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Charles Bannerman discusses the newly renovated former Inverness Royal Academy building

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Charles Bannerman. Picture: Anders Hellberg
Charles Bannerman. Picture: Anders Hellberg

When I previously occupied that spot by the window more than half a century ago, I was in constant danger of receiving a knuckle on the head for mispronouncing the past historic of the verb “savoir” or a hefty dig in the ribs for mistranslating an Alphonse Daudet short story.

Ellis “Curly” Stuart, with whom I achieved a fairly warm détente decades after resentfully sitting in his higher French class, is long gone. And so now are the walls dividing his Room 16 from 15 and 14 on the first floor of the building at Midmills, which housed Inverness Royal Academy from 1895 to 1979.

These three former classrooms have been converted into an impressive gallery which will house the works of local artists, now that the Wasps organisation has accomplished a magnificent £6 million conversion of the entire premises into the new Inverness Creative Academy.

I returned there the other week to continue some work I’ve been doing for Wasps on the building’s heritage; a filmed, narrated walk round, embracing both anecdotes of the old place and the considerable merits of the new. Having written four books about the place where I was a pupil and later a teacher, it’s somewhere with which I’m more than familiar.

I was also familiar with its successor at Culduthel, opened in 1977 but ignominiously demolished in 2016 while this one goes from strength to strength.

I can’t give a room-by-room description here, but anyone interested should visit the Creative Academy’s café which opened this week, and drink it all in. However, I can highlight two very conspicuous features.

In 1960, Inverness County Council built a new extension with large assembly hall, subsequently demolished to make room for flats. A partition was erected round the previous hall in the old building, creating a rectangular corridor and a reduced internal space which became the school library.

That partition has now been removed, so for the first time in 60 years, the original 1895 layout can be seen in all its glory. This afforded me the novel experience of walking through its double doors in the footsteps of five rectors, latterly the legendary Dr DJ MacDonald, entering to preside over “Prayers”.

That brought back one of many colourful anecdotes from DJ’s fascinating official log book where, at Prayers in 1956, he “arraigned” two boys for placing a false advert in this very newspaper, which brought 70 men to the school to apply for a fictitious assistant janitor’s job, carrying the princely salary of £600 a year.

The original parquet flooring remains pristine in this restored capsule of space and time which also accommodated everything from amateur dramatics to staff morning coffee.

At least I think it’s the original parquet, because the other stunning feature of these works is how indistinguishable the new materials and alterations are from what’s 130 years old. I know the place like the back of my hand and even I struggled to decide which door or wooden panelling had been there for over a century and which just for weeks or months.

This building commands an important place in the history of Inverness and, after a period of neglect and uncertainty over its future when it visibly deteriorated, I am delighted to see it making such a stunning comeback.

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