Cockenzie House is a long, plain but attractive mansion, dating from the 17th century and long held by the Cadell family, in beautiful gardens with a cafe, bakery and gift shops, in the picturesque seaside town of Cockenzie and Port Seton, on the banks of the Firth of Forth in East Lothian, a few miles east of Edinburgh in south-east Scotland.
Lothians: About 1.5 miles north-east of Prestonpans, on B1348 (22 Edinburgh Road), west end of High Street, Cockenzie and Port Seton, at Cockenzie House.
NT 400757 OS: 66 EH32 0HY
OPEN: Open to the public most days. Shops and tearoom. Studios / work spaces to rent. Craft workshops. Holiday accommodation available. Weddings and events.
Tel: 01875 819456
Waggonway project: www.1722waggonway.co.uk
Standing in four acres of gardens and wooded grounds, near to the sea in the attractive villages of Cockenzie and Port Seton, Cockenzie House, a long dour and plain edifice rising to two storeys with an attic and basement, dates from the late 17th century with later additions and remodelling.
Some of the rooms in the atmospheric main house have wood panelling, and the one chamber running through the width of the house, the William Cadell or piano room, has an oriel window looking out over the Forth.
The much altered wing to the west and at right angles to the house, used as a warehouse, was known as the Great Custom or Hanseatic Warehouse or Barn, but it was damaged by fire in the 1970s and has been much rebuilt.
The fine gardens, covering four acres with flower beds, fruit trees, a pond and allotments, within the walled grounds, include a vaulted gothic grotto folly with a shell-decorated interior and two conical but ruinous gazebos, known as the Claret Towers.
The place is marked as ‘Cokeny haven’ on Blaeu’s map of The Lothians, then as ‘Cokeny’ on Adair’s map of East Lothian. The name is from the ‘cove of Kenneth’ or ‘Covekenny’.
The Setons owned the property from the 12th century (see Seton Castle). Robert Seton, Lord Seton, had a ratification of 1592 granting the erection of the harbour at Cockenzie in a free harbour, and of the erection of the town of Cockenzie into a free burgh of barony. They built a new harbour at Port Seton in the 17th century.
The house was held by the Seton Earls of Winton, and may have been built by George Seton, 4th Earl of Winton, in the 1680s when constructing the new harbour at Port Seton (more info), possibly for, or then used by, the manager of the salt pans and harbour.
The Setons were forfeited for their part in the 1715 Jacobite Rising, and their vast estates, which included Cockenzie, Port Seton, Seton, Tranent and Winton, were sold to the York Building Company for £50,300. Sir John Cope and the Hanoverian army’s wagon train, with many valuables, was left at Cockenzie House and seized by Jacobites after the the government forces were defeated at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.
The Setons’ former estates were broken up, and Cockenzie was leased to and then sold in the later 18th century to the Cadell family, merchants from Haddington. The Cadells worked coal mines and salt pans, as well as owning the waggon way, and became wealthy industrialists, being involved in the Carron Iron Works. Robert Cadell, 5th son of then then laird and born at Cockenzie, (re)published many of Sir Walter Scott's works, including Waverley, became very rich, and died at Cockenzie in 1860. It is thought that both J M W Turner and Sir Walter Scott visited the house. Cadell was the publisher of Scott’s Provincial Antiquities of Scotland, a work that was illustrated by Turner.
Others of the family were military men and were at the Battle of Waterloo, in the Crimean War, and in the Indian Mutiny, when Thomas Cadell won a Victoria Cross.
The family owned the house into the 20th century, although it was latterly occupied by tenants.
The Coal Gin is the remains of a waggonway from the harbour at Cockenzie to former coal mines at Tranent, possibly the earliest railway in Scotland and dating from 1722 (www.1722waggonway.co.uk).
The house was used as an orphanage during World War II, then later as a college for overseas students and as a private nursing home, but has been renovated and now houses offices, studio space, businesses, gift shops, and a cafe, and the main house provides an atmospheric backdrop to various types of functions and exhibitions.
The house and most of the grounds are rented by the Cockenzie House and Gardens Trust from the current owners, and in November 2017 the trust was awarded £628,800 to secure the property’s future, although they need to raise a further 5%, (at least) a further £68,000.
The Cadells have a burial asile at Tranent Parish Church [NT 403739], in a 16th-century building, now ruinous. Set in a pretty wooded location, the church dates from the end of the 18th century on an ancient site, and in the burial ground are a large number of fine carved tombstones, dating from the late 17th century.
Cockenzie House is said to be haunted. One story is that the ghosts of children have been witnessed in the attic, perhaps linked to the spirit of a servant or maid on the lower floors, another that the bogle of an old woman haunts one of the rooms and the corridor of the ground floor of the Hanseatic Barn.
There were plans to build a care home in part of the walled and wooded grounds, despite objections by many including Historic Environment Scotland, although these may be halted because of the grant from the Scottish Land Fund.