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Nisbet House in 1935 photographed by Robert Chancellor Nesbitt
A drawing of Nisbet House from north west.
Structure at Berrywell, an exact replica of the original Duns Spa
The Nisbet (or Nesbett) family can trace its history back to the time of Gospatrick, Earl of Northumberland in the middle of the eleventh century. In 1139 King David 1 of Scotland granted a Charter in favour of Aldan de Nisbet of the lands of Nisbet on the north bank of the River Blackadder. The Nisbets seem to have built two castles, one at East Nisbet Allanton, now vanished and the present house at West Nisbet.
Initially the property would comprise only the mediaeval peel tower but this was substantially altered in the 1630s by Sir Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk who added a fine new fortified mansion incorporating the peel.
Sir Alexander was a strong supporter of King Charles 1 but suffered heavily for his support of that ill starred monarch, his son Sir Philip Nisbet being executed at Glasgow after being taken at the Battle of Philiphaugh, Captain Robert Nisbet being captured with Montrose and executed at Edinburgh and Major Alexander Nisbet being killed at the Siege of York in 1644. Sir Alexander was forced to sell the property in 1652 to John Ker.
In 1774 a classical square tower of the style of William Adam was added to the west end.
For a full architectural description of the house at it was in 1915 see the website of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
The house remained in the Ker (or Carr) family until 1950 when the estate was sold to Lord Brockett and after some modernisation resold in the 1960s. The property remains in private hands.
Within the grounds were sited the at one time well renowned Duns Spa. The following is an account written by the Rev. Robert Bowmaker in the First Statistical Account of Scotland dated 1791-99;
There are no mineral springs in the Parish (Dunse) but there is one within a few hundred yards of the boundary in the estate of Mrs. Carr of Nisbet in the Parish of Edrom. It is called Dunse Spaw (sic) from its vicinity to the Town being only a mile distant. It was discovered in 1747 and was very much resorted to for several years. Some time ago it was repaired at the expence of a gentleman who was cured of a stomach disorder by the Spaw water. The mineral water is nearly of the same kind with that of Tunbridge, the most celebrated chalybeate water in England. Dunse Spaw according to the analysis of it published by Professor Home at Edinburgh 1761 contains iron, sea salt, a marley earth and fixed air of what is called aerial acid. Like most other chalybeate waters it does not carry well unless the usual methods are practised in transporting the foreign chalybeate waters. Although the water may thus be carried to a great distance without losing its properties in a considerable degree yet it must unquestionably be drunk with greater advantage on the spot. The water is found very salutary in complaints of the stomach, weakness of the intestines, diabetes and a great variety of other disorders. The best months for drinking Dunse Spaw are June, July, August and September when the valetudinarian and persons subject to chronic disorders may by a course of these waters reap every advantage to be procured by any chalybeate water whatever.
The Spa was obviously a considerable attractions to visitors and there seemed to have been those who hoped that with development Duns could come to rival Bath or Wells.
The above analysis by Dr. Francis Home sometime medical practitioner in Duns can be accessed through Duns Library.
One Juniper Carlyle records in 1753 that he twice came for the water and met with the Marchmont family and that the custom was " to meet at breakfast at a small tavern near the bowling green on which the forenoon would be spent "
However in 1840 the then owner of the estate with a view to adding to the appeal of the Spa caused an ashler wall to be built and the surrounding meadow to be drained and in the course of these operations the spring disappeared, subsequent attempts to recover it proving fruitless.
In the Second Statistical Account (1834-45) the Rev George Cunninghame records
"The Dunse Spa analyzed by Dr. Francis Home about the year 1751(quoted as 1761 in the First Statistical Report) at which time it was in much repute is now entirely neglected - having sunk in reputation ever since it was analyzed, its waters having become mixed with the ordinary springs in the neighbourhood are considered as destitute of any efficacy".