‘Owner’ is star of show at historic house fair

Yvonne Murphy at Cockenzie House
Yvonne Murphy at Cockenzie House
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SECTIONS of a 17th-century property are to open to the public for the first time – with a guest “appearance” from the building’s original owner.

The public is invited on a rare tour of parts of Cockenzie House this weekend.

John Johnston, of Cockenzie House Heritage Group, will also dress as William Cadell – the Scottish industrialist – who made the building his home.

Mr Johnston said: “When we’ve had events before, they have been in the barn. These new parts of the house have never been on show.

“The house itself has never been used for any community stuff, so this is the first time it’s been opened up.

“Over the years it’s always had a private owner and the community has only been allowed in on certain days.”

This weekend’s Christmas Fair will be held in eight rooms at the front of the house, which have recently been restored to their former glory.

They will play host to an art exhibition with paintings, prints, ceramics and glass craftwork and a cafe.

The building, in Edinburgh Road, has not found a permanent use since it closed as a nursing home in 2008, following concerns from the Care Commission.

It was used for a time as a hostel, and its owner Jim McDonald – who lives in a small part of the building – has now applied for permission to convert it into flats.

But he has admitted his dream would be to see the historic building opened up for community use.

He said: “We tried to run a wee cafe from it and develop some bed and breakfast, but it was such a big property that to pay the council tax crippled it.

“We have an application in for planning permission to turn it into 20 flats and that’s going through at the moment, but I’ve said to the Cockenzie House Heritage Group that they will get first chance if they come up with the funding.

“That would be my preferred option. The community would obviously like it and it’s a 400-year-old house and I don’t really want to divide it up.

“If they can come up with rent that covers my costs, or the money to buy it, they can have it.

“In the meantime, I’m letting them use the house on an ad hoc basis.”

A voluntary association has been established and has secured lottery funding for a feasibility study to work out if a community buy-out would be possible.”

Mr Johnston said: “The idea is to make it into a community hub, so we’d have art space, some space for leisure activities to happen, and also we have to have money coming in so would have serviced accommodation or apartments too – it would be a community business.”