North Berwick | Homes

Public provision | Private development | Expansion | Standards of living | Utilities | Shops & Services

During the period 1945-2000, extensive change took place in the burgh, driven jointly by North Berwick’s attraction as a retirement location and the steady rise in population levels.

In 1951, the burgh population was just over 4000, rising by about 10% by 1971 and thereafter reaching a settlement population of 6223 by 2001 (see Population). Of households in North Berwick in 1951, there were three main categories: owner-occupier, private rented, and accommodation rented from the local authority. At this time the figures for each type was approximately 33%. In 1981 the figures were just over 20% for owner-occupiers, about 17% for private rented accommodation and over 60% rented from local authority. By 1991, these figures have reversed and we have over 50% for owner-occupiers, just under 10% for private rentals and just under 40% for rentals from the local authority. It can be seen that the trend has become to own rather than rent.

With bigger and better salaries in the 1960s, purchasing property was the order of the day and the town council introduced a new fixed-rate mortgage to first-time buyers working in the town. It was said that North Berwick set the highest rents in the county, using the additional revenue to maintain and upgrade the town’s amenities. In 1975, burgh councils were disbanded and newly formed East Lothian District Council spent large sums of money bringing other areas up to the standard set in North Berwick. As a result the town suffered from a lack of investment.

In later years the trend was for more and more private housing to be built, but even these developments became smaller as land was less available. There was a growing need for rented accommodation and for sheltered accommodation to meet the needs of the high numbers of retired residents. With escalating costs of housing in Edinburgh, North Berwick with its excellent amenities and travel facilities, also provided the solution to private housing requirements. On the other hand, it has been said that North Berwick in the 1990s had the worst homeless record in East Lothian, which has continued to the present day. The waiting list for council housing is said to be about 17 years, a situation which, when one studies the trend in housing availability, does not seem solvable.

Public provision

In a summary of the year’s events the Haddingtonshire Courier reported that in 1946 there was an acute housing shortage. North Berwick Town Council stated that housing was priority number one, and asked the Department of Health for temporary houses. The government allocated 35, which were erected throughout the year. The town council planned to extend their housing scheme with the development of the area between Dunbar Road and Law Road, north of the Law and to the south of Lady Jane Gardens and Dundas Avenue. In July that year, 76 permanent houses were erected adjacent to the prefab site. In 1947 housing progress was reported as slow but steady; more temporary houses were allocated by the government. A block of four larger houses was commenced in August on the old bowling green site in the Lodge grounds. In 1948, the temporary housing was completed and the houses at the Lodge completed. A scheme for the Lochbridge site of 76 permanent houses commenced with ten houses and a further ten allocated to tenants with larger families. In 1952 further houses on the Lochbridge site were completed with some allocated to old people. In 1953 further housing was completed with site preparation for more housing to be started in 1954. North Berwick was regarded as progressive in its approach to housing, having completed 200 municipal houses in the post-war period.

In 1967, prefabricated houses in Craigleith Avenue and Dundas Avenue were demolished and rented accommodation was built on these sites. In the 1960s the council had purchased large parts of Mains Farm and in 1970 houses were built in Gilbert Avenue and Couper Avenue. Wishart Avenue was also built with stone from the re-opened quarry at the Law, this development receiving an architectural award. The streets were named after former provosts of the town.

In 1966 private house building featured strongly, while the council continued to carry out further schemes at Lady Jane Gardens and Forth Street, but work was hindered by a government credit squeeze. In 1964, the council and the National Trust for Scotland worked together on a redevelopment (designer W. Schomberg Scott) of the Lodge into eight flats.

In 1973, the council built flats at Brodies yard and in Forth Street. In the 1980s, new housing for the elderly was proposed in Forth Street and on the former site of the Ben Sayer’s factory.

As part of the Lothian Structure Plan 1994, local authorities were instructed to sell off any land they owned not being used to its full potential. The Rhodes Caravan Park, having declined in its use, was sold by the council c1991 for private development, which began in 1999.

Development of a site in Quality Street for East Lothian Housing Association’s scheme for 14 flats was proposed in 1996 but delayed for nine months while an archaeological dig was undertaken. The building proceeded, with a tower on the corner, an internal courtyard and a harled finish decorated with a piece of artwork.

