David M. Anderson
The parish of Dunbar extends along the coast from the estuary of the river Tyne east to slightly beyond Barns Ness where the Dry Burn meets the neighbouring parish of Innerwick. It reaches inland to Brunt Hill and the Pinkertons, and west along the line of the A1 and the main Edinburgh London railway line, as far as Howmuir. The parish covers 3650ha (9019 acres).
The major settlements comprise one town, Dunbar and two larger villages – Belhaven and West Barns. A third village of East Barns is no more, as the settlement and adjacent farm steadings were evacuated in the 1960s to accommodate the limestone extraction industry at Oxwellmains. There is also the small hamlet of Broxburn, and a number of mainly arable farms and isolated houses. All have seen a great deal of change over the past 50 years. The residential areas round Dunbar, West Barns and Belhaven have increased, while retail premises have retreated in towards Dunbar, and business premises have moved away from the centre to designated industrial areas such as Spott Road. Belhaven can now be considered linked with Dunbar, and only two fields separate Belhaven and West Barns.
From the top of Doon Hill (just in Spott parish) the full extent of Dunbar is laid out. The observer of 50 years ago would note several major changes if they chanced to look today. The footprint of Dunbar has expanded west, engulfing much of the open ground between it and Belhaven, and sweeping between sea and railway on the east, into the lands of Newtonlees. In the distance is the Barns Ness lighthouse. South of the railway the lands of Lochend, now extensively reforested after almost being clear-felled during world war two, are poised for major change as the 1970s ‘Dunbar Development’ plan finally takes off, albeit in a much adapted form. Of the original plan only a limited scheme of town council houses (the northern portion comprising Lochend and Latch Park) and county council property (Brunt Court) were built in the years after 1970. Now (2000), five separate contractors are committed and more promised.
Beside Dunbar Castle the distinctive roof of the Dunbar leisure pool (in its early days called Splash), forms an instantly recognisable landmark and, to the west, the line of cliffs leading to Belhaven Bay is still free of development. Belhaven Bay itself stretches apparently unchanged westwards, but the keen observer would have noted both the growth of ‘Spike Island’ (an area of dunes and marram grass), a plantation of conifers submerging the former racecourse and golf course (to the immediate south of Spike Island) and a car-park at the south eastern end of the plantation. The whole of Belhaven Bay is now the John Muir Country Park (J.M.C.P.), maintained by the local authority, which was responsible for negotiating access with local landowners; the park is very popular with both locals and visitors from further afield (see below).
Beyond the new roads catering to the expanded town, the observer would note the electrification of the railway (completed 1984) and the development of the A1, which has progressed in stages throughout the period. The main road by-passes Dunbar completely to the south. It has been realigned and made into a dual carriageway on the east to create room for quarrying – creating an awkward and unattractive southerly access road. On the west a major roundabout has swept away all but one dwelling, itself a replacement for the old hamlet of Beltonford. New proposals will see the road developed to a dual carriageway between Spott Road and Thistley Cross (begun end of 2000); a further plan will see the western portion of the A1 developed into an expressway (due to be completed spring 2004), which will markedly shorten the times of road communication with Edinburgh.
The surviving agricultural land is still predominantly arable and, although field boundaries have been eroded, would be recognisable to the observer of 50 years ago. The sole major crop-change has been an increase in acreage devoted to oil seed rape. The planting of small plantations has to some extent ameliorated the loss of field boundaries.
On 3 September 2000, Dunbar Community Council commemorated the outbreak of the second world war; it was in a sense an odd date for the commemoration. VJ Day had been celebrated in 1995 and it would have seemed more correct to have remembered the outbreak of war in 1999 but as the century closed it seemed appropriate to look back to the war. Schoolboys, either in 1939 or in 1945, were now senior citizens. Pilots in the Battle of Britain or soldiers at Dunkirk were 80 plus, but ‘on parade’ was Darry Horsburgh, who was in the parish church that Sunday morning in 1939 and who found himself at war at the end of the service. For those who came back the world was different. They had experienced danger, disruption, loneliness, deprivation and, in some cases, terrible wounds and suffering, but also excitement and companionship. They had found new friends and in some cases romance and marriage. For those who stayed at home, Dunbar became an armed camp, with the fear of invasion, with defence restrictions, but also with excitements, with new faces. Many who just passed through – like 161 Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) based at the Barracks and local hotels – managed to create an impression with the local girls. A few came back or stayed on. Three cadets from the OCTU died and were buried in Dunbar cemetery. The forestry teams from the Honduras Regiment based at Stenton / Whittingehame gave a touch of the exotic but that was probably not how they saw it in the grim autumn of 1941; two of them were dead by Christmas. The military occupied the Lorne Hotel (now Smith the bakers); John Smith remembers coming home from school one day to discover that the big tree in the garden had gone and being told – ‘the darkies cam and cut it doon’.
At the end of 1945, Dunbar had to adjust to a greater extent to the peacetime world than many other small burghs. The town had been heavily militarised, and the whole of Belhaven Bay had been taken over by the M.O.D., and the burgh itself was in a sense a fortress for much of the war. For a period, travel was restricted and communications harder than otherwise.
Stephen A. Bunyan, Chairman Dunbar Community Council