Biarritz of the North
Nunnery and Witches Coven
Harbour and Fishing
Times of Change
Between the War Years
Coastguard and Lifeboat
| Harbour and Fishing |
Where the harbour now stands was originally a tidal island which encompassed the ground of the Auld Kirk and graveyard, this gave way to a sandy cove where the esplanade is now sited. The island was twice the size it is today, quarrying of the red leck reduced its size dramatically. The harbour originally took the form of a breakwater built along the crown of a ridge leading from the Platcock Rocks. The breakwater ended about eighty feet short of the present harbour entrance and consisted of boulders and large rough blocks. It's outer face was constructed of irregular dry-stone masonry secured with wooden wedges (picture below), similar to the original East Pier at Dunbar, which was dated in the sixth century. The earliest mention of a port at North Berwick was in a charter of 1177. In ancient times there were guest-houses built by the Lauder family to accommodate the pilgrims crossing to Elie. The site of the hostels are now occupied by the granaries constructed on reclaimed land. The island remained tidal until 1799.
That year a man from the town was press ganged into His Majesty's Navy and the community had to raise £25 to secure his release. The Town
Magistrates instructed the man to go about the town warning the fishermen and seamen of the Naval Impressment. |
Herring fishing was first minuted in August 1809 when the Town Council applied to the Trustees of the Fisheries for funding to fish for herring. The Council was concerned the herring would be fished by boats from the north side of the Forth and they would land their catch at North Berwick harbour.
The present harbour is the result of many alterations, mainly due to reconstruction following storm-damage. In June 1593 the Town Council requested support from the Convention of Burghs to repair the harbour and this was the first of many appeals for assistance. The north east quay covered during the construction of the former swimming pool was first mentioned in the Burgh Accounts in 1726, with a reference to a sluice used to wash the silt out of the harbour. The south east wall was built in 1788 and the south west transverse pier, at the outer end of the harbour was constructed in 1803 by John and James Grieve, masons in North Berwick.
Following the storm-damage in 1811 the south west pier was relaid and the original breakwater extended, forming a new pier head at the entrance, the top of which was reached by a stair. John Boyd, a shipmaster of North Berwick was appointed an Honorary Burgess and Freeman of the Burgh in 1786. The following year he was asked by the Council to recommend a number of men as pilots. He listed Peter Marr, Peter Marr Jnr. Henry Jackson, Matthew Jackson, Alexander Comb, John Smith, Robert Murray, Robert Murray Jnr., and James Kelly. They were provided with a badge with the name of the burgh and dated. In October 1876 the pilots were licensed by the Town Council for the first time.
A crane for the boom at the mouth of the harbour was installed by Andrew Walker (wright) in June 1780 costing £10 sterling. In 1786, Robert Bertram (Brewer) purchased ground to the south of the granary on the lower quay. The Magistrates appointed Francis Buchanan as the first Shore Master in August 1808 when regulations for all ship masters was drawn up and printed. The deepening of the harbour was carried out in 1804 by Messrs Grieves and Thomas Bamber of North Berwick and again in 1862 by J. Young of Sutherland. Cut-back rock-faces can be seen under the quays where encroaching rocks had to be removed, when the harbour was deepened.
Repairs to the harbour was a burden on the Council and to raise the finance required they proposed to sell off the island of Craigleith. On 17th September 1814 a disposition had been executed in favour of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple who agreed to pay £400 for the Craig, by yearly instalments of £100. Originally it had been intended to dispose of the island by lottery, but this was found to be illegal. To improve the entrance, the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners placed a light on the north pier head which was not turned on during May, June and July. To cover the expense each herring boat paid 10/-, and visiting boats paid 1 penny everytime they passed the light. The Board also place a buoy on the Maiden Rocks in 1861.
During the deepening of the harbour in 1862, a serious disturbance occurred on a Saturday night, which was pay-day, when a number of the labourers employed in the works got exceedingly noisy leading to riotous behaviour. Police constable McMillan was called to the harbour and cautioned the men on their behaviour, which resulted in one of the Irishmen directing a knock down bow to McMillan. On seeing this, Alex Russell one of the local fishermen ran forward to assist the policeman but the navvies served Russell in the same manner as McMillan.
This proved too much for the other fishermen who had gathered and they rushed forward, resulting in hand to hand fighting. Shortly afterwards one of the Irishmen named Dailly was identified as the man who had struck the policeman and was captured and lodged in jail. On Monday at the Burgh Court, James Dall the Chief Magistrate convicted Dailly and sentenced him to pay a fine of £2 or 30 days imprisonment. His comrades paid the fine.
In 1832 there were nine vessels belonging to the harbour and four were engaged in foreign trade. In previous years there had been a decrease in the export of grain and lime but an increase in turnips and potatoes chiefly to Newcastle and London markets. There were no foreign vessels trading in North Berwick during this period. The import of rape, oil cake, and crushed bones for manure was increasing, while coal for the town and neighbourhood came by sea. Four large vessels had been added to the harbour since 1829.
In 1834 the fishing boats at Canty Bay paid no anchorage fee and the Town Council decided to bring them in line with North Berwick harbour and charge one guinea annually. In 1836 the Town Council levied James Strong, a Merchant of Leith, a fee of one guinea for keeping a box in the harbour for storing his lobsters. James Strong & Company, 5 Haddington Place, Leith employed all the fishermen who caught lobsters at North Berwick.
In 1840, lobster fishing was carried out by two men in each boat, dressed in canvas frocks with sheepskin trousers and coarse gloves. To catch the lobster they used a strong hoop about sixty inches in circumference, suspended from a nine-fathom buoy rope. A small conical net with a three inch mesh was fixed round the lower part of the hoop. Each boat would carry up to twenty-four such nets. The bait generally consists of cod, skate or flounder.
Colonel James Paterson invented and patented the first machine that could tie knots to help with fishing net production in 1812. J.W. Stuart bought the patents and his company on Paterson's death set up a plant on the site of Eskmills in Musselburgh. They went on to become the world leaders in the 'Scottish Weave Nets' industry employing around 800 people.
Associated with the harbour was a coopers yard where boats were repaired or laid up. This was approached by way of a slip in the harbour's east corner near the burgh stable yard which was also used to stable the local constabulary horses. Two warehouses were built on the quay side, the present buildings occupied by East Lothian Yacht Club and the Harbour Terrace with their original outside staircases. These buildings were used for the storage of grain, wool and potatoes for export. Later they also accommodated a number of fishing families who had migrated from Buckhaven. Coal was transported to the town by boat from Bo'ness, the Fife coast and Newcastle with the coalyard situated on the site of the former Sun Parlour. In 1839 it cost 14/- a ton for Scotch Great Coal or 17/- a ton for English. Coal was very expensive and a great burden on the poor family.
The original level of the road leading to the harbour can be seen below the railings at 19-29 Victoria Road. This property incorporating Lower Quay was constructed in 1868 by Keddie & Herriot whose joiners yard was situated at the back of the Quadrant. At that time John Herriot was a Town Councillor and the row of cottages were known as Herriot Place. The outside staircases remain but the coal cellars underneath were removed when the road was raised and the building on the south end added. The Fisherman's Hall was built in 1883 and in April 1890, the Town Council and the Coastguard Service signed an agreement on the position of the new Semaphore Station on the Platcock Rocks and the annual rent. In 1896 The Coastguard Station was connected by telephone to the Post Office when four telegraph poles were erected along the beach.
Following a drowning accident in 1889 Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple initiated a subscription for a memorial cross to be erected on Anchor Green. The red granite Celtic Cross, with the inscription ' Erected in memory of Catherine Watson of Glasgow, aged 19 who drowned in the East Bay, 27th July 1889 while rescuing a drowning boy. The child was saved, the brave girl was taken.' The memorial was designed by S. McGlashen in 1890 and crafted by Catherine Watson's fellow students at Glasgow School of Art and surround by a decorative metal railing. Sir Walter suggested a bye-law should be passed to remove the unsightly clothes lines on the Anchor Green, no nets drying, line baiting or boats or fishing gear from 10am-8pm from May to October 1890. Sir Walter gifted the Old Rocket House on the Anchor Green to the Town Council to be used as a mortuary in 1895.
In September 1854 a public subscription was started to provide a Barometer to be placed on the Anchor Green where the memorial cross now stands. In 1880 the barometer was beyond repair and a second barometer was placed in the Lifeboat House. In 1862 Robert Thomson petitioned the Town Council for permission to erect a boiler in the building on the north end of the Burgh School in Market Place for cleaning fishing nets. The Council approved the request also called 'Barking Copper' as birch bark was added to kill the bacteria.
As the nineteenth century progressed herring became an important food for the whole of Britain and the government offered a financial incentive to any Scottish fisherman building a boat over sixty feet. The vessel required a crew of five and was able to sail 200 miles in a single day. The herring was fished with drift nets that hang down from cork floats on the surface. By the late nineteenth century the fishermen were using cotton nets which were much lighter than hemp, its predecessor. The Reaper had a lower cabin with a coal fired stove for drying the wet clothes and cooking the meals. From about 1890 until the introduction of steam and later petrol powered engines, the Fifie and the half-decked Zulu were the Rolls Royce of deep-sea sailing drifters.
