It is constructive to compare East Barns, which lay arond 2 kilometers southeast of Dunbar, and West Barns at a similar distance in the opposite direction. They both had similar origins, a similar coastal situation on good arable land and, in the medieval period, a similar agricultural character. But whereas the latter flourishes today, East Barns has gone!
The difference lies in the underlying geology. For years East Barns sustained a lime burning industry utilising abundant shallow deposits. With the start of the 20th century, the scale of the mining increased (to provide flux for the iron and steel industry) and ultimately the area was selected for a large integrated cement works, which was erected at Oxwellmains in 1962. Quarrying has worked around the site of the works, dislocating all the farming communities in the vicinity and also working the land on which East Barns lay.
At its peak, East Barns was a hamlet of a scant 2 dozen or so households. However, in the immediate vicinity the farms of Barneyhill, Oxwellmains, East Barns and the three Pinketons (formerly East, West & Meikle) added up to another 50 (in the mid 19th century). Catcraig, Strand House, East Barns Kiln and Oxwelmains Kiln added another dozen. Most of the population was agricultural or associated with the lime industry but there was a grocery in East Barns itself, with a smithy and a carpenter’s business. The village had a school (opened at the tail end of the 18th century). From 1768-1820 there was a meeting house belonging to a congregation of the Anti-burgher faction of the Associate Synod or Presbytry. Catering to like-minded folk from several nearby parishes, this place of worship subsequently relocated to Dunbar.
Vi Marshall’s account in the East Lothian Fourth Statistical Account describes the last days of East Barns. If you, or someone in your family, lived or spent time in East Barns, we would be delighted to hear your stories.