Dunbar | Homes
In 1945, the parish had four main settlements: the village of East Barns, a mainly agricultural settlement; the village of West Barns, once the site of the town mills and substantial industry; the village of Belhaven, once Dunbar’s port; and the ancient royal burgh of Dunbar. In addition there were a number of hamlets and farm steadings of some size.
By 2000, while much had changed in the settlements (see below), the landward section had not been unscathed. The small group of houses at Beltonford had vanished in the early 1960s, to be replaced by the new roundabout (see Transport) and one new single house. Broxburn had lost both the Broxburn Garage (Reid’s) and associated Anvil Cafe and the smithy, the garage site being cleared and redeveloped for housing at the end of the period. Broxmouth in 2000 is a terrace of two storey dwellings and a few cottages; nearby Brandsmill was also renovated.
The Lochend ‘woods’ contained only the Kennels and Lochend Cottages until the 1960s when a house was built near the Eweford end; in the 1970s Hallhill steading and farmhouse, redundant for agricultural use, were converted to housing. The farms of Eweford, South Belton and the Pinkertons remain farms with associated cottages, although it is worth noting that most of the housing stock in the rural area is now not occupied by farm workers.
Here Mrs Douglas recalls her home in a farm cottage at Tynefield, where she and her husband raised their two children c1950-70:
‘We lived in the end cottage; it was single story, made of brick and covered in roughcast. There was only one door. There were two bedrooms, one living room, a bathroom with bath and the kitchen. We used coal and collected firewood. I had a Calor gas cooker. In the living room there was an open range fire with an oven beside it; electric fires were used for heating the bedrooms. In the kitchen there was a double sink (Belfast) – one was deep for washing. The kitchen was small; there was a kitchen cabinet, and a larder in the corner. There was a ½ mile walk up the drive to get the bus to Dunbar for shopping – we had no car. We used a bicycle. Potatoes were supplied by farm (as part of the wages). The working day on the farm was 7-12 and 1-5’.
East Barns represents one of the few East Lothian communities to disappear entirely in the post-war period (the drowned Kingside school and steadings beneath the Whiteadder reservoir being another). Historically, East Barns was a community of around a hundred souls, most of whom were employed on the farms lying on the coast to the east of Dunbar. The reserves of limestone and shale around Oxwellmains were the death of the community as it turned out to be the most viable set of reserves in Scotland for the establishment of a large-scale cement works producing Portland style cement (see Economy – industry). The arrival of the Associated Portland Cement Manufactures Ltd. (later Blue Circle) in the 1960s meant that the village itself was abandoned.
In East Barns in the 1950s there were around 16 occupied houses on Farm Road and Farm Square plus James Hope’s farmhouse, the schoolhouse, lodges and smithies. There was a joiner (Charles Thompson), blacksmith (Andrew Watt) and a gardener (Andrew McArdle). The ploughmen (still at least seven in number) were under a grieve, Richard Glass, and the female workers were supervised by Adam Glass, the women’s grieve. A lorryman was employed, indicating the march of mechanisation on the farm. By 1960-1, nine of the original houses were still occupied and a further four council houses (Orlits) had made their appearance, built under the 1946 Act. However, it is clear that the community was in decline in preparation for the arrival of Blue Circle. Sir James Hope, Bt. was still in residence at East Barns farmhouse and his grieve John Cockburn lived on the Square. The number of ploughmen was declining but outworkers, stockman, an orraman and lorryman were still numbered in the community.
As its school closed (see Education), and its excellent land was given up, its people moved away and the buildings were scheduled eventually to be quarried away.
In the 1930s, East Lothian County Council purchased land from the West Barns estate to build council houses at Springfield, Springfield Terrace, and Edinburgh Road. In the 1920s, other council houses had been built on Stenton Road. As the housing scheme developed, old houses in Duke Street and Edinburgh Road were demolished, their inhabitants housed in the new schemes and the land then rebuilt on.
Over time, more council houses have been added to the pre-war core; these included a number of 1945 pre-fabs on School Road, which were themselves demolished by 1970, and the land built on. Parts of the pre-fabs were used to make the bowling alley at West Barns Inn. Others were the Orlits (1950) – built to accommodate redundant farm workers – and more council homes at Forth View were added in 1966.
Since 1990, a number of private houses have appeared; c1993, Buglass built five houses on the old bowling green (beside Strathearn House), and c1998, in the old walled garden, Richmond developed Bielside Gardens, with 20 houses there – sold as Mariner’s Haven.
Bielside itself and its immediate policies have been modernised, following a contentious dispute over ownership (Scotsman 1996 December 5) during 1994-95. Also modernised were the old stable block and the West Lodge. The houses of Mill Wynd / Implement Road were renovated, and new houses were built on the remains of the old brewery behind the village hall.
Belhaven began the period as a settlement of half a dozen streets, separated from Dunbar by around ¼ to ½ mile. Dunbar’s town’s ‘tree scheme’ blurred the boundary, approaching to within a few hundred yards on the southeast, a gap later filled in by 1970s and 1980s buildings in a continuation of Elder Street. The sweep of the grounds of Belhaven Hill School and Belhaven Kirk mark the northern boundary.
Most of the housing stock of Edinburgh Road and High Street (essentially one long thoroughfare), and Duke Street (running off High Street at an acute angle), comprises 18th century cottages, as well as more substantial Victorian and Edwardian two-story detached and semi-detached properties.
Seafield Crescent is a 1930s terraced development of council houses. It is unusual in being a listed development. Many of these houses were sold to tenants using the ‘right to buy’ legislation (from the 1980s).
Beveridge Row is a short run of cottages and detached properties that has gradually grown from the 1960s. All available plots on the west side are now filled and three have even been allowed on the brewery side (although the high wall masks them almost completely). Conversions here include the old Belhaven church hall (c 1980s) to a home, and further up the row, an old electricity sub-station was the subject of an interesting conversion to an office.
North Street, and Brewery Lane / South Street (now a cul-de-sac cut off from the High Street) also contain mainly 18th/19th century cottages.
There are in addition a number of large properties in the village. One or two of the older properties (in Duke Street) are untouched, but many of the older properties have benefited from renovation, dividing into apartments, or combining two small properties into one.