In 1839 the Council was requested to approve the formation of a Fishing Company and to allow the fishermen to dry their nets on the Toun Common. The Company also requested an area on the south west corner of the west quay to clean their fish which was approved on the payment of 6d annually. In 1841 the Town Council applied to the Royal Institute of Fisheries for funding a new harbour to be built at the Bay of Green, near the Leithes. Although the Board agreed they replied that the number of requests for funding meant this project would take years to come to fruition. The same year Robert Walker applied to the Town Council for permission to have a lobster fold in the Leck Rocks.
In 1888 there were 90 men and boys working 30 fishing boats at North Berwick and by the turn of the century Canty Bay had its own small fishing community with 31 people working on six fishing boats. The deep-sea fishing was chiefly carried out from fifty to one hundred miles east of the Bass, where cod, ling, turbot, halibut and skate were caught.
In the 1840s John Neillans cooperage was situated on the site of the present Museum and Library in School Road. Along with his sons John, Robert and Thomas they made thousands of barrels for the herring fishing. John Neillans, the son of a fishmonger was born in North Berwick in 1786. Using a bow saw to cut the round top, base, and staves. They would open the joints with a flaggering iron, insert river reeds and fill the holes with a putty made from herring oil and whitening. Barrel making was an important part of the fishing industry. Before refrigerating, ice was scarce and expensive and the only way to preserve the herring was in a barrel cured with brine. In 1852 his son Robert Neillans was a cooper and fish curer while Thomas Neillans continued the business on the site behind the coastguard cottages known as 'Cooper's Well'. Washing herring barrels in the street was banned in 1856. The following year the Water Company piped water to the harbour for the first time.
At the Public Roup in 1858, 12 herring curing stances on the Lower Quay were auctioned and the successful bidders were John Jamieson, (Edinburgh); James Aitken (Fisherrow); John Downie (Fisherrow); Peter Cowe (Berwick-upon-Tweed); William Sinclair (Leith); McDonald (Berwick-upon-Tweed); George McLaren (Fishmonger, North Berwick); Thomas Eason (Fishmonger, North Berwick); William Manderson (Fishmerchant, North Berwick); Mr Gourlay (Cockenzie); James Methven (Leith); Anderson (Grocer North Berwick). The Harbour Master was William Noel and he was followed by William McLaren in 1861. Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple wrote to the Town Council in April 1885 regarding the harbour master Alex Campbell being drunk and uncivil to his yacht captain. Campbell resigned in August 1885 and the position of harbour master was advertised on handbills distributed throughout the town. There were six applicants and James Marr was appointed Harbour Master in August 1885. In 1930 James 'Daddy' Marr (1835-1933) was the oldest Harbour Master in the British Isles still working at the age of ninety five years. Also in 1885 Mr.Sedgwick Chief Coastguard was instructed to supply life bouys, one on the east bay, one at the harbour and a third on the west bay.
In 1862, 42 North Berwick fishermen signed a petition requesting the Town Council to write to the Fishery Board to stop trawling being carried out along the coast. In 1863, the herring fishing was carried out around the Craigleith but the herring suddenly disappeared around 1874 and were seldom seen west of the Bass. When the herring was abundant off North Berwick, a typical evenings fishing could yield an average of four or five crans, some boats landed nine or ten and one boat nearly twenty cran, which stood as a record for a number of years. The prices in 1860 varied from 26 to 31 shillings per cran. The biggest haul was taken from 10th to the 18th August. At the height of the herring fishing 7000 barrels were obtained in one week, the ordinary take was about 12,000 barrels in a season and the boats came from Fife and the South.
The women got up early to gather the mussels for baiting the fishing lines which could take four hours. The line had a thousand hooks and each boat had two lines. When the boats returned the wives were often assisted by single woman from other areas to gut and box the herring. The knife was so sharp they would wrap their fingers in sacking for protection.
Most of the fishermen were in the employment of fish curers and merchants, such as John Jamieson, William Manderson, and Alex Henderson from Anstruther to whom they had to sell all the fish they caught at a stipulated price. The fish were then sent by rail to London, Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester. The fish merchants in North Berwick being close to the railway line could command better prices for their herring than other areas not connected. In 1866 the prices could reach the high level of 30/- to 50/- per cran (1 cran=3.5 cwt), while on the Caithness coast, still unserved by railway, herring of the same quality could realise only 5/- to 20/- per cran during the same season. In former times the fishermen's wives and daughters travelled through the countryside to sell their fish.
The inshore fishing yielded haddock, whiting, flounders, sole and brill. The herring fishing was carried out entirely by drift-nets, the other fish were caught by lines, except that trawling was practised for sole and brill. Lobsters and crabs were caught by means of creels and shrimps were gathered along the shore in summer. Oysters were found near the Bass but they were dredged with difficulty.
Cod, mackerel, salmon, and trout were occasionally caught in the herring-nets and sometimes porpoises and even sharks. The dog-fish, part of the shark family, was regarded by the fishermen as their greatest enemy, because it not only destroys the fish but often damages their fishing gear. Bait was obtained with difficulty near North Berwick. Mussels were not found in abundance until nearer Aberlady Bay. At North Berwick the live mussels were put till required in compartments made by loosely building up large stones against the inner wall of the harbour, thus preventing them from being scattered and lost through their own movements and tidal action.
The fishermen started work about five o'clock in the evening, and continued until sunrise. They could cover up to twelve miles in a night setting the nets in many different places. On some occasions, in favourable weather they could catch six or seven dozen in a night. When the lobsters were laid in the boat, their claws were tied with cord and great care was taken to keep them away from bilge-water, rain or the sun, which would destroy them in a few hours.
The night's fishing was deposited in large bags which remained in the sea until carried off once a week by a fish merchant or agent. In 1846, the fishermen were paid three-and-a-half pence for each lobster, anything under eight inches was counted as half price as well as those minus a claw. The agent placed the lobsters in boxes secured under the sea until they were up lifted by the London smacks which were specially built for that purpose.
In a 'Guide To North Berwick' published in 1907 fishing was described as follows:- The fish generally caught about North Berwick are haddock, codlings, whiting and flounders. When herring are in the Firth, mackerel are more or less abundant; and as the season advances saithe and pollack take a large white fly readily enough in the evening. Mackerel is trolled for with a white lure of kid or of gurnet skin, or even with a phantom minnow or angel. Near Craigleith, with Fidra showing to the outside of the Lamb, is good ground for haddock; while a hundred yards or so to the east of the Lamb, and somewhat inshore of it, flounders ought to be plentiful. By flounders is meant the common sand-dab, at its best in September.
East of the harbour there is also good ground for flounders, quite close inshore, on either side of that long disconnected ridge of black rock jutting out from the Rhodes Links, known as the Leithies; and also in the bay between them and the Leck Moran. The best ground for the larger sized fish is off the Bass, which however is too dangerous a trip to make in a small rowing-boat. The baits commonly used are mussels, lobworms, and sand-eels which can be readily procured from the boat-hirers or from the fisherman.
In 1831 a razor-backed whale was stranded to the west of the town. The news of its arrival spread like wild fire and great crowds came to visit it on the Sabbath. The town was completely inundated and the day was remembered as 'Whale Sunday'. The whale was ultimately purchased by Dr. Knox a lecturer at Edinburgh University and exhibited in the Industrial Museum (now in Chamber Street, Edinburgh). Again in March 1870 a shoal of whales were sighted between the Craigleith and the Bass, one was measured at 90 feet in length but fortunately they made it safely out of the Firth.
Smuggling was at its peak during the early 1800's as taxes were high to pay for the Napoleonic Wars. According to the North Berwick Statistical Account complied by Rev. Robert Balfour Graham, minister of St Andrews Kirk in 1839, a boat with eight coastguards was stationed at North Berwick in the 1820s to restrict the practice of smuggling.
One particular group of smugglers who were well acquainted with each other, worked the coast between Berwickshire and Cockenzie. They dealt mainly in French wines and brandy and legend has it that they supplied their contraband to many of the respectable families in the district. Whisky was then scarcely known and the farmers and working class generally used malt liquors.
In putting down this trade armed skirmishes between the smugglers and Excise Officers sometimes took place. Before the widening of the main-road to Tyninghame, a hawthorn tree, locally called 'the ganger's tree', stood at the sharp bend beyond Whitekirk, where the side-road to Loch-houses branches off. This marked the spot where two Officers were shot dead by smugglers they were endeavouring to arrest.
In August 1880 harbour pilots David Miller and Charles Marr were suspended following an incident with a steamboat full of visitors when the antics of the fishermen endangered the life of several excursionists. The Chief Magistrate endorsed their Parchment Certificate with their suspension as pilots for three months.
