Royal opening for historic Corn Exchange after Melville revamp

HRH The Duke of Gloucester (left) officially opens the new offices of  Melville Housing Association alongside chair Bob Anderson
HRH The Duke of Gloucester (right) officially opens the new offices of Melville Housing Association alongside chair Bob Anderson

Dalkeith’s historic Corn Exchange, one of Midlothian’s most culturally significant buildings, has received royal approval following its official opening by HRH The Duke of Gloucester.

The royal opening marked the conclusion of an 18 month restoration project by Melville Housing Association that has seen the Grade A listed building, which once played host to Winston Churchill and William Gladstone, brought back into the everyday life of the town for the first time in more than 20 years.

The £3.8 million project was made possible thanks to grant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland in addition to Melville’s contribution. The carefully restored building, which dates back to 1854, now hosts a new office for Melville, a new museum for Dalkeith as well as facilities for the community.

“The official opening marks a red letter day in the life of an extremely significant building that has been part of the community for over 160 years,” said Melville chairman, Bob Anderson. “It’s not often that you get the opportunity to be involved in a project like this and I’m very proud of all the hard work that has gone in to the restoration. I’d like to pass on my sincere thanks to everyone that helped make it possible.”

When it opened in 1854, the Corn Exchange was the largest indoor grain market in Scotland. Over its 160 year history it has played a key role in the social history of Midlothian as a venue for balls, banquets, lectures, concerts, exhibitions and political meetings hosting several British prime ministers including Gladstone and Churchill. It has also been used as a roller-skating venue, cinema, theatre and, in the 1940s and 1950s, the Empress Ballroom, a popular dance hall.

The restoration project has preserved and enhanced the unique character of the building, while at the same time incorporating sustainable low-carbon technologies including solar panels and a ground source heat pump to provide power and heating to the fully-renovated building.

As well as providing new offices for Melville, the building is also available for community use including a new Dalkeith Museum, managed by the Dalkeith History Society. The museum has its own entrance and is fully accessible to the public. The reception area of Melville’s new office is also open to the public during office hours and includes information boards about the history of the Corn Exchange as part of the Dalkeith Heritage Trail. In addition, the original boardroom of the old Corn Exchange is available for hire.

Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players the historic Corn Exchange is once again open for business in the heart of Dalkeith. The newly restored building will have something for everyone. It’s home to a fascinating and engaging new Museum which tells the Dalkeith story from its iron age beginnings to more recent industrial and rural past which is all set to bring more visitors to the town. It will also offer a variety of community benefits in a wonderful historic setting, complementing further National Lottery investment through the successful Townscape Heritage Initiative which transformed a number of historic buildings, bringing increased prosperity to the High Street.”

Martin Fairley, head of grants at Historic Environment Scotland, added: “We were pleased to award a grant of £146,706 to the Dalkeith Corn Exchange to conserve and repair the building, so it could be converted into offices, a town museum and community space. The Corn Exchange is an important focal point for the continuing regeneration of Dalkeith, which has also received funding through the HES CARS scheme. It’s great to see the end results of a wide range of funding and collaborative working by different partners as the building officially opens.”

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