Dunbar | Belief

Church of Scotland | Free Church | Belhaven | Episcopalian | Roman Catholic | Baptist | Methodist | Other

There were three Church of Scotland churches in Dunbar in 1945 – the Old church at Kirkhill to the east of the town; the Abbey church on the High Street nearby, and Belhaven church in that village. A shore Mission established by the parish church in the 19th century probably closed before our period.

The Old church (1821, architect James Gillespie Graham) – now Dunbar parish church – has a church hall at Abbeylands, and the manse at Bayswell Road. A new manse, ‘The Manse’, was built in the kitchen garden of the former manse, ‘The Old Manse’, after the retiral of the Rev W. R. Chalmers in 1992. ‘The Old Manse’ was for a time used for a day care centre for the elderly (the St Andrew’s Centre); it closed on 10 June 2002 (NB This is not the same as the St. Andrew’s Eventide Home, which was on the High Street).

The minister at the time of the third statistical account, the Rev Alek Sawyer, was largely responsible (as his predecessors had been) for the Dunbar entry. In 1952 he was responsible for the construction of the Memorial Aisle on the south side of the church (gone in the fire), which provided a handsome and useful area for small-scale services.

The services and structure of the parish church retained the traditional formality of the old parish churches. In October 1943 the Kirk Session discontinued wearing white bow ties (symbolising Geneva Bands) with morning dress on Communion Sundays and wore instead formal dress (short jackets) with grey ties. Within a decade they were wearing dark suits with black ties. This formality waned after the retirement of the Rev W.R.Chalmers (1992). There was an acceptance of the traditional role of the parish minister. For example, there was a united service in February 1970 to mark the anniversary of David II’s Charter, which in 1370 created the burgh of Dunbar. Lady elders joined the session in 1985.

The service on Remembrance Sunday is seen as the parish act of remembrance and is attended by the Lord Lieutenant or a Depute and by representatives of East Lothian Council and Dunbar Community Council, The Royal British Legion, representatives of the Lothian and Borders Horse and of some of the other uniformed organisations. However, services are held as usual in the other churches.

Before 1963, Sunday schools went on outings to Gifford, and after that to Longniddry beach by bus.

In 1966, Dunbar Old and the Abbey Church united; the latter was sold off. Between 1971-4, an association was set up with Whitekirk with the Reverend John Blair as associate minister at Whitekirk.

1938-55 Alek W. Sawyer
1956-65 Harold C. M. Eggo
1966 Dunbar Old and Dunbar Abbey churches united as Dunbar parish
1966-92 William R. Chalmers
1971-4 associated with Whitekirk
1993-99 Alex B. Noble
2000-date Eric W. Foggitt

Disaster struck Dunbar parish church twice in the period of our survey. On 27 April 1944 lightening struck one of the pinnacles on the tower. Much damage was caused to the roof by falling masonry and the church was closed until June 1945. The second disaster was on Saturday 3 January 1987 when a devastating fire broke out in the roof space and the church was virtually destroyed.

After the fire and after due consideration the church was rebuilt. The new interior is a remarkable feat. The church was gutted; several photographs were taken of the blazing shell, the only part to survive. A steering committee was set up to devise a plan for the future. Their preferred option was to inset what was effectively a new building in the shell. The architects Campbell & Arnott of Edinburgh were selected to carry out the work and the church held its first service on 3 November 1991, being re-dedicated on 13 May the following year. Now, ten years on, the new interior is beginning to build its own history. The interior space is now light and airy, with ranks of seats rather than banks of pews. There is no gallery. Instead, two conduits run the entire length of the roof space carrying services and pendant lights. A ‘narthex‘ or meeting space was created beside the vestibule. In line with modern needs and with the removal of the late 19th century pillars, a wide and open space was created. It has already seen much service for a wide variety of community groups and the church itself.

The previous stained glass perished in the fire but two new windows (by Shona McInnes) maintain the link with the Royal British Legion and the Lothians & Border Horse. The memorial to the Earl of Dunbar (by Maximilian Colt) was restored by Messrs Taylor & Pierce Restoration of London; the restored Earl and the figures representing Justice and Peace were in the exhibition Virtue & Vision in Edinburgh in 1991 after which the monument was rebuilt. The very enormous sum of £1.4million was raised from far and wide, but was largely borne by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Historic Buildings Council. The restoration of the church has not disturbed the exterior of one of the town’s much-loved existing landmarks. An account by a local resident and church-member provides much more detail (McNie, J. 2002).

The Duke of Roxburghe sold land at the Deer Park to the council for a cemetery in December 1950, to supplement the former Dunbar cemetery adjacent to the old kirkyard at the parish church. However, burials continued in the kirkyard as family lairs filled and the Deer Park cemetery was perhaps slower to fill than anticipated as cremation increased in popularity (despite the necessity of travelling to Edinburgh).

The Free Church congregation of the Abbey Church had been evicted from Belhaven in 1850, and built a new church at the south end of the High Street. It is an important building by Thomas Hamilton. The Free Church united with the United Presbyterians (the Erskine Church) in 1900 to form the United Free Church, although the Dunbar congregations did not unite until 1917. The Erskine Church was sold in 1927. The Free Church united with the Church of Scotland in 1929 and the congregation took the name of the Abbey Church. The last union was with Dunbar Old church in 1966 as Dunbar Parish Church.

