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Iconic house in safe hands

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By Euan Maxwell
Dumfries and West
Iconic house in safe hands
TAKING CARE . . . the Shambellie House Trust members

A 19TH century New Abbey house is now under community ownership after keys were handed over to a local trust.

The Shambellie House Trust this week finalised their takeover of the historic Shambellie House, which was best-known as the National Museum of Costume until it closed in 2013.

And the organisation now intends to reopen it as a rural arts centre in early 2022.

Built in 1856 on a raised bank in the Shambellie Woods, the manor was first the residence of the Stewart Family, whose ancestors included a Lord Mayor of London and a secretary to Dukes of Queensberry.

In 1977 it ceased being the home of the Stewarts, when Charles Stewart gifted the property, and his extensive collection of costumes, to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Five years later, National Museums Scotland (NMS) opened Shambellie House as the National Museum of Costume.

But in 2013 NMS director at the time, Dr Gordon Rintoul, announced the museum’s closure, citing the “low number of visitors to the site along with the high operational costs”.

And a failed bid to keep the costume centre running led to the creation of the Trust, which was told by the Scottish Government it could take-over the running of the house as long as it proposed a “sustainable business plan” and secured “sufficient funds for any alterations”.

Successful grants followed from the Government’s Culture and Regeneration budgets, Hugh Fraser Foundation, Holywood Trust, Lottery Community Fund, the Dumfries and Galloway Coastal Communities Fund and the South of Scotland Enterprise.

From January the manor will begin hosting a wide range of creative courses delivered by local artists, makers, photographers and practitioners many using the environment, culture, and history of Dumfries and Galloway as their inspiration.

Commenting, chairman of the Trust, Gordon Mann, said: “The Trustees have worked very hard over the years to bring Shambellie House back under local ownership and we are delighted to have achieved this with the support from the community and the faith placed in us by our funders.

“We are continuing to fundraise so that we can offer a great experience in the House and grounds.

“We will now start on the repairs and improvements to the house and lodge so that some courses will be ready for delivery early in 2022, courses which will provide a welcome boost for the local creative sector which have suffered so much in the pandemic.”

The transfer has been welcomed by local artists and makers, including Lochmaben-based photographer, Ricky Nolan, who said: “I know there a number of others like me who are looking forward to being able to offer courses in photography where, with both a traditional darkroom and an Apple Mac digital suite, we will be able to provide a wide range of courses at all levels for anyone interested in photography.”