Family: Museum on the Mound

With post-Christmas credit card statements imminent, it's a perfect time for families to relearn the basics of finance. No admission charge makes the Museum on the Mound (housed in the head office of the Bank of Scotland, also now the Scottish headquarters for Lloyds Banking Group) an ideal, if a little ironic, place to start. I'm hoping that a back-to-basics approach will pay dividends and not leave us as debt-ridden as the oldest bank in Scotland.

Between you and me, my real motive is to sneak into the vault and reclaim (as a taxpayer) whatever I can stuff into the oversized handbag I've brought with me. I'm quite convinced my attention-seeking five-year-old and her grandfather, whose pockets are already lined with gold (of the chocolate coin denomination) will provide ample distraction for the security guards.

The immediate wow factor as we enter the museum is 1,000,000 – yes one million pounds in 20 notes, right at the door. I estimate I could get 100,000 in my handbag and pockets. Unfortunately it's under lock and key and the notes have all been stamped "CANCELLED". While I'm dreaming, my daughter gets to work, helping herself to pink feather quills from the gift shop.

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There are several treasures to be found in the museum, my favourites are a letter from the company secretary requesting that residents near the entrance of the bank refrain from the practice of "Gardyloo", and a replica of this poem by Robert Burns, written in 1786 on the back of a one guinea note when the bard was considering emigration to resolve his financial problems:

"Wae worth thy power, thou cursed leaf!

Fell source o' a' my woe and grief!

For lack o' thee I've lost my lass!

For lack o' thee I scrimp my glass!

I see the children of affliction

Unaided, through thy curst restriction.

I've seen the oppressor's cruel smile

Amid his hapless victim's spoil;

And for thy potence vainly wished,

To crush the villain in the dust.

For lack o' thee, I leave this much-lov'd shore,

Never, perhaps, to greet old Scotland more."

Visitors are led through various rooms, from the original 1695 founding Act to the 18th century and an iron money kist (chest), through the 19th century when building societies aided home ownership and began offering life assurance cover to people with pre-existing illnesses – at a price. The 20th century advertising leaflets are a poignant reminder of how times have changed.

There are activities for children of all ages. Thanks to the building societies section, my daughter (pictured, left) built a house. Interactive touch-screen points keep older kids amused, and the puzzle of trying to crack a safe keeps the Provider of the Coins occupied for longer than expected.

The final room, which displays some "perks of the job", such as sepia photos of employees enjoying foreign trips, leaves a slightly bitter taste. Time for a hasty withdrawal, but we will return to invest more time. The museum is perfectly positioned for short visits, if only to spend five minutes with millions at your fingertips. One can only hope that the current banking crisis is swiftly consigned to history in this new decade.

Museum on the Mound, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH1 1YZ, 0131-243 5464, Open 10am-5pm Tuesday-Friday, 1-5pm weekends and Bank Holiday Mondays. Entrance free.

This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday 09 January, 2010.