The first reference to a Customs Officer was Patrick Douglas, Captain of His Majesty's Customs House, Boat Station, North Berwick who was made an honorary burgess in June 1766. A Coastguard Station and Custom House was constructed on Anchor Green in 1857, North Berwick and the Board of Trade established a Rocket Brigade when twenty-two men volunteered to join. The new station linked with the Seacliff Station to the east and covered the coast westwards as far as Leith. Seacliff, in turn linked with Dunbar and so the whole southern approach to the Forth was covered from the shore.
The Coastguard Officers lived with their families in the Coastguard Cottages built in 1870 in Melbourne Road. All were ex-Royal Navy, mostly Petty Officers from England. Among the names were James Davidson (1841), Alexander Bruce (1841), Joseph Lindsay (1861), James McLean (1861), Patrick Hartnett (1881), Halbert Henderson (1881), John Sedgwick (1881), James Keys (1881), John Maheny (1881), James Forrester (1901) Henry Thorne (1901), Joseph Kenny (1901) and Captain Thomas Woodrow. In October 1884, Lieutenant Fletcher divisional officer of the Coastguard Service submitted plans for a new Rocket Cart House, adjacent to the Coastguard Cottages.
The lifeboat crew and about two dozen launchers mustered on the firing of the signal gun sited near the Coastguard Station. The 'Rocketeers' as the members of the volunteer Rocket Brigade were known, operated a rescue rocket apparatus with a thin wire attached which they fired over the stricken vessel. The line was then attached to a thicker rope which was used to pull the crew a shore. The apparatus was taken by horse and cart along the main road to the nearest access point to the vessel in trouble. This system was partly thought up by George Miller MRPSE, General Practitioner from Dunbar and the apparatus was stored in their bothy in the Auld Kirk porch on the Anchor Green where the fireplace they used still remains. Captain Thomas Woodrow was the local agent for the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Society at 4, Quality Street. The society was able to offer financial assistance to the widows, orphans and parents of fishermen and mariners lost at sea. It was custom for sailors to wear a gold earing, this was to pay for their burial if they perished at sea. The society also helped with the cost of boarding, clothing, returning shipwrecked seamen home and other persons cast destitute on the coast.
The 'puffer' more associated with the Clyde was also a common sight on the Firth of Forth, carrying cargo of eighty to one hundred tons up and down the east coast. They earned their name puffer from the noise the early steam engines made when their exhaust was released into the atmosphere with a load puffing noise. They stopped puffing when condensers were fitted but the name stuck. The closure of the Firth of Forth for security reasons during WW1 dealt a deathblow to the east coast trade. Commodities were moved by road and rail for the duration of the conflict and the 'puffers' were never seen again.
In March 1886 the Town Council received a letter from Matthew Galloway requesting permission to make a temporary
landing and footpath on the Platcock Rocks for the purpose of landing and embarking passengers during the summer months, which he
believed would be the pioneer of permanent works. The Galloway Saloon Steam Packet Company applied to the Town Council to lease ground
on the Platcock Rocks and construct a low water pier. The application was posted on the Parish Church door and printed on hand bills
circulated throughout the town. John Anderson & Son, fish merchants objected to the harmful interference the proposed landing would
have on his salmon nets. The Architect and Civil Engineer was Belfrage & Carfrae, Edinburgh and the application was approved on a 21
year lease with a rent of £5 annually. By tradition, all legal documents drawn up by the Town Council were witnessed by the
local police constable and that year constable James Anderson signed the document. The Magistrates also stipulated that no sailings
were permitted on a Sunday and agreed with the applicant that only Galloway's steamboats were permitted to use the pier.
In June 1887, Robert Henderson the engineer for Matthew Galloway found the sand had shifted very materially since he made his first
measurement and was now so scoured away as to be insufficient for the stability for the seaward end row of piles. In consequence of
this he proposes to secure the piles by means of concrete 6 feet deep all over the area of the pier head which would be 2 feet above
the water at low tide and strengthen the pier by bracing with diagonals between the piles.
The Civil Engineer R.C. Brebner & Co. was awarded the contract to construct the pier, but due to the difficulty in obtaining iron
rails the start of the work was delayed until the following year. The timber work was carried out by Thomas Himsworth & Son, 103 High
Street, North Berwick. To celebrate the opening of the new pier in May 1888, Matthew Galloway invited the Magistrates and Town
Councillors on a trip to Elie on the steamboat Stirling Castle. The pier was refurbished in 2014 by Anderson Construction Group Ltd
based in Inverness. The project cost £488,288 and was funded by SEStran and East Lothian Council.
One of the many characters at the harbour was Jackie 'Oscar' Combe who was easily recognised as he stood up while rowing his fishing
boat, a former life-boat from an ocean going liner. Born in North Berwick in 1912, Jackie rowed out to his creels at the Bass Rock
every day. Originally his boat had an engine but one day he returned to the harbour with the leg of his trousers in tatters.
Apparently his trousers caught in the drive shaft of the two stroke engine. The engine was promptly ditched and from that day
Jackie stood up-right while rowing his boat with the strength of an ox. The Kelvin engine, known as the 'Fisherman's Friend' was
developed in 1900 with a 6/8 petrol paraffin engine.
On 2nd August 1897, Police Inspector James Snowie reported to the Town Council that the Galloway Steam Packet Company had landed
passengers at North Berwick on a Sunday against the agreement. The Police Inspector reported that at 10.30am on Sunday 1st August
the steamer Tantallon Castle landed 30 passengers east of the Platcock rocks and took-off 170 at the same place by means of small
boats. On the return journey the steamer landed 170 passengers on Galloway’s Pier and took on 24 from the same place. The Town
Council wrote to Mr. Galloway expressing their disapproval. He apologised and explained that the steamer was sailing to Berwick-
Upon-Tweed and they had received a large number of requests from North Berwick to join the special trip to Berwick.
In November 1896 a fire extensively damaged the Dirleton Granary in Forth Street. The building was used by the fishermen and others
to store their equipment which was destroyed in the fire. The Town Council organised a subscription to compensate those who had lost
their nets and £88-10/- was collected and distributed by the Magistrates.
At the Burgh Magistrates Court on 14th October 1898 in front of Ballie Wilson, the following juveniles Robert Thomson, Walter Brown,
James Ferguson, David Ferguson, George Thomson, David Grant, Thomas Stephenson were found guilty of 'Malicious Mischief' in breaking
up an old boat at the harbour which belonged to George Stewart. They were each fined 5/- or 2 days in jail. Within a few years 'The
Harbour Gang' had emigrated as professional golfers to America and Europe.
In June 1887, Robert Henderson the engineer for Matthew Galloway found the sand had shifted very materially since he made his first measurement and was now so scoured away as to be insufficient for the stability for the seaward end row of piles. In consequence of this he proposes to secure the piles by means of concrete 6 feet deep all over the area of the pier head which would be 2 feet above the water at low tide and strengthen the pier by bracing with diagonals between the piles.
The Civil Engineer R.C. Brebner & Co. was awarded the contract to construct the pier, but due to the difficulty in obtaining iron rails the start of the work was delayed until the following year. The timber work was carried out by Thomas Himsworth & Son, 103 High Street, North Berwick. To celebrate the opening of the new pier in May 1888, Matthew Galloway invited the Magistrates and Town Councillors on a trip to Elie on the steamboat Stirling Castle. The pier was refurbished in 2014 by Anderson Construction Group Ltd based in Inverness. The project cost £488,288 and was funded by SEStran and East Lothian Council.
One of the many characters at the harbour was Jackie 'Oscar' Combe who was easily recognised as he stood up while rowing his fishing boat, a former life-boat from an ocean going liner. Born in North Berwick in 1912, Jackie rowed out to his creels at the Bass Rock every day. Originally his boat had an engine but one day he returned to the harbour with the leg of his trousers in tatters. Apparently his trousers caught in the drive shaft of the two stroke engine. The engine was promptly ditched and from that day Jackie stood up-right while rowing his boat with the strength of an ox. The Kelvin engine, known as the 'Fisherman's Friend' was developed in 1900 with a 6/8 petrol paraffin engine.
On 2nd August 1897, Police Inspector James Snowie reported to the Town Council that the Galloway Steam Packet Company had landed passengers at North Berwick on a Sunday against the agreement. The Police Inspector reported that at 10.30am on Sunday 1st August the steamer Tantallon Castle landed 30 passengers east of the Platcock rocks and took-off 170 at the same place by means of small boats. On the return journey the steamer landed 170 passengers on Galloway’s Pier and took on 24 from the same place. The Town Council wrote to Mr. Galloway expressing their disapproval. He apologised and explained that the steamer was sailing to Berwick- Upon-Tweed and they had received a large number of requests from North Berwick to join the special trip to Berwick.
In November 1896 a fire extensively damaged the Dirleton Granary in Forth Street. The building was used by the fishermen and others to store their equipment which was destroyed in the fire. The Town Council organised a subscription to compensate those who had lost their nets and £88-10/- was collected and distributed by the Magistrates.
