Dunbar | Leisure

In 1953, the following facilities were available in Dunbar: two cinemas – the Playhouse and the Empire:

My shilling a week paid for periodic trips to the ‘pictures’ at Dunbar: 3d each way on the bus, 1/9 for the Playhouse Cinema and 3d for a poke of chips: total half a crown (2/6 or 12.5p). In the 1960s, my brother provided a lift on the back of his scooter down to Dunbar to see my favourite Elvis films.

Vi Marshall

There were also – an outdoor pool; a number of halls for hire – the Corn Exchange, the old parish hall, the Abbey church hall, the Methodist church hall, the co-operative hall, St Anne’s hall, Dunbar Castle Social club and the Royal British Legion hall. At the start of the period the pool ballroom was well patronised. From 1963-c late 1970s, the Victoria Ballroom was also available. This facility was used for dances, sports, arts events and exhibitions.

The new Belhaven hall beside the church opened c1970, and was available to hire.

By 2000, both of the cinemas, the Victoria Ballroom and the outdoor pool had gone. The remaining halls were: the Methodist church hall, the parish church hall, the Royal British Legion hall, the Corn Exchange (in a very poor state), St Anne’s hall, and from c1960-date the Masonic Lodge hall on the Bleachingfield was also available to hire. Space was also available at the grammar school.

In addition, after 1972 the Gibb Room of the library was well used for exhibitions, displays and club meetings. There was a new leisure pool (opened 1992), with hall also available; the Hallhill Healthy Living Centre (opened 2001) that also has public rooms available.

Like most other small towns, Dunbar had a range of clubs and societies available to the residents. These included the following – and there were many others.

The Dunbar and District Choral Society (established in 1949 as the Dunbar and District Musical Society) is the longest surviving of East Lothian choirs. It has a membership of 60; coming through lean times in the 1950s, to flourish thereafter. In 1995, they performed in France in Bourges Cathedral in the presence of the Archbishop, and also performed elsewhere in East Lothian.

The Dunbar Lyric Group (established 1985) performed contemporary pieces and such as Fiddler on the Roof and The Gondoliers (at the Grammar School in April 1996).

The ‘41 Club‘ pantomines were a feature of the 1960s as was the town’s prizewinning W.R.I. Drama Group but such local am-dram petered out around 1966. The Literary and Debating Society failed about the same time, one of the last in the county. After the Gibb Room was opened with the library in Castellau in 1972, Dunbar Music Club held musical evenings, playing records. In 1972-3 the scouts and guides staged a popular Gang Show and other youth groups have put on public performances from time to time.

Dunbar and District Cage Birds Society was revived in January 1995 and soon had 20 members. They held their first open show since the mid 1960s in October 1996.

Gardeners have had Dunbar Gardening Club, which later revived under the original Victorian name, Dunbar Horticultural Society.

A detachment of the Sea Cadet Corps (known as T.S. Valiant) organised by Mr C. Jamieson started in 1957 at the old school at Woodbush. It moved to a hut beside the Barracks in 1959, and soon afterwards to the Barracks itself. Despite accommodation problems (moving out of the Barracks, to the Abbey church and on again) it has been very successful. Army cadets, air training cadets, the boys’ brigade, scouts and guides (the latter at Dunbar and Belhaven) have all had periods of popularity. At the end of the period most were suffering from a lack of leaders and competition from other interests.

Handicrafts were promoted by shops like ‘Busy Bee’ 1970s-85: Castle Quilters is a thriving band of embroiderers and patchwork quilt makers, some of whom exhibit in shows around the country. The Quilters formed in October 1988 and staged their first exhibition in the Parish Church Hall in 1990; £1070 was raised for the Church Restoration Fund. Their biennial exhibitions (alternating with Law Quilters of North Berwick) have supported children’s charities (CHAS, Sick Children’s Hospital, and the learning support unit at the primary school) and others (Breast Cancer, Dunbar RNLI) ever since.

The Floral Art Club (1960-97) did not survive to see in the Millennium.

The Dunbar Rotary Club began in 1964 and has been followed by Round Table and Probus (formed 1973) clubs.