Private development

Post war, there were a lot of large houses in the town that were far too big for servant-less families; architect GE Shackleton began to purchase a number of large properties to the west of the town, and converted them into apartments. Two examples of his work can be seen at Hyndford House and Anchor Villa.

In the burgh, as in towns everywhere, land was recycled over and over again as the need arose, and extensive demolition was undertaken to allow for necessary redevelopment. This included cottages in Law Road, Tantallon Hall, shops and garages in Westgate, the fire station, and tenements in Forth Street. Other buildings demolished were houses in East Road, and stable yard in Kirkports, the Playhouse Cinema in the High Street (a victim of the popularity of TV, closed in the mid 1980s), blacksmith’s premises in Forth Street, the Pavilion at the harbour, a plethora of garages, Glasclune in Greenheads Road, Tantallon Hall, Vale Hotel (Forth Street), Globe Lemonade Works (Forth Street Lane), Hunter Brothers’ haulage yard (Imperial Car Park), Ben Sayers’ factory in Forth Street and the Royal Hotel to name but a few. Some of the buildings had been allowed to fall into disrepair prior to demolition, their original purpose no longer of relevance; examples included the Pavilion, the granary, the old Co-op building and Tantallon Hall.

In almost all instances, in North Berwick, redevelopment took the form of housing. Glasclune, in Greenheads Road, was a large imposing house built for J.B. Balfour in 1889 and had been the home in more recent years for Dr Barnardo’s children. In 1979 there was a fire and the building was badly damaged. Was it an electrical fault or was someone smoking in a cupboard? We shall never know if the singing boys were guilty! (see Police) The building became derelict, the whole site being redeveloped between 1985-87 with private housing in Glasclune Gardens and private flats in Glasclune Court.

The Royal Hotel remained empty for several years and was not helping in appeal to the main approach to North Berwick. After much debate, permission was given to proceed with redevelopment of the site. The building was demolished and in 2000, luxury flats were built on the site with private sheltered accommodation on adjoining land. Many outraged cries were to be heard of other residents’ inability to see the sea any more but the main approach to the town had been brought up to standard!

Tantallon Hall was built originally as an hotel for golfing visitors. It was situated overlooking the burgh golf course and stood out as one of the burgh’s main features. In 1921 it became a holiday home for St Dunstan and in 1925 a Friendship Holiday Association home. More recently no use could be found for it and it was demolished in 1966 to make way for a private housing development.

The 19th century granary at the harbour, formerly known as Harbour Terrace, was home to the fisherfolk. This building fell to the hands of the developers and was redeveloped in the 1970s into luxury flats (designer Mary Tindall). The design won a Civic Trust Award in 1972.

The Douglas Court development in 1998 consisted of the refurbishment of the old Co-op building on the corner of Forth Street and Market Place. The building had been empty for at least four years and was causing much concern as it marred the appearance of the town. The building was gutted and three shops and a restaurant were formed on the ground floor with luxury flats above. The finished exterior decor of the building caused quite a stir, being of a violent reddish hue.


From the 1970s, new developments mushroomed all over North Berwick. These included: Marmion Crescent; Abbey Court; Macnair Avenue; Clare Court in Old Abbey Road; Milsey Court in School Road; Marly Green; Macnair Avenue was extended northwards, and Springfield Gardens (Cromwell Road).

In 1972, land to the west of Glenorchy Road had been released by Sir Hew Hamilton Dalrymple where the Kepple Road and Green Apron Park developments were built, the former being named after an ancestor of Lady Anne Louise Hamilton Dalrymple.

By the late 1970s, all large areas of land available for housing had been developed and smaller plots were sought by the developers, including plots in Forth Street, Brentwood Hill, Fidra Road and numerous sites in St Andrew Street, Strathearn Road and Easter Ferrygate. In 1985, land to the west of Ware Road was sold to Walker Homes (Scotland) Ltd, which then constructed Lord President Road and the various adjacent cul-de-sacs. Since then, developments have continued apace, despite local objections. In the 1990s, large areas of land were developed: to the east, a large private development bordered by Tantallon Road, to the south a four ha site bordered by Windygates Road and Grange Road, and to the southwest, an area bordering the railway and the rear of Dirleton Avenue. In 1999, permission was given for 32 houses and bungalows at Trainer’s Brae, and the same year the development for 140 private dwellings at the old Rhodes caravan park went ahead. Although the proposal had been passed around 1991, building work here had been delayed until the schools were extended to cope with more pupils. Smaller developments occurred to the extreme west of the town.