At the Burgh Magistrates Court on 14th October 1898 in front of Ballie Wilson, the following juveniles Robert Thomson, Walter Brown, James Ferguson, David Ferguson, George Thomson, David Grant, Thomas Stephenson were found guilty of 'Malicious Mischief' in breaking up an old boat at the harbour which belonged to George Stewart. They were each fined 5/- or 2 days in jail. Within a few years 'The Harbour Gang' had emigrated as professional golfers to America and Europe.
Times of Change
In April 1885 the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners supply vessel 'Pharos', delivered furniture to Fidra lighthouse which was completed that year. The Commissioners requested permission from the Town Council to raise a Flag Staff on Platcock Rocks for signaling Fidra lighthouse. This was agreed at a rent of 5/- per annum. By the early part of the twentieth century, the traditional line fishing had given way to more modern methods and the scene of women baiting the lines with mussels at the harbour had disappeared. Although the squared out holes in the rocks beyond the paddling pond in the East Bay, known as the 'drippin' pans', continued to be used for gathering salt and holding lobsters. The town was now supplied by water from the Thorter and Dunolly reservoirs situated above Garvald in the Lammermuirs with storage since 1881 of 179,298 gals at the Heugh Farm. There were a number of societies active in the town including the Freemason's, Foresters', Oddfellows and Good Templars'. The old tenement known as the 'Gunboat' was demolished to make way for the Ben Sayers golf club factory, on the site now occupied by the building at 15-21 Forth Street. During the factory excavations a 14th century kiln, 25 feet high was unearthed. In earlier times this had been used to dry barley when the Dirleton Granary occupied this site.
In February 1912, R. Thompson & Co, Engineers in Leith applied to the Town Council for special terms for landing iron from the wreck of the steamer S.S.Bull, estimated at 400 tons. The Council refused to reduce the rates and charged the normal Harbour dues of £5. The collision between the S.S.Bull and the steam trawler Rosslyn of Leith happened on 6th December 1893, between Craigleith and the Lamb when S.S.Bull sank, no crew were lost.
In May 1896 the Town Council asked Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple to provided land for a new burial ground suggesting the Old Abbey Park (Redcroft). Sir Walter refused permission as the sale of houses in that area would be effected. Another site was proposed on the west side of the road leading to Berwick Law this was abandoned in favour of a site in Tantallon Road. The Council asked James Taylor and David Purdie, gardeners in the town to quote for laying out the new cemetery which was opened in 1902.
In December 1904 the Burgh Surveyor, Robert Blackadder was instructed to remove the notice board on the beach prohibiting mixed bathing. That year the town hearse was independently financed by the Hearse Society and was used 34 times compared with 66 times the previous year, reflecting the health of the community. The gas company introduced a new street lighting system in 1905. The apparatus consisted of a little tank and bell which were actuated by extra pressure from the gasworks, forcing the bell to raise, opening the valve and allowing gas to press to the burner. The result being that lamps which extended over a wide area could be lighted within a few seconds of the increased pressure. By reducing the pressure at the works the valve was closed and the light extinguished. The gas company presented the Town Council with two decorative street lamps each with the Burgh coat of arms engraved on the glass. One lamp was erected at the foot of the stairs leading to the Council Chambers and the other outside the residence of the Provost, which for over 70 years was traditionally moved each time a new provost was elected.
During this period North Berwick experienced an amazing boom in property building - Marmion Road (1885), St. Margaret's Road (1899), Dirleton Avenue (1901), York Road (1902) and St. Baldred's Road (1907). Clifford Road was named after Alice Clifford, wife of the 8th Baronet, Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple. This tradition of naming roads after the Baronet's wife continues to this day. Some of the finest buildings were designed by Sir Robert Lorimer from 1893 - 1910, The Grange-1893 (Lord Traynor, a High Court judge); Teviotdale (originally named Greyholm)-1898 (J.C.Stewart); Marly Knowe-1902 (Professor Edward Schaefer an eminent physiologist) and Bunkershill-1904 (Robert Craig whose grandfather established a successful papermaking business in the early 19th century near Penicuik) his brother James Craig commissioned Carlekemp (architect John Kinross). Lorimer also designed the extension to Hyndford for Frank Tennant-1903, The Grange for Captain Harry Armitage-1904, Kings Knoll-1907, and was consulted on Westerdunes-1910. He designed the Porch of St Baldred's Church-1917 and the entrance to the Catholic Church. Lorimer used Rattlebags stone quarried at East Fenton and the finest craftsmen. St Anns in York Road, owned by the Dowager Countess of Camperdown was a typical residency built for the nobility. By the 1870s, St Anns was occupied by Lady Elizabeth Duncan, daughter of the first Earl of Camperdown, and grand- daughter of the celebrated Admiral Duncan, who in 1797 defeated the Dutch, under Admiral de Winter in the great naval battle of Camperdown in Holland and was on that account created Lord Duncan. In 1811, the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Duncan was the last to be admitted an ordinary burgess of North Berwick in right of his spouse Janet Dalrymple.
The advent of rail transport resulted in the rapid expansion of agriculture in the area, despite a set-back in 1879 when shiploads of cheap American grain started to arrive in Britain. Also around this period a number of important innovations were taking place, including the invention of the threshing drum by Meikle at Preston Mill which is used to this day in the latest combine harvesters, and the steam-plough introduced to the Lothians on Ferrygate farm. Agriculture was still dominated by the horse, and during the Spring it was not uncommon for the farm worker to walk for eleven straight weeks behind a pair of horses, pulling various implements. The ploughman's cottage with one outdoor pump to supply water for 6 or 8 families with no indoor or in some cases outdoor conveniences would not be modernised until the 1950s with electric light and a bathroom.
In June 1905, the North British Railway Company introduced a motor vehicle service from North Berwick to Aberlady, offering better access to the coastal villages. Two vehicles were built by the Mo-Car Syndicate in Paisley to operate the hourly service from the railway station at North Berwick. The vehicles were fitted with a three-cylinder Arrol-Johnston engine, the gear-box was by Renold with a silent side chain to the rear axle, giving four speeds forward and one reverse. The solid tyres were to prevent punctures, and the body work was in varnished walnut. The motor was of the charabanc type carrying 23 passengers, with accommodation for luggage and parcels under the seating compartment. On Saturday 10th June 1905, a trail run was made from Edinburgh to North Berwick, when the journey was completed in 1 hour 30 minutes. The service to Aberlady started the following Monday, with the fare from North Berwick to the three villages being fourpence each stage, the full journey to Aberlady costing one shilling.
The 1914-18 war brought uncertainty and hardship with 152 of the towns men folk loosing their lives in active service. The recruitment policy during the Great War was to keep men from the same area together, this meant that casualties were usually specific to local recruiting areas. As 'Pals' fought together, more often then not they died together. This meant that local communities experienced collective mass grief rather than individual loss. An unlucky shell could wipe out a third of the adult male population of a small town. The War Memorials in every town and village are testament to the sacrifice made by rural society.
One of the most famous 'Pals' regiments was 'C' company of the 16th Royal Scots, known as 'McCrae's Battalion'. Raised by Colonel Sir George McCrae in November 1914 and among those who enlisted was the entire Heart of Midlothian football team. McCrae's Battalion was blooded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, losing three-quarters of their strength on the first day alone when seven Hearts players lost their lives and eleven others wounded or gassed. McCrae commanding the regiment was himself invalided home. In time, the battalion recovered. It came of age at Arras, endured the muddy horror of Passchendaele, and held the line unbroken in the face of furious German attacks on the Lys in 1918.
Lieutenant Colonel George McCrae came from a poor background and clawed is way to become a pillar of the Edinburgh establishment and was elected Member of Parliament for East Edinburgh in 1899. He moved with his spinster daughter Glady's to 'Torluise', 9 Tantallon Terrace, North Berwick where he died four years later, aged 68 years. His funeral was the largest ever witnessed in Scotland. Businesses closed, traffic suspended and the southside of Edinburgh came to a standstill with thousands of mourners lining the streets to the Grange Cemetery. The clock tower that stands at Haymarket in Edinburgh, (unveiled in 1920 to a crowd of 40,000) is dedicated to the players and supporters of Heart Of Midlothian FC who died serving in 'McCrae's Battalion'.
East Fortune was established in 1915 as a Royal Naval Air Station to combat the anticipated threat from Zeppelins. During WW1 airships flew from East Fortune to carry out fleet spotting and submarine hunting duties. From 1918 aircrews were trained on the beach at Belhaven Sands in torpedo dropping techniques. This was pioneering work as the world's first torpedo dropping aeroplane that could operate from aircraft carriers (Sopwith T.I Cuckoo) was stationed at East Fortune. By the end of WW1, East Fortune was the largest military aerodrome in Scotland.
In October 1912 a state of the art signaling station in connection with Rosyth Naval Base was erected in the vicinity of Seacliff Old Tower. The building which was of stone with black plaster dressing, consisted of a large sleeping room fitted with bunks on the ground floor while on the first floor there was a watchroom. The roof was re-inforced concrete with a stone parapet wall all round and was equipped with an up-to-date semaphore. The large flagstaff was 50ft high and the building stood 250ft above the sea and could be seen from miles around.
