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Roll out the Burrell: Berwick’s community treasure chest

A new exhibition at the Granary Gallery showcases a fabulous town treasure – The Burrell Collection: a legacy always intended by its donor to be freely accessible to Berwick townsfolk. Berwick Visual Arts (BVA) and Berwick Museum wanted to do more than simply select artefacts for a one-off show. So, during the six months before it opened, volunteers explored and catalogued documents, oral histories were gathered, relationships and learning resources were developed with local schools, and a restoration programme began. This has enriched a delightful exhibition and fed into a wider programme of talks and school visits. James Lowther and Val Tobiass of BVA and Anne Moore of Berwick Museum hope it will begin to reconnect the town with this extraordinary gift.

Schoolchildren take inspiration from one of the newly framed Melville’s (Picture: Kimberley Powell, Berwick Advertiser)

When a community receives an arty bequest it can be a dilemma as well as a delight. In 1851 JMW Turner famously left a mass of his work to the nation, decreeing that his paintings ‘Dido building Carthage’ and ‘Sun rising through Vapour’ must be hung alongside two paintings by 17th-century master Claude. A complex juggling act followed, complicated by a legal challenge to Turner’s will. Ultimately the four paintings were hung together in the National Gallery (and still are). The bulk of Turner’s collection – including beauties such as ‘Norham Castle, Sunrise’ – was shunted around London until finally taking up residence in the new Tate Gallery in 1910.

About the time Turner’s bequest was being pass-the-parcelled around London, Berwick Naturalists’ Club founded Berwick Museum (1867). A bit later, in 1875 a slip of a Glaswegian lad started to work his way up the rungs of his family’s shipping firm. This Victorian boy would become Sir William Burrell of Hutton Castle (he moved there in 1927). Aged 18 he chose to buy a painting instead of a cricket bat (to his father’s disgust), and began a 60-year hobby-cum-investment habit of collecting art. In the 1940s, he gave a princely slice of the works he had amassed to the people of Berwick. At the heart of Burrell’s gift of some 50 paintings and 300 ornamental objects was a desire to “give the people [of Berwick] an interest in Art”.

it came as a surprise and thrill to discover that I could experience works of great quality directly and freely in my local library

Through today’s lens Burrell looks like a classic didactic Victorian: a control freak with a keen mind and sharp business eye – sometimes expressed in eccentricity and meanness. He liked to shut off the electricity at Hutton Castle at 10pm, plunging all residents and guests into darkness whether they were in bed or not. However, Berwick can be thankful that, whilst Burrell enjoyed being hands-on during the renovations (which he paid for) to Berwick Museum so it could house his gift, he did not impose the restrictions he placed on the massive collection given to Glasgow. That city took years to find a site that met Burrell’s criteria and the doors did not open on Pollok Park until 1983.

Sir William Burrell – very much a man of his time. Picture from The Glasgow Story

Meanwhile, people in Berwick stopped by the Library and Museum on Marygate (now Costa Coffee) and perused the works of Arthur Melville and Jacob Maris while waiting for the bus. One man remembers spending weekends in the Library while his parents worked. He had free access to the Museum above where, he recalls, the Burrell Collection “shared space with a collection of local artefacts: huge keys and locks, cannonballs from the battle of Halidon Hill, a statue of Jimmy Strength and other treasures… it came as a surprise and thrill to discover that I could experience works of great quality directly and freely in my local library. The works that remain most strongly in my memory are paintings by Joseph Crawhall and Eugene Boudin.”  Degas, Daubigny, Gericault and Muhrman also feature in Berwick’s Burrell hoard, plus exquisite ancient Roman and Venetian glass, Japanese Imari pottery and Ming porcelain.

Vincent Lomenech in his Belford Studio reframing the prized Gericault

Vincent Lomenech in his Belford Studio reframing the prized Gericault. Picture Olivia Gill/Vincent Lomenech

An often neglected aspect of publicly owned collections is restoration, conservation, and preservation. Thanks to some Heritage Lottery Funding several works in the current exhibition have received TLC from local paper conserver and restorer, Vincent Lomenech. In his Belford studio, Vincent eased from their frames watercolours and pastels undisturbed for over 100 years in order to release them from damaging acidic board and adhesives. He healed and cleaned, remounting and reframing as necessary. Vincent is a master in a precise and fragile art – in the past he has restored pages from the 15th-century Gutenberg Bible, and is currently working on redeeming the original plans and drawings for Alnwick Gardens. Whilst working on the Burrell Collection, he found annotations in the artist’s hand on the back of a Maris, and a £45 price tag behind Melville’s ‘Cairo Bazaar’, “probably what Burrell paid for it”. Vincent’s wife, artist and illustrator Olivia Gill, remembers being inspired by the portraits in the Glasgow Burrell Collection as a 15-year-old and says she was “childishly excited at having Gericault’s ‘Wounded Cavalry Officer’ in the studio”.

BVA’s and Berwick Museum’s aim to rekindle community interest and present the Collection as a resource and attraction for a new generation echoes Burrell’s original desire. Hopefully the project will contribute to the on-going story of this important and extraordinary haul. As one local school teacher said in the visitors’ book: “A wonderful exhibition and workshop. Such a great resource for Berwick – we are very lucky!”

