July-Sept 20

July 2020

Dunbar Lifeboats

This month we are looking at some of the lifeboats that have served Dunbar so well over the years. The photos come from the book Dunbar 200: The History of Dunbar Lifeboat Station 1808 – 2008 (cover below) published by the Dunbar RNLI. Permission has been given to include the photos here by the current president of the Dunbar RNLI.

Book on Dunbar lifeboats (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The book – written by the then president Ivor McPhillips – tells us that the first RNLI lifeboat to be stationed in Dunbar was The Wallace. There had been lifeboats in Dunbar before this and Dunbar 200 refers to David Anderson’s book History of the Dunbar Lifeboat as stating that the first lifeboat arrived in 1808 after a successful public subscription.

The photo above (Dunbar 200 p19) shows The Wallace being launched from the harbourside c1890. This was not the normal way of launching the lifeboat. The book states “She [The Wallace] was a self-righter, 33 ft long, 8 ft in the beam and drawing 5ft. She rowed ten oars, was equipped with sails and , with a crew of 13 volunteers, was destined to serve in Dunbar for nearly 30 years”. On its arrival in 1865, The Wallace was led down Dunbar High Street by 4 horses, with a procession of local worthies behind and large crowds turned out on the day. This lifeboat saved 42 lives during service.

The next lifeboat to arrive at Dunbar – in 1893 – was the Sarah Pickard (photo above) – and this was of a similar design to The Wallace. In 1896, the Sarah Pickard went to the rescue of the 1200 ton Poderosa from Grimsby and found herself in trouble. The then bowman Walter Fairbairn was quoted in a newspaper article as stating “The lifeboat approached the wreck and by careful work, the coxswain managed to get her lee side between the ship and the inner reefs…. To our dismay, however, it was soon apparent that it would be well nigh impossible to get out again unless the seas abated”. The Ponderosa’s crew insisted on boarding the lifeboat and this was “a double burden”. Walter Fairbairn continued “Help came to us from ashore. The Rocket Brigade who had been struggling to get a line aboard the wrecked vessel, made even greater efforts, and was at last successful.”. The ship’s crew were taken to shore by the Rocket Brigade lines and the lifeboat was then – in calmer seas – able to be rowed back to the harbour. It’s hard to fully understand the extent to which these men risked their lives in a boat with oars as today we are so used to the modern lifeboats.

In 1901, the new lifeboat William Arthur Millard arrived in Dunbar to great acclaim. This was a bigger boat and the book notes “The roads at Hedderwick Hill and at Skateraw had to be widened to let her through to launch from these places”. The photo above shows the Millard being launched down the slope at Broad Haven next to  the Old Harbour. One of the Millard’s most notable rescues was of the King Ja Ja (details) in 1905. Walter Fairbairn, now Coxswain Fairbairn remembered the drama of the rescue. “To leave the harbour, we had to pass through a fairly narrow passage, invisible in the rush of the storm. Huge waves dashed unceasingly through that passage, threatening to overwhelm our pigmy boat… For four or five hours, we battled against the sea… The men pulled their oars as for life itself”. Having reached the wreck, Walter Fairbairn comments “Never have I seen men more grateful for release than these nine poor fellows who had clung to the wreck Ja Ja.” Coxswain Fairbairn certainly had a way with words and even if there might be some exaggeration in his descriptions, this rescue certainly seems perilous to both lifeboatmen and the crew of the Ja Ja.

August 2020

It’s A Knockout 1969

In Dunbar’s social history, one of the key events – in terms of the visibility of the town to the outside world – happened on 4th June 1969, when 9 million people watched the It’s A Knockout programme which came from Dunbar Swimming Pool/Pond. The event itself had taken place on Sunday 1st June. Unfortunately, no video of the contest was kept, as the tape used by the BBC was extremely expensive and had to be reused. There was also a problem with compression in those days as the tapes would only hold so much film. Tapes were later developed that could hold much more video and many of these have survived.

Poster for the event (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended). Photos given to DDHS by Rob Bissett

The poster above was used to advertise the event  on the 1st June, with the TV programme going out on Wednesday 4th June at 7.30pm. The enlarged poster shows that there was a range of ticket prices for the seating and standing areas. Tickets for the event – available through the Town Chamberlain’s Office. The 1947 Local Government (Scotland) Act stated that “Every town council shall appoint a town chamberlain of the burgh who shall be the chief financial officer of the council and may pay to him such reasonable salary as they may determine”. The Town Chamberlain at this time was G W Russell and the Town Clerk – the chief administrative officer – was S W (Sid) Brown. [Information supplied by David Anderson] The ticket prices are in shillings and pence as decimalisation did not arrive until February 1971.

Swimming pool on the day of the event

The Haddingtonshire Courier reported that the crowd that day was 4,500 – the largest ever seen at the pool – and that people watched from the clifftops opposite. If you enlarge this (rather blurred) photo, you can see the people on the cliffs in front of what is now the indoor swimming pool. Interviews (by Jim Herring) with Dunbar team members reveal that it was ” A perfect, warm, sunny evening in Dunbar and the BBC could not have chosen a more perfect location. The pool was in picture postcard mode.” (Robin Forrest, team manager). The crowds were not confined to the pool itself or the clifftops. “As you came to The Glebe, all you could see was people – the slopes of the Glebe were crowded as was the walkway next to the pool and on the far side. The beauty contests used to be very busy, but this was something else – far busier”. (Bett Morrison (nee Darling), team member and one-time Pond Mistress.

