Dunbar, Old Harbour / Cromwell's Harbour
- HER number: MEL1511
- Site Name: Dunbar, Old Harbour / Cromwell's Harbour
- Grid Reference: 368140 679219
- Civil Parish:
- Monument Type:
- Summary: Harbour, 17th to 18th century
- Description: NT67NE 18 6814 7922
Not to be confused with (adjacent and linked) Victoria Harbour, for which see NT67NE 147.
For battery at NT 6811 7934, see NT67NE 53. For adjacent warehouses, granary and housing, see NT67NE 152, 166 and 175. For boatbuilding yard (Messrs. Weatherhead and Blackie), see NT67NE 177.
(NT 6814 7922) Old Harbour
OS 6" map (NG)
(1) 'Old Harbour. - The old harbour which lies to the east of its modern neighbour [NT67NE 147] is a structure dating at least from the 17th century. In December 1655 and again in 1658 it suffered severely from storms (J Miller 1859) Cromwell granted $300 towards defraying the expense of the east pier, which was begun during the time of the Protectorate and from this is known locally as 'Cromwell's Harbour'.
(2) In the reign of Charles II, a harbour was formed at Dunbar by building a pier.
G Chalmers 1888
(3) The red sandstone pier, which enclosures the old or southern harbour of Dunbar dates from the days of the Commonwealth.
I C Hannah 1913
(4) The old harbour was 'improved' by the Burgh authorities in 1785.
Name Book 1853
(5) The pier enclosing the old harbour shows signs of extensive repair and reconstruction. Some old stonework is visible at the north-west end.
Visited by OS (DT) 28 August 1962.
(6) Historic Scotland Listed Building Description: Earliest-mid 17th century; major works 1717. Harbour 565 feet
retaining walls to E pier as principal feature, sheltering
inner basin to S and larger to N. W side stepped by wharves.
Return pier at NE by entrance.
E PIER: marked variation in masonry form, partially resulting
from repairs; outer E wall with large area of vertically-set
stone. W face of sandstone slabs and blocks, set obliquely
Flight of steps at angle of pier leading to inner basin
Rubble parapet wall to E side of walkway, walk divides at
widest point to higher and lower levels; flagstone edging.
Pierhead rebuilt 1879, extreme N.
RETURN PIER: probably 1717, running on NW angle, 170 feet
long, ending at harbour entrance. Original masonry to SW with
squared and coursed blocks parapet secured with ironbolts.
Short return wall at S of SW end. Boom pier 1888, tail-piece
of returned pier, 30 feet long; large masonry and concrete.
QUAYS TO W: more regularly coursed sandstone rubble blocks;
chase groove pair to NE opposite boom pier. Coal wharf, 1761,
at S corner of inner basin, sloping to harbour floor; large
cobbles, setts and bordering slabs.
RAMP E OF E PIER PARAPET: large setts, bordering sandstone
slabs, some bearing inscriptions.
Pawls remaining at intervals.
(7) (8) (Location cited as NT 681 792). Dunbar, East Lothian. The Old Harbour [NT67NE 18] at Dunbar had its origin in a natural tidal anchorage, partially sheltered from the N by Lamer Island [NT 6811 79348] and from the W by the Castle promontory [NT 6782 7930], but otherwise much exposed. The most important item in the existing complex of works is the East Pier [NT 68171 79310 to NT 68120 79133], a long, slightly curving structure which covers the E side of the anchorage and finishes S of the island. An access channel [NT 6812 7930], now disused, passes between the pier-head and the island. From the pier-head another pier [NT 68134 79267 to NT 68171 79310] returns SW-wards, flanking the channel, the entrance from the channel to the harbour proper lying between the end of the returned pier and a quay forming part of the W side of the harbour. From the entrance, quays are continuous along the W and S sides of the harbour, the enclosed area being about 565ft [172m] long and varying in breadth from 58ft [17.6m] in the smallish inner basin to 175ft [53.3m] in the larger northern portion. The access-channel forms an outer harbour [around NT 6812 7930], known as Broad Haven, which is flanked on the N by a causeway leading to the island. This causeway likewise separates Broad Haven from the Victoria Harbour (NT67NE 147), and entry to the Old Harbouris now obtained through Victoria Harbour and an opening in the causeway, as the seaward end of Broad Haven has been blocked [at NT 6812 7930].
