October 21, 1983
IT’S hard now to really appreciate what a big deal it was when the Queen opened the Burrell Collection.
It wasn’t just that finally, nearly 40 years after he gifted it to the city of Glasgow, Sir William Burrell’s vast and eclectic collection was to be exhibited.
Burrell, a shipping magnate, spent decades accumulating exquisite items from around the world including medieval weapons, Islamic art, German stained glass and even a royal bedhead.
In breadth the collection rivals that in the British Museum. But for decades the local authority struggled to find a space that fulfilled the conditions Burrell attached to the gift. Eventually a spot was found in Pollok park and a building designed specially to show off the treasures.
What was really special was that the opening of the Burrell marked a turning point in the history of Glasgow.
The city had museums established when it boomed as the Empire’s second city but post-war it was most famous as ‘no mean city’, tough and in decline.
The Burrell wasn’t just a new museum, it was a world-class facility that showed Glasgow was changing for the better.
It’s opening coincided with the launch of the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign that would catapult the area back into the big league of global cities.
Now, 32 years later and still free to visit, the Burrell is to close soon for refurbishment. But when it reopens it’ll welcome a new generation of Scots to marvel at Sir William’s wonders from around the world.