to close due to council cuts.

The camera obscura, right, is housed in the cricket pavilion on Kirriemuir Hill, above.
The camera obscura, right, is housed in the cricket pavilion on Kirriemuir Hill, above.

In 1930, Barrie presented Kirriemuir in Angus with a cricket pavilion which contained a camera obscura.

The building became a popular attraction, with crowds flocking to see how lenses and mirrors could be used to project images of the surrounding scenery on to a table in a darkened room.

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It is one of only three camera obscuras in Scotland – the others are in Edinburgh and Dumfries.

SNP-controlled Angus Council has cited budgetary pressures for its decision to withdraw a £10,000 annual subsidy to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which has been running the visitor attraction since 1999.

The camera obscura will not open to the public for the 2015 season although volunteers will honour NTS’s commitments for pre-arranged tours.

But last night, Major Ronnie Proctor, Conservative councillor for Kirriemuir and Dean, called for residents of the town to rally together and try to find a way of keeping the attraction open.

“It is very disappointing that it has come to this, but the council has to deal with pressures on its budget and that’s why it has withdrawn the funding, he said.

“I do feel that a volunteer team could be formed within the community to try to keep it open.

“They could sit down and look at the problem, perhaps even apply to the Lottery fund.”

Major Proctor added: “In this digital age, people might think it is old-fashioned, but it is part of Barrie’s legacy, Kirriemuir’s most famous son, and such an attraction could be incorporated into visits to the area.”

A spokesman for the NTS also expressed hopes that a way could be found to save the camera obscura and said that the organisation hoped to arrange a meeting with the council in the near future.

The spokesman said: “The National Trust for Scotland does not own the camera obscura, which is located within the council’s Barrie Pavilion on Kirriemuir Hill.

“The trust entered into a management agreement in 1999 with Angus Council and Kirriemuir Cricket Club to operate the attraction on the council’s behalf as a service to the area, on the basis that the running costs of £10,000 per annum would be met by the council.

“Although the termination of funding effectively brings this agreement to an end, we are going to honour commitments to arrange guided tours and visits for the time being and are seeking a meeting with council officials to determine what, if any, options may remain.”

He added: “The council’s decision is a disappointing one but wholly understandable given the financial pressure they face; but at the end of the day, it is their decision about a facility for which they have ultimate responsibility.”

David Clark, proprietor of the Thrums Hotel in Kirriemuir, said the camera obscura attracted visitors from across the UK as well as overseas.

“I’ve been here for 24 years and people are always coming in from all over the world asking for directions. Some come here specifically to see the camera obscura, while others visit it along with the Barrie museum.

“They go up to the camera obscura not quite sure what they’re going to see and come back enthusing about the view of the glens.

“It’s also a draw for people on their way to Glamis Castle.”

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