In 1917, HMS Seacliff, was the landfall site of the easternmost line of detector loops that ran across the entrance to the Firth of Forth. The other line ran to the east of the May island and made landfall at Crail (RNAS Jackdaw). These 'detectors' were huge lines of hydrophones laid in a series across the seabed to detect U-Boots entering the Firth. It must have been a skilled and intensive task, listening to underwater noise, as apparently the operatives only did two hours 'on watch' before being relieved. During the Second War this earlier detector system was replaced with two great induction loops laid across the Forth with the whole lot being controlled from HMS Isle of May. The passage of any submerged Kreigsmarine steel over the loops induced a measurable current that would then betray its presence. The landfall of the cables can still be seen at Kirk Haven in Fife.
The government rented houses for the duration of the conflict to accommodate the servicemen and one such was Carlekemp in Abbotsford Road which was used as an officers convalescent home. The name Carlekemp derives from the Celtic word for 'crooked knoll' on which it stands. In 1898 James Craig was owner of several paper mills along the Esk around Penicuik commissioned Edinburgh architect John Kinross RSA to provide drawings for the manor house, but he lost out to Lorimer for the construction contract. John Craig's brother Robert Craig built Bunkershill, also on Abbotsford Road in 1904. On 21 November 1918 one young officer stationed at Carlekemp recalled seeing the long procession of the surrendering German Fleet, 74 warships steaming up the Forth, while in the foreground a leather booted horse was drawing a mower over the fairways.
The airship R.34 lifted off from East Fortune to cross the Atlantic on 2nd July 1919 with a crew of 30, crossing the Nova Scotia coast in 59 hours. Then on to New York before the return journey taking 75 hours to become the first airship in history to complete the double crossing of the Atlantic. The R.34 was constructed in William Beardmore's gigantic airship works at Inchinnan outside Glasgow, and transported to East Fortune. The wire used on the airship was supplied by Brunton Wire Works at Inveresk. The company established in 1902, originally produced piano wire and were pioneers in the development of wire used in the early biplanes.
Following the Great War the higher cost of living, increased Income Tax and Death Duties meant that the numbers of staff employed in the larger summer houses had to be scaled down and in some cases the mansions were sold.
Between the War Years
With a regular bus service from Edinburgh and beyond, the town continued to attract families for their summer holidays. Hotels and Boarding Houses became common place along the seafront and Westerdunes House was converted into a hotel by Mr. De Menico. North Berwick as a tourist destination dates back to the 1850s when access to the town was made easier by the opening up of the railway line. During this period the number of visitors increased so dramatically that in 1871 the Town Council wrote to the Railway Company to request that the special cheap-day tickets be discontinued as the town was being over run by visitors, and there was inadequate accommodation available.
For the first time new businesses were being established in the town, catering entirely for the visitors, such as the letting of property, hiring bathing boxes and children's golf clubs. Alex Hutchison's two pleasure boats, St. Nicholas, and St. Baldred (later a third Britannia) sailed round the islands and a factory producing aerated water was established in Forth Street. It was also the practice during the summer months for many households to let out a room to visitors. The original Guest House was Mrs. Annie Abel's Tantallon House (4 West Bay Road ) and among the other boarding houses in 1871 were, Miss Smith at Parkend Villa; Mrs. Morgan, Rockville; Miss Elliot and Mrs. Hall in Quality Street and Mrs. J. Smith at 15, Shore Street. The Commercial Hotel (County Hotel) and the Dalrymple Arms Hotel in Quality Street, were the only post houses.
By 1861, the Royal Hotel was constructed and in 1872 an extension to the south elevation was added, also a bowling green and cricket-ground (on the site now Craigleith View Apartments). The addition was run as a separate Private Hotel by Charles Johnston and three years later he took over the lease of the Royal Hotel from the North British Railway Company and combined both into one establishment.
In 1875, the Marine Hotel designed by architect W. Beattie was built by J.& R. Whitecross, Shore Street, North Berwick at a cost of £20,000. At that time a new access road was also constructed (Cromwell Road). The speciality of the hotel was the salt and fresh water baths, with a pipe laid from the sea conveying salt water into tanks. The fresh water was supplied from a well in the grounds, which were laid out with a bowling green and putting green designed by Ben Sayers. Following a fire in 1882, part of the hotel was rebuilt to drawings by Mr. Pilkington. The Bradbury Hotel (1 York Road) was constructed in 1870 for Edward Bradbury; the Bass Rock Hotel at 6 York Road (Welbent) was opened in 1902 by Mary and Annie Maxwell, and Tantallon Hotel overlooking the East Links was opened in May 1908.
The Dalrymple Buildings (89-102 High Street) constructed in 1885, was originally designed as a hotel, but the developers went into liquidation before the site was completed. The ground floor shops remain from the original plans, but the upper floor was converted into the Temperance Hotel, which occupied the full length of the first floor. The entrance was by a stair in Balderstone Wynd, adjacent to what was the hotel kitchen and now the hairdresser's salon. The second and third floors of the Dalrymple Buildings were apartments, accessed from two common stairs. The ground floor premises (now Simpson & Marwick) was originally Simpson Henderson's Public Bar and later the Temperance Cafe Room.
During the 1880s there was a movement against drinking, gambling and playing sport on a Sunday. The Temperance Movement was at the forefront of this crusade, which also included a group named the Good Templars who met in the Burgh School in Market Place and whose members pledged to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, gambling and strong language.
The former urinal in Law Road known as the 'Maggie Bowie', was officially opened on 17th February 1902 when the Provost and Councilors met at the convenience to inspect the work. They suggested a lamp should be placed outside with the word 'Gentlemen' on coloured glass.
In May 1904 Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple wrote to the Town Council complaining about the caddies playing golf on the ground east of the first tee. The area was covered in divot marks and holes cut by the caddies. The matter was raised by the Green Committee which consisted of R. Grant-Suttie, B. Hall-Blyth, (North Berwick New Club), George Dalziel (Tantallon GC) F. Campbell (Bass Rock GC), and they decided rather than to forbid such behavior they should layout a short course for the caddies which became the west putting green. The putting green was laid out west of Elcho House and the old bathing box lent by Baillie George Nelson was used as the Starters Box.
In 1906, almost every large property in North Berwick was let from June until September, including the servants quarters and stabling. George Sheil & Sons,104 High Street was the main letting agent and their 1908 catalogue listed over 250 properties for let in the town. The families who rented the furnished houses sent their staff ahead with all the household requisites for the summer season. Trunks packed with china, crockery, bed linen, and clothes were then transported from the railway station by local carriers in their horse and cart to the various residences.
In May 1909, J. Colin Campbell proprietor of the Royal Hotel submitted plans to the Town Council for a Motor Garage and Shops on the site of the old gas works in Station Hill which were approved. The Bass Rock Cycle and Motor Company which initially focused on selling bikes from their show room at 114 High Street. By 1909 the company moved to Station Hill and began to sell American cars such as the Belize, Cadillac and Enfield motors. The business was taken over by the Russell family after WW1 and they ran it until 1973. During WW2 the armed forces commandeered the garage for shooting practice. The back of the workshop was zoned off and used as a rifle range for practice. In 1973 the McMillan family, from Largs took over the business and in 2013 the garage was demolished to make way for the West Bay Apartments.
In March 1912, the Traders Association met with the Town Council to discuss the weekly half holiday under the new Employment Act. Representing the Traders was James Dickson (Licensed Grocer) and J. W. Campbell (Draper, Victoria House) who proposed that Thursday afternoon would be the half holiday, suspended during June, July, August, September.
At this time motor vehicles were a luxury and daily excursions in a variety of horse drawn vehicles was the normal mode of transport. In 1909, a return trip to Tantallon Castle cost 4/6d and a request for a pair of horses was charged half-fare extra. Half-an-hour waiting by the driver was free, but two hours waiting was included if the journey was over 10 miles. A return trip to Haddington cost 15 shillings. Later the well-to-do families had a motor vehicle which was garaged in North Berwick during the winter months. James Gilbert (Old Abbey Road) and George Fowler (May Terrace) rented out purpose-built lock-up space where the vehicles were stored.
In 1924, a through sleeper service began from London to North Berwick. The sleeper car was detached from the 10.35 pm night express from Kings Cross at Drem and conveyed from there to North Berwick by the branch engine, returning in the evening to Drem. A number of London sleepers continued to stop at Drem until 1980. This facility started in 1900 to accommodate local member of Parliament Arthur J. Balfour (Prime Minister 1902-05) who lived in the nearby village of Whittinghame. In 1926 North Berwick station enjoyed the highest ever number of passengers, almost 94,000 and at Hogmanay that year three extra third class carriages were required to cope with the additional traffic to Edinburgh.
To ensure the safety of the train, every driver had to collect a token mounted on a circular steel frame. This was passed to the driver on the out going train by the signalman standing below the signal-box under the bridge leading to Ware Road. When the train reached Drem the circular steel frame was then surrendered to the signalman and the single line to North Berwick was then free and safe for the next train. This safety procedure using a token was used on the line until the 1960s when it was replaced by modern communications.
