The leader of Angus Council could not hide his delight on Wednesday when the local authority took delivery of an important piece of history.
Kirriemuir and Dean councillor Iain Gaul, accompanied by fellow councillor Jeanette Gaul and Norman Atkinson, senior services manager with Angus Council’s cultural services, unveiled the intricately carved Barrie casket in the Gateway to the Glens Museum in Kirriemuir.
The casket was gifted to Sir J. M. Barrie when he became a freeman of the town in 1930.
The solid silver casket had been owned by a private collector since 1938 but it came up for auction in Taunton on August 8 and was secured by Angus Council with a winning bid of £7,200.
When the casket was presented by the then town’s council and magistrates, Provost Henry Peacock described the beautifully decorated casket as “the heart of Kirriemuir”.
Made of Scottish silver, the casket carries a presentation inscription and the sides are decorated with panels featuring buildings in Kirriemuir of relevance to J. M. Barrie, including the Window in Thrums, the cricket pavilion and camera obscura, the author’s home and Peter Pan.
It took pride of place in the museum along with the original Burgess ticket conferring Barrie’s Freedom of Kirriemuir. Both artefacts have been remarkably preserved and will go on permanent display in the town centre visitor attraction.
Commenting on the return of the items to the town after 83 years, Councillor Gaul said he was, quite simply, “chuffed”.
He told the ‘Dispatch and Herald’: “It’s great for Kirrie and the people of Kirrie. The casket belongs here, it shouldn’t go anywhere else. It will be kept here, as far as I am concerned.”
The council leader spoke of his relief at the casket’s immaculate condition.
He continued: “One of our concerns was that perhaps it had been cleaned too much. There are little bits of damage, but not too much. The actual Burgess ticket itself is in excellent condition. That in itself is a little piece of history and that will also be on display.
“We are also considering making copies for people who would want to keep that as a souvenir of coming to Kirriemuir.
“The carvings on the casket link Peter Pan, his birthplace, The Moon - the whole thing has been exceptionally well thought out, exceptionally well produced and it’s a piece of history for Kirriemuir.”
Councillor Gaul also spoke of the bidding process carried out by the council, which contributed £1,000 towards the £7,200 bid. The remainder was divided equally by the Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions (NFA).
He continued: “We did have an anonymous benefactor willing to step in which gave us an awful lot of comfort. We didn’t have to go over our limit, which was set by Government and the Arts Foundation, but we had somebody who was prepared to put their hand in their pocket to make sure we brought the casket back to where it belongs.”
Mr Atkinson also shared in the joy of seeing the casket return to the town.
He described the situation as “absolutely unique”.
He said: “There are very few Freedoms of Kirriemuir ever given and Sir J. M Barrie - what a giant of a name for Kirriemuir, and Angus. Almost everyone who spoke to me, from all walks of life, when they learned it was coming up for auction, everyone’s instructions were ‘get it for Kirrie’.”
To view interviews with councillor Gaul and Norman Atkinson about the significance of the casket’s return, log on to www.forfardispatch.co.uk and www.kirriemuir herald.co.uk