1944-48 Frederick M. Musk
1949-55 Thomas Lothian
1956-66 Dr Walter L. Lewis
1966 union with Dunbar Old

After 1966, the Abbey church had mixed fortunes. B listed by Historic Scotland, it was used for a number of temporary purposes, including art exhibitions. The adjacent hall was in use by local groups into the 1970s. Clive Rawlins, a former Baptist minister, established the Labarum Press (1984-86) there and put forward the idea of a history/heritage centre in the Abbey church. A community group sought to buy the church in 1995, and it was used as the Sea Cadet HQ in 1996. In 2002 there were proposals for it to be used as an arts centre.

Belhaven parish church was built in 1839. The minister came out in the Disruption of 1843 and continued there as the Free Church until the congregation was evicted in 1850. The church was re-opened in 1858 as a quoad sacra church. It was disjoined from Dunbar in 1863, and thereafter was a parish church in its own right. The church and manse are much as they were in the 19th century. A useful hall was built beside the church in 1964, and the former parochial school/hall (built 1867, feued to the Kirk Session for use as a hall 1912), at Beveridge Row was sold, and c1980 was converted into a family home. Additional accommodation has been provided in the former stables in the church grounds.

1927-47 Alexander J.C. Ritchie
1948-77 John S. McMartin
1977 linked with Spott
1978-date Laurence H. Twaddle

Belhaven Sunday school outings went to Whitekirk in the 1960s.

St Anne’s Scottish Episcopalian Church was established as a mission from Haddington in 1874. The present church at the north end of the High Street was built by H.M. Wardrop (1856-87) and Sir Robert Rowand Anderson (1834-1921), and opened for worship in 1890. In 1912 there was a handsome rectory built by W. J. Walker Todd (1884-1944), with a small hall in the grounds. In 1952 the chapel of St Margaret at Biel (Stenton parish) was demolished and a chapel dedicated to St Margaret was established in St Anne’s.

At the beginning of the period there was a full time Rector, the Rev A. D. Munro who contributed the piece on fishing to the third account and who served on Dunbar Town Council. The services were very traditional; over the years there has been liturgical experiment and the 1982 liturgy is now normally used. On the retiral of the Rev Edmund Ivens in 1979 the congregation was linked with Holy Trinity, Haddington. The rectory had been sold shortly before he retired.

After the appointment of the Rev I. Paton to a charge in Edinburgh in 1997, the link came to an end. The Rev P. L. Allen was appointed, initially as deacon, then priest with charge, on a part-time basis – she was the first woman priest in Dunbar.

1943-49 A. D. Munro
1949-52 R. W. Calvert
1952-79 E. M. Ivens
1979-83 D. Rimmer with Haddington
1983-93 A. Black – 1991-94 Dr K. Whitefield was curate in Dunbar
1994-97 I. Paton – 1995-97 G. Grunewald was priest with charge in Dunbar
1998-date P. L. Allen deacon, then priest with charge.


Here Stephen Bunyan looks back on the life of the Reverend Edmund Masters Ivens, 1911-98:

‘Edmund was born in Ilkeston in Derbyshire where his father was vicar. He came to St Anne’s as rector in 1952, which charge he held until he retired in 1979. Edmund cared little or nothing for fashionable theology, but greatly for the prayer book and the liturgy that had served the church so well for many generations. He cared greatly for dignity in worship and the beauty of holiness. He loved this church and spent much time and not a little of his own money on it. He also loved the Rectory, which was his home for so many years and the garden which he reclaimed from wilderness, in which he created an oasis of beauty in the heart of Dunbar which he was happy to share.

Edmund tried to build up a strong structure in the congregation, supported by a strong team of helpers including, at that early stage, Erik Stevenson and Reginald (Jimmy) James. Other stalwarts emerged over the years. Between them they set up a choir, a servers’ guild, a Sunday school, a social committee, a flower group and a youth club. This last is still fondly remembered by various people in the town and some who have gone far afield. They appreciated not only the effort to provide something for them, but also the exotic touch it brought to their lives. It was not every youth club where you were received at the door as an honoured guest with a drink on a silver tray and then you could dress up in uniforms some of which, at least, appeared to be a general’s uniform or court dress, to control historic battles with lead soldiers on a vast billiard table. Some of them, who knew the harbour, enjoyed being encouraged to help with his boat Sinbad and its successors and no doubt valued the buns and pop Edmund would provide. This is confirmed by Gordon Easingwood, one of the relay of boys who looked after his boats. Gordon also testified how Edmund was accepted by the old salts at the harbour in a way that other clerics were not. They even accepted the fact that he might go to sea wearing spurs – army dress regulations allow for their removal on ship or when dancing. During the time when Edmund was rector the boys from Belhaven Hill came twice a month to matins and Edmund had a good relationship with the school and is fondly remembered by many old boys. When Norman Macphie was headmaster of Dunbar Grammar School, end of term services were held in Belhaven church in which all the clergy took part. Edmund encouraged children in church in various ways with Saturday get-togethers, playing rouge et noir, etc., followed by knickerbocker glories in Greco’s. The role of page to sing with him as King Wenceslas was not the most popular activity. It took courage or faith to open your house in the way he did. He did sometimes have trouble with youthful depredations on goldfish, doves and fruit. His peacocks were certainly unpopular with a neighbour and had to be destroyed in June 1962. This was a great blow to Edmund who described them as “my pride and joy”.

