The house was designed by an Edinburgh architect David Bryce and built by Peter Brown of Aberlady in 1861 as a holiday home for Isabella and Barbara Keiller from Dundee. This was in North Berwick’s hay-day, when it was often referred to as the ‘Biarritz of the North’ when the town was becoming a popular pleasure resort for summer holidaymakers, owing much of this success to the appendage of the railway coming from Edinburgh. The Victorian style house sits between the East bay and what was then the town common and is now a recreational area with tennis courts and putting green.
The house has a North Sea site with the prevailing winds in the West to South, West sector, the climate of North Berwick is one of the driest and sunniest in Scotland. Local resources were an important factor in the design and construction of the house. The walls of the house itself are built from a local material ‘Law Stone’, which is volcanic rock (a red porphyry stone) from the quarry at the volcanic plug-North Berwick Law. The walls are load bearing solid stonewalls measuring about 630mm thick. Scottish grey slate covers the exterior of the roof another example of the use of local materials, most of the original roof of the property still exists some 155 years after construction.
It has been difficult to find documentation about when the house was separated from the main building but appears that it was always the original owners intention for The Wing to be a separate property as it was given a separate street number in the plans, but this separation never appears to come to fruition during their ownership of the house. The house as a whole entity as well as separate properties has had a number of different roles. It was for a time a boys boarding school sometime in the early part of the twentieth century. It was also a hotel around 1946 called Sea Bank House Hotel, when around this time almost all of the properties along the seafront were some form of lodgings for holidaymakers. In the 1950’s the house was separated off and used as a residential home before becoming a bed and breakfast when bought in 1977. This still remains its function almost forty years on, constantly changing internally as fashions and functions have determined.
Throughout its varied history the actual exterior of the house has hardly changed and all the original Victorian double-hung sash window frames are still in place, this is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future as the whole of North Berwick’s seafront is within a conservation area and has seen little change over the last hundred years. The purpose of the conservation area was to stop inappropriate alterations being made to the Victorian style seafront. The interior of the building however has seen many changes both in layout and decor as it adapted to its current function and to modern living. Out of the seven original fireplaces only four now remain. The house was originally built with room bells but they have all been removed barring two, although even these are no longer in working order. At the rear of the house the small kitchen and sitting room have been converted into one large modern kitchen to supply breakfast for the guests and a single storey extension with a pitched roof covered in slate to match the roof of the main house has been added. Fortunately all of the four panelled pine doors are still in place and have been stripped back to natural wood and waxed to resemble their original appearance.
All the original shutters are still in place and are in working order, and many of the panes of glass are still the originals with tell-tail faults and optical distortions. The sash windows are also all in working order, the sashes slide vertically, and are counterbalanced by weights hung on flax cords. One of the most distinctive features of the house that remains is the ornate stairway. The stair rails are made form cast iron and take on quite a formal and symmetrical design while still expressing organic qualities. The rails are made fairly slender which was in keeping with the general tendency towards narrower rails at the time the house was built.
The form of the different buildings on the road is very diverse, this variety of forms demonstrates that it is not the site, climate or materials that solely determines the design and that personal aesthetic feelings and a desire to communicate status were also at play.