Although the aspect of Belhaven viewed from the approach down Edinburgh Road to Belhaven High Street appears unchanged, it hides additional detached dwellings built in gap sites, and in the garden of Summerfield House (Summerfield Park c late 1970s). Two houses for staff and other school-related buildings were built in the policies of Belhaven Hill School (previously known as Winterfield House).
This process of infill has helped to maintain the village’s population and also occurred in the grounds at Manor House (developed by Buglass) and Old House off Duke Street in the mid 1990s. It has helped to contribute to Belhaven’s current position as a quiet dormitory suburb of Dunbar. Belhaven’s development has, on the whole, been sympathetic, protected by its conservation status and strict planning.
At the end of Shore Road are the brightly coloured Belhaven chalets. The site dates from the inter-war years, when a number of plots were leased on what was the old stackyard of the redundant Winterfield Mains steading. Until the 1960s the homes there included old railway carriages and a variety of wooden chalets of varying size. By the 1970s many of the original chalets had been replaced and a number were occupied all year round.
In August 1990, the community council was faced with a proposal to demolish the chalets; this was an emotive issue, and the community council supported the leaseholders. The leases were eventually extended. The refurbished Winterfield farmhouse close by remains a family home.
There have been two dominant themes in the approach towards housing in Dunbar during the period.
Initially, predominantly but not exclusively, the emphasis was upon improving the public housing stock (council houses) by large-scale building on greenfield sites (for example the Floors Park and Ashfield schemes of the 1960s/70s) and by demolition and replacement (the Writers’ Court Scheme of the early 1960s):
In the 1940s and 1950s council house tenants were represented by Dunbar and District Housing Society. In 1946 the society campaigned to win permission for pigeon lofts on council property.
Some properties still have pigeon lofts! This policy lasted until the mid 1970s.
Meanwhile, private housing was restricted to smaller ventures such as Countess Crescent c1965. Thereafter, a philosophical and political sea change adjusted the imperative the other way and larger private developments were favoured – which in Dunbar meant the Walker Homes at Newhouse c1975-85. Public housing was now principally the domain of housing associations, and provided only smaller-scale schemes.
The other trend is not as marked but probably more significant for the townscape in the core of the burgh, where the way older properties are regarded has changed. In the 1950s/60s the imperative there was to demolish and rebuild, but in recent years this has been replaced by renovation, the conversion of redundant domestic and commercial buildings into homes, and the restoration and renovation of existing domestic properties. Much of this was driven by changes in planning policy stemming from conservation concerns and, although often associated with new-build, has brought back into use a considerable part of what was otherwise derelict property.
This trend has been followed by both private developers, and by public bodies and agencies, and sometimes both in conjunction. Its beginning can probably be dated to the restoration of Castellau House as the town’s library, with residential accommodation above, in 1972. Thereafter such successes as the refurbishment of the old maltings in Victoria Street, now the ‘Granary’ (a more attractive name for residents?); that of the ‘tattie store’ by the Old Harbour; Yellowcraig – an old house used by fishermen for a variety of purposes; and many backland properties at, for example, 62 High Street or ‘Bamburgh Castle’ during the early 1990s, have much improved the town. In 2000, the current issue was the depopulation of the High Street tenements, where a number of flats were vacant, dilapidated, or used as storage premises for ground-floor businesses. Few traders, if any, lived above their business premises any more.
There was also the flagship Dunbar Initiative refurbishment of Lauderdale House (by a consortium of council, Scottish Homes, LEEL and others) at a cost of over £1.8 million. Built c1740, with later additions by R. & J. Adam (1792) Lauderdale House occupies one of the most important sites in Dunbar, providing a ‘stop’ at the north end of the High Street. It had suffered from neglect since passing from the military (which had use of it for almost a century from 1859) to local government hands. At times it was used for housing NCOs as married quarters, offices, residential holiday accommodation for groups of children and various ‘unofficial uses’ by those that gained entry through its increasingly dilapidated doors and windows. In December 1991 Castle Rock Housing Association launched plans for its development into flats. Work was completed in 1994, providing 27 homes for single and/or elderly people, and families.
After the right to buy legislation was introduced in the 1980s, tenants increasingly purchased council homes:
Four-apartment ex-council flats were selling at around £35,000 in November 1996.
East Lothian Courier
Developments after the war continued in the Shore district and the ‘tree scheme‘ towards Belhaven, on the lands of Summerfield Mains. This scheme was agreed in 1945 but a countywide shortage of men and materials meant that work was slow. 120 four- and five-apartment homes out of 300 planned were started in 1946 but only six were complete by the end of 1947; the rest of the development was completed by 1953. In 1946 Castellau House was adapted as six ‘homes for the elderly’. In 1947 10 ‘non-traditional’ (Orlit) homes were built at Goldenstones Avenue, on the other side of the railway, a site that had been under consideration for what became the ‘tree scheme’. These houses were complete in 1948.
In parallel, a start was made at clearing dilapidated property around the harbours and in 1949 the Basil Spence-designed ‘fishermen’s homes‘ were being built, utilising some recycled material and deploying forestairs, balconied terraces and pantiled roofs to good effect. This small scheme (50% of which was due to be occupied by fisher families relocated from small outlying settlements) won a Saltire Commended Award for ‘good design’ in 1951.
As these works progressed under the auspices of the town council, that body was looking further ahead, hoping that planning changes would enable it to revitalise much of the old part of the town to improve its prospects as a holiday resort. Indeed the whole impression of the harbour area and the swathe of land running between it and the High Street is one of almost continuous development between the late 1940s and 2000 (and continuing). Where the town council led, other bodies such as housing associations and commercial developers have followed with small and some not so small developments.
By the later 1950s, the town council had decided that no more council housing was required, although efforts were made to improve private residential and letting properties through grant aid. In 1960 six two-apartment houses for old folks were planned behind Castellau House, the first new council houses for some six years.
Proposals were submitted for comprehensive re-development in the Shore area, which called for the closing and demolition of old properties. Demolition of sub-standard properties (including compulsory purchase) continued through the 1950s under the Dunbar Slum Clearance Scheme, with government grant-aid. In 1954 it was estimated that there were still 42 unfit houses in the burgh and over 170 houses that might be improved to bring them up to modern standards.
Large-scale building got underway again in the early 1960s with two major schemes.
Negotiations began with Glasgow Corporation to absorb some of Glasgow’s overspill population and in 1962 this agreement led to 157 houses in Edinburgh Road. This Rigg and Floors site was the result of a partnership where the design was supplied by university architecture students (1965), and resulted in terraced flats, terraced houses and multi-story blocks, some of Dunbar’s largest single buildings. Known locally as ‘the electric scheme‘, the costs of the all-electric systems left many residents aghast.
