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Dunbar, Haddingtonshire

Historical Description

DUNBAR, a royal burgh, a market-town, and parish, in the county of Haddington containing, with the two villages of Eastbarns and Westbarns, 4471 inhabitants, of whom 3013 are in the burgh, 11 miles (E. by N.) from Haddington, and 29 (E. by N.) from Edinburgh. This place is of remote antiquity, and appears to have derived its name from the situation of its castle on a high and rugged rock, forming a conspicuous landmark. The castle was given by Kenneth I., King of Scotland, to an eminent warrior named Bar, to which circumstance some writers erroneously refer the origin of the name; and in 1072, the castle and lands were conferred by Malcolm upon Cospatrick, Earl of Northumberland, and afterwards Earl of Dunbar, who had taken refuge at his court from the tyranny of William the Conqueror, and whose descendants for many generations made this their chief baronial residence. In 1296, the eighth Earl of Dunbar and March having formed an alliance with England, Edward I. sent Earl Warren to besiege the castle, which had been surrendered by the Countess of Dunbar to the Scots, whose army, assembled at this place, was totally routed by the English at the battle of Dunbar, with great slaughter. After the defeat of his forces at Bannockburn in 1314, Edward II., previously to his embarkation for Berwick, took shelter in the castle of Dunbar, which, from its great strength and the importance of its situation, was regarded as the key of Scotland, and was consequently exposed to continual assaults during the wars with England. The ninth Earl of Dunbar, to prevent its falling into the hands of the English, levelled the castle to the ground, and was compelled by Edward III. to rebuild it at his own expense. In 1337 it was besieged by the Earl of Salisbury, and most resolutely defended by Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, who obliged the English forces to raise the siege. In the year 1435, the castle and the seigniories of Dunbar and March became forfeited to the crown, on the attainder of the tenth earl, and were bestowed by King James I. on the Duke of Albany; and in 1446, the queen dowager of that monarch died in the castle, and was interred at Perth. In 1475 the Duke of Albany, on his escape from Edinburgh, landed at this place, and afterwards embarked for France: he soon returned, however, and regained possession of his castle; but in 1483 was again compelled to abandon it to the English, by whom it was a few years subsequently given up to James III. In 1488 an act of the Scottish parliament was passed for the demolition of this ancient fortress, but the measure was not carried into execution.

Mary, Queen of Scots, took refuge in the castle after the murder of David Rizzio, in 1565, and subsequently appointed the Earl of Bothwell its governor. She also passed six days here, together with her court, in a tour along the coast in the following year; and upon the murder of Darnley in 1567, Bothwell, attended by 1000 horsemen, arrested the queen on her progress to Stirling, and carried her and her retinue by force to Dunbar, where he detained her prisoner for twelve days. Soon after her marriage with Bothwell, she remained here for some time, while levying forces from Lothian and the Merse against the people who had taken arms to oppose the earl; and marching with these to Carberry Hill, she there joined the hostile party, and, abandoning Bothwell, the castle was given up by his dependents to the Earl of Murray, who had been appointed regent of Scotland, and was soon demolished. The site of the castle now belongs to the Earl of Lauderdale, who is a descendant of the Earls of March. In 1650, Dunbar was the scene of a battle in which Leslie was defeated by Oliver Cromwell with great slaughter, at Downhill; and in 1745, Sir John Cope landed his forces at this place, whence, being joined by two regiments of dragoons, he marched towards Edinburgh, and was totally routed at the battle of Prestonpans. In 1779, the inhabitants were kept in a state of alarm by the appearance of the notorious Paul Jones with a fleet of five ships, which lay off the port for several days; and in 1781, Captain Fall, an American pirate, attempted to carry off a vessel which was in the mouth of the harbour, but he was beaten off after the exchange of a few shots by the inhabitants, and abandoned his enterprise. To defend the town from similar attacks, a battery of sixteen guns was erected in the same year; and during the apprehension of an invasion by the French, who were expected to make a descent at Belhaven bay, an encampment was formed on the common of Westbarns, under the command of General Don. Soon after, barracks were erected to the west of the castle for 1200 infantry, and at Belhaven for 300 cavalry; and a volunteer corps and a troop of yeomanry were raised in the neighbourhood.

