Gunsgreen house looks very much like the type of palatial mansion that would be once built to provide a home to a wealthy merchant. Of course this is the case, but the real reason Gunsgreen House was built was for the purpose of contraband traffic! Built from the wealth of smuggling, this house has so many secrets hidden within its walls, that even today, it is thought that not all of those secrets have been discovered.
The mansion stands on the south side of the harbour in Eyemouth and it completely dominates this little town on the East Berwickshire coast.
Eyemouth became the first town in Scotland on the east coast, back in 1482 when Berwick Upon Tweed became part of England. Scotland had much lower taxes than England until the Act of Union in 1707. Eyemouth was used as a port to export wool from Border Abbeys, it was also ideally placed to bring goods in from the Continent to smuggle to England. Smugglers created underground hiding places and tunnels creating as much underground as above ground which brought about the saying "There is more to Eyemouth than meets the eye".
Taxes in Britain were so high in the 1700s that it was estimated that over 80% of the tea drank in Britain had been smuggled in. Whereas in the Continent a pound of tea would cost 7 pence (3p) in Britain it would cost 5 shillings (25p per pound). Brandy would cost £1 a cask in the Continent but in Britain the cost would be £4 a cask. Tobacco would cost 7 pence (3p) a pound in the Continent and in Britain 2 shillings and 6 pence (12p) a pound. Smuggling could bring in a lot of money. John Nisbit of Eyemouth, a respectable trader by day, but a smuggler at night and smuggling made him rich!
John Nisbit had Gunsgreen House designed and built by one of Scotland's most well known and most expensive architects – John Adam. It was built for Nisbit to live in but more so for it to be used to smuggle. Located right beside the harbour and beach, the secret tunnels they created enabled goods to be brought in unnoticed. Nisbit had a tea chute installed at the top of the building, a pulley was constructed to take the tea upwards towards the roof, the chute then enabled thousands of pounds worth of tea to be safely stored within the walls of the house, secret compartments in walls were then created for access, although the cellars held areas where it could move directly into tea chests.
The house has all kinds of hiding places, tunnels, hidden storage facilities, so high in number that it seems most constructions in the house had a dual purpose for example there is a fireplace which turns round to open up a storage facility. As well as hiding places for goods there were numerous hiding places for men – to prevent them being caught in the act of smuggling.
There is a free visitor car park immediately alongside Gunsgreen House which includes some disabled car parking bays. From the car park you can see what looks to be the whole of this elegant house. However, there is a lot more, in fact visitors are instructed on a notice in the car park to go down some steps to the harbour and to enter the building from the cellars. For disabled visitors there is ramp access straight into the house from the car park level, with a lift inside the house to other floors.
Entrance fees cost £6 adults, £5 concessions, £3.50 for children over 5 and under 16, under 5's admitted free.
Opening times are April – June Thursday to Monday July to November every day. The house opens at 11am and closes at 5pm.
There are hot drinks available to purchase in the Reception area and a gift shop. The lady in Reception not only gave us our entry tickets but a lot of information on the house which was very much appreciated.
The cellars are fascinating they contain excellent displays of all sorts applicable to the smuggling trade and to the house, as well as a wealth of visual and audio information. There are items you can touch, interactive displays, dressing up clothes for children, games for children (involving finding tea). The lighting, smells, audio and visual displays give you a real feeling that you are back in the smuggling era.
Access to the next floor is by stone steps. I have a mobility issue but I did not find these steps to be steep, they are also level with a good surface. There is a handrail alongside the steps. For wheelchair users the building has a wheelchair accessible lift. The next floor contains a mini cinema, showing films about Gunsgreen House, it also houses the kitchen and working area of the house.
The next floor has rooms which John Nisbit used as his living area (from this huge house he only seemed to use four rooms to live in), the remainder being devoted to smuggling activities. . We were met by a guide on this floor who gave us many interesting facts on the house and area as well as showing us some of the many hiding places built into the house and into the walls of the house.
We saw how areas of the wall could be opened, a pipe leading from the tea chute leading to various compartments and storage areas within the walls. The rooms in this part of the house provided beautiful views of the harbour and the sea. Original furniture is housed in the rooms, there were also various costumes and art work to examine, as well as tea chests! We also saw some of the original flamboyant wallpaper favoured by Nisbit, then after his departure from the house a more staid wall paper by the next occupants. These wallpapers have been well preserved under glass but they are still on the wall providing decoration.
The top floors (which it seemed were never used as living quarters) are now used as elegant self catering holiday accommodation. If a guided tour is booked in advance and there are no guests staying in the accommodation the tour can include this area of the house. Nisbit also had a dovecote built near the house, this too is now used as holiday accommodation.
After many cargo seizes and smuggled goods being lost in sea accidents (which of course could not be insured) John Nisbit was declared bankrupt in 1789. His local arch rival Alexander Robertson bought the house at auction and became its new owner. It ceased being a family home in 1881. For a while it became a guest house, (the breakfasting kitchen from the B&B era is shown in the tour). Then it became the clubhouse for Eyemouth Golf Club. Finally it returned to its state of a historic house when the Gunsgreen House Trust took it over in the late 1990's and restored it. Today as well as a fascinating visitor attraction and holiday accommodation it is also a licenced wedding venue.
For those visiting Gunsgreen House who are less mobile it provides.
Handrails beside steps. Ramps for wheelchair access (Ramps also have handrails. Wheelchair accessible lift, lift buttons have raised numbers/letters and verbal announcements. Wheelchair accessible WC. Seating throughout the house for visitors to use.
To reach Gunsgreen House, take the Eyemouth turn off on the A1 north of Berwick Upon Tweed, follow the road, Gunsgreen House is clearly signposted alongside the signposting for Eyemouth. Eyemouth is approx. 9 miles north of Berwick upon Tweed and approx. 49 miles south of Edinburgh.
When you leave Gunsgreen House there is still so much more to do in Eyemouth. Walk over the bridge to the town where there is a variety of cafe's restaurants, shoips and other museums standling alongside quaint fisherman's cottages Walk along the harbour which is often full of colourful boats, or there is the beach to enjoy.
We had a lovely day out and would recommend Gunsgreen House to others.