However, (small) tower blocks were not unprecedented as the Writer’s Court/Colvin Street scheme showed. This scheme was anchored by two triple-stack, four-storey blocks of flats, with central access wells, and terraced houses. This scheme in conjunction with the Scottish Special Housing Association (S.S.H.A.) attempted to maintain the character of the demolished streets by including wynds and footpaths, although its regimented ‘sameness’ – everything being finished in white cement render and quartz pebbledash – certainly did not reflect the heterogeneous old tenements and workshops that the dwellings replaced. The first phase of this project was underway in the mid 1960s and won a Saltire Commended Award in 1965 and a Civic Trust Commended Award in 1968.
By the earlier 1980s a similar project, almost a later phase of the above, was underway in Lamer Street, where 25 houses for the S.S.H.A. were erected for the purpose of providing homes for Torness employees. Runciman Court (named for Walter, 1st Baron Runciman 1837-1937, ship owner and Liberal politician; son of Walter Runciman and Jean Finlay of Dunbar) also won a Saltire Award for ‘New Housing Design’ (1983) – the homes blend in much more with a staggered frontage and a mixture of heights and finishes.
Nearby, vacant properties and gap sites in and around Cromwell Harbour have been (since the mid 1980s) comprehensively utilised to do much for the feel of the harbour area. Cromwell Court in particular is an adventurous block with wooden protrusions, balconies and ‘undercroft’ garages; it is only to be regretted for the loss of Cromwell House in a fire during development. Several other properties in the same area are currently undergoing transformation at the hands of the same local developer, W.A. Gillespie.
At the other end of Lamer Street, Woodbush Place utilised the site of the old schools to housing use. Woodbush Court was built on the site of the old Golf Hotel, principally aimed at special needs residents. Further small S.S.H.A. developments were inserted in gap sites in Castle and Church Streets in the 1980s and 1990s, in conjunction with backland development around the High Street that began with the Dunbar Initiative and still continues. Lawson Court is a good example of housing and workshop provision.
Further afield, in the early 1970s, the last phase of major public housing was inaugurated at Lochend, just past the railway bridge. Frank Tindall had commissioned Peter Daniel to produce a plan of a town expansion scheme for the Lochend area as far back as 1973 (Tindall 1998 pp64,65); if this had gone ahead as proposed, it would have doubled the size of Dunbar. Nevertheless, the modest twin development of town- and county council-administered housing that did go ahead was the first (though delayed) element of the council’s 1950’s intent to expand Dunbar’s population.
Thereafter, major works were confined to private developments and those of housing associations.
The old tenement – Bamburgh Castle – behind the High Street on the east side was redeveloped from 1992. In 1996, Stark’s garage site was finally redeveloped – its use under discussion from c1987; Old Kirk Close comprised a tenement, pend and homes behind. All the 19 flats in the scheme were for ‘special needs’, mainly the elderly, and were developed by Castle Rock Housing Association at a cost of £921,000. However, one consequence of both these works was the loss of the line of an old right of way beside the former burgh wall, which was breached to facilitate the diverted route.
Within the old part of the town a tight grip on the exterior aspects of much of the new-build produced a townscape that blends in – but from a distance. Close to, the proportions, textures and materials can ‘jar’. However, there has been a major effort to reintroduce people into the core of the town through backland and gap-site development, and on the whole both the programme and the buildings it has given Dunbar, appear to be ‘a good thing’. One example is the Friars Croft steading, where after 1987, the horsemill and other buildings were converted into houses, and flats were built on the rest of the site.
New private housing estates
The expansion of new private housing estates began in Dunbar in 1975 with the Walker Homes development at Newhouse/Beachmont; 50 Persimmon houses at Kirk Park followed, being completed in 1992.
By the 1990s, the remaining area of Lochend estate (between the railway and the A1 road) that had not been built on was under consideration again for development. In July 1992 the ‘Gateway to Dunbar’, an ambitious development plan of James McNeil of Argyle Foods, was still under discussion (as it had been since 1986) with plans for hotels, golf courses and a business park as well as housing and a primary school. At some point Argyle Foods withdrew and Taylor of Eweford regained the land, before selling it again, possibly once more to McNeil.
A holding company – Hallhill Developments Ltd. – took on the proposals. The plan was moving ahead again in 1996 after snags relating to the road layout of the site had been resolved with Lothian Region Highways Department. The plans continued to be opposed by the Hallhill Residents’ Group who feared (correctly) that their seclusion at the converted (15-home) steading would be spoilt.
However, outline planning permission was granted. By December 1996, issues still to be resolved were access to part of McNeil’s site and the question of having sufficient school places. Planning permission for 500 homes at Lochend and Hallhill was granted in 1997 and work was expected to continue for many years. Individual plots were sold off piecemeal to purchasers by the five or six major contractors – including Persimmon (formerly Beazer), Miller, Wimpey (once Maclean) and Bryant – involved in building houses there.
The housing density adopted is much tighter than that of the earlier estates. The major builders, and even the minor players (including Lochend Homes, a local contractor) have made little concession to local styles and the new perimeter of the town is little differentiated from other similar developments across the central belt of Scotland.
By 2003, none of the business and commercial developments initially proposed had materialised.
Many local people would deny that anything built in the parish over the past 50 years held any merit whatsoever. In common with many communities, the 1980s saw a surge of nondescript, identikit house building by national companies. This had given the town almost 500 new dwellings by 2000, with many more planned. Some might suggest that these properties were no worse than the council housing of the previous decades but the use of multi-coloured brick and a wide variety of roofing materials marked a distinct break in local traditions’.
David M. Anderson
Meanwhile, the Dunbar Community Development Company built the Hallhill leisure centre, due to open 2001, on land closest to the railway; the provision of the many sports facilities enabled both the grammar and primary schools to utilise their grounds for much needed extensions to the buildings.
The town council began to provide housing for the elderly almost immediately post-war and this has been a growth sector with a number of sheltered housing developments, some with a high degree of nursing care. Other accommodation for people with special needs followed. Both of these types of development are usually housing association led. At least one private trust (Abbeyfield Dunbar Society) offers housekeeper-supported accommodation at Kirklands.
