Volunteers hold the keys to success

Pictured ready to start work are (l-r) Grant Davidson, Bob Stirling, John McKenna, Sheila Henderson and Kirsty Bowie.
Pictured ready to start work are (l-r) Grant Davidson, Bob Stirling, John McKenna, Sheila Henderson and Kirsty Bowie.

A GROUP of four intrepid sleuths have taken on the huge task of solving the riddle of some of the House of Dun’s hundreds of unmarked keys.

The team of volunteers contacted property manager John McKenna after he appealed earlier this year for help to marry up the keys with the house’s cabinets and cupboards, some of which have been locked up for more than 20 years.

It was prompted by a furniture-moving programme to make way for the Hutchison collection of paintings by Scottish colourists and the Stirling furniture collection, two of the most notable in the National Trust for Scotland’s ownership.

The upstairs library was emptied and the furniture repatriated to other parts of the house, which had a knock-on effect to other items of furniture and Mr McKenna was keen to open and check as many as possible before they were moved. While he and his staff started the process, extra help was needed.

He said: “It was a difficult process but once we got into it we could start to recognise the different styles of lock and what type of key would fit them. It becomes addictive after a while and it’s like a very sophisticated jigsaw puzzle.”

The volunteers come from different walks of life but all are united in their interest in the house’s history and the possibility of turning up some long-forgotten treasure. Grant Davidson, a former transport manager from Balwyllo; Sheila Henderson, a retired librarian from Forfar; Kirsty Bowie, a history student from Arbroath, and Bob Stirling, a retired Tayside Police CID and scene of crime officer, have all signed up for as long as the job will take, although no timescale has been set.

Mr McKenna added that as well as helping to get the house in order, the job has an important conservation element to it and will require some careful handling by the volunteers.

He said: “It’s careful work and some of the keys in their own right could be hundreds of years old so we don’t want to put any stress on them or the locks, but it’s good from a conservation point of view to find out what some of the cabinets are like inside. There could be anything from rot to woodworm that would need to be dealt with.

“And you never know what we’ll discover. You never know what’s hiding in a cupboard.”