Dunbar Town Centre
Dunbar prospered initially as a market town with a strong fishing and farming community, then as as a military base and eventually became popular in the late19th century as a seaside and golfing resort. The opening of the Dunbar Railway Station in 1844 was key to the development of the tourism industry and the famous outdoor pool (demolished in the 1984 after 100 years of bathing fun), was at one time the largest outdoor pool in Scotland.
Dunbar is now a fairly large town with new housing developments extending her boundary significantly over the last fifteen years. The historic town centre however is among one of the oldest of the Royal or King’s burghs in Scotland – this title was given to the town in 1370 under Kind David II and this gave the right to trade in goods, most of which occurred on the long and broad High Street.
In those days, the town centre featured a standard design with a castle at one end and a church (currently derelict), at the other with temporary market stalls lining the main street. Over time these ”shops” moved into the buildings and the shopkeepers lived with their families upstairs, often with gardens to the rear of the buildings. Today almost every High Street shop is still independently owned – although few owners still live “upstairs”.
Visiting the High Street the buildings vary in style and grandness with the notable Town House with its tower and outside a statue commemorating Dunbar’s most famous son, John Muir, the founder of the modern conservation movement. His birthplace is now a Museum on the High Street which is free to visit. In the last century there were also a number of cinemas and dance halls on or beside the High Street and a bustling night life that many locals can still recall.
Like Edinburgh, our High Street has a great many closes branching off it and each has its own character and story. Some lead to private courtyards and homes, others lead to gardens and a number towards the lower streets by the harbours and East Beach.
The view from the High Street of the once great castle (ruined in 1568), was replaced with the building of the imposing Dunbar (or Lauderdale) House which was built in 1734. This private house later become part of a permanent military presence that was established in the strategic town in 1855 by the War Office and remained until the 1950s. The nearby Lauderdale Park (a walled garden) is a popular attraction.
The above is the story of Dunbar’s relatively recent history but local excavations show evidence of Iron Age settlements from 800 – 530BC with the remains of a fort by the cliffs which gave the town its name which means “summit fort”. There are also many ancient burial sites in the area and a priory which was founded by Trinitarians between1240-8.
For a period Dunbar was actually in the kingdom of Northumbria (England), but in the 11th century became a part of Scotland. Lying almost exactly between Scotland’s capital Edinburgh and Berwick, across the English border, Dunbar played an important defensive role with its great strategic castle overlooking the harbour. Major battles between England and Scotland were fought in the area over five centuries culminating in the tragedy of the1650 Battle of Dunbar.