Sheltered housing has also been provided in the burgh at: Southfield Court (c1970s), Letham Gardens and Broadhaven (1986).
Lauderdale House: Castle Rock Housing Association refurbished this at a cost of £1.8million. Work was completed March 1994 and it opened as 27 flats for people with various needs (rents c£30pw). Lord James Douglas-Hamilton opened it on 5 October 1994. This was a joint venture between Castle Rock, E.L.D.C., Scottish Homes, Historic Scotland, LEEL and Scottish Power. The architect was T. M. Young.
Dunbar and West Barns have been on mains water (via Castle Moffat, Garvald) throughout the period. The Spott Compensation Pond provided the water supply for the whole of the parish until the mains were networked. There was some concern in the 1970s that this supply was insufficient for further growth, but the 1980s networking removed this issue. Belhaven Brewery used its own wells until 1972 and the farms in the parish began to use increasing amounts of pumped water irrigation on potato crops in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of this water was obtained directly from the parish watercourses: in Spott Glen a small holding pond was created to provide irrigation supplies.
For many years, sewage discharge was a pungent and unpleasant matter of concern, as it entered the sea (untreated) at one point (Belhaven), only to be washed up further along later – most of it on the East Beach. Discharge pipes were at first extended (in the 1960s) and then diverted and eventually, between 1983 and 1995, a new sewerage system was built – with a treatment station at Seafield, West Barns, and a pumping station at Woodbush.
Part of this work resulted in the construction of a major conduit running the entire length of East Beach, to its detriment as a tourist facility, although this seems preferable to having the pools of sewage that were a feature c1970. In 1988, the new system’s pipes were laid well out to sea, for the more efficiently processed waste; the whole system opened in summer, 1995 (East Lothian Courier 1995 August 6). Waste water is now pumped back through another conduit running south of the railway line until it ultimately connects with the underground Belhaven Burn. In 1998, Belhaven Bay beach was classified as one of the eight cleanest and safest beaches in Scotland.
Early in the period, public toilet facilities were provided at Winterfield, in Silver Street, at Bleachingfield and at Lauderdale Park, as well as at the public waiting room on the High Street. From 1975 onwards, various public conveniences were closed, and in May 1980 there was the possibility of closing that on the High Street, much to local anger. Instead of providing proper toilets, or upgrading at least one of the surviving facilities, extremely unpopular Automatic Toilets (APCs) were provided in Victoria Street. Local businesses could indicate in their figures the effect on the town’s tourist trade from the month the toilets on the High Street were shut. Eventually, a new convenience was provided on the site of the Barracks guardroom; this was proposed in 1998, but was held up because of archaeological discoveries on the site. It took almost 20 years to replace an essential amenity.
Although at least one home (in Duke Street, Belhaven) remained without electricity in 2000, already by 1950 the town was well on the way to modernisation with most new build being equipped from the first.
Gas was nationalised after 1945, and was piped to the older houses – but not the new council houses. Dunbar’s supply had been operated by the council as the Dunbar Gas Company since 1886, when the former Dunbar Gas and Light Company was bought over. In 1960 the Dunbar gas works was closed as the national gas grid came into being, but until that it was sufficient for local use. The gasometer was retained for a considerable period but the former showroom and office on Belhaven Road was demolished and the site was allowed to lie derelict (remaining so to 2000) after being cleared. The arrival of North Sea gas (natural gas) saw the changeover marked by the appearance of tall, silver burners in the streets, which removed all the residual town gas. The change over was accomplished smoothly, although the grammar school needed a completely new set of Bunsen burners and a lot of domestic equipment had to be condemned (as too old to convert). In the late 1970s many householders began to install central heating. A good proportion opted for oil-fired boilers, although almost all began in the 1980s, to convert to gas. Many houses now have both gas and electricity. For much of the period, the chalets were dependent upon bottled Calor gas.
Television reception within Dunbar and Belhaven is good, most homes being able to see a couple of transmitters. Only the recently introduced Channel 5 is poor quality, although many people get better reception from Grampian, rather than STV.
Satellite TV appears to be making significant inroads in the parish if the proliferation of dishes is anything to go by. There were some concerns about obtrusive siting of aerials when the services began.
In 1969, Dunbar was the second town in East Lothian to get Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD). There were then 641 telephones handled by the exchange. One telephone box is situated in West Barns; it was moved in 1980 to its present more central site. It was vandalised quite a lot, leaving the village with no line for emergency calls. This now will have changed with the mobile phone. Telephone boxes around the burgh have been reduced in number, although a traditional red-painted, cast-iron box survives on the High Street.
The parish church allowed the installation of a mobile phone mast inside the church tower after it was rebuilt and coverage is good in the coastal area. Reception at East Links is poor.
The streets have been electrically lit throughout the period. Until the end of the 1960s, the burgh’s streetlights were switched off late in the evenings and turned on prior to dawn for a period in the mornings. Clocks at the bases of lampposts were manually adjusted to cater to changes in day length, etc. It was common to see lights burning during the day with their inspection panels open where someone had been interfering with the timing clock! The main lamp-standards have been replaced several times – in the 1970s and again in the 1990s (during the High Street Improvement Programme). The High Street now boasts black metal standards selected to fit-in with the character of the street; their light is more sympathetic than the previous set of sodium bulbs. The use of orange and amber sodium bulbs began to spread in the 1970s, around the time the lights were left on permanently overnight. As the town expanded so its amber footprint led the way. From the 1990s when lampposts were replaced more energy efficient and more directed lighting was installed. In the 1970s the only area to remain lit with incandescent bulbs was along Bayswell and around the harbours and headlands where orange light might have caused confusion with the harbour leading lights. Many of the town’s keynote buildings were transformed during the Dunbar Initiative and Street Improvement Scheme of the 1990s by the installation of flood lighting; the parish church, the Abbey church, the Town House and Lauderdale House all benefited.
A few old gas lamps cast at Dunbar foundry and used at one time to mark the homes of provosts and other dignitaries have survived. One, converted to electricity, was installed in the courtyard created when the Old Harbour tattie store became flats (Cromwell Quay) in the 1990s. Two more traditional-style lamps are located outside the Town House.