In spite of this amount of housing expansion, the overall appearance of North Berwick has changed little over the last 50 years. There are houses peeping out above East Bay but the well defined large spaces afforded by the two golf courses and the putting green at West Bay provide an open and spacious landscape. All these areas are well maintained and add to the general pleasing ambience of the town.

North Berwick has always been a special place and continues to be and those of us who live here feel very privileged.

Lynne Turnbull recalls standards of living

In the 1970s, we (two adults and two children) lived in a three-bedroom house. The other rooms were an office/study; piano room; utility room. The kitchen had lino tiles on the floor, a gas hob and oven, with a grill above the hob used for toast (no toaster). The sitting room was carpeted; there was an electric bar fire, TV (no video), and a record player (45 and 33 records). Mains electricity was used for cooking, heating, lighting. There were oil radiators in bedrooms in the 1970s. Wet clothes were hung over these to dry, or dried on a clothes line in the garden.

The bath had a rubber tap hose, which was detachable for use as a ‘shower’. I used to wash my hair in the kitchen sink three times a week, especially on a Sunday night using Vosene medicated shampoo and Pears soap.

In the 1980s, popular perfumes were: Anais Anais, Impulse (women); Drachar Noir, Hi Karate and Givenchy (men). Sachets called ‘toners and shaders’ – non-permanent colour for a Saturday night – were popular.

We had three meals a day – breakfast 7.30am, lunch 1pm, tea 5pm. Breakfast – father ate alone at 7am. Kids ate at 7.45am – Coco Pops or Weetabix. First up got the cream at the top of the glass milk bottle (delivered daily). School dinners comprised sausage rolls, chips, beans and cheese, praline/tiffin bar. Or lunch at home – Heinz tomato soup, plain loaf, white bread, Ambrosia creamed rice. Dinner – meat (eg liver and bacon, pork fillet, meat loaf), potatoes and vegetables. Then toast and marmalade. 1970s drinks – Cremola foam, Five Alive, red cola, ice cream float. The woman and children cleared away afterwards.

In the 1990s I lived in a flat; ‘two-bedroomed’ meant merely one bedroom, plus a boxroom with no window. In the kitchen, there was a microwave, TV, dishwasher, integrated hob and oven. The sitting room had a DVD player, stereo for CDs, and a wooden polished floor.

Modernisation of homes in the 1980s to gas central heating meant we no longer needed to remember to put on the immersion for hot water as it was now on a timer switch – we woke up to a hot house and hot water. There were mixer taps on all sinks, electric or power shower above the bath or as a cubicle. Many houses had two bathrooms, one of which was a shower room. Shower and hairwash daily or at the very least four times a week, or sometimes twice a day, using Body Shop fruity shower gels, scrubs and shampoo, and other makes of shampoo – Neutrogena, Organics. Essential oils are very popular to put in bath or to burn. ‘Bath bombs’ popular – rose petals in bicarbonate of soda. Both men and women used Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger.

Clothes were dried on a whirly-gig in the garden, tumble dryer or clotheshorse in airing cupboard. The washing machine goes on at least once a day and many woollens can go in a wool cycle. People who work in offices in Edinburgh (living in East Lothian) have more clothes that need to be dry-cleaned and use a local dry cleaner in Edinburgh in their lunch hour.

We still eat three meals a day – breakfast 7am, lunch 2pm, tea 7pm, and at the weekend it would be two meals – brunch at 11/12, usually in a café or as a takeaway – and dinner at 8/9pm. Breakfast – Special K with skimmed milk; lunch – sandwich (Emmental cheese, pastrami, humus, sundried tomatoes, ciabbata bread or focacchia, Muller yoghurt corners, left over tea microwaved from previous evening). Dinner – chilli concarne, pasta with pesto sauce, ‘Chicken tonight’ casserole, fish kebabs, Linda McCartney’s vegetarian frozen meals, fresh pasta and sauce, frozen curry from supermarket, fish pie (popular dinners from Ainslie Harriot’s Cookbook). Drinks included Pepsi Max, fresh orange, bottled water. The woman made meals at home – wife or mother, rarely the male; the husband and wife took turns to load dishwasher.

