Millie Horton-Insch


The British Archaeological Association generously awarded me £500 to travel to Edinburgh and Orkney in the Summer of 2021.

The trip began in Edinburgh, where on my first day I visited the National Museums of Scotland archive and met with Dr Alice Blackwell, senior curator of Medieval Archaeology and History. She was kind enough to show me some of the eleventh- and twelfth-century metalwork and stone sculpture which I had requested to view. The NMS digital archive does not contain many photographic reproductions of their objects, so this was the first time that I had seen most of this material. As so little survives from this period (and in particular, so little from Scotland), this was invaluable, as it will allow me to include Scottish material in my thesis, expanding the scope of the project into the broader ‘Insular’ world. Dr Blackwell and I also had a discussion about the place of ‘Romanesque’ as a curatorial category in the NMS.

The following day I met with the senior curator of Historic textiles, Helen Wyld, who kindly showed me the sole piece of opus anglicanum in the NMS. It was the first time since the pandemic that I have seen an embroidery in the flesh, and it was wonderful once again to marvel at the intricacy of the stitching and skill required in making these works.

Whilst in Edinburgh I also attended the Archie Brennan exhibition at Dovecot Studios, a (still working) tapestry studio. Archie Brennan produced a number of medieval-inspired tapestries, and it was fantastic to consider how the modern and medieval intersect in textile work. I also viewed the current apprentices working on tapestries, which prompted me to further consider the likely contexts of collaborative textile production in the early medieval period. By complete chance I also met Fiona Mathison, the first female director of Dovecot, who was visiting the Archie Brennan exhibition at the same time. She was kind enough to speak to me about her experiences as a woman textile designer and maker.

I also visited the NMS, and am very grateful to a gallery guide Kenny who kindly let me into the ‘medieval church’ gallery that was otherwise closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. This allowed me to view the Kilmichael-Glassary reliquary, which I plan to compare to contemporaneous textiles as a central element of the final chapter of my thesis. I also got to see the Galloway Hoard on display, which though a little before the period of my research, was nonetheless very exciting!

In a white knuckle-inducing flight I then made it from Edinburgh to Orkney. In Orkney I viewed some eleventh- and twelfth-century metalwork in the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall (this was especially valuable as the Orkney Museum does not have a digitised catalogue), where I noted some similarities with some of the objects I had seen in NMS. I then made my way to Kirkwall Cathedral. At the time the cathedral was undergoing building work and was closed to the public, but the custodian, Fran Hollinrake, was generous enough to let me in and show me the medieval art within the cathedral. It is a stunning twelfth-century ‘Romanesque’ cathedral that has some surviving wall-paintings, which will make an interesting point of comparison with the English wall-paintings that I discuss in the first chapter of my thesis. It also threw up further consideration of the use of the term ‘Romanesque’ in the study of eleventh- and twelfth-century art in the British Isles.

Whilst in Orkney I was also lucky enough to visit Skara Brae, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Hoy, the Pier Arts Centre and several ruins of eleventh-century buildings, all of which give a sense of the visual culture that has existed on the islands and informed the production of art for successive centuries. I also visited the Italian Chapel, built from two Nissen huts by Italian prisoners of war living on the islands in the second world war. It was full of skeuomorphic references to give the impression of an Italian Chapel, which caused me to think further about the deep significance of skeumorphism, which occupies a central position in the first chapter of my thesis, in relation to the ‘Lewes Group’ of wall-paintings in South-East England.

I thank the BAA for awarding me this grant and facilitating this trip, it was a fantastic experience, especially after successive lockdowns had prevented me from seeing material in the flesh. I am excited to include the objects that I saw on this trip within my PhD thesis.