The lampposts in the High Street were always ‘dressed’ in the summer in the 1960s with decorative supports (giant Scots thistle-heads) and extra coloured lights (running vertically up the poles). In the 1990s the emphasis switched to the Christmas lights; by 2000, Dunbar’s were by common agreement the best in East Lothian and a remarkable effort for such a small town. The Lights Committee seems to have tapped into a real feeling of community pride and has garnered support in sponsorship and assistance from many traders and other business concerns. The support for the Christmas lights has occurred in tandem with a growing, informal Hogmany street-party to ‘see in’ the New Year under the town clock.
The town council was responsible for collecting refuse within the burgh until 1975. The main dump was at the old claypits at Seafield between Belhaven and West Barns, from before the war and until the 1960s, after which time the site was graded and tidied. Thereafter, refuse became the responsibility of the new East Lothian District Council. Dustcarts were kept with the town’s other vehicles in the old St George garage between Church and Lamer Street, and at Summerfield farm buildings (converted c1970 into Southfield Court sheltered housing). Latterly, the depot in Spott Road has been used. There was a business collection and twice weekly street collections. A ‘pig van‘ was a regular sight on the High Street until the end of the 1960s, collecting edible waste for pig food. Until 1954 the town council itself operated a piggery at Seafield farm, but discontinued this activity after discussions regarding commerciality.
The waste service became part of the district council responsibility in 1975, and has been run as a county-wide service since, the main change being the introduction of wheelie bins in 1990; a mobile sweeping machine visits West Barns’ weekly, and other areas less regularly. The High Street is swept by a compact machine and teams respond to litter in other places. The council’s leisure & countryside department cuts the roadside grass regularly during the season, and they also cut grass and hedges for pensioners and for those whose disabilities mean they cannot do it themselves.
The burgh regularly cleaned and removed seaweed (seaware) from its beaches throughout the summer months, passing it to local farmers for compost – a regular dump was by Lochend Garden Cottages. From the inception of the district council there have been almost annual complaints that they have not been able to keep the beach as clean as it was in the 1960s, although specialised equipment is now used rather than the tractors and trailers of the burgh days. The smell of rotting seaweed remains, however, a source of complaints (but not usually from those with memories extending 40-50 years, when the odour was enhanced by raw sewage).
Shops & Services
In 1945, although at that time West Barns village was small, it had a licensed grocer (owned and run by the family firm of James W. Purves, established 1871); a fish and chip shop (James Blake in the 1950s) selling also confectionary and newspapers (Amos); a post office and small sweet shop (Scott); and the co-operative store – complete with bakehouse, grocery and hardware (manager Paton). The Co-op registered office of the Dunbar & West Barns Co-operative Society Ltd., established 1921, was at West Barns. There was also the village inn (Logan). All the needs and more the village of that time required were there.
It is so different in 2000, in the world of easy transport and superstores. The village now boasts one post office/newsagent/grocery shop (closed 2003); a wooden-built grocery shop; and the sweetie shop. The village inn remains. Smoked and other fish can be purchased direct from the Trout Farm on Implement Road (see Economy – industry).
The co-operative building has been empty since 1980, due to the fact the Co-op stated no one would be allowed to turn the building into a shop to compete with its establishment in town (Dunbar). Part of the premises were used for a period by D.M. Conversions, a motor repair firm, before that company relocated to Spott Road. When the owner of the post office died, the business was transferred to the chip shop with the closure of that side of the business. In c1950, the grocer’s shop (Purves’) closed; the shop was bought by the West Barns Inn (next door) and turned into a lounge.
Although the population increased, the closure of the shops was due to cheap bus travel coming in for the elderly, and the rise of car transport later. The larger stores in Dunbar drew shoppers away from the smaller shops. Interestingly, the same is now happening to the Dunbar stores, as even larger superstores draw customers away.
Belhaven has suffered from a loss of retail premises. It began the period with two general grocers (Telfer in Criterion House and John Harkess opposite on Brewery Lane corner), which became one in the 1950s (Harkess moving to Criterion House). When Mr Harkess retired, the shop struggled to find a role, passing through the hands of two other grocers (Swan c1979) before being converted to a wine merchant and then a patchwork textiles outlet. The property was after sub-divided into residential apartments. A small nursery, ‘Plants from the Past’, was run in the 17th century walled garden of the Old House in North Street, Belhaven by David Stuart and James Sutherland, c1987-1992.
Only the village inn, the Mason’s Arms, remained in 2000. The most significant business in the village is of course the brewery.
The commercial centre is and was Dunbar High Street. In 1953 the council’s Survey Report (p112) summarised Dunbar’s shops as:
Four butchers, ironmongers and general stores; five tobacconists and newsagents; six shoe shops; seven confectioners; ten cafes; 11 grocers; 13 drapers and outfitters.
There have always been a couple of small stores away from the centre – the Countess Road and Shore area stores being representative of the first half of the period and the Summerfield and Ashfield stores being representative of the latter part. Both the last two were built to serve the new housing schemes they abut (the former benefiting from a location adjacent to the grammar school).
Trading premises at the Shore and in Castle Street have disappeared, although a general store (Dicksons, later G. & C. Supplies) also selling fishing gear and industrial clothing, survived on the corner of Victoria Place and Victoria Street until very recently. A summer-only ice cream parlour did good business at the corner of Victoria Place and Victoria Harbour until the 1980s. Castle Street’s shops were all closed or used as stores only by the time the east side of the Street was developed in 1962-3.
The character of Dunbar High Street has changed in the last 50 years. Many of the traditional outlets have gone to be replaced by more take-away food outlets, bric-a-brac shops, banks and services, and a succession of short-lived ventures and charity shops.
In the 1960s, the High Street could supply almost every need. There was still a good range of speciality shops including several dry goods grocers (most also licensed), one greengrocer, four to five bakers, three butchers, two fish shops, six newsagents and stationers, as well as hardware stores and ironmongers, ladies’ and gents’ outfitters, haberdashers and several shoe-shops and furniture and house-fitting suppliers. A generation earlier there were many more of each of the food shops. There was little change in the numbers of the general shops until the early 1970s as many businesses benefited from the tourist trade. Some were devoted entirely to it, including several seasonal outlets at East Bay (in temporary wooden shops) and Bayswell. The Barracks guardhouse was used as a retail outlet – the Captain’s Cabin – from the time of the departure of the military in the mid 1950s-c1990; it sold a wide range of tourist-related goods. Others – Greco’s ice cream parlours (an assortment of shops and other outlets around the town), the Rock Shop, the Gift Shop, the Lido cafe at 131 High Street, and the newsagents with their arrays and displays of postcards and seaside toys – all benefited. The cheerful picture of the summers on the High Street in these times was at odds with an assessment in the first Local Area Plan of East Lothian District Council (c1976) that Dunbar was ‘over-shopped’, by which was meant that many of the businesses survived only with the support of family members and had turnovers and profit margins well below the county averages. Whether this assessment played any part in the story of the late 1970s and 1980s is hard to say.
