At the recent Monthly Meeting on Tuesday 8th January, Duns and District U3A welcomed around 40 people to enjoy a talk from Derek Janes on the topic of – “A Splendid Palace – built by a tea smuggler”
Derek led the project to restore the imposing mansion, Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth, which dominates the harbour area and has a colourful and interesting history.
Built in 1753 by John Nisbet, and designed by John Adam the architecture includes secret hiding places where smuggled goods were kept. John Nisbet, a local merchant was a well-connected smuggler and had the house specially adapted for his illegal trade in contraband. Large cellars with direct links to the sea could accommodate the deliveries of tobacco, brandy and tea from overseas which could then be transported to customers throughout the country. Tea was a particularly prized commodity and Nisbet was able to source high quality tea, which was taxed at 119% and it was the trade in this that made him a wealthy man.
The unique ‘tea chute’ can still be seen in the house and there is a store room where the tea crates could be held awaiting distribution. Although the trade was illegal, it was not an entirely secret operation and many important people were involved and benefited from smuggling.
Unfortunately, John Nisbet was made bankrupt by a rival merchant, Alexander Robertson, who managed to acquire the house and it was passed through the
Robertson and other families before becoming a guest house and later the Eyemouth Golf Clubhouse.
By the late 1990s this ‘splendid palace’ stood almost abandoned and in a sad state of disrepair until it was rescued by The Gunsgreen House Trust. The house is now restored, and its wonderful features and grandeur can be enjoyed by the many visitors it attracts to hear and experience the remarkable story it holds.
Join us next month to hear Eric Branse-Instone speaking on Historic Buildings.
Tuesday 12th February, 10:00 am for a 10:30 start, Volunteer Hall, Duns.