Heritage consultant David Hicks brings us the stories behind some of East Lothian’s historic properties.
The Marine Hotel in North Berwick is a reminder of when the town was known as the ‘Biarritz of the North’, a place that attracted the glamorous and the powerful of the day.
The hotel dates to 1875 and was designed by Frederick Thomas Pilkington, a leading Edinburgh architect. He had developed a highly personal style, mixing medieval features with the Gothic revival designs seen in northern Italy. This resulted in some pretty flamboyant buildings, such as Barclay Church in Edinburgh. He was more restrained with the Marine Hotel, but even so, the roofline above the main entrance is a complex mixture of crowsteps, turrets, and fine detailing. Look out for the shell motif which is used around the building.
The building started out as a ‘hydropathic institute’ offering a variety of water treatments, but was soon converted to a hotel and quickly gained a reputation for attracting VIP guests. An advert of the period listed the hotel’s many features, such as lofty and spacious public rooms, commanding views across the Firth of Forth, and baths offering saltwater drawn directly from the sea. A newspaper review from 1880 described it as, “…one of the best hostelries we have ever visited. It is close to the links and contains all that the heart of man could desire, from French cookery to electric bells.” Writing in a medical journal, Dr Wilson noted, “…the sanitary arrangements of the building are perfect.”
One of the most notable residents was Prince Edward Saxe-Weimar, a senior commander in the British army. His patronage attracted many others from his social circle, including field marshalls, politicians, and a visit to the town from King Edward VII. When the famous Lord Kitchener was in residence, HMS Dreadnought en route to Rosyth fired a ten-gun salute over the course, which must have caused some consternation among the other guests.
The combination of royal connections, seaside and golf proved to be a major attraction, and on one day in 1903, it was reported that four MPs, the Speaker of the House of Commons, two bishops and the Prime Minister were all playing golf on the West Links.
The hotel has been extended and changed several times since 1875, but it remains a landmark building for the town and a crucial part of its history.