Eyemouth (historically spelt Aymouth) is a small town and parish in Berwickshire, in the Scottish Borders. It is two miles east of the main north-south A1 road and just 8 miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It has a population of circa 3,420 people (2004).
The town's name comes from its location at the mouth of the Eye Water. The Berwickshire coastline consists of high cliffs over deep clear water, with sandy coves and picturesque harbours. A fishing port, Eyemouth celebrates an annual Herring Queen Festival. Notable buildings in the town include Gunsgreen House and a cemetery watch house built to stand guard against the Resurrectionists (body snatchers). Many of the features of a traditional fishing village are preserved in the narrow streets and vennels - giving shelter from the sea and well suited to the smuggling tradition of old.
Eyemouth is not far from the attractive small villages of Ayton, Reston, St. Abbs, Coldingham, and Burnmouth. The coast offers great opportunities for birdwatching, walking, fishing and diving Accommodation includes several hotels, B&Bs, and a high-quality holiday park. The geology of the area exposes the evidence of folding that led James Hutton to announce that the surface of the earth had changed dramatically over the ages.
The new 18 hole golf course and Club House have spectacular sea views. The wide bay is flanked by high cliffs and the sea washes the long sandy beach every day. The water quality is tested regularly. Despite being sheltered by the Hurkur Rocks, storms can generate awesome waves and throw high plumes of spume into the air over the sea wall, named "The Bantry" said to be in affectionate memory of the Irish labourers, from the fishing town of that name in County Cork, who constructed it.
Eyemouth houses the 'World of Boats", a remarkable collection of almost 400 boats and 300 models from across the world and from many periods. Most prominent is the 1834 Steam powered puddled iron Drag Dredger, 'Bertha', by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which is undergoing restoration at the head of the Old Harbour. It is intended that the harbour side should be the home of many of boats in the collection.
In 1997, Eyemouth was given EU funding from a scheme to regenerate declining fishing villages and raised matching funds itself to construct a deep water extension to the Harbour. Eyemouth Harbour caters for most types of fishery activity and as a result Eyemouth's primary industry has seen a certain amount of rejuvenation. A pontoon has been installed in the harbour to provide ease of boarding for seafarers. This has attracted an increasing number of pleasure craft. Walks round the harbour never fail to interest. This is a real working fishing port and the scene is constantly changing. The Coastguard volunteers and the seagoing RNLI lifeboat are called out by the firing of maroons, one for the Coastguard and two for the Lifeboat.
There is also a substantial shipyard that not only services local vessels but constructs new boats as well. The new Harbour and Fish Market has toilets and showers which are available to visiting seamen - contact the Eyemouth Harbour Harbourmaster The Visitor Centre there explains the methods of fishing, the types of nets and the vessels used and examples of the equipment of a typical fishing boat are displayed. Visitors can see the market in action in the early mornings from a viewing platform. In the Harbour, boats are available for hire for sea fishing, sightseeing and diving in one of the few Marine Reserves in UK. Diving instruction and equipment are available locally*.
Improvements to the Great North Road, the 'A1 road', the main Edinburgh - London route, have put the town within easy commuting distance of Edinburgh. The East Coast Main Line railway station at Berwick-upon-Tweed, only 6 miles distant, has been upgraded and there are regular high speed services north to Edinburgh and south to Newcastle and stations to London. Not only has Eyemouth broadband access to the internet that so enables home working, it is to be one of the first to be converted to receive digital TV services. Edinburgh International Airport can be reached by car in just over an hour providing opportunities for international trade. The Port of Leith, easily accessible, opens the way to the Continent by passenger and cargo vessels.
New, quality, housing development is taking place (including a proportion of affordable housing. The Swimming Pool/Leisure Centre has been refurbished and a new Secondary School is planned to be completed in 2008. Pupils at Eyemouth High School receive an excellent start in life and are renowned for their commitment. There is a regular High School Drop in Clinic that provides help and advice on all kinds of issues encountered by young people.
There is a further education training centre in the town and several firms offer modern apprenticeships. Northumberland College in Berwick-upon-Tweed is only eight miles away and full-time further and higher education courses are offered at The Borders College and Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels. Edinburgh, now easily accessible by the much improved Great North Road, offers peerless educational opportunities.
There are a large number of social activities, not least being a very active U3A (University of the Third Age) that offers a very wide range of activities to those over 60 not in full time employment. There are also a number of church and social clubs including the Arts and Literary Society, Rotary International and Probus. The Medical Practice provides family doctor based primary care and a Day Hospital that provides personal care and treatment during the day allowing patients to return home at night. There is also a nursing home at nearby Ayton.
All the crafts and trades associated with the fishing industry are present in the town, from net making to ship building and repair. There are smoke houses that prepare fish in the traditional fashion. There is such a variety of fish that one fish merchant boasts "If it swims, we sell it"!