In 1928, the Town Council purchased the first motorised Fire Engine which was housed in a new building next to where the old fire
unit was stored on a site east of the Bass Rock Garage in Station Hill. It's bell is now on display at the present fire station.
During the 1950s the call-out for the volunteer fire crew was the sounding of two Second World War sirens, situated at the old
slaughter house in Dunbar Road and to the west in the grounds of the former Royal Hotel. |
In November 1908, Miss Edington's legacy (Edington Cottage Hospital) was announced to the Town Council, by her solicitor C.E. Loudon W.S. 6, Rutland Square, Edinburgh. According to newspaper reports, she had directed her trustees to pay the Provost, Magistrates and Town Council the sum of £10,000, free of legacy duty, in trust to erect and maintain a Convalescent Home to be called 'The Edington Convalescent Home' providing an accident ward and also a ward for sickness, non-infectious and not incurable, the latter to be kept expressly for inhabitants of the town and its environs. The donation was made in the names of Francis and Elizabeth Edington and the home was formally opened in October 1913 by Miss Webster a niece of Miss Edington.
Francis Edington (1819-1901) and his sister Elizabeth Edington (1831-1908) owned the Commercial Hotel (County Hotel) 15-17 High Street, North Berwick. In 1870 they added a second floor with dormer windows which afforded their guests an uninterrupted view of the west bay. Francis Edington was Treasurer of the Royal Burgh of North Berwick Town Council and founder member of Bass Rock Golf Club. He died 24th August 1901 at his home Ethandune 7, Dirleton Avenue and was buried in the St Andrews Kirk graveyard in Kirk Ports. Elizabeth died 4th November 1908 and was laid to rest beside her brother marked with a headstone. Their portraits hang in the vestibule of the Edington Cottage Hospital.
William Ross Young from Perthshire was appointed Burgh Surveyor in 1906. He was a qualified Architect and Civil Engineer and prepared the drawings for the Edington Cottage Hospital in 1911. During this period most families were large in number and having ten or more children was not uncommon. The Edington became a place where mothers could go for a few days respite and was known locally as 'The Home For Tired Mothers'.
In March 1909, William Taylor on behalf of Dr. Barnardos organised a public meeting in the Oddfellows Hall, chaired by Provost MacIntyre to gauge the views of the community to establishing a Barnardos Home in the town.
Overcrowding in the community was a problem with one third of the population living three or more to a room. In 1920, the Scottish Electricity Board was connected to the National Grid, and mains electricity was supplied to every property, although 6% of those connected did not own an electrical appliance. The Board of Health encouraged more house building and in 1927 the Town Council set about developing the cottages in Lochbridge Road and three years later four blocks of houses in Glenburn Road. The Council also purchased the recreation park in 1927 and the single track bridge over the Glen Burn was considerably enlarged and Dunbar Road widened. The Lochbridge Toll House, one of last remaining road tax houses in Scotland was demolished in 1930.
Frank Tennant (1861-1942) lived in Hyndford House, 18 Fidra Road, North Berwick. His father was Sir Charles Tennant Bart, and the family originally came from Ayrshire where they were tenants of a farm near Ochiltree called Glenconner. The family fortune was made on the back of a chemical empire devoted to the bleaching of fabric using a combination of chlorine and slacked lime. Sir Charles Tennant Bart. was an Industrialist, Liberal Politician, Chairman of the Union Bank of Scotland and a multi-millionaire by the time he was 25, independently of his father. Sir Charles purchased Glen House in Innerleithen, Peeblesshire and began to fill the house with a collection of priceless furniture and paintings. Frank's sister Margot Tennant became the second wife of Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister 1908-1916) and later took the title Countess of Oxford.
Sir Charles Tennant had three daughters from his second marriage. Nancy married Lord Crathorne, Peggy married Lord Wakehurst and Katherine married Major Walter Elliot, Minister of Agriculture. As youngsters the girls enjoyed the summer season in North Berwick. Katherine played golf and learned to swim in the outdoor bathing pond where in her words 'the caddies urged her off the diving board'. Sir Charles Tennant Bart. built Glenconner House at 28 Dirleton Avenue, North Berwick for his second wife, the widow of Major Geoffrey Lubbock. The coach house and gardener's cottage can still be seen in South Hamilton Road.
Their daughter Katherine was married in St Baldred's Church, North Berwick on Easter Monday 1934, watched by thousands of cheering holiday makers and the pictures were wired around the world. The wedding reception was provided by Frank Tennant in Hyndford House. Katherine became Baroness Elliott of Harwood and was bequeathed Glenconner where she spent many summers. Her sister Nancy and Lord Crathorne owned the property opposite at 49 Dirleton Avenue. Sir Charles Tennant's grandson Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner purchased the tropical island of Mustique in the Caribbean which became a favourite holiday destination for Princess Margaret.
The Tennant family where at the centre of the aristocratic gatherings in North Berwick which included Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and his circle of friends, Herbert Asquith, Lord Wemyss, Lord Harwood and the rich and famous in North Berwick for the summer season. Baroness Elliott was associated with Glenconner House until the 1970s.
Calling out a Doctor was expensive and giving birth in a Maternity Home was beyond the budget of most families, so the majority of babies were born at home. In 1921, 107 out of every 1,000 baby's died at birth and over 500 women died each year having an abortion. In 1817, Robert Lewins was born in North Berwick, the son of a medical practitioner. Lewins qualified as a physician and made a special study of the brain, publishing two works on the subject. Listed in the Town Council accounts in November 1831 there is an entry 'George Stewart, surgeon paid £5 for attending to the poor and supplying medicine.' The earliest registered surgeons and druggists in the town were John Kesson in the 1820s, John Watson for 16 years until his death in 1848 and Hugh MacBain (1862-1888). MacBain lived in Marine Lodge, 21 Westgate and was a Town Councillor and an elder in the Blackadder Church. He published an article in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1877 on the successful treatment of coal gas poisoning by steam baths. Dr Hugh Gillies MacBain died in 1902.
John C. Hislop (1855-1868) was the general medical practitioner living in East Road. He was followed by Dr. John L. Crombie, who retained the position for 54 years. In the 1890s James Richardson, house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary Hospital lived at 7, Tantallon Terrace where his family still reside.
In September 1911 James Lyle of Edinburgh gifted to the Town Council a painting of a silhouette of Dr. John Wilson surgeon in North Berwick for sixteen years. Watson born in Pittenweem, Fife in September 1808 moved to North Berwick where he was devoted to his profession. Dr. John Watson died in November 1848 and is buried in St Andrews Churchyard in North Berwick with a headstone erected by public subscription. The framed painting of the silhouette was displayed in the Council Chambers.
In May 1912 the town raised £54 for the Titanic Disaster Fund. It was minuted that Col John Weir from North Berwick lost his life in the disaster and his body was never recovered. The Council passed on their condolence to his sister Mrs Hewitt, Ingleholm, Clifford Road, North Berwick.
At the outbreak of the WW1, Provost MacIntyre called a meeting of the Town Council on Thursday 6th August 1914 to launch the Belgium Relief Fund and to form a General Committee which included military personal living in the town such as Major-General Sir Hamilton Bower (The Cottage, 38 Dirleton Avenue), Major William Kirkpatrick (9 Dirleton Avenue), Captain Harry Armatage (The Grange), Sir William G. Braid (Leuchie), James Richardson (7 Tantallon Terrace) and Arthur Ramage (5 Marine Parade). The August swimming gala was abandoned due to the European War.
For many years Dr. Angus Mathieson practised medicine from his residence at 'Duntulm', 19, Westgate. During the 1930s Dr. Douglas Donald M.C. held his surgery at 'St Helens' 1, West End Place where he was later joined by Dr. John MacDonald and Dr. Derek Morton. The other medical practice was at the 'Garve' in Beach Road where Dr. Alexander Mallace M.C. resided. He was joined by Dr. Mercer and following the foundation of the National Health Service in 1948, there was a marked improvement in the health of the community. When Dr. Mallace retired, Dr. John MacDonald moved into the 'Garve' forming a group medical practice with Dr. Derek Morton and Dr. Mercer. The first lady to practice medicine in the town was Dr. Jessie Eeles, the daughter of Provost George Eeles. With the population increase in the 1950s the surgery was enlarged and Dr. Jean Walinck joined the practice in 1958 and later Dr. Norman Waugh.
Catherine Blair founder of the Scottish Women's Rural Institute and the famous Mak'Merry Pottery, lived in North Berwick for many years. Born in Bathgate Catherine Shields was interested in women's issues and supported the Suffragette movement by writing letters to the Scottish Press. She married Thomas Blair, a farmer at Hoprig Mains Farm near Gladsmuir, East Lothian. In June 1917, Catherine started the first Scottish Branch of the Women's Rural Institute where the ladies could meet socially and make jam and cakes to raise funds.
