North Berwick

Parish Representative:
Norman Hall


North Berwick, the most northerly of all the county’s parishes, covers some 2198 ha (5431 acres), and is largely agricultural, with extensive farms. While the location of the parish can be pinpointed from miles away by the conical outline of North Berwick Law, the fortunes of the burgh – the main settlement – have been, for many years, moulded by its coastal location. Its long history as a fishing town and seaside resort changed considerably between 1945 and 2000: the fishing industry petered out, and the decline of the town as a holiday venue and the rise of the day visitor placed new pressures on North Berwick.

Tindall admits that the decision was made to expand the town as a ‘high class residential town, rather than a tourist resort’, and that ‘tawdry shops selling beach trash’ were not to be allowed (Tindall, F. 1998 p34). And so it was; North Berwick attracted tourists almost by default, and of all the East Lothian burghs, it emerged as the most affluent – a desirable place to live. This in itself attracted a certain type of visitor – who appreciated the natural beauty of the town and the area for itself, rather than what entertainment was on offer. This focus culminated at the end of the period in the development of the North Berwick Seabird Centre; the three offshore islands of Craigleith, Lamb and (especially) the Bass Rock were being utilised as tourist attractions in their own right.

The town had long been attractive to retirees, and from the late 1980s development here was directed towards attracting new residents from Edinburgh and beyond. The result has been an increase of the building of modern houses targeted at the upper end of the housing market. Meantime, the needs of the local population are widely felt to have been ignored; few houses have been built for the first-time buyer, and the right-to-buy scheme combined with changes in public housing provision mean a long wait for the less affluent who wish to remain in their home town.

In 1945, the effects and shortages of war were still being felt. For instance, in the schools, for a short time slates were again brought into use to save paper. A number of male teachers were still serving in the armed forces so several over-age teachers remained on the staff. From 1941, North Berwick’s secondary pupils (12+ years) were taught in the High School in Grange Road and, for many years after 1945, the ‘new’ school retained its camouflage paint! The radar station at Castleton (Canty Bay, also known as Tantallon), established in 1944 by the Air Ministry and Admiralty, was manned by a detachment of the Royal Navy until the early 1950s.

At the end of the war, there was a chronic shortage of council houses for rent and this was perhaps one of the most serious problems. There were several reasons for this shortage, not the least of which was returning servicemen and women; many had married when in the forces and had lived temporarily with relatives or in rented accommodation. They now wanted to set up homes of their own. There were many cases where a serviceman had married a local girl and had chosen to live here. In other cases children had arrived so bigger accommodation was required. In addition, the Polish service men and women based in the area could not return to their homeland, and many settled in North Berwick.