Dunbar Castle Lodge of Freemasons celebrated their bicentenary on 6 November 1958. The lodge history was published at that time (McMartin) and plans have been instituted to update this scarce volume. While the influence of the lodge on local events has declined it remains at the end of the period a thriving body in contrast to many lodges in other places, with a younger than average committee. The lodge is now located in the former telephone exchange beside the Bleachingfield, where the Dunbar Castle Social Club provides another venue for clubs and societies. A branch of the Order of the Eastern Star shares the lodge.

From 1976 there has been a Dunbar Royal British Legion Pipe Band.

The Countess Youth & Community Centre (opened November 1982) at the Bleachingfield was built originally as clubrooms for the local football team, Belhaven Boys’ Club. It took over ten years to build, using volunteers from the community. When building work slowed down it was finished with a grant from Lothian Regional Council. The building officially opened as a Countess Youth Centre in November 1982. The community owns the centre with the land being leased from the council. It is a registered Scottish charity and is run by a management committee made up from representatives of the user groups and from local people. The building is financed from rent from user groups, subscriptions, a small revenue grant from the East Lothian Council and lots of fundraising. The committee are at present in the early stages of planning to build a new centre and have set up a sub committee to move this forward.

Previous user groups included an archery group, toddler group, toy library and karate groups. The centre is also booked for private discos or parties.

Groups using the centre include:

Countess Playgroup – under 5s; Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays, morning and afternoon groups. Countess After School Club; Monday-Thursday 3-6pm and Fridays 12-6pm term time; open during school holidays. Ladies’ Badminton; Tuesdays 1-2.30pm. Countess Youth Café 13+; Wednesday and Saturday nights between 8-10pm. Line dancers’ group; Sundays 7-9pm, open to all ages.

Countess Youth Club runs three evenings a week. They recently altered their programme to: Mondays 6.30-8pm, primary 4-7s; 8.00-10pm 1st year+. Tuesdays 6.30-8pm, primary 4-7s, 8.00-10pm 1st year+; Thursdays 6.30-10pm 1st year+. Friday is traditionally a night for discos or trips; these are advertised as arranged.

The local Community Development Officer from East Lothian Council has an office in the centre. The only paid employee of the centre is a part-time cleaner. The youth club leaders are part-time youth workers with part of their time paid from the Community Education Department and the rest of their time is voluntary.

From 1996-date, the Dunbar Area Festival of Youth has been held each year, generally on the first Sunday in September. First proposed by the local community worker, this event is open to young performers from Dunbar, East Linton and the surrounding villages. An increasingly popular event, it is held on the Bleachingfield, and provides a venue for local talent to demonstrate their skills. Attended by a whole range of youth groups, the event now lasts from noon through into the evening. Local traders have supported the event over the years, and the council provides the marquees free; the organisers have had sponsorship from the ‘Awards for All’ funds.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that a town that was strict on Sunday shopping and drinking at the outset of the period has enjoyed performances by a band of male strippers (Black Velvet) who visited the Goldenstones c2000. Still, the chaps were not left out with ‘go-go’ dancers at various venues in the 1960s and 1970s and ‘lap-dancers’ at Phil Murray’s on the High Street (the former Lido Cafe and billiard hall) in the 1990s. Public house and bar opening hours are more extensive than hitherto although, like the hotels, a number of pubs have closed, recent losses being the Jersey Arms in the 1980s (now a restaurant) and the Foresters Arms (now housing).

Shows and fairs still come twice or thrice a year, but in smaller numbers than prior to the war. Emerson’s travelling shows were a staple up into the 1970s, but residents near Countess Park made complaints about the showfolk and the Emerson family deleted Dunbar from their itinerary – once a mainstay, they never returned. Their attraction was a Jungle Ride and Ben Hur, with supporting stalls, the ensemble being pulled by ex-military tractors (one green, one red). The family lived in fine decorated caravans (more like mobile homes) and was led by a brother and sister – Miss Emerson and Old John, although later Young John took over.