The anchorage may well have been in use for a very long time, and is name, Lamerhaven, occurs in a charter of 1555, some twenty years before the building of the harbour began. This may be dated to 1574 or shortly afterwards, as the burgh was authorised in that year to raise money for the purpose, and repairs are already on record before the end of the 16th century. These repairs, and others noted between 1600 and 1613, dispose of the commonly-quoted error that the east Pier was first built by Cromwell¿s government, and it is clear that a breakwater in the position of the existing work would have been required from the outset for protection from the NE. The earliest breakwater was evidently in part of timber, as `the bulwarke of the herbrie and the timber thairof¿ was pulled down during the Cromwellian occupation of the town. A causeway to the island is also likely to have been one of the earliest works, for the sake of protection from the W. The rest of the works were added at various dates from 1717 onwards.
The East Pier [NT 68171 79310 to NT 68120 79133] is about 920ft [280.5m] long, including a stretch of sea-wall at its landward end, and shows many varieties of masonry including beach-boulders, large, roughly dressed blocks, and slabs set obliquely or vertically. The boulders, which tend to appear in the lowest courses, may well belong to the oldest phase of construction, while the other variations no doubt represent repairs following storm damage. One such disaster was caused by the great gale of 1655, when a grant for repairs was obtained from Cromwell¿s government; another collapse, which occurred in 1906, was probably responsible for the vertical and oblique work now seen in the seaward portion. The pier is up to about 16ft [4.9m] wide on top, and for much of its length has two walkways at different levels, a fact which may suggest that its height was raised at some time. The parapet is up to 5ft 6ins [1.68m] high. At one point, a flight of steps, formed of large slabs protruding from the quay-face, goes down to the bottom of the harbour. Three pawls, two of wood and one of iron, are set in recesses in the wall-face that rises from the lower walkway; they area said locally to have served for warping ships round in the N basin.
The pier-head [NT 68171 79310] was originally a roundel, but was altered after a disaster in 1879. The pier [NT 68134 79267 to NT 68171 79310] that returns from it to the harbour-entrance is 170ft [51.8m] long by 16ft 6ins [5m] at the top over a parapet 2ft 3ins [0.7m] high and thick. Its masonry differs greatly from that of the East Pier, being of squared and well-coursed blocks. At the end there stands a massive pawl made out of the butt of a tree; three other pawls have been removed. This pier was probably built in 1717, and is in any case shown on Roy¿s map of Scotland (1747-55). The quays on the W side and at its S end were also begun at this date, the Burgh records being full of information about the progress and cost of the work, which included the cutting back of the rock on which the quays were founded to increase the harbour¿s area, and also the widening of Broad Haven. The early quays extended from the S end as far as the old storehouse known as Spott's Girnel [NT67NE 286, at NT 68116 79243], itself on record in 1719. Later improvements include the Coal Wharf [location unknown], a jetty built in 1761 along the inner face of the East Pier [apparently NT 68116 79140 to NT c. 68175 79237], a dry dock, [location unknown] of 1785, which was later filled up, and the `Holey¿ (hollow) Pier [location unknown], of the same date, just N of Spott¿s Girnel [NT67NE 286], so called because its front was originally recessed to give space in which ships could be warped round. The pawls on these quays include a heavy tree-butt at the S end, three old guns set muzzle-upwards and filled with cement, and a piece of iron pipe; there are also a number of heavy mooring-rings.
The harbour-entrance has had a rather complicated history, on account of the measures taken to equip it with booms. In summary, it seems that the question of booms was raised in 1804, that about 1827 a `boom pier¿ was built, extending inwards from the end of the returned pier to opposite Spott¿s Girnel [NT67NE 286], and booms were established there, that this pier was ruined by a storm before 1842, only a fragment surviving in the short work with steps at the end that now projects southward from the end of the returned pier, that a position for the booms was then tried in the entrance itself and found unsatisfactory, and that in 1888 the existing concrete spur [location unstated] was built out obliquely from the end of the `boom pier¿, and the booms installed in a channel thus reduced from 40ft [12.2m] to 30ft [9.1m] in length in breadth. To provide attachment for the booms on the opposite side, the face of the Holey Pier was built up flush. These booms remained in use until fairly recent years, as did the also a set in the access to Broad Haven from Victoria Harbour.
