Dunbar | Population

By parish* (burgh), from the General Registrar’s office By locality – census – ie Dunbar and West Barns village
1931 5062 (3751) 2399M (1749M) 2663F (2002F)
1951 5439 (4115) 2514M (1859M) 2925F (2256F)
1961 5088 (4004) 2364M (1819M) 2724F (2185F)
1971 5696 (4611) 2712M (2179M) 2984F (2432F) 5277 2509M 2768F
1981 6386 (5666) 3126M 3260F 6035 2944M 3091F
By Small Area Statistics – census
1991 6849 3291M 3558F 5788 2759M 3029F
1991 449 (West Barns) 204M 245F
2001 7105 3398M 3707F
By parish, from ELDC By settlement, from ELDC/ELC
1991 6536 6059 459 West Barns
1997 (est.) 7041 3485M 3560F (sic) 6454 484 West Barns
2001 No Data 6354 (ELC) 555 West Barns

* includes West Barns

Population figures are difficult to compare, as no two sources extract data in the same way.

The population of Dunbar parish grew by around 2000 people in the period to a total of over 7000 by 2001. It is very difficult to derive consistent figures from the statistical information available, owing to boundary changes, but much of the growth was in the town itself – although this has expanded to a great extent into what was once counted as the parochial area.

The burgh figure was stable until the period 1961-71. The rise of 500 seen then was almost entirely due to the influx of Glasgow settlers in the decade from 1962. The burgh growth in the next decade is much harder to explain although a baby boom was part of it. It may be that this marked the beginning of the growth of Dunbar as a commuter and retirement community. This growth coincided with the decline of the town as a summer holiday destination and it may be that holiday lets began to be converted into permanent homes. Several major building schemes (Ashfield-Brunt Court, Newhouse – locally known as the Walker Homes scheme – and conversions around the harbour area) came on-stream in this period.

Although West Barns has grown, with more houses, the village population has risen only very slightly since the end of the building programme. This may be due to there being not so large families, and the population becoming more elderly, with older couples being moved into the area from farms in the countryside.

Although comparative figures are not available for the last two decades an estimate of around 6,500 in the town and c600 additionally in the parish would not appear to be wide of the mark for 2000. East Lothian Council’s 2001 figures estimate Dunbar’s population at 6354 and that of West Barns at 555.

Other statistical accounts have remarked upon the longevity of Dunbar folk. In January 1995, Dunbar-born Isa Graham died at the age of 106. Isa had a remarkable record of service in the voluntary sector in Dunbar and lived independently until she was 102. Around the same time, Beatrice Avery of Belhaven (where she had lived from 1963) was celebrating her 105th birthday, having come to East Fortune with her husband during the 1914-18 war.

At the end of the war a number of prisoners of war, European refugees, displaced persons, and allied servicemen from the Eastern block settled in the Dunbar area. Many married and made Dunbar their permanent home. The 1950/51 valuation roll gives one ‘civilianised P.O.W’ (name not given) living at No 7 East Barns.

Emigration from the parish is hard to quantify. In the 1950s and 1960s, substantial numbers left for Canada and Australia (the visitors leaving comments on the Dunbar Traders’ website are recent evidence of those still with a memory of their birthplace). This emigration included entire families as well as young individuals taking advantage of assisted schemes. Many families maintain communication with their relatives in these places and others.

From the 1960s, there were an increasing number of school leavers who left the parish for good in pursuit of work; a small number are beginning to find their way back as retirement looms. This in part reflected an ever-increasing number taking courses in further education and a general drift away in search of work. Fully half of the sixth year class that graduated in 1975 left the area; several others left for a period. The experience of other school classes is unlikely to differ much. So it is quite clear that the overall growth in population hides a net outflow of the Dunbar born and educated. It is hard to get away from the feeling that Dunbar is exporting its youth, much as it has always done; conversely it is good that more people now have access to other opportunities than in the past.

Right throughout the period there were a number of holiday homes within the district. They were either ‘permanent’ caravans or chalets at Belhaven and East Links or rental properties in Belhaven and Dunbar. However, the days of the long-term summer visitor, common in the interwar period, are long past. In 1953, it was estimated that every day some 3-4,000 holiday-makers flocked to Dunbar at the height of the holiday season (E.L.C.C. Survey Report 1953 p112).

The other transient populations once common in the county appear to have declined at Dunbar. The farms require few seasonal labourers from outside the parish. When Irish hands ceased to arrive for harvest is unclear, but this practice was in decline in the county from the 1970s on (see Migrant & Seasonal Workers in East Lothian Agriculture by Dr Heather Holmes).

Some of the newcomers to the area comprise either people taking up professional appointments in Dunbar (teachers, doctors), retirees or those attracted to Dunbar as a place to bring up children, while generally, one or more of the adults in a family commute to Edinburgh or further afield. As in the 1900s, families of Italian extraction had settled in the town in the later part of the post-war period, one family (grocer’s c1975) and from c1980 several families, of Asian (fancy goods, food) and Chinese (food) origin settled in Dunbar. Similarly, Asian families ran a number of the peripheral stores (on Summerfield Road and at West Barns). Some (but not all) of these proprietors live in the town.