The changes that occurred during the 1970s all impacted on the town’s economy; a generation of older proprietors reached retirement age at this time, and chose to sell-up rather than to pass on the businesses. But the main reasons for the loss of the multiplicity and diversity of shops would appear to be fourfold.
Firstly, the contraction of the local tourist industry: there was a substantial fall-off in tourist numbers that began in the late 1960s and accelerated in the 1970s. This caused the loss of all the outlets solely devoted to the tourist trade and all those in which it was a major part of the business – the seasonal stores, the gift shops and china stores and fully half of the newsagents. The remaining three of the latter survived because they had other lines – toys, cards, books and seasonal gifts.
Secondly a change in shopping patterns meant more people travelling to Edinburgh and Berwick-on-Tweed for goods formerly bought in Dunbar (even groceries). This change hit the clothing stores, shoe-shops, hardware and white goods suppliers, which could not offer the diversity of goods offered by the capital itself and its peripheral developments.
Thirdly, at the same time, there was the development of larger scale supermarkets, which hit traditional grocers and provision merchants. The Co-op on the High Street – two separate buildings (grocery/butchery and furnishings) to either side of John Muir House and a drapery store on the opposite side – survived to date albeit in a much reduced form – the drapery department closing by 1979. Circa 1980, the furniture store closed, and the remaining store changed as necessary (losing the butchery section) to try to retain its hold on business.
And fourthly, a wider demographic change had an impact. At the end of the 1950s working class people experienced a period of growing wages, which extended for some years. Soon, overseas holidays (especially to Spain and the Balearic Islands) became an affordable option. All Britain’s holiday resorts were hit and had to find new means of sustaining themselves – short breaks, day trips, or indoor facilities. Effects in Dunbar were ameliorated by major industrial developments – the Cement Works and Torness. During construction, labour and management personnel filled local hotels and guesthouses and sustained many local shops. In the meantime, other nearby resorts, e.g., North Berwick, had adapted to the new conditions. Dunbar was left to ‘catch-up’ and many of its High Street traders, hotels and restaurants were unable to grasp the change in demands for the facilities offered by the town.
At first the bigger supermarkets were fairly small-scale – Liptons (77 High Street, latterly the bookies, Ladbrokes) being an early entrant in the 1960s-c1990 – then more substantial, with the development of a William Low store c1986 at Friars Croft. This last was later taken over by Tesco (1994), which then ‘swopped’ its Dunbar store and others for that of the Co-op in Galashiels in September 1999, leaving Dunbar with two Co-op stores. Those who preferred Tesco used the store in Haddington (opened 1994) or ordered goods over their Internet service. In 1992, the East Lothian Co-op had united with Borders to become Lothians & Borders Co-op Society.
An economy supermarket (Shoprite, later Kwiksave) also opened at Friar’s Croft (planning approval given September 1991). Together, these supermarkets absorbed much of the trade of the family owned businesses that had flourished until the mid 1970s.
Thereafter, the remains of the High Street sector contracted substantially; often only single alternatives remained where once there were several. The Crunchy Carrot (greengrocer and more – including organic goods) opened on 1 April 2000, filling the gap left by two similar outlets that closed in the 1990s, Barnett’s and Paterson’s (once Nelson’s). Both were once high-class establishments. Paterson’s relocated to the West Port for a time where the floristry side lingered for a while. A delicatessen (the Food Hamper) with a small café opened 1993 replacing in part the service once provided by the many provision merchants. Convenience stores (Spar and Alldays), replaced the hard-hit middle size High Street supermarkets.
In 2000, just two convenience stores, one small (Co-op) supermarket, a greengrocer, an off-licence (one of the few chain shops, Victoria Wine), three bakeries, a fish-shop, a delicatessen and a butcher’s shop were all that remained of the food and drink retail sector on the High Street.
‘Right until the end of the period, the alcohol sections of shops open on a Sunday were covered with a cloth, and the goods not available for sale until about noon’.
Several of the High Street’s ‘names’ survived throughout the period in family hands; others survived although they passed through a succession of owners. Those that did best were the ones with niche markets or those that could diversify. Thus Main’s saddler and harness maker, established at 87 Main Street in 1881, was still going in 2000 (East Lothian Courier 2002 January 4). Main’s had moved to West Port in 1929, expanding the range sold to include general leather goods, gifts and collectibles, sports goods, etc. William Main took over in 1974; in 1981 he opened a garden centre and flower section. The shop also benefited from ‘county’ trade for much of the period although perhaps to a lesser extent in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the diversification, such as into fancy goods and gifts, was possible as other retailers – Harry Fell’s, Louis Allen’s and the town’s jewellery and gift shops – disappeared.
A similar remark could be applied to Cromwell Antiques, which from its 1970s beginnings as a general antique store had a greater selection of gifts and jewellery by 2000.
Daniel Smith Outfitters – in business since the mid 19th century – was by the beginning of our period still run by the family, and the last Daniel Smith retired in 1981. Dan Cairney kiltmaker, took on the gentlemen’s department (retired 2001), while the neighbouring ladies’ shop was let. Meanwhile, Melville Smith took over (late 1950s) a branch of Greensmith and Downes (military tailors of George Street, Edinburgh) on the other side of the street trading as Robert Melville Clothes’ Shop, which was subsequently taken over by Sydney Anderson (1984-95). Another military tailor survived as the Kilt Shop until c1960 when the business transferred to North Berwick.
