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Question: How many harbours has Dunbar had through time? Is it one, two, three or four? Let us count them backwards through the mist of ages (the answer is four).

Victoria (New) Harbour
Built in 1842--44 by engineer David Stevenson (of the Lighthouse Stevensons) was appointed designer. He built the north wall along a line of basalt reefs and then exploded the dog-leg entry through the castle’s base.
“Sir, I have great satisfaction in conveying to you Her Gracious Majesty’s permission to name the projected harbour, Victoria Harbour.” Robert Peel, to the Provost of Dunbar, 1841.

Each year 700-800 boats would come to the summer herring-fishery off Dunbar, augmented by 30 local boats. Their catch was processed by the ‘fishwives’ and packed in barrels, ready to be sent to Europe, Ireland or the West Indies. Fine protein and vitamins! In winter months our local fishermen caught white fish, crabs and lobster.

Nowadays, floating here, we have 30 fishing boats and 30 leisure boats.

Cromwell (Old) Harbour
Dating from the 1500s, a sheltered anchorage known as Lamerhaven was recorded. This became a 'harbour' after some bulwarks were erected, becoming the East Pier in the early 1600s.
Cromwell Harbour suffered badly during a storm in 1655 and inhabitants petitioned Parliament for help. Cromwell's government reputedly made a grant of £300 towards bolstering the East Pier and locals started filling the feeble walls with bricks, wood, dead donkeys and rotten vegetables. The Coal Hirst (wharf) was added and trading commenced with Europe, Scandinavia and even Russia. In year 1828, some 203,276 gallons of whisky were exported (“here, youse, leave some for us, will ye no?”)

With a later extension of the pier and an added parapet, it became our beloved innermost, and most-protected harbour. Our fishing boats shelter in here when heavy surges hit.

"Dunbar stands high and windy, looking down over its herring-boats. A beautiful sea, good land too -- a grim, niched barrier of whinstone sheltering it from the chafings and tumblings of the big, blue German Ocean (North Sea)" Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher, Cromwell Harbour.

Broadhaven
The original entrance was widened in the 1700s by primitive blasting methods. Five whaling vessels worked from here over 50 years in the 1700s.
“The town of Dunbar is considerably engaged in the Greenland Fishery; and we found the smell of the whale blubber extremely offensive.” Journal of a tour of Great Britain, 1796
The whaling quay was later washed away by a fierce storm during WWl. Later a breakwater was added to protect Broadhaven and Cromwell Harbour during storms.

Nowadays Broadhaven has 15 leisure boats

The First 'Natural' Harbours
A primitive harbour was first recorded at Belhaven, near Dunbar during the 1100s, when monks were granted a ‘toft’ (homestead) at the Port of Bele [Belhaven]. The harbour was next recorded as being at the mouth of the Biel Water in 1370. By the mid-16th century the main "harbour" facility was Dunbar’s Lamerhaven, today called Cromwell (Old) Harbour.

So, today here we are, we’ve inherited the joy, benefits, smell and fun of years of history. Time to celebrate and appreciate our past, present and future.

A two-leaf bascule bridge was built in 1860 with recesses added for placing oak booms, thus reducing harbour surge. At that time it was manually operated by a winding mechanism (“heave ho, lads”), later modified to hydraulic-electric. The Harbour Trust continually refurbishes the bridge to allow the frequent passage of our boats. If you’re waiting for the bridge to close then you have lots of time to take a nice photo.

Q: Why is it painted white?
A: So that skippers see whether it's open or closed on a dark and misty night.

 

 

The Fishermen’s Monument was erected in 1856 by local benefactor, William Brodie and is dedicated to the fishermen of Dunbar, housing a useful barometer - they were not common at the time. The monument is a Grade B listed structure and was restored in 1998 by the Dunbar Initiative Project with white Carrera marble completely recarved. In 2012 the Dunbar Shore Group raised funds to restore the damaged stonework, however the sandstone will inevitably continue to deteriorate in our salt-laden atmosphere. The monument was again repainted in 2021 and is looking splendid.

The relief image on the barometer tells us a story. A fisherman is in his boat, while his wife points to the barometer below and begs him not to sail. An old woman points to the dark, cloudy sky, while two boys prepare to cast off. Above the relief is an inscription: “Presented to the Fishermen of Dunbar, To Whose Perilous Industry The Burgh Owes So Much Of Its Prosperity.”

Q: What’s a barometer?
A: It measures changes in air pressure thus predicting weather.

Do you ever wonder what this ruinous castle used to look like? The truth is we don’t know ‘cos it’s been attacked, damaged, and rebuilt so many times that its appearance has changed drastically over the centuries, but it has always been defensive - ‘Dunbar’ means the ‘Fort of the Headland’ and has been a fort for more than 2,000 years - probably since Roman times.
1338: Black Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, defended the castle against a siege by the Earl of Salisbury. She is said to have her ladies-in-waiting dust the battlements after bombardment, as a mocking gesture to the Earl. After a futile six months, he retreated south.
1566: Mary, Queen of Scots took shelter here during some of the most turbulent times of her life and sought refuge after the murder of her Italian advisor, Rizzio.
1844: The dog-leg entrance to Victoria Harbour was blasted through the castle’s remaining ruins and our splendid new harbour opened for fishing-boats.
Q: Why does it have the shape of a dog-leg?
A: To reduce the surging waves coming through (clever these engineers).

McArthur’s Store (Spott’s Girnell) was built in 1658. It’s almost a boat itself being supported with much timber from condemned boats and shipwrecks. Surrounded by water in the Old Harbour. it is still in everyday use being one of the oldest industrial buildings in Scotland. It was previously used as a store for grain (girnell means granary), herring, potatoes and nowadays has eleven fishermen’s workshops. The building’s fabric must be kept above 5 deg.C to avoid damage to the lime mortar.

In the 1990s Dunbar Harbour Trust (DHT) coordinated its restoration in conjunction with Historic Environment Scotland. The fishermen now work in these modernised stores and there’s a meeting-room for the Trust and local groups. Famous local artist John Bellany officially opened this greatly-restored building in 2009.

Around our harbours there are many interpretation panels and our “Tide and Time” history tours can give fascinating stories.

Q: May I visit the inside to see the timbers?
A: Yes, contact the Harbour Trust: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1779, 1781 - Dunbar town was attacked twice during the American War of Independence. 
1803 - 1815 - The Battery was built for the Napoleonic Wars and escaped attack.
1874 - The Battery’s hospital tended to patients with infectious diseases.
1914 - Became an Auxiliary Hospital during WW1 for wounded soldiers.
1927 - Used as Emergency Housing despite being ‘unsatisfactory and dangerous’. Roof blew off during a storm.
1937 - Uninhabitable, then dismantled.
2016 - Winter: repair-work started during wild storms.
2017 Open for visitors, music, exhibitions, plays, weddings, poetry.

Q: Can I book it for my event?
A: Yes you can book it, see https://dunbarbattery.org.uk

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