The first meeting took place in Longniddry village hall when Lady Wemyss was installed as President. One of the first talks the SWRI organised was a demonstration on painting pottery and this inspired Catherine in 1919 to establish the Mak'Merry pottery studio in a shed on her farm as a practical example of a co-operative rural enterprise. Her objective was income generation for poor and isolated rural women rather than leisure activities. The Institute members came from all over to design and paint the pottery while others would teach embroidery, rug-making and sell their work to enable them to keep going.
In 1932, Catherine and Tom retired to Seaworthy Cottage in North Berwick where a new Mak'Merry Studio was established. The pottery won prizes at many exhibitions and the Queen Mother ordered a crockery set at the 1933 Highland Show. Catherine died on 18th November 1946 at 1 Tantallon Terrace, North Berwick. Mak'Merry pottery remains highly collectable and is often featured on the BBC Antiques Roadshow.
During the 1930s, listening to gramophone records and the radio eased the pain of reality, the only escape for the working class was the cinema and by 1937 there were 114 cinema's in Glasgow alone. The Playhouse Cinema in North Berwick owned by Scott's Empires later Caledonian Associated Cinemas was built in 1938 on the site of the Foresters' Hall (Tigh Mhor) in the High Street. During this period it was becoming more acceptable for girls to participate in sports. Scottish speed champions Ellen King and Jean McDowall (both Olympic swimmers) were coached at North Berwick swimming pool at a time when a daily ticket cost six pence. Every swimmer of repute in the country appeared in exhibitions at the North Berwick pool, including regular visits from world famous American divers.
The drinking fountain at the top of the Quadrant was erected by the Town Council in 1939 following a generous bequest by Miss Isabella Catherine Lewis. Originally she lived in Edinburgh with her uncle James Lewis, a successful Grocer and Wine Merchant and her brother John at 55, George Square. In the 1890s Isabella moved to North Berwick where she resided at Duneaton for over forty years. The house stands at the junction of Links Road and West Bay Road overlooking the West Links golf course.
In September 1875 her brother John Lewis was in the crowd at North Berwick watching a golf challenge match between the Park brothers from Musselburgh and the Morrises from St Andrews, Old Tom and his son Young Tom. The match ended abruptly when a messenger boy handed a telegram to Old Tom with the news that Young Tom's wife was seriously ill in St. Andrews following the birth of their child.
According to The Scotsman, John Lewis offered to sail the Morrises back to St Andrews in his twenty-eight foot ketch lying in North Berwick harbour. They sailed all night in arduous conditions to reach the Fife coast but unknown to Lewis and his crew a second telegram arrived just as the yacht slipped its moorings at North Berwick which read 'Mrs Morris had a son, both mother and child are dead'.
With talk of war in 1935, came increased employment in the armament related industries, and by the following year unemployment had fallen to one and a half million. Drem airfield originally named West Fenton Aerodrome opened in 1916 and was used for Home Defense by 77 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. It was also a temporary based for the American 41st Aero Squadron in 1918, flying Spad and Sopwith Camel aircraft. Following WW1 the airfield was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It was re-opened in 1939 as No.13 Flying Training School. The base became an air defense fighter unit for the city of Edinburgh and shipping around the Firth of Forth with spitfires from 603 Squadron joining 602 Squadron.
In 1940 an airfield lighting system for night landings was developed at RAF Drem and used all over the country. Drem operated as a station where crews rotated from the south of England during the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940. While resting at Drem these squadrons carry out convoy patrols watching over the shipping on the east coast.
The first action by the Scottish fighter squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force - the accountants,lawyers, farmers and bankers who were the so-called 'weekend fliers', some of them not yet 20, took place on 16th October 1939, over the Firth of Forth. The skirmish involving the Spitfires of 602 and 603 Squadron based at Turnhouse and Drem (Fenton Barns) happened when the Luftwaffe launched its first major air raid on Britain, with Rosyth as the target.
A squadron of new Junkers 88 bombers flew to the Firth of Forth in search of HMS Hood, the Royal Navy's largest battleship, which they failed to find, but instead attacked two Royal Navy cruisers near the Forth Bridge. The leading Junkers 88 was intercepted just as it pulled out of its attack on HMS Mohawk, killing 15 sailors including the captain.
The German bomber was hit repeatedly off Kirkcaldy and finally shot down near Crail. The pilot, Pat Gifford from Castle Douglas was credited with bringing down the bomber. He led Red Section of the 603 Auxiliary Squadron in their attack and was given the Distinguished Flying Cross. Pat was killed in 1940 during the Battle of France and his remains were never found. During the attack over the Firth of Forth another German plane ditched into the sea off Port Seton and the pilot was rescued by local fisherman John Dickson, and transfered to the military hospital at Edinburgh Castle. The dogfight, the first time Spitfires were used in anger, was witnessed by thousands in Fife and East Lothian.
In the course of the first few months the activity at Drem was such that two pilots had won the DFC and the station was visited by King George VI. In July 1940 there were 12 Spitfires from 602 squadron and 8 Hurricanes from 605 squadron based at Drem and among the 'fighter aces' was Caesar Hill and Peter Townsend who was later associated with Princes Margaret. Group Captain Peter Townsend DSO, DFC and bar was Station Commander at RAF Drem in 1941.
The North Berwick Observer Corps formed in 1938, was made up with volunteers and their lookout post was situated on Castle Hill. When war was declared the Observer Corps went into action with a 24 hour watch, two on at a time with direct communications with their HQ at Galashiels who in turn informed the RAF.
A German Heinkel bomber was forced down over North Berwick just after midday on Friday 9th February 1940. It narrowly missed telegraph wires as it crash-landed in the south east corner of the field behind the Lime Grove bus shelter. The Heinkel 111 H-1 was shot down by a Spitfire from 602 Squadron piloted by Squadron Leader Douglas Farquhar stationed at Drem. The Spitfire fired 625 rounds at the Heinkel over Fife. With smoke pouring from its port engine and the undercarriage lowered in a sign of surrender, it turned towards the coast and made a forced landing tipping onto its nose. The rear gunner Uffz F. Wieners was hit by gunfire from the Spitfire and was taken to Drem where he died of his injuries and was buried in Dirleton Cemetery. The remaining three-man crew escaped without inquiry and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp. The two observers on duty that day were Wishart and Sim who took the credit. George Sim (1922-28) and James Wishart (1959-65) were both Provosts of the Royal Burgh.
Two weeks later the aircraft was taken by road to Turnhouse to be examined by experts. The wings were removed and the tail section mounted on a trailer before the aircraft was pulled on its own wheels and maneuvered along Dirleton Avenue in North Berwick, through Musselburgh High Street and along Ferry Road in Edinburgh. The aircraft was repaired and joined a group of captured machines on tour of RAF Stations to familiarise Allied aircrew with enemy aircraft.
The defence organisations in North Berwick included Air Raid Wardens, Fire Service and Home Guard. The fire watchers were based on the roof of the Post Office in Westgate where beds were installed in the rest rooms on the upper floor. The Home Guard who manned road blocks on Dirleton Avenue and Dunbar Road were based in the Hope Rooms and Caddie Shed on the West Links.
Miss Evelyn Coats, daughter of Peter H. Coats, cotton millionare, worked on Heugh Farm with the Women's Land Army as her contribution to the war effort in October 1939. The Coats summer resudence was at 34 Dirleton Avenue, North Berwick.
Throughout the Second World War when forty of the town's young men gave the ultimate sacrifice, life in the community continued, despite the constrictions and uncertainty that prevailed. The Bass Rock lighthouse was unmanned and the light extinguished for the duration of the conflict. Percy Pearson the local lobster fisherman was often instructed by the Ministry to make for the Bass and switch on the light, to allow a convoy of Royal Navy Destroyers save passage to Rosyth.
In 1941, aircrew were trained at East Fortune in night fighting techniques for the RAF's Fighter Command. In 1942, Drem and East Fortune became temporary home to six Hurricane squadrons and several other Spitfire squadrons, notably the Poles, Canadians and Australian 453 Squadron. The command of the Polish Free Army was based near Kincardine, and the Poles stationed at East Fortune were billeted at Warrender House and Strathearn Hotel in York Road. Many of the Polish names familiar in the community today such as Sanetra, Helik, Gdulewicz, Borge, Skwara, and Rogawska came from that period. When a number of the exiles married local girls and settled in the area rather than returning home to the Soviet domination of Poland after 1945.
The Ministry of War requisitioned Greywalls House in Gullane as an 'off station' and officers mess, where in the hedonistic atmosphere of an uncertain tomorrow the pilots and crew held many 'Champagne Parties'. Evidence of the high spirits still exist today in the form of a bullet hole shot in the copper ball of the pinnacle of the roof. Drem also provided the backdrop for one of the final actions of the war when on 11th May 1945 Spitfires of 603 squadron escorted on to the runway three German JU 52 transport planes carrying not bombs but Nazi officers suing for peace.