The town is served by a Post Office and Postal Sorting Office, a Library and Historical Museum, General Store, Ice Cream Parlour, hotels, and bed and breakfasts, art galleries, garages and service stations, a supermarket and such a wide variety of shops that almost every possible need can be met locally. Award winning catering establishments offer the Fruits of the Sea among their varied menus. The elected Town Council led by the Hon. Provost and the Chamber of Trade are very active in generating and sustaining the vibrancy of the community spirit. The town sends two Councillors to the Scottish Borders Council. In addition the Eyemouth Town Council (a Scottish Community Council), which also has elected councillors, meets regularly, the proceedings being reported in the Berwickshire News.
These include the fortifications of Berwick-upon-Tweed and its military museum, Paxton House, the Union Bridge (Tweed) and the Chain Bridge Honey Farm and scores of quiet country roads skirting the Cheviot Hills, frequently snow-capped in winter. Many visitors pause on their journey on the A1 to photograph their arrival in Scotland or their departure to England at the Border Crossing. Though the Border has significance to many visitors, most local people think of themselves as 'Borderers' rather than as Scots or English. Nearby the Border is a nature trail through the mysteriously named 'Conundrum' Farm. Typical Border towns and villages, such as Kelso, Melrose, Earlston, Grantshouse, Abbey St Bathans, Cockburnspath (pronounced 'coburnspath' or 'copath' by locals), Cornhill, Wooler, Morpeth, Alnmouth and Alnwick are all within easy reach for day trips from Eyemouth. Near Chirnside is Ninewells where David Hume, whom many regard as foremost among the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, if not the greatest of all time, spent much of his life.
Eyemouth fell within the feudal barony of Coldingham, possessed until the early 17th century by Coldingham Priory, after which it passed to the Home family, who had held lands in that barony since at least the 15th century . All landowners (portioners) within the barony held their properties either by hereditary feu or by term renewable, occasionally hereditary, Tack (Scottish word for a lease) from the barony.
The lands between the southern banks of the Eye Water consisted of three estates: Gunsgreen, immediately opposite Eyemouth, and Netherbyres, once part of the larger lands of Flemington which stretched all the way to Lamberton. At the beginning of the 17th century Gunsgreen estate was possessed by Alexander Lauder of Gunsgreen , a great-great-grandson of Sir Robert Lauder of The Bass (d.1508). On January 17, 1629, Alexander Lauder of Gunsgreen, acting as bailie for Sir David Home of Wedderburn, gave a sasine to Andrew Gray in Eyemouth, of some land on the boundaries of Houndlaw and also in Eyemouth .
Netherbyres was for at least 250 years held by the Craw (originally Auchincraw) family. "George Craw of Netherbyre" was "deceased" by July 1614 when his son William came into possession of that property and Reidhall, "with the walk mill" extending to 12 husbandlands (312 acres). A later William Craw (d.1750) built the first 'modern' harbour at Eyemouth and the elliptical walled garden at the Netherbyres House we see today, which was commenced about 1835 for a later owner, Captain Sir Samuel Brown, R.N., who had the patent and monopoly for the supply of anchor chain to the Royal Navy. He later went on to design and patent chain suspension piers and bridges, including the Union Bridge over the River Tweed , still in use today. Netherbyres House was established circa 1991 as a retirement home for professional gardeners by the last private owner, Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Furness, a Depute-Lieutenant for Berwickshire, who retained a bungalow attached to the famous walled garden.
The life of the historical hero of the town, William Spears (1812 - 1885), is celebrated by the dramatic bronze statue in Eyemouth Market Place, where he stands pointing the way to Ayton, the scene of his peaceful demonstration. At great personal risk, Spears led a revolt against the tithes on fish levied by the Church of Scotland, even after the great Disruption of 1843 when most fishermen left the established Church to join other congregations.
Very soon after the cost of getting the tithes removed had been met, the town was struck by the Eyemouth Disaster when on the 14th October 1881 most of the fishing fleet, some 20 boats and 129 men from the town were lost in a terrible storm. Including victims from other coastal towns, a total of 189 men lost their lives. This is commemorated in the Tapestry housed in the Museum.
A contemporary article offers an interesting insight into Eyemouth in the 1860's:
"Between Abbs Head and Berwick, however is situated Eyemouth, a fishing-village pure and simple, with all that wonderful filth scattered about which is a sanitary peculiarity of such towns.
The population of Eyemouth is in keeping with the outward appearance of the place. As a whole, they are rough, uncultivated, and more druken in their habits than the fishermen of the neighbouring villages. Coldingham Shore, for instance, is only three miles distant, and has a population of about one hundred fishermen, of a very respectable class, sober and well dressed, and "well to do." - The Fisher Folk of the Scottish East Coast, "Macmillian's Magazine" No.36 October 1862.
In the late eighteenth century with the arrival of a group of Dutch engineers in the town a survey was undertook for a canal linking Eyemouth to Duns. The plan would have involved damming the Whiteadder river at Chirnside thus diverting the course of the Whiteadder river through the low lying area know as Billiemire to join the Eye river near Ayton. The plan was never carried out.
Peter Aitchison, Children of the Sea: The Story of the People of Eyemouth, Tuckwell Press Ltd, 2001. (The author is a descendent of William Spears.)