David Bellany officially opens Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth

THE building, which Professor Alistair Rowan dubbed "the finest merchant house in Georgian Scotland," was officially re-opened last week after £2.4 million was spent on bringing it back to its best.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 31st March 2010, 12:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 31st March 2010, 12:16 pm

Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth was designed by John Adam for local merchant and notorious smuggler John Nisbet in 1752 and after a varied history, which has seen it go from a mansion to a golf clubhouse, it has now been fully restored, meaning the public can see for themselves the fruits of the Gunsgreen House Trust's labour.

Addressing guests, including Berwickshire MSP John Lamont and Convenor of Scottish Borders Council, Alasdair Hutton, at last week's ceremony, Professor Rowan, chair of the trust, said the re-opening "marked the achievement of the trust's aims" and paid tribute to the hard work of his fellow trustees.

Alistair explained that the journey to Gunsgreen being fully restored began back in April 1997, when at a board meeting of the Paxton House Trust, he was approached by Berwickshire architect Allan Swan who asked him to take a look at Gunsgreen House.

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"Allan told me that Gunsgreen was in danger of falling into serious disrepair," Alistair told those assembled.

"I went to visit the building for the first time and immediately noticed that trainee vandals had had a go at the windows and they must have been quite good as they managed to smash ones on the top floor!

"On entering the building, its interior was virtually invisible, covered by chipboard and plaster - there was no historical detail to be seen.

"Hacienda style arches were in most of the rooms and I was shown the downstairs of the house which had latterly been used as ladies and gents locker rooms for the Golf Club.

"Fortunately, the lights weren't working that day so I didn't have the opportunity to experience the full horror!"

Although he was saddened by the state of Gunsgreen, art historian Alistair said he could still see the house had "real quality," and set about putting together an action plan.

The next step was a meeting with Scottish Borders Council, when the idea of applying for a slice of European funding known as Objective 5B was put forward.

This was achieved and a few months later the Gunsgreen House Trust was born. They held their first meeting in May 1998 and Alistair said that the dedication and support of those involved had never waned.

After getting the ball rolling, one of the first jobs of the trust was to get hold of the building's title deeds and Alistair said it was only then that he could appreciate the coloured history of the house he wanted to restore.

He continued: "To find out the whole story we had to go through 109 separate documents. Until then none of us had ever heard of John Nisbet and his links with smuggling, but we slowly began to find out more and more.

"And then there was Mr Stewart who owned the house in the 1780s and the then Minister of Ayton, George Hume, his son and grandchildren who occupied the house from 1803.

"We also found out that at one point the building became part of the estate of the Earl of Home before being sold to John Hogg in 1889. And from there it was bought by one of his tenants, Willie Dougal, whose family ran Gunsgreen as a guest house until 1964."

After convincing Scottish Borders Council, that they were the people for the job, the Gunsgreen House Trust were given a 99 year lease for the building and it's been all go since then.

The kitchen and scullery were restored using the first batch of funding in 2002 and after various stops and starts - due to funding issues and firms going bust - the house is now in a better condition than it's ever been, boasting a Smuggler's Experience in its cellars and holiday accommodation in its upper floors.

Aliatair said the re-opening was "truly a colloborative effort," and as well as paying tribute to his fellow trustees, he also praised the trust's many financial backers; Allan Swan and his team; the local contractors who stepped at a make or break time at the end of 2008 and Gunsgreen administrator Derek Janes who he remarked was now an expert on all things Nisbet!

One person who was singled out for particular praise from Alistair was chairman of the trust's operational management group, Colonel Simon Furness.

"To get Simon on board I offered him a free lunch at Churches and by god he's paid for it since!"

"Whether it's been screwing knobs on latches or sweeping leaves from the back of the house, Simon is 'a doer' and he's been here through thick and thin - he's kept the show on the road."

The job of officially re-opening Gunsgreen House and welcoming in its fourth phase, was handed to Berwickshire born artist John Bellany, who marked the occasion by presenting two paintings, one to the house and one to Alistair himself.

And like many of those gathered at Gunsgreen Quay last week, he told of his strong affinity to not just Gunsgreen, but Eyemouth as a whole.

"My grandmother was born in Gunsgreen and the links have piled up since then," he began.

"The buliding has had a great influence on my life. My mother was working in the house when she met my dad, they married in 1941 and I popped out in 1942.

"I spent the first five years of my life in Eyemouth, it was where my life was formed. And when my family moved to Port Seton, I returned for holidays every summer, Christmas and new year.

"I've kept coming back to this day and I've been painting Eyemouth most of my life - it's an area of astounding beauty.

"It's never out of my heart and whether I'm in America, China or Turkey, Eyemouth is at the forefront of my mind whether it be during a moment of meloncoly or great happiness.

"I'd like to thank the Gunsgreen House Trust for bringing a building, which is not just important to Berwickshire, but the whole of Scotland, into the 21st century."