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Dunbar Town House and clock, 1907

Dunbar Town Clock

Dunbar Town House and clock, 1907Dunbar town house is equipped with three external timepieces: a conventional vertically mounted sundial, a polar sundial and a double faced clock with a bell mounted in the steeple. A clock in the tower has measured time in the burgh since at least 1595. William Mitchelsone was then mender of the townis knock and the baillies enacted that during all ye dayis of his lifetyme (he was) to uphall and mend ye knock. However, eighty years afterwards there was no-one in the town with the skills to maintain the ageing instrument. In 1678 a successful application was made to Robert Wallace of Haddington to undertake the job (at a salary of £5 12 shillings Scots yearly). In just twelve years the annual fee was increased to £12 Scots when the post next fell vacant. And so the pattern continued.

But why in these far-away days was a working clock so important?

  • It served to regulate the town’s markets by ringing the bell to signal the start and end of legal trading.
  • It served to announce closing time for the common inns (public houses) of the burgh, when it was rung at 10 pm.
  • It provided the correct time for townspeople to set their own clocks and watches (if they had such).
  • And it announced to all a night-time curfew when the gates would be closed, the town’s watchmen would patrol and all good citizens should have been tucked up in bed.

In addition, ringing the bell at other times would call the attention of the citizens an announcement of significant news, toll during a funeral procession or signal an emergency.

(to celebrate the funding of repairs to the harbour) on Wednesday, the 24th November, 1858, the inhabitants were agreeably surprised by the auld clock hammer ringing the bell, announcing  the tidings from the authorities that the negotiations had been completed, and the money paid into the town’s account with the Commercial Bank                                                              (Miller, the History of Dunbar)

In 1861 such was the state of the clock that the council set up a sub-committee to seek a solution. The erratic movements of the clock were a great inconvenience to travellers. Suggestions included buying a clock to sit in the Police Office window (then in the ground floor of the town house) – which met with a resounding chorus of disapproval! A compromise was reached, the clock was patched up and a local watchmaker was appointed to ‘attend’. The next crises were in 1888 when a joiner had to be sought to secure the lodging for the bell and in 1894 when the glass of the faces was replaced as the originals had become so blackened as to make reading the clock difficult.

In 2013 the clock and bell were still in working order but, for the first time in more than a century, the sundials were clearly readable (given good weather) having benefited from a major overhaul of the fabric of the building. At the same time the opportunity was taken to survey the building in its entirety, resulting in a more detailed appreciation of the clock, sundials and tower.

One thought on “Dunbar Town Clock”

  1. Hamish Main says:

    I’m interested to see this piece on your website about the Dunbar Town Clock. My family folklore has it that my great-grandfather James Main “put the town clock in the High Street”. Born in 1827, he was a watchmaker and tinsmith according to the census records, so it seems plausible. I look forward to visiting Dunbar next time I’m north of the border.
    Hamish Main, Staffordshire

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