I see a change from the 1970s; by 2000, men were having more of an input into meal preparation and clearing. However, it is still mostly the female who plans the week’s meals, writes the shopping list etc.


For many years the town council continued to maintain the burgh water supply, at a time when other councils had transferred responsibility to the County Council Water Board. Following the construction of the Whiteadder reservoir (open 1969), Kingside pumping station and the chemical filtration plant at Whittingehame by the county council in the 1950s, the water tanks and sand filters at the Whisky Bottle (a lake at the foot of the Law) were closed, and the tanks at the Heugh were used for water storage. In 1975, the supply of water was under the authority of Lothian Regional Council and in 1996 this passed to East of Scotland Water Board.

The Ferrygate Gas Works closed in 1972, when the town’s gas supply was produced at Granton.

In 1958, North Berwick Town Council installed electric street lighting for the first time, under the supervision of burgh surveyor James Dalgleish. This meant the services of Joe Armstrong the ‘lamp-lighter’ were no longer required, but he continued as ‘town-crier’ on official occasions. Two of the original decorative lamp standards presented to the town by the gas company in 1905, with the burgh coat of arms engraved on the glass, still exist. One lamp was erected at the foot of the stairs leading to the council chambers and the other until 1975 was outside the provost’s residence. This was traditionally moved each time a new provost was elected.

For the new system, the town council decided to use warm white fluorescent light rather than the more efficient and economical sodium filament. The fluorescent light gave a pleasing warm glow and was so popular with residents and tourists that the street lighting was switched on during the summer evenings. The town was unique in East Lothian in using this system and the town council continued to maintain the street lighting until 1975, when Lothian Region Transportation Department took over operations and standardised the system to sodium lighting.

Domestic waste was collected in two separate metal containers, food leftovers and household refuse. The food waste was fed to the pigs at the Rhodes farm, a very profitable venture which reduced the rates. The town council purchased Rhodes farm in the 1940s and used the outbuildings as workshops and stabling for a pair of sturdy Clydesdale horses, which were in regular use until the early 1960s. The agricultural land on the Rhodes farm was rented out, new council houses built forming Lime Grove, and a pig farm established on ground where later the Burgh Caravan Site was laid out, now Rhodes Park (housing). The household refuse was deposited in the former lime quarry at the Rhodes farm.

The area west of Strathearn Road including Westerdunes was not part of the burgh and all services in that district were under the jurisdiction of East Lothian County Council. In the 1960s, when the refuse site at the Rhodes was full, the household rubbish was transported to the quarry on the south of Berwick Law where it was incinerated to minimise the waste, then used to in-fill the old quarry. In 1975, East Lothian District Council, as the new local authority, took over the management of refuse when it was processed at the baling station at Barbachlaw, Musselburgh.

Introduced in 1990, the green ‘wheelie bin’ became a common sight. The amenity household refuse disposal site in Heugh Brae was opened in 1992, offering recycling facilities for bottles, cans, clothes and shoes.

The town council financed the costs of all services in the burgh until 1975, through the household rates. For large projects like the new street lighting, the town council borrowed the capital, which was repaid over several years, under the prudent management of town chamberlain William Simpson. Each year at the ‘legendary’ ratepayers’ meeting held in the Pavilion, the town councillors faced the community, and many a colourful debate ensued, when the locals took the opportunity to express their opinion on how effectively their money was being spent by the town council – old fashioned democracy at work.

With the population increase in the 1970s and the rapid growth in house building, the town council realised that the practice of discharging increased amounts of raw sewage into the Firth of Forth was not environmentally acceptable, and they commissioned a feasibility study by civil engineers into the building of a sewage treatment plant and upgrading the drainage system.

