Saturday 26 March 2022

Mysteries at the McLean Museum - the Wooden Spoon

The McLean Museum, Watt Institute, Kelly Street, Greenock has an exhibit about Greenock's sugar trade.  In it is this unusual wooden spoon.  Unusual in the fact that it has lots of little metal rings around the handle and a little metal discs attached.  What is it doing there?  There was no card to explain why it is in this exhibit.  

Of course the simple explanation could be that wooden spoons are used a lot in cooking and baking and thus its significance in a exhibit case dedicated to Greenock's sugar trade.   But why the rings?

Most of us will know that winning a wooden spoon means that an individual or team has come last in a competition.  So it can be inferred that the names on the metal rings must be the names of the losers in a competition.  The spoon reads "Greenock Sugar Trade Golf Club Inst. 1919" on the bowl of the spoon.  So, those with good eyesight can then understand what this unusual item is all about.  There was nothing explaining this to the viewing public.  Many youngsters will not know what winning a wooden spoon means and that this is really a bit of fun (unless you take your golf really seriously!).  

There were no cards to explain what any of the individual exhibits in this case are.  The large poster lists Sugar, Ships and Slavery as being "The Story of Inverclyde".   Ah, so that explains the items in the display!?

Enlarged, the poster goes on to explain (I think) the link between Greenock and Port Glasgow's coats of arms and "supplying the colonies".  Herring was a major export from the area.  Long before Greenock became involved with the Atlantic trade, dried fish were exported from here to many parts of Europe, especially Roman Catholic countries which advocated the eating of fish on Fridays and holy days.  Port Glasgow's coat of arms refers to the North American timber trade and was only adopted in the mid to late 19th century, long after slavery had been abolished.  Also interesting to see that Port Glasgow was "allowed to digress into shipbuilding" after the River Clyde was deepened!

It is flattering to think that the staff at the McLean Museum credit us all with having the intelligence to work out what everything in the exhibit is - after all there is a notice stating that it is about Greenock and sugar.  I can just hear children ask - "What are those big white triangle things?  What kind of bug is that and what has it got to do with sugar?  What are those tins and what's their connection to Greenock?  What is that "Target Zero" notice all about?  Who were Tate & Lyle?"  How are children - let alone visitors from out of the area or overseas -supposed to make sense of all this? 

A small notice in the case (in very small print) draws attention to an exhibition named "Remembering Sugaropolis" - online teaching and learning activities.  (No explanation of "Sugaropolis" the name given to Greenock at the height of its sugar refining industry.  How are people supposed to link Greenock/Sugaropolis?)  If you happen to have your phone or tablet handy (and have the time to listen) then you can go online and find out about some of the items in this case.  It links to a YouTube "Curating Objects" video in which an academic lists some of the items in the exhibit and explains "what is involved in writing a display label for an object in a museum collection"!  Oh the irony!

The cruise ship season is underway and many visitors will be arriving in Greenock over the summer.  I hope they are not too confused by the Mysteries at the McLean!  Check out another mystery - The Children of Greenock.

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