The TOWN owes its origin to the castle, round which it arose at a very early period: it is advantageously situated on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, and the houses are neatly built, but the place is not distinguished by any architectural features of importance. Belhaven, a village and watering-place, is a kind of suburb. A library is supported by subscription, forming an extensive collection, and a reading-room is well provided with periodicals; there is also a mechanics' institution, with a good library attached. Assembly-rooms have been built by subscription, but they are not eligibly situated. The chief trade of the port is in herrings, which are taken off the coast, and generally not less than 300 boats are employed at this station. White-fish of all kinds, and lobsters in abundance, are caught: great quantities of cod are cured and forwarded to the London market, and haddocks are smoked principally for Glasgow and Edinburgh; the lobsters are preserved in pits and sent chiefly to London. A very considerable trade is carried on in grain, which is raised in the parish and adjacent district to a great extent, and of very superior quality; and there is a good foreign trade. Flax-mills were established at Westbarns in 1792, and a cotton-factory at Belhaven in 1815, but neither concern has been attended with success; a distillery also, and some extensive soap-works, were carried on, but have been some years discontinued. There are two foundries for the manufacture of machinery of all kinds, one of which is celebrated for its steam-engines. The number of vessels engaged in the foreign trade that entered inwards in 1834 was twenty-three, of the aggregate burthen of 2310 tons, and having 134 men; and the amount of duties paid at the custom-house was £2942. 15. The coasting-trade is also considerable: the number of vessels that entered inwards in the same year was 244, of the aggregate burthen of 11,919 tons, with 762 men; and of vessels which cleared outwards, 140, of 7081 tons, and 478 men. Of foreign grain imported into Dunbar in the year the quantity was 203½ quarters of wheat, and 3346 quarters of barley; of wheat imported coastwise 342 quarters, and of barley 2007 quarters. The wheat exported coastwise was 3608 quarters, of barley 3936 quarters, of oats 6067 quarters, of peas and beans 1981 quarters, of malt 359 bushels, and of wheaten flour 231 sacks. The quantity of coal imported at Dunbar and its several creeks during the same year was 9490 tons of Scotch coal, of English 763 tons, and of English cinders 31 tons; the whisky amounted to 91,000 gallons. In the year 1849 the number of registered vessels was sixteen, having a tonnage of 1018. An extensive and excellent harbour has been lately opened, which, with the old harbour, is safe and commodious, and accessible to vessels of above 300 tons; it has nine feet depth of water at neap, and eighteen feet at spring tides. The entrance to the old harbour is in some degree obstructed by rugged rocks. Its eastern pier was built or repaired in the time of Cromwell by a parliamentary grant of £300, and in 1785 the convention of royal burghs voted £600 for its further improvement. An act of parliament was passed in 1848 for the amendment and continuance of the burgh customs, and water, shore, and harbour rates of the burgh, and for other purposes, including the supply of water to the town and harbour. The post has a good delivery; the North-British railway passes close by the town, and facility of intercourse with the neighbouring towns is likewise afforded by excellent roads, of which the London road passes for more than seven miles through the parish, parallel with the railway. Packets, also, sail regularly for Leith and London. The market, on Tuesday, is amply supplied with grain from the surrounding country, and from the highlands of the county of Berwick. Fairs for cattle and all sorts of ware are held at Whitsuntide and Martinmas (O.S.).

Dunbar was created a free burgh by David II., with limits co-extensive with the earldom of March; and its various privileges and immunities were confirmed by succeeding sovereigns, especially by charters of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1555 and 1557, and of James VI., dated 1603 and 1618. By these charters the government was vested in a provost, three bailies, a treasurer, and council of fifteen burgesses; four of the burgesses went out annually, but were capable of re-election, and by the new council then formed the magistrates were appointed. The corporation, however, is now chosen under the authority of the act of the 3rd and 4th of William IV., and consists of a provost, three bailies, a treasurer, and fifteen councillors. The magistrates' jurisdiction extends over the whole of the royalty, and they have the appointment of a town-clerk, chamberlain, procurator- fiscal, superintendent of police, and two burgh schoolmasters. They hold civil and criminal courts; in the former the causes are of very trifling amount, and in the latter the charges extend only to petty misdemeanors. A sheriff's court for the recovery of small debts has in a great measure superseded the bailies' civil court. The elective franchise clearly appears to have been exercised in 1469, and most probably was possessed at a much earlier period. Dunbar returned a member to the Scottish parliament till the Union, since which period it has united with Haddington, North Berwick, Jedburgh, and Lauder, in returning one representative to the imperial parliament. The right of election is, under the Reform act, vested in the resident £10 householders; the number of registered electors is about 145. The gaol is an inconvenient edifice containing two rooms, and only fit for temporary confinement for petty misdemeanors; all persons charged with more serious offences are committed to the county gaol at Haddington.