Other notable survivors were Mason’s shoe shop – under William Mason 1936-58; he was joined by his son James (1948) and later his children Hamish (1979) and Sarah (1986). There are family branches of the shop in Haddington and North Berwick. In Dunbar, there were four or five shoe shops until the 1970s, when the sector contracted to two and then one; the second last to go was Haldane’s (formerly A.T.Smith), closing in the mid 1990s (the family had taken over one of the last traditional grocers in the 1970s and switched to shoes in the 1980s). James W. Purves’ traditional grocery business (this Dunbar shop represented an expansion of the West Barns family business; the shop on Dunbar High Street was taken over c1930 from a Mr Wood by James Purves) was run during most of the post-war period by the third generation Ronnie Purves and his sister Betty Cairns. It closed c1986; Ronnie died in 1993. The Central Cafe and chip shop (John from before the war, and later Lloyd Togneri); Arthur Greco’s – although now a single outlet, in the 1960s and 1970s the family had expanded their business into four or five premises; Smith’s the bakers (established 1853 with the original bakehouse in Eagle Close, and a shop on the other side of the street). They had moved into the present shop before the war, building a bakehouse to the rear. The shop was part of the ground floor of the Lorne Hotel, which continued to operate as such until after the war.
In 1953 a further storey was added to the building. The coffee shop was added in 1981. When J. Hogg retired, his premises were taken over by the Smiths and the Tasty Bite opened as a shop and restaurant on 4 July 1987. Apart from the counter trade they sell to hotels and restaurants and others. Three newsagents – Downie (established 1843) and Knox (1849) together the oldest names on the High Street ‘trading as’ and outwith the original family hands – and Robertson.
Robert Aitken’s pharmacist has been in Dunbar throughout the period, latterly ‘trading as’ under proprietors Robert McLaren (1981-91) and Gordon Coventry (1991-date).
The other pharmacist – under Grant, then Robinson, and Stephenson (c1983-c2000) – was briefly under Lawson, but is now owned by Lloyd’s pharmacies – a chain.
A few businesses passed on through successive hands – Robertson Hardware and Ironmongery became Turnbull’s and survives as does the DIY studio (once Grahame then Scott’s), although McLuckie’s (afterwards Chris Jamieson) Universal Supplies (84 High Street), Dickson’s (premises at 149 High Street, corner of Victoria Street/Victoria Place and also Easter Road/London Road, Edinburgh) and other hardware shops, went. A few premises with 18th century origins such as the former Kirkwood’s cabinet makers, which was George Low & Son’s furniture shop (and auctioneers too for a while to c1970) at the start of our period continued in business being taken over by Geo. Fairbairn’s of Berwick (1984), which still offers a wide range of furniture. Low’s also offered furniture renovation (c1960s-84).
One development has been the opening of new retailers – a television shop in the 1950s-70s, a venture by Miss Stark, continued by Tommy Young and then Tommy Macdougall (with an installation and repair service), a video shop (M. & I. – a local chain now with several East Lothian outlets) in the 1980s, a pet food retailer, a computer shop right at the end of the period. Picture framing and craft supplies sustained several businesses through the 1990s.
From the late 1980s there has been a slow resurgence in specialist shops (although many have not lasted long) in clothing, household goods and specialist foods. Such clothing stores as survived tended to have niche markets, or sports clothing and supplies, children’s wear, etc. or lasted only a few years (various attempts at ladies’ wear). Despite being the local centre for several parishes round about, the pull of Haddington, and even Edinburgh and Berwick acted against the traders in Dunbar
By the 1990s the concerns expressed in the 1970s local area plan had been amply demonstrated. There were encouraging signs that retailers and prospective retailers were still interested in attempting to trade from the High Street as shops still sold and were occupied, the spectre of boarded retail frontages observed in other places being largely avoided. All of the ‘early morning’ shops, the bakers and newsagents, did well when there was major construction nearby, the cement works in the 1960s and Torness in the 1980s.
The way shopping was done changed too, as reflected by David Anderson:
Some shops, particularly those with a seasonal Christmas sale ran Christmas clubs or savings schemes. These were usually informal, on the initiative of the retailer.
When Miller’s butchers closed, the last traditional payment system went as well – the counter staff signed chits that were paid at a kiosk.
In general, shopping has become ‘brusquer’ as conditions got harder for traders throughout the last quarter century. By 2000 there were no shops where a chair or stool was available on the customers’ side of the counter, once a common courtesy extended to the elderly and those that might just sit and gossip, or even rest. With less High Street choice and more supermarket shopping the distance between staff and customers appeared to be greater. Perhaps automated tills also had a role to play in this as the process of adding up and asking for change, etc, once helped to inject variety in the day-to-day transactions of the street. The feats of mental addition in Lsd daily undertaken countless times would horrify those used to their automated registers. By 2000 only the older shop staff ever remembered to ask customers questions along the lines of ‘will that be all?’ leaving the onus on the customer. (This is actually quite an important shift in the customer-retailer relationship and is probably symptomatic of an increased number of employee-managed premises rather than owner-occupiers, and was observed nationally.)
Curiously, the local history room of the new council museum in the Town House does provide that element of taking time, sitting down and chatting that has been lost from some of the retail premises and its not uncommon to still find a group of ‘worthies’ hanging about there at all times. Similarly, Umberto’s, the Central Cafe, Smith’s tearooms, and Greco’s still provide that opportunity for shoppers and elderly bodies to sit and gossip over a tea or coffee that the Lido, Playhouse, Pop-in and Country cafes afforded earlier in the period.
Wednesday was half-day closing, a practice still observed in 2000 by a few stores. The residue of the ban on Sabbath trading lingered in that into the 1970s only two of the six newsagents carried Sunday papers. Until the 1960s most newsagents still opened for at least a short time on Christmas and New Year’s Day, the former for Scottish papers and the latter for English.
David M. Anderson
Ray Halliday remembers:
The cycle shop (Pettigrew’s) was where the country people took their accumulator batteries to be charged every Saturday, to run their ‘wireless’ radios for the following week. You always knew who the country people where, as they came off the bus with a heavy accumulator battery in each hand. They left the batteries to be charged while they did their shopping then picked them up before catching the bus home.
As well as the many coffee and tea shops, Dunbar has supported a number of fast food outlets and restaurants over the years: the Golden Phoenix Chinese takeaway was in the old rock shop (Erinall’s) at 110 High Street until 1993; the Supercook Chinese takeaway was established in 1992, and by 1996, it had a customer satisfaction rating of 96% in a survey. It moved to a restaurant site on the High Street c2000; Umberto’s Italian restaurant opened 1989; as well as Togneri’s fish and chip shop on West Port, the Ocean fish and chip shop on the High Street has been open throughout, run firstly by the Hawryluks and, from c1990, by Mr Andreucci; in the 1990s, an Indian takeaway opened; in 2000, Dunbar was awaiting the opening of both an Indian and a Chinese restaurant.Most of the hotels offered meals, though some were criticised for their inflexibility over mealtimes.
