You can drive down Abbotsford Road in North Berwick and not even know it’s there. Carlekemp, a magnificent pile of mellow Rattlebags stone, hides in its four acres behind a high wall that retains the grandeur intended when it was first built. The name derives from the Celtic for the “crooked knoll” on which it stands, predating both the house and the 178-yard par 3 Hole 4 of the golf course it overlooks.
In the Victorian industrial boom, James Craig had amassed a fortune from his paper mills along the Esk around Penicuik. In the fashion of the time, a prosperous, high-profile family such as his needed a summer residence in a fashionable resort. In 1898, he commissioned Edinburgh architect John Kinross, RSA to provide him with a suitable 2-storey Cotswold Elizabethan style manor house on land between the recently completed Abbotsford Road and North Berwick’s West Links.
Kinross crafted an iconic Elizabethan Cotswold beauty but lost out to Lorimer to construct the almost-as-impressive mansions in similar style and stone for Craig’s brother Robert (Bunkershill in 1904) and with Peddie for Westerdunes (1910). Although its exterior and setting remain unspoilt the real gem of Carlekemp is the interior of the western third of the building—sometimes called Flat 1. This is actually the historic main portion of the original house. Superbly panelled in oriental teak and mahogany by Scott Morton and Company, Edinburgh, the galleried hall boasts Jacobean details and oriel over doorway, as well as strapwork and ornate plasterwork throughout.
Even a glance inside provides a flavour of how well those Edwardian magnates lived—especially considering this was merely their summer residence. Credit both to their taste for having built it but also to those who have preserved its graceful dignity down the years. In 1971, it was given Grade A Listed Building status. But, as elsewhere, large houses became progressively more difficult to keep and in 1945, Carlekemp was converted into a Priory Prep School under the supervision of the Friars from Fort Augustus Abbey. Father Oswald Eaves and his staff dressed in traditional brown habits taught well known pupils including the Duke of Hamilton, Earl of Haddington, George Hope of Luffness and Ludovic Broun-Lindsay (present Provost of East Lothian). The Priory School itself received unfavourable press last year about abuse of its pupils but its Prep School had closed in 1977 when the building was converted into apartments.
First published in the East Lothian Courier, March 2014