Other groups were Taylor’s Waltzers, O’Brian’s Dodgems and Cadona’s Shows, many of whom continue to come to Dunbar. Some stopped for the winter at Johnnies Amusements by the East Beach. Circuses were more infrequent – Circus Pinder and Robert Brothers Circus are remembered – as are motor-cycle specialists, Sunderland’s Fire Eater and (more recently) Donna Collins (‘Gladys Chucklebutty’) and Roderick Sandilands (fire eater). Shows still use the remnant part of the Bleachingfield, after having been exiled to Winterfield for a few years in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Cowan’s Park (later Countess Park, of which only part of the Bleachingfield remains) was used for sporting activities, supplemented by part of Winterfield from 1928. Progressively, all other open areas have been developed for housing, which also now extends down the inland side of Back Road, adjacent to Winterfield. Only the school playing fields and Lauderdale Gardens and the Bleachingfield have not been built upon although the youth club, scout hut, play area, and encroaching car parking occupy the latter. Winterfield offered squash courts, tennis courts (very rough) and a rugby pitch.

In the 1960s, Blue Circle established the Deerpark Social Club for staff; it comprised bar, function rooms, changing facilities and sports pitches. This was well-used by the workforce throughout the 1970s and 1980s but during the early 1990s changing company priorities and proposals to maximise its return from its land-holdings caused the club’s closure; situated at a distance from the town centre, this once popular club also suffered from a lack of public transport (as an alternative to driving). It was intended that a new golf course, large-scale tourist hotel and other facilities would be built but changing economic imperatives meant that the plan was put on hold.

From 1992, the indoor pool complex has offered leisure fitness classes (step, aerobics and aqua aerobics) and there is a multi-gym.

At the end of the period, the building of the Hallhill Healthy Living Centre was underway. The genesis of this was a plan to bring all Dunbar’s sports clubs under one roof. It was first proposed for Winterfield in November 1996, but the initiative, for a ‘sport and welfare facility’, was announced in April 1999, and was finally built at Hallhill. It was generally welcomed by the sporting community, and completed under the guidance of the Dunbar Community Development Company Ltd. set up in November 1997. The Scottish Sports Council contributed almost £1million towards the £2.7million project. The company encompassed a broad spectrum of interested groups – including sports clubs, schools, community groups, businesses, East Lothian Council, the churches, and disabled, elderly and youth groups.

At the planning stage it was intended that Hallhill was to be open seven days a week. The site was to include: three football pitches, two rugby pitches, one multi-use all weather pitch (floodlit), and a six-lane x 400m running track. There was also planned a new grandstand, clubhouse, changing facilities and office accommodation as well as indoor facilities – a hall (badminton size), two squash courts, a bar/social area and two meeting rooms. Car and coach parking was provided with access from the new roads through Lochend Wood. It was to accommodate the existing clubs of Dunbar United Junior Football Club, Dunbar United Colts and Dunbar Rugby Football Club; affiliated membership was to be offered to West Barns Bowling Club and Dunbar Bowling Club.

There was to be a board drawn from a wide cross-section of the community, with the main aim to ‘encourage every member of the community to participate in sport or physical activity of their choice’. It was also to ‘provide a social framework’.

The catchment area of the centre was the communities within the grammar school ‘cluster’.

Activities associated with the sea have long been popular – the first divers to regularly venture from Dunbar used one small stone-built building to the northeast corner of the Barracks Square and later converted a building near the Broadhaven at Victoria Place as their headquarters.

The Dunbar & District History Society was formed in spring 1992, with an initial core of some 25 members. It offers a winter programme of talks, reviving some aspects of the old Literary and Debating Society, and has been a great success. Later that year, the new county museums officer, Sue Jenkinson (appointed by East Lothian District Council), saw an opportunity for establishing a small local history museum in the town. The community council supported her efforts, which were assisted by volunteers and the history society. The museum opened for the 1993 season with volunteer staff from the history society, and from 1 April 1994 with professional museum assistants (despite the death of Ms Jenkinson in a car accident at Haddington) themselves assisted by the increasingly expert members and volunteers of the history society. The annual launch of the new exhibition at the museum has become an established event for the history buffs in the town.