The town has had and still has a full range of tradesmen, including a cobbler – Carmichael of the West Port (Mason’s also repaired shoes). However, the impression is that the larger local firms have disappeared – Knox and Hutchison a firm of painters and decorators for example – giving way to outside suppliers, perhaps due to the dilution of local knowledge. It was once much the practice that households placed business with local firms based on the recommendation of family and friends. Telephone advertising has given a much wider selection. Single traders (odd job men as were) are still numerous. In 2000, there were at least two joiners, three painters, one gas specialist, two electricians, and one plasterer in the burgh.
In the East Lothian Millennium Business Directory (2000) there were listed the following in Dunbar; while probably not fully comprehensive listing, this gives an idea of what the town had to offer. Three banks, two chartered accountants, three solicitors and estate agents, one chartered building surveyor, one consultant engineer, two publicity and design consultants (one based in Belhaven), one computer software company, one signwriter, one freelance trainer, and one chiropodist.
Additionally there were: two funeral directors (John Bald, and Darry Horsburgh – semi-retired), two veterinarians’ surgeries, A. & J. Robertson (Granite) Ltd. memorial stonemason (sales), optician, pet minding and dog walking service, locksmith, and a travel agent (the Dunbar Travel Bureau).
Official betting started in the 1960s with local bookmakers, in fairly anonymous premises at Victoria Street and the West Port; now represented by a large central facility (Ladbrokes) at 77 High Street.
There is a professional golf shop at both golf courses.
In 1945 there was a printer’s workshop (82 High Street, at the top of the close) run by Duncan Campbell, who had taken the business over from his father. In 1959 Murray Harper, trading as Murray Harper Printer purchased the business. Scott Anderson bought the business in 1979, moving across the High Street (number 109, the old Co-op drapery) and the name became Lothian Printers – latterly Malcolm Anderson has joined his father in partnership.
Since 1988, Demvik (established 1983) has offered wholesale stationary and other supplies from a unit at Spott Road industrial site. Market Press – hot foil printing and promotional goods – is based in Church Street.
In the early 1970s, the Countess Road store was converted to a launderette; it also offered dry cleaning services, which operated until 2000 and continuing. In the 1970s a dry cleaners operated on the High Street, until c1980.
There were two men’s hairdressers (Jimmy Law and Innes) and a ladies’ salon (although Harry Fell in the West Port opened another). Individual businesses catered directly to the home (ladies); and operated from the Lothian Hotel in the late 1980s – early 1990s. After Jimmy Law retired, barber’s services were provided by a succession of others including McLellan.
Right at the end of the period, there was a whole range of small, specialist businesses in the general health and beauty field, offering such as beauty therapy, aromatherapy, and reflexology. There was also a sports injury therapist.
Foggo’s, coal merchant, Station Yard was established in 1937 at Innerwick, moving to Dunbar in 1962; it survives mainly as a builder’s merchant. Dougie McCue and other small suppliers sold logs. Ironmongers and hardware shops stocked paraffin and bottled gas. The latter is now available from the two surviving petrol stations, in Countess Road and Edinburgh Road.
For many years there were several traditional garages: Starks was in fact two businesses, a retail garage and a bus company, with different premises (operated by different parts of the family); Reid’s at Broxburn (c1950s-c1970s); Fallon’s at the Roxburghe; and that at Friar’s Croft under various proprietors, the last the largest and most comprehensive. There were also car sales at Douglas Reid’s garage at Abbeylands off the High Street; this continues as a traditional garage, offering sales, repairs, spares but no fuel. The Countess and Rigg filling stations, and specialist bodywork from J. & A. Coachworks at Lauderdale Garage and D.M. Conversions at Spott Road, replaced the other garages from c1970s.
There are a number of taxi firms that operate in Dunbar, including Eve’s Taxis and Coaches (Scoughalls), Torrance Taxis, Huntley’s, R. & I. Cabs. They are much used by car-less shoppers to get their weekly load home. Eve’s and Torrance also offer car hire (not self-drive); previously Fallon provided coaches and organised coach parties.
In 1970 the library moved to the renovated Castellau House from its cramped quarters behind the Town House. In 1945 it had operated from an even more cramped cubicle in the High Street rest rooms.
Traditional onion Johnnies came until the 1960s, when there were even a few lingering ‘sharpeners‘ about the doors. In 2000, door-to-door selling continues with contemporary concerns like Betterware, job creation schemes, local pub and restaurant promotions (leaflets), art works, and aerial photographs, as well as a few mobile van services.
Prior to the 1970s there were a full range of vans serving the rural community and the peripheral parts of the burgh – East Lothian Co-operative vans with milk, bakery, groceries, meat and greengroceries; Miller’s butcher vans, grocery vans, Summerfield (Blair) and Renton Dairy (from West Port) vans. Most of the retail traders in the grocery and meat line put up orders that were delivered daily or weekly, a great aid to the elderly. Some of the businesses maintained this is a small way until the 1980s. However, most of the Dunbar butchers and bakers had ceased to make rural deliveries or run rural vans by the mid 1970s, perhaps as the rural population declined or because it was a more mobile population, better able to cater for themselves.
By the mid 1990s-2000 and continuing, Anderson’s butchers (East Linton and North Berwick) were delivering once again in the town, and Andrew Johnston’s fruit and veg van called at customers in some parts of Dunbar.
Until the 1960s, butchers, bakers, dairies and newsagents delivered goods around the town by boys on bicycle or with a cart, often on a Saturday (except for newspapers and milk, which were daily). Bike deliveries came from Purves the grocer after school until c1975, and throughout the period, pharmacies would deliver prescriptions – again via bicycling boys. The last ‘barrowman’ (Anderson) worked into the 1960s taking goods to and from the station.
In the 1980s and 1990s, mobile vans were essentially restricted to two types – fish and ice cream – that toured the burgh (and the fish van the rural area as well). One fish van calls from Eyemouth and another from Port Seton.
Until the 1970s newsagents delivered some morning papers to rural customers via the morning post, although this was becoming chancy by the mid 1970s (a period of uncertain newspaper arrival times) and was mostly confined to weekly papers and magazines sent out on a Friday.
From 1994 (and continuing), at least one Dunbar newsagent ventured a moderate distance into the rural hinterland to deliver papers.