Orkney Islands Council
Working together for a better Orkney

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum refurbishment update

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum refurbishment update
28 February 2018

The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum at Lyness is undergoing a major refurbishment project, with funding from Orkney Islands Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and the Orkney LEADER fund.

The project will involve the restoration of the historic buildings, the enhancement of interpretation and displays, and the creation of a new building which will house an exhibition space, café, toilet facilities and information areas. New showcases, lighting and environmental controls will allow the museum to display objects which have never been on show before.

While the museum is closed to the public during the 2018 season, temporary displays have been set up at Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.

Two cases, in Gallery 1 and in the Baikie library on the first floor, show a selection of new acquisitions to the wartime collections. They include a dog collar from HMS Hampshire, an ink drawing of Tankerness House and St Magnus Cathedral from 1918 by a sailor serving in Scapa Flow, and a tray and soft toy, examples of handiwork produced in classes promoted by the Central Advisory Council for Education in HM Forces. Service personnel at Lyness could attend a range of courses and learn how to make items including toys, tableware and jewellery, using available materials, such as surgical cotton wool and Perspex.

In the small annex off Gallery 1, objects and text tell the story so far of the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum refurbishment project. The current state of the wartime buildings is examined, alongside design suggestions by Edinburgh-based Studio MB for the new museum extension.

The objects and a 360 degree film of the interiors of the wartime buildings aim to give a taste of the collections and their environment for visitors who will not be able to visit the museum for the duration of the building project. Some items on display have been in the museum’s collection for a long time, while others have only been acquired recently and are shown for the first time.

One recent acquisition is a framed photograph of a junior rating from HMS Hampshire, who died when the ship struck a mine off Marwick Head on 5 June 1916. We do not know his identity, but he could have been as young as 14 when he joined the Royal Navy. Many boys under the legal combat age of 18 rushed to enlist when war was declared in 1914

In the year of the centenary of the loss of HMS Opal and HMS Narborough on 12 January 1918, items belonging to Ernest Stanley Cubiss and his wife, Florence, are on display. Stanley Cubiss was on board HMS Opal when it ran into the cliffs near Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, in a snowstorm. A life belt from HMS Opal is also displayed, as well as fragments of metal from both ships. The metal items have been cast up on rocks in Windwick Bay after winter storms, collected and donated to the museum by Willie Budge. There are also pieces of lead-covered wiring and light metal parts found in cormorants’ nests near where the ships were lost.

The sinking of HMS Royal Oak in 1939 is marked, but so is a chapter of her earlier career, through a photograph album documenting her years with the Mediterranean Fleet from 1927 to 1929.

Other objects include a miniature oar made by a German sailor from the High Seas Fleet, a World War II German coffee pot, and everyday items from life in Orkney during World War II.

The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum display will be in place for the duration of the project, with occasional changes to mark anniversaries, or to feature different objects and project updates.

The museum buildings are closed for the duration of the works. A temporary visitor centre at Lyness is planned for the 2018 season which will contain information about the area’s wartime history. Guided walks and a self-guided wartime trail will also be available.

For current information see visit the museum's page on the Council website and look out for news of project progress on our Facebook page .