Dunbar hotels – One
Until the coming of the railway, which opened on 22 June 1846, there were few options open to the traveller arriving at Dunbar. There was the town’s only real inn, the George. But it probably accommodated as many horses as people – it had large stables and offered posting facilities: a change of horses for onward journeys. The New Inn, which opened in 1793, had even more extensive stables but it never thrived and was eventually sold to the military as officers’ accommodation. Otherwise, a few of the pubs offered rooms – Ramage’s Old Ship at the harbour, the White Horse and the (old) Black Bull on the High Street amongst them. Another alternative was to board at a lodging house, usually a flat on the High Street attended by a widow or spinster, of which in the 1840s there were several. There were also common lodging houses down some of the back closes, but the less said about them the better – four walls, beaten earth floors, scanty furniture and no facilities sums them up.
It all began to change in 1846. James Black of the White Horse had seen things coming. Several months previously he took possession of a property lying just outside the High Street and Dunbar had its Railway Hotel well in time for the opening of the line. A Commercial Inn within the town soon followed.
The next step was to balance the commercial and convivial by offering suitable accommodation for family groups – the Temperance and Family Hotels. Prime among these was the Lorn Temperance Hotel owned by William Brodie of Battleblent and managed at first by Thomas Wilson. It opened in 1872 and provided genteel accommodation in an alcohol-free environment. Others followed, including Wilson’s own, and the number of lodging houses was also increasing (at least 15 by 1861).
The 1870s Royal was the first purpose-built hotel since the New Inn of a century before, but it was just the first of several. The Haddingtonshire Courier traces the story of this and the other hotels that appear in Dunbar.
The Roxburgh estate floated the old Dowager Lodge at the east end of the town as the Marine Hotel during the 1890s, the estate being the main shareholder in what was a public offering: the Roxburghe Marine Hotel Company Ltd. Debts incurred by an overly ambitious extension in 1899 caused the collapse of the company in December 1905, but in new hands the hotel remained part of the Dunbar scene for many years.
Mrs Fleck (formerly of the Royal Hotel, North Berwick) brought her expertise (and, significantly, part of her old custom) to her new venture, the Bellevue. The design was by Dunn & Finlay of Edinburgh and work, mainly by Edinburgh based contractors, was commenced at a cost of £11,000 at the end of January 1896. The hotel was a Dunbar landmark for many years, its striking Scots-baronial exterior housed 50 bedrooms and a handful of suites, mostly on the ground floor. Public rooms included a dining room seating 100 and a smaller one for the day trade, billiard room, smoking room, ladies’ drawing room (furnished in Chippendale), and golfers’ cloakroom. Central heating, electric bells and telephones were in the original build. Interestingly, one of the first large bookings was the officer cadre of the Lothians during their summer training: NCOs and men continued to camp at Hedderwick.
Adjacent to the Bellevue, the Albert (Goldenstones) was purpose-built as a family hotel, as were the Redheugh and Kerridge’s (better known as the Bayswell) in the west end. Other properties were converted in the course of the 20th century: The YMCA (Hillside) at the east end, the Beach Hotel and the Wakefield in Church Street, the Craig-en-gelt in Marine Road, and William Brodie’s old home, Battleblent, between Belhaven and West Barns.
The ‘Golden Age’ of the Dunbar holiday trade had begun. It was too good to last.