Edmund’s other regular contribution to youth was to organise the East Lothian Pony Club annual camp. His love of horses was thereby transmitted to subsequent generations of young people. His love of horses and of Antrim in particular was legendary. He was appointed as a judge in the Border carriage driving trials and had to drive with the Duke of Edinburgh and assess him. A daunting task!

The Rectory became an important centre to many different people who enjoyed from time to time, sherry after church on Sunday, croquet on the lawn, church coffee mornings in summer, winter evening slide shows and musical evenings, all meticulously prepared. These were occasions when Edmund’s personal friends and members of the congregation mingled. The final croquet party, held when he vacated the Rectory to live at Drylawhill was a showstopper. The rooves in Parsonspool were being renovated and the workmen downed tools and sat on the ridges to watch. Some entertainments continued at Drylawhill. The extent of this entertainment is shown by an entry in the register where he noted that between May 17 and the end of July 1965, 223 people were entertained in the Rectory.

There were various ecumenical events in the town, some of which were inspired by Edmund and in all which he took part. The 600th anniversary service for the burgh at Dunbar church he attended in his cope, and St Anne’s became recognised as a bridge between the denominations. Edmund made another important contribution to the life of Dunbar when, together with the late Dr John Laurenson, he started the sailing club, which still plays an important role in the life of the community’.

The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Waves (built 1877, although the community has had a presence since c1855) at the north end of the High Street played an important role throughout the period. It has had resident priests, presbytery and hall throughout, although there has been a big turnover in priests. The church catered for large congregations during the construction period of the cement works (c1960s) and of the power station at Torness (1978-the mid 1980s). The then priest Father Michael Walsh carried out a programme of refurbishment. He also introduced new practices in line with Vatican II (1962-65), principally the vernacular Mass (English) and celebrating facing the congregation. There was a change of emphasis from classical to more user-friendly. Later priests supplemented formal Confession with one to one counselling and services of reconciliation. Father Michael Walsh was heavily involved in 1971 in moves to improve the lot of the migrant workforce in the area (see Father Michael Cassidy: The Potato Priest by Michael T.R.B. Turnbull, county volume).

1938-47 James Payne
1947-58 John McGeown
1958-67 Laurence Davidson
1967-85 Michael J. Walsh
1985-88 Joseph Portelli
1988-90 Lawrence Glancy
1990-93 Stephen Robson
1993-99 Albert Gardner
1999-2003 Peter Kelly

The Dunbar Free Baptist Church was set up by the Rev Jim Hughes in his house in Lammermuir Crescent in 1968/9 until he left in 1977. Some services were held in the old Masonic Lodge and in the Abbey Church. After Jim left, the congregation continued for a time under David Kellogg. In 1989/90, the Rev Keith Mills came to Dunbar; initially informal services were held in his home. From May 1991 meetings have been held at 3pm on Sunday afternoons in the Dunbar Day Centre; there are 20-25 members.

In 2000, the Rev Keith Mills is still the minister. He and his wife Mariella are from the state of Indiana USA, and both graduated from the Baptist Bible College, Springfield Missouri – ‘preaching God’s word, sharing God’s love’.

The Dunbar Methodist Church was the first Methodist church (established 1752) in Scotland; it is the oldest church in Dunbar still in use; it was established by John Wesley. The location of the church is convenient to the harbour but traditionally the congregation was linked to the commercial centre. There is a small hall and meeting room to the rear.

In 1950 there were 113 members rising to 135 in 1962. By 2000 the number had dropped to 24. These 24 were keen participants in Dunbar Churches Together and in ecumenical bible study. The church is ministered to by a minister living in Tranent; in 2000 this was the Rev Mary Paterson.

Other congregations

During the period there have been Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dunbar; they increased in number c1975 but they attended the Kingdom Hall in Haddington.

The Manor House, Belhaven was purchased around 1972/3, by representatives of the Unification Church (the Moonies but properly the Sun Myung Moon Foundation, after their Korean founder)) as their Scottish headquarters. This sect made some attempts at local converts but most of the inhabitants of the house were converts from elsewhere. The group was never particularly popular locally and they left (after little more than a decade). The property was still owned by the Moonies in 1984/5, although the East Lothian Courier, 1984 July 13 reported that they had left in 1983.

West Barns has no church, unlike Oldhamstocks, Innerwick, Stenton and Whittingehame, all villages created at the same period as West Barns during the earldom of the Dunbars; perhaps Belton/Hedderwick, a pre-reformation parish, served the community. Until 1978, services were held in the village hall. Only a small proportion of villagers go to Dunbar parish church; most are members of Belhaven Kirk.