This month features the Playhouse and some surviving photos of the exterior and interior of the picture house/cinema
Exterior of the Playhouse (Click to enlarge all photos – recommended)
The Playhouse stood at the Abbey Church end of the High Street and the space is now occupied by the Cherrytrees Nursery. The photos shows the Art Deco exterior of the Playhouse, with steps going up the middle and a board showing what films could be seen that week. In the 1950s, on the left hand side of the cinema was Frank Shield’s shoe repair shop and when you entered, there was a wonderful smell of leather and glue. On the right hand side at that time, there was Birrell’s sweetie shop. People bought sweets here before going to a film but there was also a counter which sold sweets inside the foyer.
In the foyer of the Playhouse
The photo above shows part of the foyer in the Playhouse and this was taken after it closed in 1984. On the left is the where you paid for your ticket, and next to that is the entrance to the stalls. The stairs led up to the extensive balcony. For town the size of Dunbar in 1937 (when it opened) the Playhouse was a huge cinema and it was said that the people who came to judge the size of the potential cinema came in the summer months, when Dunbar was full of tourists.
Advert for the Playhouse in December 1950
The above advert from December 1950 shows the films – the “big” film and the “wee” film on Monday to Saturday. As there was no television, people often went to the picture house more than once a week. The advert also shows that it was Gaumont British News which was shown in Scotland, and not Pathe News shown elsewhere in the UK. You can see a trailer for Challenge to Lassie here – and you may be surprised by the location. Listen out for some truly awful accents.
Inside the Playhouse cinema
The final photo above shows the inside of the cinema and it is in this photo that you can really see the Art Deco features – on the wall next to the screen, in the ceiling patterns and in the stylish lights. You can see the balcony upstairs and just catch a glimpse of the front row of the stalls. On Saturday mornings, when the matineees were shown, there was a mad rush of kids trying to get a seat in the front row.
This month and September 2019 will be devoted to maps of Dunbar at different times. For August, we will look at part of John Wood’s map of Dunbar which was published in 1830. Copies of the Wood map are on sale at the History Society and Tippicanoe in Dunbar HIgh Street and cost £4. There is a very good article on the origins of Wood’s map here. David Anderson has contributed to the notes below.
Dunbar High Street in 1830 (Click on all maps to enlarge – recommended)
This part of the map looks at the eastern end of the High Street. Key features of this map are on the left hand side, the Masonic Lodge which was situated on the High Street next to what is now Douglas Reid’s showroom. You can read more about Dunbar Freemasons here. The tron or town weigh beam was originally outside (Weights marked)On the right hand side the 1st United Secession Meeting House is highlighted and the entrance to the church (aka meeting house) was from Church Street. Wood doesn’t seem to show the manse which was on the west side of the church. One very interesting feature of this map is that it shows that behind the left hand side of the High Street, it was mainly orchards and gardens.
Dunbar High Street in 1930
The second extract from Wood’s map moves us up the High Street. On the right hand side of the map, we can see that James Lorimer owned a large section of land and this was called Sandwell Gardens, which were used as market gardens. The Assembly Rooms are clearly marked. This building was erected in 1822 for meetings of farmers around Dunbar and was used by George Low and Son in the mid 20th century for auctions. The historian James Miller mentions it being for civic receptions, celebrations, balls, etc on the back of the Napoleonic period. Also on the map is Crows Wynd, sometimes called Craws Wynd, which later became Cossars Wynd. We can also see that as we move up the High Street, the trees disappear from the left and are replaced, as on the right hand side, with small fields. There is also an increase in the extent of building on the right hand side. Also of note is the extent of land on the left hand side owned by the Reverend John Jaffray, who was minister of the Parish Church which was built a decade earlier.
Middle of Dunbar High Street in 1830
The final extract shows the middle of the High Street, with the West Port on the left and Silver Street on the right. At the bottom of Silver Street, diagonally opposite is Coffin Street, known today as Colvin Street. To the right of Coffin Street a brewery is marked and this was the Dunbar Brewery. The John Gray Centre has more information on this brewery and on the history of brewing in Dunbar – see here. On the left hand side going down Silver Street is property owned by the Town Council – this was the new town jail and the vacant lot at the bottom right was the site of the original gasworks. There is a well marked on Church Street.