Dunbar | Revisiting the past

Dunbar’s history – from 680 and earlier- is comprehensively summarised by Pat Dennison in the most recent Scottish Burgh Survey publication (publisher and date not yet known). The Castle Park excavations in particular have considerably moved on our understanding of the heritage of this burgh and market town.

The redevelopment work on Castle Park (1988/89) provided an opportunity for archaeology; a mediaeval graveyard was discovered in May 1991, right at the end of the four-year dig at the site of the leisure pool. The Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust completed their work in December 1991. Further bones were discovered nearby in February 1993, thought to possibly be part of an Anglian cemetery.

The 13th century Dunbar Castle and the surrounding Castle Park are designated Scheduled Ancient Monuments; Dunbar Castle itself suffered permanent change in December 1993 however when the surviving breached curtain wall connecting the castle to the 16th century Battery collapsed.

In 1971 a survey showed there were still 22 air-raid shelters in the burgh, many in private gardens, where most were ‘still useful’

The John Muir statue (the work of Valentin Znoba) appeared despite a 250-signature petition against its location, which was raised in November 1996. The protests centred around the proposed location and ‘mis-use’ of the £25,000 set aside for the statue, neglecting to observe that public art was a near compulsory part of the large scale projects of the 1990s under legislation. The sum came from within the High Street improvements budget and could not be applied elsewhere. Many protests of the 1990s were raised on what might seem valid points but failed on the complexity of the funding of public works but they helped focus public debate and raised many local concerns that were sometimes addressed. Often, in the case of the John Muir statue, it is hard to realise what all the fuss was all about from the perspective of a few years.

D.J.M.A.’s first bid submitted to the Millennium Commission for a John Muir Centre in Dunbar was turned down in 1995. The bid was launched in 1994 a century after Muir was at the height of his fame in California. Although the bid had ‘millennium impact’, the commission required more information. However, by November the following year the association submitted a further, more ambitious application. The proposal, ‘Wild Rocks, Sea and Sky – the John Muir Project’, called for regeneration of the cliff top trail and a centre based in a ‘Wild Rocks’ building looking over Bayswell and was supported by ELC, LEEL and Scottish Natural Heritage. The proposed cost was just under £1 million; the project did not proceed further.

In 1975, the impending end of the Dunbar Burgh Council was behind the statement that representatives of the National Museum of Antiquities had taken custody of the town’s 19th century weights and measures, including the official yardstick. This move was in fact taken in contravention of the spirit if not the word of the forthcoming transfer guidelines and transferred the ownership of these items permanently. The N.M.A. guaranteed that would be made available locally either on short or long term exhibition. They have never so far been exhibited in Dunbar as the criteria that the now National Museums of Scotland place on exhibition environments and security are beyond the means of existing museum provision to satisfy.

Concern was expressed at the state of the barometer at the Old Harbour, which was also to lead to a long campaign. Responsibility for the maintenance of the plinth, carving and barometer was disputed between district and regional councils and the community council was powerless to advance its case. However, it was noted that a promise to do something if ever responsibility was transferred appeared to have been secured. Thus it was that under a unitary council responsibility could not be further ducked and the means were found to restore the memorial carving and provide a new barometer. The restoration was costed at £16,000 in 1996, with Historic Scotland approval. It was unveiled 17 April 1998. A new sculpture by Michelle de Bruin replaced that by A. Handyside Ritchie (1804-70), which was badly eroded. The new paintwork on the barometer almost at once gave cause for concern.