Over ten years would elapse before Lothian Region came up with an imaginative plan in 1986 to construct a sewage treatment plant in the steeply sloping gully bounded by ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ in Haugh Road. The building, which resembles a secret bunker from a James Bond movie, was constructed in such a confined space the engineers had to design a unique filtration system using chemically assisted primary settlement rather than traditional techniques. The treated effluent is then discharged via the twin long sea outfall pipes off ‘The Leithies’ at a depth of 16 metres. The sludge remaining from the primary treatment is transferred to road tankers for subsequent disposal.

The waste was gathered from the west of the town, incorporating a pumping station in Fidra Road, then forced by gravity through the 1200mm collection pipes along Milsey Bay to the treatment plant. Unfortunately the concrete pipes in the West Bay were not laid deep enough and continue to form an unsightly scar. Three new rainwater outfall pipes were cut through the rocks to the sea, and the old barnacle-covered Victorian sewage pipes removed. The fully automated and unmanned sewage treatment plant with a capacity for a population of 16,000 was opened in 1995, and received a Saltire Award for civil engineering design.

Shops & Services

In the post-war period, North Berwick served its community with a range of shops seen in other towns of similar size. The East Lothian Cooperative Society had three premises in the town: Dunbar Road (grocery); Lochbridge Road (grocery); and Market Place (grocery, household goods, electrical supplies, furnishing, and a footwear department). The Dunbar Road store ran from the same site until the 1960s, and later became two private houses. FW Woolworth opened a branch in 1955.

High Street, 
 North Berwick, 

High Street, North Berwick, 1960s. Florence Bates ladies’ outfitters, run by Mrs Elspeth Waghorn, is the first shop on the left, next to John Aitken’s sweet shop. The Playhouse Cinema was demolished in the 1980s and in 2000 the Cancer Research charity shop occupied the site, along with Victoria Wines. Carr’s shoe shop on the corner of Balderstone’s Wynd (right) had become Readmore bookshop.

Looking east along Forth Street

Looking east along Forth Street from Balderstone’s Wynd, North Berwick. The buildings on the right have been demolished. The white building in the distance was the Co-op store on the corner of Market Place, now replaced by shops and luxury flats.

Similarly, local trades people necessary for maintenance of properties and suchlike serviced the burgh.

In addition, it had the tourist facilities of the period: ‘six licensed hotels, seven restaurants, 30 private hotels, and an ever-changing and increasing number of boarding houses’. However, even in the 1950s, the pattern of the tourist trade was changing, with an increase in day visitors, and a decline in the longer-staying guests (Snodgrass, C.P. 1953, pp362, 363).

In the 1960s, North Berwick was seriously affected by the so-called package holidays to Spain and the like which turned out to be cheaper for a fortnight than two weeks in a North Berwick boarding house. Over a period, many of these were sold and split into flats, and the seasonal tourist activities on offer declined. With fewer visitors, shopkeepers found life less prosperous and empty shops began to appear; these numbered over a dozen at one point.

High Street looking east. 1970s

High Street looking east, 1970s, with James Hunter’s grocer’s shop on corner of Law Road and his coal merchant’s office next door (55, High St), now occupied by ‘L’Argenette’ jewellers.

While we once had the services of a post office (long established in Westgate) and a sub-post office (Dunbar Road) we now have just one which, when the Post Office privatised the service, won the franchise. The post office is now in the eastern High Street. Other changes to the town meant two of the three fish shops closed with four out of five butchers, and five out of six grocers following suit. These were replaced by two small and one large supermarket.

By 2000, the town had two supermarkets – Rasul Brothers in the High Street, and Safeway in Dunbar Road. The Dunbar Road site became a Safeway c1998, having formerly been run as Presto (a Safeway subsidiary), which had moved from its High Street location to the new site in 1994. Presto had been in the High Street for about ten years, operating from what had been Galbraith’s.

East end of the High Street, 1950s

East end of the High Street, 1950s. The Co-op shop on the extreme left is now Anderson’s butchers. Wilson’s grocers (No. 34) was later occupied by W.A. Scott Ltd., paints & wallpapers. Fowler’s garage, long demolished, is now the site of a supermarket and the Imperial Hotel, Quality Street, in the distance, has been converted into flats.

