New owners are to take over the Savings Banks Museum in Ruthwell, Dumfries after reaching an agreement with the bank TSB.
TSB has agreed in principle to transfer the building and its contents to Comlongon Estate Limited, which is owned by David Thomson, a Dumfries-born professor, and his wife Teresa Church, a scientist and businesswoman. The couple recently purchased Comlongon Castle at neighbouring Clarencefield, Dumfries.
The pair have an interest in the restoration of historic buildings; their business portfolio also includes the formerly derelict Annandale Distillery and the 17th-century Globe Inn in Dumfries.
The new owners have pledged “significant investment to improve, consolidate and expand the visitor experience at the museum”. The agreement in principle has been praised by community campaigners who advocated for the museum, calling it “a significant step forward in safeguarding the museum’s long-term future in Ruthwell”.
The development marks a milestone in the process of transferring the museum to community or local ownership. TSB’s initial proposition, as outlined earlier this year, was to close the museum building and move its contents to TSB headquarters in Edinburgh, where they would have gone on display. The plans were criticised by locals, politicians and historians.
The museum is on the site of the ‘penny bank’ that minister Henry Duncan established for Ruthwell parishioners in 1810, which was eventually acquired by the Trustee Savings Bank (TSB). Before its closure for Covid in 2020, the museum was a popular tourist attraction, landmark and site of local history.
David Thomson said: “It was never our intention to take on the museum but having recently acquired Comlongon Castle, which has a historical relationship with the Savings Banks Museum and Henry Duncan, we reconsidered our position when approached by several parties.
“We believe that much could be achieved by reuniting these three cornerstones of local history. Now that this proposal has been agreed in principle by all parties, we can start work on securing and enhancing the museum’s long-term future and we look forward to doing so.”
TSB spokesperson Andrew McIntyre said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with Comlongon Estate Limited. We remain proud of TSB’s heritage and are grateful to David, Teresa and the local community for working collaboratively to find an agreeable way to celebrate the life of Henry Duncan.”
Dumfriesshire MP David Mundell, who campaigned to keep the savings bank collection in Ruthwell, said: “Now that David and Teresa have acquired Comlongon Castle, also in Ruthwell Parish, with all its connections to Henry Duncan, their custodianship of the savings bank appears almost a perfect solution.”
South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth, who also campaigned to save the museum, added: “David and Teresa have such a fabulous track record of creating world class visitor attractions that do justice to our local history and I am grateful for their commitment to the future of the museum.”
Edited to clarify the history of the museum.