Where better to start my occasional blogs for the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016, than with The Kirriemuir Camera Obscura – a great example of the richness of Scotland’s beautiful built heritage.
The Camera Obscura can be found inside the cricket pavilion situated on Kirriemuir Hill which was gifted to the town by Kirriemuir’s famous (and perhaps most controversial) son, author and playwright J.M.Barrie.
At a cost of £25,000 it was designed by architect Frank Drummond Thomson of Dundee. Thomson designed numerous public and private buildings in Dundee including the Blackness and Coldside libraries, Alhambra Cinema (now the Whitehall Theatre) and the King’s Theatre. Thomson won the pavilion design competition because his plans were closest to Barrie’s original idea for the building:
“It should not be ornate, or call attention to itself, but should be something that settles down quietly as belonging to the Hill – a Kirrie building, not something from the outside”.
Thomson’s design created a structure with no roof support posts thus providing an uninterrupted view of the cricket game from all parts of the pavilion. However, the most significant architectural feature was the incorporation of the Camera Obscura.
Now one of only four in Scotland it provides panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside including the Sidlaws to the south, the Ochils to the west, and the Grampians to the north.
Opened on 7th June 1930, J.M. Barrie’s speech was broadcast by the B.B.C. using an innovative system of microphones and amplifiers set up by the Dundee branch of the Edison-Swan Electric Company Ltd.
Over the years various caretakers have looked after the pavilion and Camera Obscura including Charles Melvin (1885-1941) who in November 1917 received the Victoria Cross while serving with the Black Watch in Iraq.
In 2015 the management of the Pavilion passed from the National Trust for Scotland to the Kirriemuir Regeneration Group whose enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers provide guided tours. It is well worth a visit – check the Camera Obscura Facebook page for 2016 opening hours.
Sources: Dundee Courier 7 June 1930 p.6; Falkirk Herald 11 June 1930 p.15; Dundee Courier 18 July 1941 p.2; Dictionary of Scottish Architects