Norway House

Norge Hus was the social hub for Norwegians in Dumfries and the original headquarters of the Scottish Norwegian Society, it also housed workshops and stores for the Army. Until 1940 the building at Church Place had been Oughton’s Restaurant, but after it went out of business the Commercial Bank of Scotland’s General Manager J.M. Erskine offered its use to the Norwegians for a canteen and recreational facilities.[1]

Major Olaus Myrseth, a SNS founding member who served as Quartermaster for Norge Hus, ensured the Society’s office and clubrooms could be accomodated in the building.[2] As Erik Aanensen recounts:

“Norway House rapidly became an institution in town which offered a true homely Norwegian atmosphere especially for the Norwegian soldiers. In the neat bright rooms you would find a canteen – light and bright, that is after Ola Nordmann had been around with brush and paint. And here you could get a good coffee for a decent price served with good Norwegian homemade cookies, pancakes, and waffles or open sandwiches, served by Norwegian women in bunad – the Norwegian folk costume… Besides the canteen, there were workshops in Norway House where the Norwegian soldiers could practice all kind of crafts. There was a shoemaker, a wood workshop, a sewing workshop a sail maker, and a smithy. The uniforms, the footwear and other equipment mere repaired here and the surrounding barracks and other buildings were taken care of by carpenters, smiths and painters from Norway House.”[3]

Alongside its many uses for Norwegians based in Dumfries an important function of Norge Hus was as a focal point for cultural exchange between Norwegians and locals, or as stated in the SNS constitution, “To promote friendship, and to further cultural and commercial relations between the Scottish-Norwegian peoples.”[4] This is perhaps best reflected in Aanensen’s recollection of the 1942 Norwegian exhibition, with displays about aspects of life such as whaling, ice cutting, clothing and Arctic conditions. This attracted thousands of visitors, including school groups, and he recalls how “the local newspaper wrote a whole page about it and said that it signified the extraordinary relationship the Norwegians had with Dumfries that the Norwegian government made it the first place for the exhibition to be shown in Scotland after it visited London and the bigger cities in England.”[5]

Special events such as this were complimented by a regular programme of “Lectures, Concerts, Film Shows and Whist Drives”, according to SNS Chairman Rev Cockburn of St Michael’s Church in his 1943 Annual Report.[6] He goes on to describe Norwegian language classes at Norge Hus for Scottish members of the SNS, “under the direction of Lieutenant Reinholt, assisted by Lieut. Aasen and Sergeant Børresen. Some 40 members took advantage of this service. The number of Scots possessing more than a smattering of the Norwegian language is quite considerable.”[7] These lessons continued until 1945, the popularity of learning Norwegian in Dumfries enduring throughout the war years.[8]

A glimpse of women’s involvement in both social activities and the war effort at Norge Hus is afford by Cockburn’s mention of “a Knitting Circle among the lady members. These ladies, both Scottish and Norwegian, collaborated and set to work on the production of a large number of pairs of woollen gloves for use in the Norwegian Military Forces, whose generous thanks for the articles are conveyed to all who participated.”[9] One very appreciative soldier was Arnlijor Kristiansen, who joined the Norwegian Army at Dumfries in 1940 and married local lass Mary ‘Nellie’ Farquhar at a ceremony actually held in Norway House![10]

Kristian Jahr emphasised that although it was the Norwegians’ own place, Norge Hus was by no means the singular centre of their social lives: “One would have thought that this ‘club room’ would have been a great success. It was of course to a certain extent and did fulfil a need, but the Norwegians in Dumfries did not form groups or cliques which so often happens when nationals of one country live in another country. They spread themselves all over the town and very soon had their own favourite pubs, shops and friends.”[11]

[1] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.4

[2] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.4

[3] Erik Aanensen, Når vi kommer inn fra havet: historien om Den Norske Brigade i Skottland 1940-1945 (Oslo: Dreyer, 1974), p.72

[4] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.3

[5] Erik Aanensen, Når vi kommer inn fra havet: historien om Den Norske Brigade i Skottland 1940-1945 (Oslo: Dreyer, 1974), p.73

[6] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.4

[7] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5

[8] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.17

[9] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5

[10] Future Museum, ‘The Norwegian Connection: Documents relating to Burns societies’ [accessed 18.2.2017] <>

[11] Kristian Jahr, ‘Dumfries and Norway’ (1962), p.4 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

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