February 1, 2008

The Lewis Chessmen saga continues

Posted at 12:03 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

No one thought that the rubbishing of attempts by Scotland to secure return of the Lewis Chessmen could be the end of the story.

The Scotsman

Published Date: 30 January 2008
Source: The Scotsman
Location: Scotland
Burning issue
Should the Lewis chessmen be brought back to Scotland?


Margaret Hodge, UK culture minister

I AM delighted to see the impact that my argument against returning the Lewis chessmen to Scotland has had. I was keen to provoke a debate, and did my best to stir the pot by stretching the argument for returning them to ever more absurd lengths. I was not entirely serious in suggesting that Mr Salmond would turn his sights next to stripping out the pink granite of the Albert Memorial and shipping it back to Mull. But you never know…

But beneath the banter, I was trying to draw out a real point about culture – and our feelings for it – in the shrinking world of the 21st century. In a nutshell, what I believe is that culture – whether it’s works of art, great literature, music or fine craftsmanship – should be available for all. And this is because it enriches everyone. Its relevance and impact is universal. It is part of what defines us as human beings and, crucially, provides a tangible link between our present and our past. It should not primarily be an instrument of the tourist industry, nor an icon of nationalism, although it can support both. No, culture is what ties us together. I believe that those who would pull everything back to its alleged point of origin are working against this. It is insular, it excludes, it divides us, and it is wrong.

Just as Scottish museums and galleries are enriched by the diversity of the heritage they display, so, too, are other national and regional museums. The Lewis chessmen are seen and enjoyed at the British Museum by millions who would never have the chance if they were removed. Their home is in London as part of a permanent world collection, and this is how it will stay. Today and forever.


Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for the Western Isles

FÌR tailisg Leodhais – the Lewis chessmen – I think that the name says it all. Magnificent as they would be anywhere, placed in London something is wrong – almost like a rook moving diagonally on the chessboard.

It would surely be a strength of somewhere like the British Museum to be less centralist in its approach, as well as lending things, to be co-operative in returning artefacts.

No doubt, when some artefacts, though obviously not all, turned up at the British Museum, they did so for the best of reasons. However, that was in the 19th century. The 21st-century Hebrides are more than capable of looking after the che

Most opponents of this effort will shout that it is all political posturing by SNP. Well, they seem to shout that about everything else, so it seems a safe assumption.

I have long been a supporter of moving the chess pieces to Lewis, and that even predates my membership of the SNP.

So keen was I that, when I worked at BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, my work colleagues fabricated a press release with the intention of sending me round Inverness looking for a mythic and peculiarly named Swedish professor called Jurgen Header, who was also alleged to support the idea and, crucially, was willing to do an interview.

The chessmen in Lewis would have a massively disproportionate beneficial impact, which is more than they do in London. With Scotland maybe having claim to 10 per cent of the contents of the museum, perhaps they would be a good, devolved down payment.

The full article contains 584 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.
Last Updated: 29 January 2008 8:05 PM

Daily Record

Letter: Your View – Can Ill Wind Help The Chessmen?
Jan 29 2008 Alex Orr
Comment Of The Day

THE fact that the proposed Lewis windfarm does not look like going ahead opens up an opportunity to yet again push for the return of the Lewis Chessmen, attracting much needed tourism to the Western Isles.

Scottish Culture Minister Linda Fabiani recently visited the British Museum in London, and met with the deputy director in an attempt to have the historic 13th-century chessmen returned to their native Western Isles.

Crafted from walrus ivory and whale teeth, they were unearthed in 1831. Of the 93 chessmen, 11 are in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland and 82 are in the British Museum.

It is simply not good enough that they are occasionally loaned back to the Western Isles. Ownership should pass to the Isles where they were found, and where they should be put on permanent display, housed and looked after by the people of Lewis.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh


February 1, 2008
Scotland Makes Moves for Chessmen

LONDON—Scottish culture minister Linda Fabiani has visited the British Museum in London to ask the institution to return the historic Lewis chessmen to Scotland, reports the BBC. Fabiani told the Scottish Parliament last week that it was “unacceptable” that 82 of the 93 chessmen were based in London. The 13th century figures were found in 1830 on a beach on the Isle of Lewis. Eleven are housed in an Edinburgh museum.

British Museum officials argue that the figures are admired by millions of visitors each year in London and are frequently loaned to museums in Scotland and elsewhere. Researchers at the museum also point out that the Isle of Lewis was part of Norway at the time of the figures’ making, and that the chessmen were likely made in Norway between 1150 and 1200 A.D.

Fabiani said the government would move forward with a proposal for the artifacts’ return, and Western Isles parliament member Angus MacNeil is preparing a bill which would facilitate the return by allowing the British Museum to give away or sell parts of its collection.

The Scottish government’s position has been scrutinized, however, with some asking whether Scotland would now repatriate Napoleonic artifacts housed there.

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  1. John Huntley said,

    03.14.08 at 12:38 am

    Perhaps the Scottish claim to the Chessmen would be more persuasive if the Scottish government through Linda Fabiani suppport the return of property misappropriated by its own countrymen – not least the Parthenon marbles.

  2. Craig Cowing said,

    10.21.09 at 12:34 pm

    The pieces were bought by the British Museum fairly after being offered to a Scottish museum. Sure, the chess pieces could be sent back to Scotland, but first they ought to repatriate art from other parts of the world. Fair is fair. These are not the Benin Bronzes or the Elgin Marbles.

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