Action from the contest

The photo above shows one of the games which Dunbar won. On the Dunbar craft is Lex Horsburgh and Jaci Waite (now Bisset). Again, the photo is not very clear but you can see the blue skies above the cheerleaders at the far side of the pool. In an interview with Jaci Bisset, she said that, in the practice session, she and Lex worked out that if she sat close to him at the front of their boat, this would be more effective than the stance taken by the Burntisland team on the left, and this proved to be a successful move. At the end of the contest, both teams had the same points. The Haddingtonshire Courier reported “The Provosts of both towns watched the toss of the disc which had “Dunbar” on one side and “Burntisland” on the other – and when the “Dunbar” side was turned up, the home supporters’ cheers were deafening”. Dunbar had thus won the contest and became one of the British teams to go to take part in Jeux Sans Frontiéres in Martigny, Switzerland.

The jubilant Dunbar team at the end of the contest.
The final photo – the clearest, shows the reactions of the Dunbar team after they witness the toss of the disc. The interviewees said that this was the most tense part of the day and much more nerve wracking than taking part in the games and being closely filmed by the BBC TV cameras. An interesting feature of this is that none of those interviewed actually remember seeing the cameras during the games, so intense was their concentration. Their memories of the cameras are before the contest started. This photo also gives a very good impression of the crowds that stood on the Glebe’s grassy slopes and some who ventured on to the pathway above the pool. So this was a key day in the social history of Dunbar, with record crowds attending and millions of people seeing the contest – and of course the pool at its splendid best. Whether this increased tourism in Dunbar subsequently is hard to know but for free publicity as a tourist destination, this could not be bettered.

September 2020

The auction of the contents of the King Ja Ja, conducted at Thorntonloch by George Low on 21st October 1905

The July 2020 resources above featured the rescue of the crew of the ship King Ja Ja (details) by the Dunbar lifeboat the William Arthur Millard. Documents relating to the auction of the King Ja Ja have been given to the Society by Pam Murray, whose great grandfather George Low carried out the auction.

Auction poster 1905 (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The poster above was used to advertise the auction and was sent out to interested parties. The poster itself is interesting – firstly for its language. The heading “On account of whom it may concern” is a legal term usually relating to insurance policies and today it might be replaced by “To whom it may concern”. The poster was printed by Thomas B Knox who owned the shop at 64 High Street. ” In the 1890s,Thomas Black Knox established the shop as a newsagency, stationers and tobacconists, as well as having branched out into fancy goods and souvenirs” (David Anderson quoted in Herring, J (2020) Dunbar in the 1950s). As a stationer, T B Knox would have had a healthy printing business at this time. The poster also notes that Thorntonloch is “close to Innerwick  Station”, so participants in the auction may well have travelled by train to Innerwick and walked to Thorntonloch if they did not have alternative transport. This site (good photos) notes that Innerwick Station (1849-1951) “.. was a two platform station. The main building was on the westbound platform. The small goods yard was on the south side of the line, a loop serving a loading bank. Opposite this was a siding on the north side, approached from the east”. A written list of those to whom the poster was to be sent was amongst the donated documents and includes companies in Newcastle, Berwick, Leith, Dundee, Liverpool, Blyth and Glasgow. This was a major auction seen to be of interest across Scotland the north of England.

Conditions of sale at the auction

Conditions of Sale at the auction

The handwritten Conditions of Sale have survived as seen in the first document above. This would presumably have been typed up, as in the 2nd document above, and printed by T B Knox for distribution at the auction. It is not clear who actually wrote the Conditions of Sale but it may have been George Low’s lawyer’s office in 1905. Number 5 refers to the Sale of Goods Act 1893 and in section 5, it refers to “56 and 57 Vict”. This relates to Queen Victoria who was on the throne at the time and Acts of Parliament always made note of this. The Conditions of Sale make it clear who is in charge of the auction and that the auctioneer takes no responsibility for any problems with what is bought.

Auction details

The photo above is the first page of the auction itself. It is a handwritten document and records the details of what was sold and who bought what. If you enlarge the document and press +, you should just be able to make out that the main income from the auction was Lot 1 – Hull everything (except cargo) and that this was bought by John Lindsay of 799 Walker Road, Newcastle. There is still a house at 799 Walker Road, Newcastle (Google Maps) but the original houses have been demolished a new houses built on the site. Mr Lindsay paid £66 in 1905 and this is worth £8,077 in today’s prices. The total raised from the auction was £95.11.9 and there were a number of bidders for various items. Examples of these bidders are:
Dickson – Thorntonloch; Watt – Tweedmouth; Craig – Dunbar; McLeod – Alloa; Young – Co’path; Malcolm – Bilsdean; Duncanson – Dunbar; Plenderleith – Thorntonloch.
Most of the lots were for smaller items such as block and tackle; ropes; a hauser rope cost Mr Lindsay £1.1.0 ( £134 today); Mr McLeod of Alloa paid £2 (£244 today) for a hauser (a nautical term for a thick cable or rope used in mooring or towing a ship); Mr Reilly – no location given – paid £4.12.6 (£504 today) for copper pipes and a brass compass stand.

Correspondence relating to the auction

Some of the correspondence relating to the auction has also survived. The above letter is dated 23rd October, two days after the auction. The details of the auction indicated at the end that Mr Lindsay had not paid on the day and £71.10.00 was due. The letter shows that Mr Lindsay appears to be forgetful and careless in his business affairs but has paid all but 10 shillings of the money due. G Low had carried out the auction under the auspices of the Northern Maritime Insurance Company Limited and this company was only dissolved in 2018 after 154 years of existence.