Saturday May 13th 2023
Dalkieth Museum within the magnificent Corn Exchange building in Dalkeith.
At the heart of what was once the biggest corn exchange in Scotland, lies one of the smallest, yet most surprising museums in the country: Dalkeith Museum.
Run by Dalkeith History Society, this little beacon of knowledge strives to become “the best little museum in Midlothian” in the words of volunteer Margaret Stewart.
When one thinks of this town, most of us will immediately picture the Country Park but guess what – Dalkeith is so much more than meets the eye. For instance, the town was the final set for one of the biggest forging scandals in Scottish history.
Once the centre of a large Scottish agricultural, industrial and mining area, the museum explores the activities in Dalkeith that lay behind the foundries and factories ranging from brass and iron to flour and carpets, beer and even sausages! The exhibition is indeed, a gift that keeps on giving.
The most impressive part of the display is its insight into Dalkeith’s connection to World War One. A detailed timeline interweaves the town’s events with the bigger scheme of the events occurring at the time, becoming an eye-opening read on the town’s sacrifices and efforts.
However, the crown jewel is its impeccable 8th Battalion Royal Scots uniform. A reminder of the numerous men who gave their life, sealed in a glass case, which in my eyes, reflects Dalkeith’s heritage – one that must be admired.
A bell that once rang over the railway station sits in the middle of the display. What might appear an unusual item is a source of pride for many, as volunteer, Norma McNeill, explained, “It remained in Glasgow for years, locked up in a room, and it took considerable effort for it to be brought back to where it belongs. It is a reminder of how the town was once an essential connection point of life and work in Midlothian and beyond.”
However, the feature that propels this exhibition to unmitigated praise is not its plethora of relics but its clarity. The museum showcases hundreds of years of history in different panels, and with different exhibits, each dealing with areas ranging from education to leisure. A wealth of information even children can easily follow – a characteristic that history museums often fail to grasp.
The museum was part of the project to restore the Grade A listed Corn Exchange which was supported by Heritage Lottery Funding. It opened in 2016, yet keeping its doors open has been a difficult task. Like many others in the sector, Covid meant a significant halt in operations, pushing the museum further into the shadow cast by much better known local attractions like Rossyln Chapel or The National Mining Museum.
“Lots of people go to Dalkeith Country Park, but they don’t come out the gate! We are only five minutes walk away, and we’re the first place of interest outside the park – but very few venture out to find us!” Stewart explained.
However, far from being a knockdown, this has only motivated volunteers to try harder.
McNeill said, “We’re currently in the process of applying for accreditation with Museums Galleries Scotland and achieving that would be very important because it would give recognition within the peer group, opening up listings in museum categories, offering the possibility to borrow exhibits from other museums for inclusion in future exhibitions and, of course to help source funding. One of our main aims just now is to achieve this accreditation, which would put Dalkeith Museum, although very, very small onto the same listings as the National Museum of Scotland.”
With summer around the corner, the museum has big plans. In conjunction with Lothian Heritage Forum, it will be part of a group presence at the Dalkeith Agricultural Show to be held in Dalkeith Country Park on Saturday 8th July. All local museums will join together to increase awareness of their activities and the rich history of Midlothian.
Dalkeith is also planning a series of evening events tagged ‘A Night in the Museum’, where visitors can enjoy a more intimate, cultural, historical or musical event, accompanied by a glass of wine (or two!) in the unusual but interesting surroundings of the museum. However, the approaching Fringe Festival could become the biggest source of opportunities as Stewart explains,
“We believe it could offer a currently untapped source of visitors. As the Edinburgh Fringe grows, we have read that venues and visitors may move out of the centre of town. And, if they were doing other things around Dalkeith, then it would be important for them to know that there is a museum. We will target local bed and breakfast and hotels by giving them leaflets which hopefully will encourage people to explore the attractions locally where it may also be less expensive than Edinburgh centre.”
With a firm and admirable tone, McNeill ended the tour with a clear message, “Appreciate your heritage. Explore your heritage. Dalkeith has an amazing past. Come and have a look. Come and discover it.”
Dalkeith Museum is a remarkable attempt to fit years of history into a small space.
It is also a free admission so you will nourish your knowledge whilst not emptying your pockets! The museum is wheelchair accessible and has a lift.
Currently opening Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11.00am until 3.00pm.
To arrange a group visit call 0131 663 4683 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details see www.dalkeithmuseum.co.ukTweet Share on Facebook