One of the most important porcelain manufacturers in China, the Shanghai-based Hanguan Company, is to locate the base for its European operations in the Scottish Border region in the town of Greenlaw, in an iconic Grade A Listed Building.
Amongst its many activities the company, which is run my Master Ceramicist and Professor of Ceramics at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Li Youyu, produces some of the finest ceramics in the whole of China, which is borne out by the fact that it is used by the government of China to create the official gifts given out to foreign dignitaries. Many world leaders, including those of the UK and USA, have received wares crafted by Hanguan.
In the entrance hall of the building the bust of Sir Archibald Campbell, the original patron, looks down this week on the new investors. Left to right: Ms Huang Ping, Professor Master Li Youyu and Sulee Harris, Photo Paul Harris
At 11 am on Wednesday May 31, Scottish Borders company Coldingham Investments Ltd (controlled by Coldingham man Paul Harris and his Chinese wife, Sulee) bought the massive Grade A listed building Greenlaw Town Hall from The Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust. SHBT finished a £1.95m. restoration of the building in 2011, at which time it was re-opened by HRH Prince Charles.
The Coldingham-based company will continue to own the building and, although equity is being bought by the Chinese, the present ownership will retain a ‘significant’ shareholding in the new operation. The Coldingham duo Paul and Sulee recently launched Coldingham Borders Auctions, operate half a dozen websites selling Far Eastern art internationally, and have The Coldingham Gallery in the High Street and which was founded more than six years ago.
Paul Harris told the news website chineseart.co.uk , part of the Coldingham group of businesses, last night that he and his wife used to live and work in Shanghai. ‘We have a large network of contacts in China and we are delighted to be able to bring an important Chinese company to the Scottish Borders. We shared images of Greenlaw Town Hall when it came available for sale with Mr Li Youyu, principal figure in the Hanguang Company. He is primarily an artist with vision – not just a businessman – and, even from faraway in China, he was immediately struck by the amazing beauty of the building that is Greenlaw Town Hall.
‘The building won’t just be a collection of offices but the vast public hall will house an exhibition and museum area telling the story of Chinese porcelain – a product which was entirely the invention of the Chinese. The building will be open to the public and Mr Youyu aims to promote direct personal relations between Chinese and Scottish ceramicists through practical sessions, conferences and social events. There will be practical displays showing the creation of porcelain.’
Greenlaw Town Hall, built in 1831 as The County Hall of Berwickshire by local architect John Cunningham, is one of Scotland’s outstanding Greek Revival neo-classical buildings and its vast dome and pillared portico dominate the junction of two main roads through the Scottish Borders at Greenlaw. The building consists of a vast hall and two pavilions (wings) containing offices. In recent years The Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust has spent just under £2m. renovating what was then the derelict building in a high profile restoration. Until now, though, a sympathetic new owner has not been found.
‘We are hopeful that the proposed use of Greenlaw Town Hall will help to build the local economy and bring tourists to the area, including many Chinese. The development may also encourage other Chinese businesses we are in touch with to come to the Scottish Borders,’ said Sulee Harris last night. Sulee, using her Chinese name Sun Yumei, is today listed at Companies House as a director of Coldingham Investments Ltd along with Ms Huang Ping who, it is understood, represents the interests of the Hanguang Company.
It is understood that Coldingham Investments Ltd is in active discussions with architectural advisers. A spokesman for the company said there will be an impact on local employment ‘but it is a little early to be specific’.
The iconic portico of Gfreenlaw Town Hall. Photo courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust