A little of the history of Lunna House
Lunna House is a Grade B* (Grade II*) listed
building, designated by the Scottish Office as a building of
outstanding regional importance historically, architecturally, and
archaeologically. The house is built on
the site of a medieval “Haa” (Manor House), which itself was built on
the site of a Viking longhouse, and before the Longhouse there is
evidence of iron-age habitation (there is a ruined Broch
(tower) at the bottom of the hill, from which most of the stones for
the house originated), hence people have lived at Lunna for more than
4,000 years. The house is situated on the
The house originates from 1663, and is a cross-shaped building, with additions, which has grown over the years as successive families have lived in it and extended it. The last major alterations were made to it just over 100 years ago and it now comprises a substantial stone building with magnificent views over the surrounding land and seascape.
The house sits almost exactly on a North-South axis, with four wings (North, East, South and West), and is principally constructed of stone from the ruined broch that lies at the bottom of the hill below the house.
The East wing, which now contains the house kitchen and two upper floors was built in 1660 by Robert Hunter of Lunna. Robert Hunter was the first Lord Chamberlain of Shetland. Successive Hunters of Lunna were important advocates (lawyers) within the Scottish judiciary, and generations of the Hunter family, which eventually became the Bell-Hunter family, lived in the house from 1660 until 1893.
Lunna Kirk at the bottom of the hill from the house is the oldest working kirk in Shetland, is always open, and within it there are many plaques dedicated to generations of the Hunters of Lunna.
Between 1710 and 1750 Lunna House was extended when Thomas Hunter married another laird’s daughter, Griselle Bruce, and the North-South wings were added. A stone plaque on the outside end of the South wing commemorates the marriage of Thomas and Griselle. The additions to the house included two grand rooms in the South wing (what are now the dining room and the library, each of about 50 m2) and further smaller rooms in the North wing on three floors, with a grand staircase for visitors and a back stairs for servants. Two of the bedrooms in the first floor of the North wing are now used for B&B guests.
Thus the house remained for another two hundred years until in 1893 it was sold by the Bell-Hunters to another wealthy laird’s family, the Bruce’s of Sumburgh, who used it as a summer residence as a holiday cottage!
The final wing of the house was added between 1893 and 1910. The West wing provides, on two floors, a further large reception room (again of about 50 m2), now a sitting room, a bathroom and two family bedrooms (These comprise the current “Larsen suite”, used by B&B guests). This was constructed of early cast concrete using small stones and sand from the beaches at east and west Lunna below the house. The walls of the house were “harled” (coated with concrete and small stones) to provide additional weather proofing and to hide the join between the concrete and stone construction of the house at about this time.
When the west wing was added on various other modifications were made to the house, including the addition of a larger front entrance, widening of the South wing, the addition of late-Victorian, then Edwardian features, the installation of some Art Nouveau tiled fireplaces in the smaller rooms, changes to the windows and modifications to the stairwells etc, and the removal of upper rooms in the south wing to allow for the addition of an unusual high vaulted centre to the ceiling in the library.
After 1910 the house was used as a summer residence by
the Bruce family until the Second World War, when in 1940 it was
requisitioned by the newly-formed Special Operations Executive (SOE), a
secret section of the War Department, for use as a
Following the invasion of
After the “Shetland Bus” moved its ship operations to Scalloway, the house continued to be used as a training base for the SOE and was used as a base for testing one-man submarines and for planning and executing raids such as the attempt with one-man submarines to sink the German battleship Turpitz in Norwegian waters. A plaque outside the front door of the house, unveiled by Lief Larsen’s daughter Astrid in 1990 commemorates the role of the house as a WWII Norwegian Resistance base.
Following the Second World War, the house was occupied for a short time and then sadly fell into disrepair and dereliction. It was “rescued” in the early 1960s by an enterprising gardener and his wife, Frank and Ruby Lindsay, who worked tirelessly to restore it to some of its former glory, eventually opening it as a Guest House in the late 1960s.
The Lindsay’s then owned the house until 1997, when – following the death of her husband - Mrs Lindsay finally retired, aged 87 and sold the house to a solicitor and his wife, who used it as a private residence. Now aged nearly 99, Ruby Lindsay is one of our most cherished neighbours, and lives further up the hill towards “Outrabister”.
In May 2001, Tony and Helen Erwood and their son Chris’, who were frequent holiday visitors to Shetland, purchased Lunna House and moved up from their then home in Hampshire to begin a major project of structural and internal restoration and repair, which they expect will continue for at least another ten years. Tony’s parents were both members of the SOE during the war, hence the family understand the importance of the recent history of the house, as well as its longer local historical importance.
Lunna is therefore very important to Tony, Helen and Chris, to the local community, and to countless Norwegian families and former UK SOE families, as a home, as a place for special local occasions, and as a place of pilgrimage for families and friends of Norwegian resistance and SOE members who bravely worked to protect and defend Norway and the UK during WWII.
In the summer, when time allows, in addition to B&B
guests and business visitors (Tony and Helen run their own signal
processing and pharmaceutical regulatory consultancy), the family
welcome many hundreds of occasional visitors to their private home. Lunna House is well known in Norwegian recent
history, but is virtually unknown to
Lunna House and beside it Lunna Farm
as you approach them along the single track road from the
The SOE chose Lunna House as a base during WWII because of its remote location.
Commander Tordasen, Head of
the Royal Norwegian Navy laying a wreath to
Norwegian sailors who died in the “Shetland Bus” operation, June 2003.
(With the house in the background).
[The Norwegian Navy are regular and very welcome visitors to Lunna]
Insignia of one of the
submarine chasers of the “Shetland Bus”
The children of the SOE / resistance leaders
(Brian Mitchell, Astrid Larsen and Stephen Howarth)
Taken during a reception for the Royal Norwegian Navy and the Norwegian Resistance/SOE
on behalf of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society and the Erwood family, at Lunna in 2003
(Reproduced with the kind permission of the Royal Norwegian Navy)