Thomas Knox Anderson (1927) – Dunbar 1930s-date late 1940s


L to R: Kenneth Low, Ronald McKenzie, Tom Anderson, 1950s

Born in 1927, my lifetime has seen the growth of Dunbar from a town on the headland to a sprawl spreading west south and east. As a youngster I played in the Parsons Pool field where my father and uncle kept their pigeon lofts and henhouse. The pigeons were bred for racing and other pigeons and the Rhode Island hens were bred for show. Soon after that council houses were built as part of the slum clearance schemes. This was after the building of the Boroughdales, Doon Avenue, Countess and Summerfield Roads and Lammermuir Crescent. An early recollection was the discovery of a whale’s jawbone at the Broadhaven’s pier, which was destroyed in a storm in the 1930s.

This was still at the time when we youngsters were divided as the ‘streeties’ and ‘shories’. Very seldom did we mix. Fights were arranged as a set-piece, each side preparing ammunition by chopping up tangle stalks and digging shallow trenches. This was based on the war of 1914-18. The demolition of the bulk of shore houses ended the divisive gangs.

Schooling took place at Woodbush where the infant, primary and secondary were all contained on the same site. The infant class was taught in one room containing three teachers all at different stages. At the end of primary the Qualifying Exam took place, the result of which gave you secondary education. The brightest took Latin and French, the middle group took French and the lower group had a technical education. A few moved between the groups.

On Empire Day at the school members of the various youth organisations wore their uniforms and had a gathering in the quadrangle. Armistice Day also saw a remembrance service at the same venue.

The majority of shops were contained in the High Street and West Port with a few down by the shore and Castle Street. My parents owned a newsagents in the High Street. The newspapers arrived by train. Morning papers at 7.45 all to be sorted and delivered before school at 9am. The first editions of the Evening News and Evening Dispatch came on the 4.45 pm with a further edition on the fast train arriving about 6pm. A small crowd formed before this time to be first to get the news. As most people got paid on Saturday this was always the busiest day of the week. The country people added to the bustle as they shopped for supplies. After shopping many went to the most popular form of entertainment. The Empire cinema on the High Street or the newer Playhouse in Abbey Road offered a choice of films. Once a year in March we had the hiring day and fair. The show folk set up on the High Street until the tarring over of the setts and they were moved to the Bleaching Field.

Wartime brought a large intake of troops and Dunbar once again became a garrison town. It eventually became an Officer Cadet Training Unit and several shops were taken over by military tailors to supply the new officers with uniforms. The military presence also helped to continue a Dunbar tradition of local girls marrying a soldier.


Towards the end of the 1939-45 war my age group, many of whom had joined the Air Training Corps in Dunbar, were eligible for call up. I, and many others like me, joined the army as the air force was fully staffed. The war ended before we were fully trained and I spent my time in Egypt serving three years in the forces. Demob came in March 1948, and I entered the family business of newsagent and stationer, the shop being on Dunbar High Street. This was a time when Dunbar was returning to its old trade as a holiday resort. For the first time a professional was hired to provide publicity and organise entertainments for the burgh. The dances were our main entertainment, five times a week in the summer and the cinema where the two cinemas provided a joint total of five changes of programme a week.

A traders’ association was formed, on which I served, being vice president for a few years. After retirement, I began to collect and copy photographs of old Dunbar with an intention of providing a record to be held by East Lothian library service. Then I became involved in the establishment of Dunbar History Society and gave many of the photographs to start a collection locally. Now we have moved on from that and have many photographs on the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network available on the Internet.