Clan Coutts Society

Clan Coutts Society

Herbert Coutts




An archaeologist by profession, who was the Edinburgh Council’s City Curator for twenty-five years. In this role, he brought a string of  “blockbuster” exhibitions to the city, built up a network of international links, and oversaw several major museum and heritage capital projects. In the last decade of his career, he served as Edinburgh’s Director of Culture and Leisure. This involved leading a diverse department providing cultural, sport and leisure services. He encouraged new thinking about, and approaches to, the city’s cultural and sporting ecologies.


He retired early in 2007 but continues to be a well-known figure in cultural and political circles. In recent years, he has devoted much of his time to board membership of heritage/museum/civic organisations, and to leading a charitable company in central Scotland that provides specialist transport services for people with mobility difficulties.


Trustee (and Chair of the Curatorial Panel), Paxton House

Vice-Chair, Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Trust

Trustee, Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections

Member, Scottish Catholic Heritage Commission

Chair, Order of Malta Dial-A-Journey Ltd

Chair, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Enterprises Ltd

Director, Dunbar Community Development Company

Member, Dunbar Community Council




Trustee, National Galleries of Scotland

Trustee, East Lothian Community Development Trust

Member, Recognised Collections of National Significance Committee

Member, Museums Association Council

Member, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Council

Adviser, Arts and Recreation Committee of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

Chair, Scottish Sports Council Committee to oversee establishment of East of Scotland Area Institute of Sport

Member, Government Committee reviewing future of Scotland’s National Museums and Galleries

Member, Scottish Museums Council Board

Member, Museums Training Institute Board

Member, Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation Board

Visiting Lecturer and Examiner, Post-Graduate Museums Course, St Andrews University




Associate of the Museums Association (Archaeology) – AMA

Fellow of the Museums Association (after peer review of published work) – FMA




Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – FSAScot

Founding Fellow of the Institute of Contemporary Scotland – FFCS




Knight of Magistral Grace, Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and of Malta – KM

Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – MBE




 Appointed to the post of Museum Assistant at Dundee Museum and Art Gallery in 1962, and rose through the ranks to the position of Keeper of Antiquities and Bygones. Highlights were:

  • Excavation of Prehistoric and Roman sites.
  • Transformation of Broughty Castle into a museum.
  • Following visitor survey, re-display of Antiquities Gallery.
  • Survey of Archaeological field monuments in lower Tay basin, culminating in the writing of “Ancient Monuments of Tayside”
  • Compilation and publication of “Tayside before History”, a guide catalogue of Dundee Museum’s archaeological collection
  • Exhibition on recovery of early 17th century warship “The Vasa”, which was brought to Dundee with the assistance of Swedish Government. Displayed on HMS Unicorn, the Royal Navy’s oldest wooden walled warship still afloat.


Transferred to Edinburgh when appointed to manage the City Museums in 1971. During the following twenty-five years was responsible for a growing number of Council Museums, heritage buildings and monuments. Broad themes of his work were the development of the collections in his care, the training of young museum professionals, the promotion of new thinking about the delivery of museum services, and the establishment of international links to enhance Edinburgh’s reputation as a major cultural centre.


Significant capital projects overseen in a “client” capacity, and for which fundraising had to be undertaken, included:

  • City Art Centre (1980, extended 1992).
  • Extension and redisplay of Museum of Childhood (1986).
  • The People’s Story Museum (1989).
  • Makars’ Court – Scotland’s Poets Corner (1998; adjacent to Writers Museum).
  • Scott Monument restoration (1999).


With the provision of the well-equipped City Art Centre to accommodate them, exhibitions of international significance were brought to Edinburgh. They required worldwide travel to source, and ranged from Matisse Sculpture to Michelangelo Drawings, and Pissaro in Venezuela to Piranesi drawings and etchings. But the best known were the “blockbuster” shows that attracted thousands of visitors from all parts of the UK and abroad. They included:

  • The Emperor’s Warriors (1985). Life-sized terracotta figures. 250,000 visitors.
  • Gold of the Pharaohs (1988). 21st dynasty gold antiquities. 450,000 visitors.
  • Dinosaurs Alive! (1990). Robotic dinosaur reconstructions. 300,000 visitors.
  • Gold of Peru (1990). Pre-Columbian antiquities. 100,000 visitors.
  • Star Trek-The Exhibition (1992). Prepared in conjunction with Paramount Pictures. 200,000 visitors.
  • Art of Star Wars (2002). People behind the films. 130,000 visitors.


Appointed in 1998 as Director of Edinburgh’s Recreation Department (later re-titled Culture and Leisure), he was responsible for 850 FTE staff and managed a gross annual revenue budget of £30m, and a three-year capital programme of £120m. Also, was a member of the Chief Executive’s management team, which had strategic oversight of all of the Council’s work, and corporate responsibility for its gross annual revenue budget of £1 billion.


Eager to encourage new thinking about the city’s cultural scene, he oversaw the preparation of its first ever cultural policy, “Towards the New Enlightenment”. This was followed by strategies on music, dance, festivals, theatre, etc. – all drawn up with the active participation of their respective artistic communities. To drive their delivery, a Cultural Partnership was set up, the first of its kind in Scotland. A similar approach was adopted for the preparation of a sport and physical recreation strategy, “A Capital Commitment to Sport”. A Sports Partnership was established to oversee its implementation.


Despite Edinburgh’s status as Scotland’s capital, the Council’s chief focus was on providing services for local residents, and much less priority was given to developing its international links and profile. To redress the balance, the promotion of international contacts was adopted as an important strand of the Culture and Leisure Department’s work.  Among the many projects delivered were:

  • 40th Anniversary of Link with Florence (2004). Exhibitions, craft shows, etc.
  • Edinburgh First UNESCO City of Literature (2004). Assisted by Department.
  • European Union Enlargement (2004). Programme of events.
  • Centenary of Norwegian Independence (2005). Year-long programme.
  • Hans Christian Anderson Bi-Centenary (2006). Floral clock theme, and exhibitions.


Finally, multi-million pound capital projects completed (with Sports/Heritage/Arts Council Lottery financial support), or approved, under his leadership included:

  • Drumbrae Leisure Centre (1999). Wet and dry sporting facility.
  • Phase 1, Usher Hall renovation (2000). Upgrading of auditorium, etc.
  • Lauriston Castle Japanese Garden (2002). Funded by Kyoto Prefecture.
  • Council approval, Usher Hall Phase 2 (2006). Glass wing, etc.
  • Council approval, Royal Commonwealth Pool refurbishment (2006).


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