Berwick’s YHA: home of the Granary Gallery. Picture: Visit Berwick


  • Berwick’s Burrell Collection at The Granary Gallery, Dewar’s Lane: Free entry, 11am-5pm Wed-Sun until May 4th 2015
  • Berwick’s Burrell Collection at Berwick Museum:
  • For more information about the Schools Programme, Digital Learning Resources, Mobile App visit:
  • To contribute to the oral history project: contact Val Tobiass at or telephone 01289 333 088.
  • Vincent Lomenech, Paper Conservation and Restoration and specialist Picture Framing:
  • Olivia Lomenech Gill, Artist, Illustrator, Printmaker:

This article was first published on 2nd April 2015 in The Berwick Advertiser

Couple’s life-affirming art captures the light and rhythm of nature in the Borders and beyond

It’s a rare thing to meet people who are grounded in time, space and environment. But Pauline Burbidge (textile artist, quiltmaker and designer exhibited worldwide, including London’s V&A) and Charlie Poulsen (specialist in sculpture, growing sculpture, drawing) are rather like their respective art works. That is, inspired by and intertwined with the local landscape and its ambience. Charlie and Pauline have created a studio, home and gardens in Allanton near Duns that are an extension of their way of life. A place that breathes vitality, originality and joyful quirkiness.

Charlie & Pauline's marvellous kitchen. (c) Charles Poulsen 2006

Charlie & Pauline’s marvellous kitchen. (c) Charles Poulsen 2006

Charlie is my husband’s stepbrother so I knew the couple were artists. However, it wasn’t until I met them eight years ago, that I began to grasp what that means. Even then I was naïve. I was beguiled by their clothes – a collision of the practical (overalls) with the hippy-cum-homespun (knitted waistcoats, printed scarves); enthralled by their home – painted wooden floors, bunches of herbs hung artlessly but precisely, Kilner jars glistening with preserves, upcycled Marmite jars, feathers here, a bowl of stripy stones there – like a perfectly organised version of Kim’s game; and entranced by the garden – fronds of sculpted and entwined branches guiding you round beds of flowers and vegetables growing to the right height and in the right direction. And, yes, I was wooed into thinking that this kind of stylish artistry is, well, easy, for artists. Of course, generally, artists work incredibly hard, create beautiful stuff, and just about scrape by. Pauline confirms this, “Survival can be quite hard. Being a couple, we can be supportive of one another – we keep separate pots of money so we can borrow from each other from time to time.” Charlie owns up to being in debt at the moment, “You’ve got to keep your costs right down. If you don’t spend, you have all that free time to do the work you want to do.”

The Allanbank Mill Steading kitchen during Open Studio. (Image (c)  Jason Patient 2013)

The Allanbank Mill Steading kitchen during Open Studio. (Image (c) Jason Patient 2013)

Charlie in one of the exhibition spaces at Allanbank Mill Steading (Image (c) Charlie Poulsen/Pauline Burbidge) 2014

Charlie and Pauline came north from Nottingham (where they met, married and, until 1993, worked) searching for a property to make the most of Charlie’s small inheritance from his brother. Most people would have balked at the slightly dilapidated group of house-less farm buildings. Pauline says, “We knew within 15 minutes of arriving at Allanbank Mill Steading, this was it!”  Ten years passed in a whirl of camping on mattresses, developing studio and exhibition space, creating a home, producing work, and taking on supplementary jobs here and there to keep financially afloat.

Pauline at The Quilt Museum & Gallery, York. (Image York Press)

From the start, the yearly Open Studio was at the heart of the Allanbank Mill Steading ethos. “We came up with the idea as a way of letting people view our work and see it in the place it was made,” says Charlie. “Being in a rural location, we felt we needed buyers to come to us, particularly as my sculpture is heavy and difficult to move. The first Open Studio in September 1994 was a fairly basic affair but we attracted a surprising number of mainly local people.  However, we made more money on donations for the tea, coffee and home-made cakes than on the artwork!”

The garden featuring some of Charlie's living sculptures and a Nigel Ross sculpture in wood.

The garden (above and below) featuring some of Charlie’s sculptures in lead and living sculptures and a Nigel Ross sculpture in wood (foreground below).

Allanbank Mill Steading

Since 1999, Open Studio has featured the work of a guest artist each year – including architecture, furniture, ceramics, glass, photography and much more. Last year local artist Olivia Lomenech Gill (who has illustrated for War Horse author Michael Morpurgo) was there. This year it’s the turn of Halima Cassell and her carved ceramics. Open Studio now attracts some 500 visitors over four days. It is 21 years since Charlie and Pauline conceived Open Studio and the on-going renovation of Allanbank Mill. To mark the anniversary, they have published a vibrant visual feast of a book printed in Berwick by Martins. It’s a celebration of their life environment and a taster of their work – from Charlie’s epic growing sculpture (400m long and 150m wide) on the Southern Upland Way and playful, thought-provoking ‘ghost’ sculptures in lead and concrete; to Pauline’s stitch art and quiltscapes that hum with the colours, light and rhythms of places such as Holy Island Causeway, Pittenweem, and Puglia in Italy. The best way to appreciate this generous life-affirming couple’s work is, of course, in situ. And you can do that during their Open Studio 2014 from 1st – 4th August and at other times by invitation or appointment (details below).

Charlie & Pauline are marking Open Studio's anniversary with this gorgeous book. Printed by Martin's in Berwick. (Image (c) Pauline Burbidge 2014)

Charlie & Pauline are marking Open Studio’s 21st birthday with this gorgeous book. Printed by Martins The Printer in Berwick. (Image (c) Pauline Burbidge 2014)


Allanbank Mill Steading, Allanton, Duns, Berwickshire, TD11 3JX T: 01890 818073 E: or w:,

(This article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on June 5th 2014)

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