Exploring the wartime remains of the Gosford House estate
Preston Lodge High School has been exploring the grand house and estate of Gosford House in Longniddry as part of their English lessons. Inspired (!) by a walk given by the Archaeology Service last summer and her experience on the Prestongrange Community Archaeology Project, teacher Louise Marr asked us to give an archaeology walk around Gosford House. The classes were studying ‘The Machine Gunners’ and wanted to explore a similar wartime landscape to bring the book to life!
We entered the grounds though the fabulous West Gateway, which became the main entrance after the arrival of the railway so visitors to the house could be driven up in style. We followed the main road to the main house up to the ha-ha. In the 1800s this area would have been woodland with wild pigs, although we didn’t spot any of the wild boar which have recently been introduced! Nissen huts were located in the fields to the right of the path during the second world war – these can be seen on aerial photographs taken of the area. Polish units were housed here and helped to construct many of the defences along the coast. After World War II the huts were used for seaside holiday accommodation and one of the people on the original archaeology walk remembered staying there for a Scout camp in the 1950’s!
There was a Prisoner of War camp located around the main house, which can also be seen on the photo above. Gosford became a hotel between the two World Wars and was requisitioned by the government for military use in 1939. A large military camp was built in the park, which was used the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. The house was used as an Officer’s mess and one part was accidently burnt down in 1940 during a party! Along the coast are more military remains – including the anti-tank blocks along the coast and the remains of a spigot mortar mounting, which was so hidden among the vegetation we couldn’t find it! The aerial photographs also show the remains of some wartime buildings where the car park is today.
The landscaped estate follows the late English Landscape style – informal with incidental natural and artificial features. The designed landscape is shown on a plan from 1799. The grounds include an Icehouse, Curling House, Boat House, Game Larders, Mausoleum, Stables and Walled Garden. As one of the pupils pointed out it has many similarities to the Newhailes Estate and was designed along similar lines. The Icehouse was designed as a grotto to blend in with rest of the ‘natural’, but designed landscape. The walls are decorated with pebbles – compare this with the Shell Grotto at Newhailes.
The school are continuing their work on the estate with a Media Project on wartime memories, which has involved them talking to local people and they will be filming on the estate. Andy Robertson of the Archaeology Service will be meeting the pupils at Gosford again this week to show them where the camps were and help with the filming. We look forward to the finished result!