The Visitor Centre occupies the building that was used for many years by the community as the Village Hall. The hall sits on the site of another previous building which served not only as a public hall but also as a school for educating the families of the fishing community and a Church. The postcard below by early photography enthusiast Robbie Nisbet shows the original public hall above the harbour. You can see on the far right of the postcard that Northfield House has been built, so this photograph must have been taken between about 1892 and 1896.
Andrew Usher (1826 – 1898) was a Victorian magnate of the whisky distilling industry from Edinburgh and he purchased the Northfield estate in 1885. According to historical records Usher found the existing public hall ‘inadequate’ and so generously funded the building of the the local school in 1887 (now the Ebba Centre and Old School Cafe) and the Church in 1892 (closed since 2001). He also funded the extension of the outer harbour wall in 1890 and Northfield House (completed in 1892).
Usher demolished the old public hall and rebuilt the new one between 1896-7. The photograph below taken in 1896 shows the new hall under construction (it has no roof).
The new Village Hall was completed in 1897 and can be seen in the photograph below.
The Village Hall was used for many years by the local community as a venue for music, dancing, sports and social gatherings. The school was closed in 1986 due to low pupil numbers and the now vacant large school hall began to be used more often for social events whilst the Village Hall fell into disrepair.
In 2008 the Village Hall building was put up for sale by the St Abbs Community Trust to part fund the complete redevelopment of the old school building to include an extension, community cafe and audio-visual facilities in the large school hall. The Village Hall was purchased by a private donation and the St Abbs Visitor Centre was established as an independent charity (number SC 042087). After a complete refurbishment the Visitor Centre opened in March 2011 allowing the building to remain open to the public and as a resource for the community to use. The redevelopment of the old school building was completed in May 2012 and reopened with a new name, The Ebba Centre and Old School Cafe.
The photo gallery below shows the transformation of the village hall into a contemporary, modern facility for both visitors and locals to enjoy.
Even though the Visitor Centre is small there is lots to discover and do. Our main exhibition is currently ‘The Voices of St Abbs Past and Present’ is which we hear stories and see photographs of life in the village over the years. Below is one of the ‘voices’ from the exhibition talking about SCUBA diving in the local area. Visit us to hear the whole collection!
In addition to the main exhibition we have an array of marine and nautical artefacts; information about the history of the village, geology and wildlife of the area; a high-powered telescope to view the cliffs and wildlife from the Outlook room; activities for children and a gift shop. We also exhibit photographs, artwork and crafts by local artists. If you would like to exhibit your work at the Visitor Centre, please get in touch.
Our friendly and knowledgeable staff are on hand to provide a warm welcome and answer your questions about the local area. We look forward to welcoming you to St Abbs soon!