The Battery [NT67NE 53], on Lamer Island, was built after an American ship had attempted to raid the harbour in 1781. It is a red-sandstone structure with an open gun-platform, embrasures for sixteen guns, and a covered magazine and quarters for the garrison.
[Victoria Harbour is not considered in either of these articles].
A Graham 1968; A Graham 1971
(9) (Location cited as NT 680 793 and NT 681 792). Dunbar Harbour. The harbour is in two parts. The older section (c. 1710-30) consists of a basin formed by a curved rubble pier and a shorter straight pier. Some of the masonry is vertically set. A low wharf within the curved pier was for coal importation (1761).
The newer part - the Victoria Harbour (1842) - is formed by a sea wall linking two rock outcrops, together with a quay along the shore parallel with the wall. This section has two entrances, one to the old harbour channel, spanned by a hand-operated, wrought-iron, two-leaf bascule bridge; the other, at the N end, is open.
There is as 3-storey, 5-bay, harled store (Spott's Granary) on the old short pier.
J R Hume 1976.
(10) Construction of the east pier began in the 17th century during the protectorate, and continuing into the reign of Charles II. The harbour was later "improved" by the Burgh in 1785. Generally as described in RCAHMS, the walkway and slipway are pot-holed, the original stone steps are missing in the lower portion and the timber mooring posts are decaying. The rest of the harbour is in good condition and is still in use.
Site recorded by GUARD during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, 'The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Coast of Fife' 1996.
(11) "This harbour was built in the 17th C and substantially improved in 1785. It comprises of two piers: the east pier and the return north east pier, enclosing inner basins to the north and south, with wharves to the west side. The masonry is generally in good condition, if worn and weathered. The harbour remains in use and is well maintained. "
- For more information contact: East Lothian Council HER
- Related Interventions:
- Related Places:
- Associated Periods:
- Bibliographic reference: Baldwin, J. 1997. Edinburgh, Lothians and the Borders, 2nd edition. 71. No. 15.
- Bibliographic reference: Baldwin, J R. 1985. Exploring Scotland's heritage: Lothian and the Borders. 36-7, no. 12.
- Bibliographic reference: Eddington, A. 1904. Edinburgh and the Lothians at the opening of the twentieth century ... contemporary biographies. 60, 61.
- Bibliographic reference: Miller, J. 1859. The history of Dunbar from the earliest records to the present time. 241.
- Bibliographic reference: McWilliam, C E. 1978a. Lothian except Edinburgh. 189.
- (1) Bibliographic reference: RCAHMS. 1924. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Eighth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of East Lothian. 29, No.41.
- (10) Unpublished document: James, H F. 1996. Coastal Assessment Survey: The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Border of Fife. 220.
- (11) Unpublished document: Moore, H and Wilson, G. 2006. Report on Coastal Zone Assessment Survey: East Lothian and Scottish Borders. site no. 129.
- (2) Bibliographic reference: Chalmers, G. 1887-94. Caledonia: or a historical and topographical account of North Britain. Vol.3, 498.
- (3) Bibliographic reference: Hannah, I C. 1913. The Berwick and Lothian coast. 88.
- (4) Bibliographic reference: Name Book (County). Original Name Books of the Ordnance Survey. Book No. , 49.
- (5) Unpublished document: Ordnance Survey. Ordnance Survey Site Visit.
- (6) Bibliographic reference: Historic Scotland. Historic Scotland Listed Building.
- (7) Bibliographic reference: Graham, A. 1968. 'The old harbours of Dunbar', Proc Soc Antiq Scot Vol. 99 1966-7, p.173-90.
- (8) Bibliographic reference: Graham, A. 1971. 'Archaeological notes on some harbours in eastern Scotland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot Vol. 101 1968-9, p.200-85.