This month, we are going back to Dunbar harbour in the early 20th century. We do not have exact dates for these photos although there is an approximate date for the 4th one. These photos are from a file in the History Society room in Dunbar Town House and hard copy versions can be seen if you pay a visit.
Gutting fish by the north wall of the harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge)
In the first photo, you can see a huge haul of fish (probably herring) which has been dumped near the north wall of the harbour. The fish were gutted and put into barrels before being taken off to be sold. On the left, there are numerous barrels which may have been filled or are ready to be filled. Most of the picture is taken up by the women who spent long hours, in poor conditions, gutting the fish. The women and girls involved in this were often referred to as “fisher lassies” which might now be seen as a rather romantic (or patronising) name for the female workers. There is a solitary man in the photo, who may be about to take a basket of fish to the barrel section. You can read more about the process of the layering of the fish into barrels here. The photo is from the early 20th century – maybe 1910s or 1920s.
Fishwives and fishermen at Craig Villa, Dunbar Harbour
The second photo shows a row of women working as fish gutters outside Craig Villa on the south side of the harbour, with the castle in the background. The men appear to be watching (or supervising) the women. As the right hand side of the photo has faded, the girl appears wraith-like. Behind the girl are rows of fish barrels, perhaps ready to be collected. Of the two men who appear centrally, the one on the left was Tommy Thomson, whose nickname was traiveller. The workers would be employed by Thomas Craig, a fish merchant in the town who also had a cooperage at the harbour. This was very hard, monotonous and smelly work, without any of the benefits of modern health and safety. Again, this photo may be early 20th century.
Fishing family sorting fishing lines at Dunbar harbour
In this rather poignant photo, a family can be seen at the harbour sorting or “reddin’ oot” fishing lines and you can see that there are still some fish attached to the lines in the basket in front of the man. You can read more about line fishing and the baskets used by fisher families here. The bait on fishing lines had to be done by hand and it was a very laborious task, again done by women. It’s not clear what the woman is doing with the bowl on her knee – sorting out bait perhaps? The family have obviously posed for the camera but the fisherman has not re-adjusted his hat! The young girl on the right has a determined look on her face. The family look poor as most fishing families at this time – early 20th century – were.
Fishermen on Armistice Day before the War Memorial was built
The final photo is even more poignant than the previous one. The date is uncertain but it may be November 11 1919. The three men have all taken their hats off and the man on the right is checking his timepiece. They are remembering the dead of World War 1 and checking for 11am on 11 November – Armistice Day. The Dunbar war memorials were not built until the early 1920s. The three men in the photo are, from left to right – Mr Gallagher Johnstone (Johnson?), Mr ? Main and Mr ? Robertson. It is likely that these men knew of family members or friends who were killed in the war.
This month features photographs from a book donated to the Society by Pamela Murray (nee Low). The photographs are late 19th and early 20th century but as they are not dated, we cannot be sure.
Publication by W Black of 126 High Street, Dunbar (Click on all photos to enlarge)
This is the cover of the book which is A5 in size. W Black was a draper’s shop in the High Street at no 126 – the site of the present John Muir’s Birthplace. W Black also had a warehouse in the High Street and publications were part of the business. There are no details inside the book as to the date of the book or where it was printed. It is thought that the photographs may be based on postcards of Dunbar.
Early photo of the Abbey Church at the south end of Dunbar High Street
As you can see at the bottom of the photograph, the church is named as The Free Church and not the Abbey Church as it is better known. According to this source, “This church was built at the south end of High Street near to the Old Bowling Green and the site of Maison Dieu”. The Maison Dieu” (House of God) itself “.. has a long history with ecclesiastical buildings. A monastery was located here, apparently ending in the 16th century” – see here for more information. Thus the name Abbey Church would come from the fact that the monastery was there previously. The church joined the Free Church movement in 1917 and remained part of the United Free Church organisation until it later aligned itself to the Parish Church. The building still stands but is unused at the moment. In the photo, you can see that there is no tar road – only cobbles. Also, the modern day gardens are not yet built.
This superb photo of Lochend Woods in the snow looks as if it is taken on the path through the woods across the road from the present Hallhill rugby pitch and running track. You can see that the wall is completely intact – unlike today. It’s a clever photo with one photographer looking back on another. The photographer standing on the path is very well dressed and has a box camera on a tripod. Opposite the wall, there appears to be a well maintained hedge, which no longer exists.
Harbour scene with travellers and steam boat
In the book of photographs, this one is entitled THE NEW HARBOUR and is probably taken in the 1890s or early 1900s, when the Victoria Harbour was still regarded as being relatively new. It is a fascinating scene, with the two travellers’ caravans or vardos – see here for more on these vehicles. The woman sitting in front of the caravans appears to be cooking – or washing? The children to the woman’s left may well be locals who are looking in fascination at the outdoor domestic scene. All the children have bare feet, apart from the girl at the end with the dress and hat, who has shoes on. Behind this scene, in the harbour, there is a steam driven boat with a funnel – called a “pipe stalkie”. This is not a fishing boat but one involved in trading goods e.g. tatties, up and down the coast. There are no letters or numbers on the boat as a fishing boat would have had. At the far end of the harbour, you can see what is the present Dunbar Battery (good photos). The buildings you can see at The Battery were parts of the isolation hospital and you can read more about the hospital here. Finally, on the wall behind the caravan on the right, there is some lettering and this is most likely to read – in part at least – Masons Arms. At one time, there were 4 Masons Arms here in Dunbar – see for more information. Thanks to Will Collin and Gordon Easingwood for some of the information here.