Rear of East End Garage in the 1950s

This is the rear of East End garage in 1950s, which extended from High Street back to Forth Street. This site is now occupied by Creel Court. The building on the far side of the garage is the ‘Auld Hoose’ public house, built 1898 and still standing on the corner of Forth Street Lane.

Interior Fabrics took over the old High Street Presto shop, and provided a badly needed local outlet for furnishings. Several of the empty shops in the town were taken over by charities, and by 2000 there were three – the Heart Foundation, Cancer Research and the Red Cross.

In 2000, there were five pubs, and five hotels – Blenheim House Hotel; County Hotel; Golf Hotel; Harbour House Hotel; Nether Abbey Hotel, and nine restaurants – Bella Italia; The Folly; The Grange (Scottish); Millennium Spice (the Joypur Indian Restaurant (Balti) which was renamed in 2000!); Lucky House (Chinese); Miller’s Bistro; Poonthai’s (Thai); and the Tantallon Inn (Scottish). .

Lynne Turnbull looks back at shopping

‘[In the 1970s] we bought in all the food – none of it was produced at home; a big grocery shop on Fridays, but most days bought one or two items as necessary. The wife or mother (ie the female in the family) bought it and walked home with it from the High Street. We shopped at Beck’s grocer’s store in the High Street and Pattersons green grocer, and at the local fish shop and local butchers, Struths; all High Street bought in the 1970s’.


‘[in the 1990s] on Saturday morning – a weekly big shop; couples went together to buy food weekly with the car. 80% of food bought in one go at a supermarket, either Safeway’s in North Berwick, Tesco’s in Haddington (they have a café!), Asda in Edinburgh (sell clothes, music, garden supplies etc.) During the week if you ran out of eg milk, it was purchased in the local Asian shop or in the chip shop while buying a fish supper.

Alcohol purchased mostly at the local off-licence (Threshers or Victoria Wine and sometimes at the supermarket). If going to a party or Christmas time – bought alcopops (eg Bacardi Breezers, Moscow Mule etc) and bottles of beer such as Bud Ice or Molson Dry. A box of wine for the fridge to allow a daily glass at evening meal – it doesn’t go off’.

On clothes’ purchasing

‘The ski jackets, drainpipe jeans, tukka boots and donkey jackets of the 1980s came from a John Moore or Littlewoods catalogue, or Princes Street. Under these we wore such as a ra-ra dress, drainpipe pinstripe stretch jeans. Under these were M&S twin sets, vest and shorts, pants (polka dot).

In the 1990s, the duffel coat, flying jacket, fur coat, knee-high boots, body warmers, cargo / combat pants, and bootleg trousers came from Princes Street, Next Directory, or shopping centre – like the Gyle. Underwear was Sloggi knickers, Calvin Klein knickers, M&S white bra, pop sox, hold-ups. Underwear came from Marks & Spencer, Jenners, and John Lewis.

For work, nurses wore a pin-striped dress – in white and a colour, the colour denoting the grade, no hat. Therapists wore coloured slacks and white tunic, trouser colour denoting the speciality – such as occupational therapist in green, physiotherapist in blue, radiographer in burgundy’.

Hairstyles were important:

‘from the 1970s young people were rarely seen in a local salon. It was prestigious to get the train up to Edinburgh on a Saturday morning or late night Thursday to get a hair cut at a named salon. Hairdressers in Edinburgh – Ian Cameron, Cheynes, Brian Drum.

The 1970s [style was] a pageboy cut or short cropped – often looking like a boy! By the 1980s, a ‘shake’ cut – long hair feathered on to the face. They would serve a coffee in the hairdressers. By the 1990s, it was a straight bob, and the hair was worn up with crocodile clip; [the hair stylists] offered a glass of wine and a ‘Hello’ magazine. Haircuts every 8-12 weeks, and the average haircut cost for a woman £25-£40′.

Following the closure of the library, which was part of the service offered by Boots the chemist at 33 Westgate, the community-spirited Miss Dow persuaded the town council to establish a library in the Hope Rooms. In the 1950s, Mrs Annie Buckingham was asked to supervise the new service and was appointed the first town librarian; she was often to be seen riding her bicycle around town, and retired as librarian in 1964 at the age of 71 years. As the population increased in the 1970s the library became too small and the facility moved to the former public school in School Road.