The PARISH is situated in a richly-cultivated district, regarded as the finest for corn in the whole country. It is nearly eight miles in length from east to west, extending along the shores of the Firth of Forth, and something more than a mile and a half in breadth. The surface is varied with hills and dales, the ground rising gently from the sea to the Lammermoor heights; the chief eminences are, Brunt hill, which has an elevation of 700, and Downhill, which rises to the height of 500 feet above the level of the sea, and is memorable as the site of Leslie's encampment previous to the defeat of his forces by Cromwell. The scenery is pleasingly varied, but destitute of wood, with the exception of some plantations on the demesnes of the principal seats. From the summit of the hills are obtained extensive and interesting views of numerous prominent objects, among which St. Abb's Head, Traprain law, the Bass rock, the isle of May, and in good weather the coast of Fife, are conspicuous, and to which the beautiful woods of Tynninghame form a fine contrast. The Belton water, taking its name from the ancient parish in which it rises, joins the sea a little below Belhaven; the Broxburn falls into the sea at Broxmouth Park, and the Dryburn skirts the parish for some distance on the east. In general the soil is a rich brown loam; the system of agriculture is highly improved, and the whole of the parish, estimated at 7197 acres, is in the best state of cultivation, producing grain of every sort, beans, peas, and turnips, in the cultivation of which last all kinds of foreign manure are applied with success. The annual value of real property in the parish is £27,701. The geology is highly interesting, and stone is largely quarried. Dunbar House, the seat of the Earl of Lauderdale, is within the park of the old castle; it is a spacious mansion with a front towards the sea, from which it is a commanding object. Broxmouth Park, the seat of the Dowager Duchess of Roxburghe, is a handsome residence of modern style, beautifully situated in a demesne enriched with stately timber and thriving plantations, and comprehending much varied scenery. Lochend House is an elegant mansion in the later English style, containing several fine apartments, and pleasantly seated in a tastefully-disposed and well-cultivated demesne. Belton House is romantically situated in a deep and winding glen, watered by a gently flowing stream, and is embosomed in woods: near it are some noble silver-firs more than two centuries old, and a beech-tree of remarkably luxuriant growth, measuring nearly nineteen feet in girth at a height of three feet from the ground. Ninewar House is also beautifully situated, on a gentle eminence richly wooded, and commanding an extensive view of the circumjacent country, Belhaven bay, and the Tynninghame woods.

The parish was anciently included within the diocese of Lindisfarne, and, together with the other portions of Lothian, was given up to the king of Scotland in 1020, and annexed to the bishopric of St. Andrew's. At that time it was more extensive than at present, and, in addition to the mother church, comprehended the chapelries of Pinkterton, Heatherwic, Whittingham, Penshiel, Stenton, and Spott. Patrick, the tenth Earl of Dunbar, in 1342 made the parochial church collegiate for a dean, an arch-priest, and eighteen canons, for whose support he assigned the income of the chapelries, which were subsequently converted into churches dependent on that of Dunbar as prebends in the college. The parish is now in the presbytery of Dunbar, synod of Lothian and Tweeddale: patron, the Duke of Roxburghe. The stipend of the incumbent is £331, exclusively of the manse and glebe. Dunbar collegiate church, a handsome cruciform structure partly in the Norman and early English styles, was taken down in 1819, and the present church was built, and opened for divine service on the 20th of April, 1821; it is conveniently situated, and contains 1800 sittings. There is a costly monument of composition from Italy erected to the memory of George Home of Manderston, lord high treasurer of Scotland, whom James VI. in 1605 created Earl of Dunbar, and who died at Whitehall in 1611, and was interred in the old church, on the site of which the present church was built. He is represented in a kneeling posture, with a book open before him, and on each side are two armed knights finely sculptured, with various emblematical devices. There are places of worship for the United Presbyterian Synod and Wesleyans, and at Belhaven one for members of the Free Church. Two schools have been founded by the corporation; the master of the grammar school has a salary of £42, with a house and garden, and the master of the mathematical school has £20, with a house, both sums paid by the corporation. There are also two parochial schools, one at Westbarns, the master of which has a salary of £34, with a house and garden, and one at Eastbarns, the master of which receives only a single chalder, and the interest of £100 bequeathed by William Hume, Esq., and of £50 by the Rev. George Bruce, minister of the parish.

The ruins of the ancient castle, which was built upon a lofty rock, and connected with a battery on the adjoining land, are scarcely sufficient to give any idea of its former grandeur. A monastery for Red Friars was founded in 1218 by Patrick, sixth Earl of Dunbar and March, of which some slight vestiges are still remaining in a spot called the Friars' Croft: a monastery of Carmelites, or White Friars, was founded in 1263, by the seventh earl; and there was a Maison Dieu at the east end of the town, of which the founder and the history are alike unknown. In digging the site of the reservoir from which the town is supplied with water, some Roman medals were found, inscribed with the legend Judea Captiva. On a sequestered spot in the grounds of Broxmouth House is a tombstone with the name of Sir William Douglas, a colonel in the royalist army, in rude characters; and in the park is an elevated mound on which Cromwell is said to have reconnoitred the forces of Leslie previously to the battle of Downhill, and from which he saw the enemy descending from their stronghold, a movement that caused his well-known exclamation, "The Lord has delivered them into our hands". Columba Dunbar, who was dean of the collegiate church, and subsequently translated to the see of Moray in 1411; Thomas Hay, also dean of Dunbar, and in 1532 appointed a senator of the College of Justice; and Dr. Andrew Wood, rector of Dunbar, in 1676 promoted to the bishopric of the Isles, and afterwards to the see of Caithness, which he held till the Revolution, are among the distinguished characters connected with the place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis