Eyemouth Museum to be given a new lease of life

The architect's sketch drawing of the new plans for Eyemouth Museum
The architect's sketch drawing of the new plans for Eyemouth Museum

Eyemouth Museum’s trustees have ambitious plans to move it forward into a broader and even more attractive asset to the town, including a complete redesign.

These plans include a redesign of the interior and a glass fronted extension onto Kirk Square and have been submitted to Scottish Borders Council for planning permission.

The general feeling amongst the trustees is that the first generation of the museum’s life is nearing an end and that improvements are needed if the building is to continue to deliver and improve the social, educational and economic contributions it makes to the community.

Eyemouth Museum was established in the Auld Kirk, in part to commemorate the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster - ‘Black Friday’ - of 1881 when 189 fishermen from Eyemouth and neighbouring coastal villages lost their lives, some within sight of the helpless watching towns folk, in a storm of catastrophically sudden violence.

Naturally the disaster has tended to eclipse the town’s previous history and heritage but working with Gunsgreen House, where the town’s 18th and 19th century smuggling heritage has been revealed, the museum trustees are looking to break new ground and give a wider and more optimistic historical perspective for visitors and townsfolk.

Its latest addition is an interactive interpretation of the extraordinary revelations by St Andrew’s University of the mid 1550’s military fort on Fort Point which was fleetingly, until destroyed by international treaty, the equal of or even superior to the fortified Elizabethan Walls of Berwick upon Tweed.

Eyemouth Museum Trust chairman Bill Stewart

Eyemouth Museum Trust chairman Bill Stewart

The museum now has a growing genealogy section and the trustees recognise that there is a rise in interest in the history and heritage of the town beyond the 1881 fishing disaster. The trustees want to expand the museum to reflect this and the identity and pride in the town.

Eyemouth Museum Trust chairman Bill Stewart said: “It is now almost 35 years since Eyemouth Museum was created and the trustees have for some time been aware that in order to be prepared for the future there were a number of issues that we needed to address.

“1 The entrance had to be more attractive.

“2 The display area had to be increased to allow more of our artefacts to be displayed.

The museum has hosted exhibitions such as 'The Pickit Men' installation by Emma McKenzie - 129 figures and vessels in memory of the fishermen who lost their lives to the sea during the 1881 storm

The museum has hosted exhibitions such as 'The Pickit Men' installation by Emma McKenzie - 129 figures and vessels in memory of the fishermen who lost their lives to the sea during the 1881 storm

“3 The building had to be more sustainable.

“4 The footfall through the museum had to be increased.

“To achieve this goal a feasibility study was commissioned with the aid of funding from the European Fisheries Fund and now that this has been received we need to be confident that the proposals will be acceptable to the planning authority.

“In tandem with the planning process we are looking into funding for the whole of this exciting development which will put the museum where it belongs, firmly at the hub of Eyemouth’s developing tourism industry.”

Local architects Bain, Swan Architects have worked on the redesign of the museum interior and an extension facing Kirk Square.

The extension, with its fully glazed ground floor will create a far more dramatic and clear entrance to the museum and tourist information centre thereby attracting more visitors and enhancing the museum’s viability.

The architects saw the key design challenge as being its lack of transparency from the outside and their plans are “recognition that change is necessary if the Auld Kirk is to have a sustainable future, to manage this change as effectively as possible to retain the dignity and spirit of Alexander Gilkie’s west frontage and its contribution to the Eyemouth townscape”.

As well as improving the frontage of the museum the trustees also recognise that: more space is needed to display and interpret an ever expanding range of exhibits; additional support space is needed (storage, an office, and toilets); flexible space is needed for temporary exhibitions, meetings, educational purposes to enhance the museum’s outreach activities within the community; more retail space would enhance the museum’s offer to visitors and local residents and provide additional income; and full DDA compliance is required including a lift to make the building accessible to all.

A new environmentally sustainable heating system, combined with substantial new thermal insulation to walls, floors and roof will make it possible to heat the building in winter making it possible to open for periods out of season increasing its contribution to the town and its economic sustainability.

In the supporting statement submitted with the planning application it states: “In the absence of a meaningful Visit Scotland presence in Eyemouth, let alone in the eastern Borders, the responsibility for encouraging tourism and providing visitor information falls on local agencies – none more so than the museum trust who have now run a local service without financial support for the benefit of the town and local area for over two years.

“Its location close to the town’s fishing harbour, a natural visitor focus for the whole of the eastern Borders and an improved museum would be an important wet weather attraction and would provide enhanced visitor services to the growing number of divers, sea anglers, coastal walkers, and bird watchers who visit the Berwickshire coast.”