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Credit: Nairn Museum/ Melissa Davies
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Nairn Public Hall

By Melissa Davies

This story belongs to a ten-part series of stories gifted by Nairn Museum. Many thanks to Melissa Davies, the director of Nairn Museum, for kindly gifting these stories to the Spirit: Stories archive.

Nairn Public Hall at one time housed Nairn Museum's collection in the upper gallery. It is reputed that the Castle used by the Sherriff of Nairn and founded in 1179 by William the Lion stood at this location and the grand house next door to this building is still known today as Constabulary Gardens. Nairn Public hall was built in 1873 for the people of Nairn and was officially opened with a grand ball on Friday 15th August 1873. It was certainly an impressive building with large first floor windows. At the very top was a fine statue of St Ninian, the Patron Saint of Nairn, although this fell into decay and was removed. Above the first floor windows are three circular medallions to represent the arts of drama, music and song. The central one contains a bust of William Shakespeare, carved by sculptor, Goodwillie. On either side there were to be busts of George Frederic Handel and Robert Burns but these never came to be.

A large grey stone building with three large windows. Two shops - Nairn Bookshop, on the left, and a barber shop, on the right, are housed in the building Image provided by Nairn Museum/ Melissa Davies

Nairn Public Hall, Nairn High Street

In late Victorian and Edwardian times the Public Hall was a place of lively entertainment. Dancing was common as were bazaars and various public functions. Then in 1966, the hall was used for more modern music and the building was known as the Ballerina Ballroom. A gentleman by the name of Albert Bonici brought the new wave music scene to the north of Scotland and a large variety of successful bands performed there to Nairn audiences from 1966 to the early 1970s. These bands included Pink Floyd, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Status Quo, Slade and the Bay City Rollers. Cream also played and although the Small Faces were billed, they failed to turn up. It was reported by one Nairnite that when Pink Floyd played at the Ballerina Ballroom in July 1967, the music was so loud that the vocals couldn't be heard and the audience moved as far back as possible from the stage. Many of these bands also played in Elgin at the Red Shoes Ballroom, including The Beatles, although they didn't perform at the Ballerina Ballroom. They were known back then as The Silver Beatles and they did play on 27th May 1960 during their tour of Scotland at the Regal ballroom which was situated on Leopold Street, Nairn.

In August 2008, actress, and resident of Nairn, Tilda Swinton organised a quirky community film festival, open to everyone, and held at the Ballerina Ballroom, entitled The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams. This ran between the 15th and 23rd of August and an interesting and eclectic range of films were shown including I Know where I'm Going, Singing in the Rain, The Fearless Vampire Killers, All about Eve and Boswell and Johnson's Tour of the Western Isles. Tickets were £3/£2 or free if you took along a tray of home-baking and beanbags on the floor were used for seating. The interior was decorated with Chinese lanterns, mirrors, and a John Byrne mural about dreams and stars. It proved a great success with the Nairnites.

The most recent uses of the Public Hall have been for a clothing shop, bingo hall and social club. The building has certainly had an eventful past and has seen an interesting variety of different types of entertainment!

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