“Its Changed Days Now Right Enough” was the name given to a series of events and exhibitions organised by the East Lothian Community History and Arts Trust which was mounted between August and October 1981. The research and presentation were done by Pat Fitzgerald and Stella Elsdale. Exhibitions showing the great changes which had occurred in the life and work of the communities were mounted in Musselburgh, Tranent, Prestonpans, North Berwick, Haddington and in the Parish Church Hall, Dunbar. They included printed and oral reminiscenses There was an A.V slide tape in each location. There was a display of unusual artefacts which showed aspects of bygone life. The exhibition in Dunbar was supplemented in the church hall, by demonstrations of embroidery with an exhibition, a screen printing session for children, a talk on John Muir by Ian Fullerton and, presented in and by the Grammar School, a fashion show entitled “Fashion through the ages” [in effect it was limited to a hundred years or so]. It included a large quantity of authentic costume. Appropriate vignettes were enacted and it was accompanied by suitable music. The whole enterprise, throughout the county, was supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals.

West Barns’ hall (gifted in the 1890s, opened 1901) was available throughout the period, although now very little used; the village was also gifted a bowling green with clubhouse, both as gifts under trustees. The Cunningham family finally gave over the ownership – the hall to the village council and the bowling green and clubhouse to the club. Because the club green was small, so unable to hold major competitions, the club decided a new green and clubhouse should be built. This was done in the 1980s with a large clubhouse now used by the locals for functions; the new green is situated on Seafield land.

The local inn, as well as dispensing ale also does meals; it has a function hall, which up to the 1980s was a skittle alley; it drew groups from as far afield as Edinburgh University in the late 1970s. Now it is used for entertainment nights.

For a number of years the village turned out a football team that played in the amateur league; the ground is sited on the village playing fields next to the village school on land gifted to the village by Colin Stark. Many years ago pigeon racing and quoiting took place with clubs in the village. Another change of times.

During the 1960s and 1970s, sand yachting (c1970-80) and car Derbys were popular and were held on the sands at Belhaven.

There have been several attempts to start a youth club, but these have quickly fallen away; there are no other youth organisations, ie scouts, guides, cubs etc. A pre-school group for children under five meets twice a week in the village hall.

Since the end of 1945, each June there has been a children’s gala held with floats, races and other activities. From 1945-mid 1950s it was held at Hedderwick Links, the whole village marching to the site. Since Mr Stark gifted the playing field, the gala has since been held there.

The Millennium New Year was celebrated at the Jubilee tree (planted by Mrs Hay of Belton to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935) on the village green. In 2000 this tree – a 65-foot tall Atlantic cedar – was covered in coloured lights making it the tallest freestanding Christmas tree in the county. The lights were switched on by George Porteous aged 92, who had assisted with the planting ceremony. A committee was set up to provide the lights thereafter.

East Barns had been a close community, despite having Dunbar near at hand. Mrs Hope of Barneyhill ran a Sunday school for local children, with an annual outing to places like Coldingham beach; she raised funds for this adventure from a summer garden fete. The school gym took the place of the village hall in other places. It was often used for wedding receptions, where the traditional ‘paying weddings’ seem to have persisted (guests providing their own food and beer). Other pleasures had to be sought further afield – dancing at Innerwick, Oldhamstocks and Co’path, where traditional favourites like the Gay Gordons, Foxtrot and Quick Step were on offer. These events always attracted keen dancers, both male and female, from amongst the younger element in Dunbar as well, most getting there by bicycle. Racier Dunbar in the 1960s had the dancing at the Pool Ballroom with its Pantone sound system on Friday nights and there the Twist and Jive were the order of the day (with a three mile cycle run before and after for the East Barns contingent). The teenagers were happy with these alcohol-free events: ‘you wouldn’t have dreamt of buying booze…until you were 17 or 18’. Other dances were organised by Dunbar’s thriving clubs – rugby club dances at the Craig-en-gelt, tennis club dances there on Saturday nights. Romance was complicated by distance: ‘… soon as they knew where you lived – they had to be keen…’ because seeing a girl home to East Barns meant a six mile cycle ride!

Beyond the limits of the old burgh boundaries, the land has been used for agriculture and leisure throughout the past 50 years. At both ends of Dunbar, land is used for golf (see Economy).

There were also other ‘leisure activities’ going on in the wider parish – including poaching.