Evelyn Baxter and Leonora Rintoul

Scottish Basketry in the National  Museum of Scotland


The National Museum of Scotland has a representative collection of baskets illustrating domestic and working life in rural and coastal Scotland. This collection was substantially enhanced in 1961 when a private collection was donated in memory of 2 remarkable women, Dr. Evelyn Baxter and her friend and colleague, Leonora Rintoul.


Evelyn Baxter was born in 1879 in Largoward, Fife and died in1959.

She  was awarded an MBE in 1945 and an honorary degree from Glasgow University in 1955.

Leonora Rintoul was born in 1875 in Largo and died in 1953.


Both ladies became leading authorities on birdlife in Scotland and contributed many papers to various journals over 50 years or so, culminating in a highly regarded 2 volume work on the subject published in 1953.


Although their main interest was in ornithology, they also had many other skills and interests. They  participated in, and organised voluntary activities in both world wars including the Women’s Land Army.


They also became leading lights in the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute from its earliest days, visiting its branches through-out Scotland lecturing on a wide range of subjects, but also teaching and judging handicrafts.


As they travelled in Scotland they must have become aware that life on farms and in fishing communities was changing. There is not much information in the National Museum’s files on why they started to collect baskets but we have to be grateful that they did so.


The Baxter/Rintoul group comprises of about 30 baskets relating to farming and fishing from around the country.

For example –

QP 36 – heather cassie from Orkney

QP 39 – basket from Skye for prepared wool for spinning.

QP 53 – creel, drawn in the middle and with carrying band, probably from Fife.


As for the rest of the Museum’s  collection of Scottish basketry, the earliest basket is in the Archaeological displays in Chambers Street. It is from Eshaness in Shetland approximately 1600 years old.

There is also an object possibly a hat found in the excavations at the Roman fort of Newstead near Melrose.


The Museum’s collection consists not only of baskets used in working life but it also has examples of Orkney chairs and smaller domestic items.


There was a short lived straw plaiting industry in Orkney in the 18th   and19th centuries and this is represented in the collection by examples of the actual straw used, as well as examples of plaiting and the tools used by the  girls and women in  making bonnets and hats before the industry declined there and became more established in Luton in Bedfordshire.

QP1-7 – bonnet making


The Scottish collection illustrates the various methods, materials and tools from Orkney and Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway.

Sandison selection with saut cudddie

Sandison Peat pony harness

PVC 13 – whelk pot from Dumfries and Galloway

and even the frivolous occasions!

Guizar’s hat from Shetland made of out straw.


The reserve collection and further information comprising photographs, notes and diagrams are in the care of the Department of Scottish History and Archaeology  in the National Museum of Scotland may be visited by appointment.

Irene Mackay, August 29th 2012