Dalkeith Corn Exchange Museum

Dalkeith Corn Exchange

Earl Bothwell coat of arms

Earl Bothwell coat of arms


Dalkeith (Scottish Gaelic: Dail Cheith) is a town in Midlothian, Scotland, on the River Esk. It was granted a burgh of barony in 1401 and a burgh of regality in 1540. The settlement of Dalkeith grew southwestwards from its 12th-century castle (now Dalkeith Palace). Dalkeith is understood to be a Cumbric name, cognate with Welsh ddôl 'meadow, plateau, valley' + coed 'wood'. One of the earliest historical references to Dalkeith is found in the Chronicles of Jean Froissart who stayed at Dalkeith Castle for fifteen days. He writes of the Battle of Otterburn and the death of James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas: "I, author of this book, in my youth had ridden nigh over all the realm of Scotland, and I was then fifteen days in the house of earl William Douglas, father to the same earl James, of whom I spake of now, in a castle of five leagues from Edinburgh which is called in the country Dalkeith. The same time I saw there this earl James, a fair young child, and a sister of his called the lady Blanche."


In 1650, Oliver Cromwell's army came to Dalkeith. His officer General George Monck, was Commander in Scotland, and the government of the country was based out of Dalkeith castle. In the 17th century, Dalkeith had one of Scotland's largest markets in its exceptionally broad High Street. In 1831, Dalkeith was linked to Edinburgh by a railway line that transported coal, minerals, and agricultural produce. Two decades later, in 1853, a Corn Exchange, at the time the largest indoor grain market in Scotland, was built. In 1879, Dalkeith was where William Ewart Gladstone started his campaign for British Prime Minister, which became known as the "Midlothian Campaign".


The appearance of the Corn Exchange is quite curious, it is a fine but modest building which is executed in an architectural style little-used in Scotland. It is described as Tudor or Jacobean, a style more commonly associated with England. The choice of a hammer beam roof, to avoid intermediate columns, may have influenced the choice of architectural style for the building. The style chosen has been implemented both externally and internally with some considerable skill and delicacy. The front elevation facing the High Street with its steep gables, small central bell tower, tall narrow clustered windows, with small panes and articulated window drip hoods and simply moulded pointed arches is charming.


The scale of the internal space is only hinted at by the presence of the central gable, set back behind the frontage. The rear elevation facing St Andrew Street is simpler and very robust, with a muscular barn-like presence. The building form is very simple; a single ridged market hall set behind the twin gabled 3-storey office building on the High Street (although only 2 storeys were ever intended for occupation) the upper windows were lit the attic space. Internally the building is a revelation, the market space is surprisingly large and impressive, the complex roof structure and top lighting – only half of which remains – increases the sense of drama. The office with its exposed 1st floor balcony over-looking the hall and access stair hidden behind the side wall to the hall, is relatively simply laid out. It has fine decorative features, with low pointed moulded arches and simple octagonal stone columns, although unfortunately the original balustrade to the balcony has been lost. The Dalkeith Corn Exchange is an unusual but eloquent and consistently detailed building, by a well-known and respected Scottish architect – David Cousin. He trained under William Playfair – one of Scotland’s finest architects – and was capable of producing plain and robust classical buildings, such as the University of Edinburgh Reid Music School, but equally was prepared to work in a variety of other styles ranging from Norman to Jacobean depending on the commission. This approach is described as Victorian freestyle.


The Jacobean style was used particularly successfully for the Free Church Offices and Savings Bank on the Mound and for the India Buildings in Victoria Street, both in Edinburgh. He was architect for the Edinburgh Corn Exchange, located in the Grassmarket, but now demolished. It was the success of this building that led to further commissions for Corn Exchanges at Dalkeith, Kelso and Melrose. Dalkeith is significantly larger than the other two, but the frontage of Kelso is similar in appearance to that of Dalkeith, albeit simpler in design. The sheer size and scale of the main space has made it a struggle to find a suitable and financially sustainable purpose for it, after it was no longer required as a grain market. Therefore although the fabric has not been regularly maintained there has been no inappropriate use resulting in the loss of significant architectural fabric or features. The only use that has resulted in any major change was when Ferranti used it as an industrial training centre. Nevertheless the mezzanine floor – added at the east end – has been subsequently removed with minimal impact on the original building fabric. To summarise, although the building is still in need of repairs to eliminate water ingress and prevent the further deterioration of the building fabric, it remains remarkably intact and the original architecture is still visible for all to see and appreciate.


The premises provide the following physical space: Exhibition space for permanent displays of objects and photographs accompanied by audio and video oral history interviews and interactive displays; Temporary exhibition space for changing displays, new acquisitions and for community groups to use for their own projects or collections. This is a space that other groups in the town can use to demonstrate their own place in the community or just to have fun with creating their own exhibition; Multipurpose area for schools groups, object handling sessions, reminiscence sessions, family activity days, seminars, talks and hiring out to other small groups; In addition, there is a permanent display on the history of the Corn Exchange which is open to all members of the public. The museum is wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : Corn Exchange, 200 High Street, Dalkeith, Midlothian EH22

Transport: Eskbank (ScotRail) then bus (40). Bus Routes : 40 stops outside

Opening Times : Tuesday to Friday + 1st Saturday of month 12:00 to 16:00

Tickets : Free

Tel : 0131 561 6463