Walter Hume remembers growing up in North Berwick during WW2. His father, uncles and cousin were Forth Pilots and as such his main
residence was Newhaven, Edinburgh with a second home at North Berwick. Walter Hume writes' With the continued threat of air raids
we moved to our second home at North Berwick in October 1939. First to a grand old big house called 'Ardgay', ideally situated
along the East Bay, with the magnificent beach literally on our door step and an uninterrupted sea view looking over to the Fife
coast, the silenced fog-horns and unlit lighthouse beams of the Bass Rock, May Island and Fidra, due to the strict black-out in
force. After a short while we moved to a more permanent abode, a delightful big apartment house situated above a pub named 'Auld
Hoose', in Forth Street, probably remembered because it was such a happy time in spite of there being a war going on else
I enrolled at North Berwick school in School Road, where Mr Lonnie was headmaster. It always puzzled us that for music lessons we
were encouraged to sing with gusto, the only problem being that all the red coloured hard-back music books handed out were quite
useless, none of us could read music, or more to the point the words, which were all in the Welsh language!!!. Our daily lives
were not affected directly with war time activities although with several air force stations nearby there always something going
on. One of the more regrettable incidents which had us dashing down to the harbour happened on 12th December 1939.
With lots of Spitfire fighter aircraft zooming about just above roof top level, word quickly went round that they had just shot
down a bomber into the sea a few hundred yards off the old disused Victoria Pier. In addition to numerous naval patrol craft that
were quickly on the scene a local fishing boat, named Caithness Lass, put out to help pick up any survivors, as a few saturated
aircrew clambered ashore at the old Victoria Jetty and trundled up past the open air swimming pool, we were looking to see the
Germans, as we thought, and to everyone's surprise and dismay saw only our own RAF uniforms. The story came out soon after that
several Hampden Bombers returning from a operation over the Norwegian coast failed to give the correct identification signal for
the day and our defence Spitfires promptly brought it down just south of Craigleith Island, one of the Hampden crew died as a
result of this dreadful mistake, some fifty years after that incident I actually met up with one of the crew in Poole, Dorset, he
not only survived that ditching but went on to successfully complete more than one full tour of war time duties.
Pre-war the Forth Pilot cutters used North Berwick harbour as a base, but with the onset of hostilities they were moved across to
the north shore at Largo, because of the huge concentration of shipping in Methil Bay, when yet again we were attracted like moths
to a light when word got around the Pilot boat was seen approaching the harbour, and an ambulance in attendance, as usual we
nippers were chased away, and when I arrived home to relate what had just been observed, was promptly told, yes, and its your
father who they brought ashore, he is now in bed.
He had been on the Bridge of HMS Edinburgh conducting compass adjusting when the ship was attacked by German aircraft, he was
fortunately not hit by bullets but a LIVE high voltage radio aerial which fell across his back causing a form of paralysis and
severe electrical burns. He adamantly refused to be taken to hospital as family just lived up the road, had a couple of weeks off
work (almost unheard of at that time) then back to Piloting ships to join the Russian convoys or hazardous Atlantic voyages, not
exactly a quiet life in the sheltered Firth of Forth Estuary.
One of the few forms of entertainment, apart from the fore-going, was a visit to the only cinema, quite small but fairly new,
built just before the war, the Playhouse visit once a week became a few hours of escapism, with so many service personnel
stationed in and around the town it was a full house every night, but we did not mind waiting in the long queue, to see the likes
of Kenny Baker in the Mikado, now there's nostalgia for you.' Walter Hume spent a life-time at sea and retired to Cowes, Isle of
I enrolled at North Berwick school in School Road, where Mr Lonnie was headmaster. It always puzzled us that for music lessons we were encouraged to sing with gusto, the only problem being that all the red coloured hard-back music books handed out were quite useless, none of us could read music, or more to the point the words, which were all in the Welsh language!!!. Our daily lives were not affected directly with war time activities although with several air force stations nearby there always something going on. One of the more regrettable incidents which had us dashing down to the harbour happened on 12th December 1939.
With lots of Spitfire fighter aircraft zooming about just above roof top level, word quickly went round that they had just shot down a bomber into the sea a few hundred yards off the old disused Victoria Pier. In addition to numerous naval patrol craft that were quickly on the scene a local fishing boat, named Caithness Lass, put out to help pick up any survivors, as a few saturated aircrew clambered ashore at the old Victoria Jetty and trundled up past the open air swimming pool, we were looking to see the Germans, as we thought, and to everyone's surprise and dismay saw only our own RAF uniforms. The story came out soon after that several Hampden Bombers returning from a operation over the Norwegian coast failed to give the correct identification signal for the day and our defence Spitfires promptly brought it down just south of Craigleith Island, one of the Hampden crew died as a result of this dreadful mistake, some fifty years after that incident I actually met up with one of the crew in Poole, Dorset, he not only survived that ditching but went on to successfully complete more than one full tour of war time duties.
Pre-war the Forth Pilot cutters used North Berwick harbour as a base, but with the onset of hostilities they were moved across to the north shore at Largo, because of the huge concentration of shipping in Methil Bay, when yet again we were attracted like moths to a light when word got around the Pilot boat was seen approaching the harbour, and an ambulance in attendance, as usual we nippers were chased away, and when I arrived home to relate what had just been observed, was promptly told, yes, and its your father who they brought ashore, he is now in bed.
He had been on the Bridge of HMS Edinburgh conducting compass adjusting when the ship was attacked by German aircraft, he was fortunately not hit by bullets but a LIVE high voltage radio aerial which fell across his back causing a form of paralysis and severe electrical burns. He adamantly refused to be taken to hospital as family just lived up the road, had a couple of weeks off work (almost unheard of at that time) then back to Piloting ships to join the Russian convoys or hazardous Atlantic voyages, not exactly a quiet life in the sheltered Firth of Forth Estuary.
One of the few forms of entertainment, apart from the fore-going, was a visit to the only cinema, quite small but fairly new, built just before the war, the Playhouse visit once a week became a few hours of escapism, with so many service personnel stationed in and around the town it was a full house every night, but we did not mind waiting in the long queue, to see the likes of Kenny Baker in the Mikado, now there's nostalgia for you.' Walter Hume spent a life-time at sea and retired to Cowes, Isle of Wight.
In 1946, Hutchison's pleasure boats painted in camouflage returned to the harbour after being commandeered by the Ministry of War
for duties in the Firth of Forth. Following World War II, the Italians made up the biggest group of immigrants in Scotland. Many
setting up ice cream parlours and fish and chip shops, establishing the fish supper as a traditional Scottish meal, while maintaining
close contact with Italy. The Tomassi, and Luca families established a business in the town while the Capaldi ice cream parlour with
a pianist playing the latest tunes of the day was a mecca at 99 High Street during the 1930s.
In the 1940s, the Royal and Marine Hotels were owned by Eglinton Hotels Ltd. The company purchased St Ann's in York Road and
converted the building into a Children's Hotel where wealthy families sent their children for the summer months. In 1949, the two
year old grandson of Emperor Haile Salassie of Ethiopia, Prince Paul Woseng Seged Makonnen Haile Salassie spent a few weeks at St Anns
with his Scottish nanny and Ethiopian under-nurse.
The Town Fete was a highlight each year, held on the Coo's Green, in the area beyond the East Putting Green. Arranged by the North
Berwick Traders Association, to raise funds for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, this was in the days before the National Health
Service, when Hospitals relied on public donations for their survival. (The first door to door collection in the town for the
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was in September 1739). At the fete, as well as games for prizes donated by the residents there was a
children's fancy dress competition, followed by a parade through the town. The Fire Engine and Town Council vehicles, decorated in
flags and bunting, carried the children through the streets.
During the 1930s the town's shopkeepers and tradesmen took part in the parade, many on horse back. In those days the procession
took in the west end of the town, where the young shop assistants would visit the residencies in York Road, Cromwell Road and
Dirleton Avenue, where they had delivered goods throughout the year. At each stop, they were offered 'refreshments' by the
household staff, and collected donations from his 'Lordship' towards the fund raising.
The Coo's Green was used for the last time in 1959 and that year also saw the final Fancy Dress Parade. The Town Council had
purchased Lady Jane Park (Lodge Grounds) and mansion house in 1938 and the Town Fete moved to that location in 1960. At that time
the Lodge Grounds had two fields, both fenced off for grazing cattle and sheep. Later the live-stock were moved to the east field
and the other opened up to the public, although the practice of locking the gates to the Lodge Grounds at dusk continued.
In the 1940s, the Royal and Marine Hotels were owned by Eglinton Hotels Ltd. The company purchased St Ann's in York Road and converted the building into a Children's Hotel where wealthy families sent their children for the summer months. In 1949, the two year old grandson of Emperor Haile Salassie of Ethiopia, Prince Paul Woseng Seged Makonnen Haile Salassie spent a few weeks at St Anns with his Scottish nanny and Ethiopian under-nurse.
The Town Fete was a highlight each year, held on the Coo's Green, in the area beyond the East Putting Green. Arranged by the North Berwick Traders Association, to raise funds for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, this was in the days before the National Health Service, when Hospitals relied on public donations for their survival. (The first door to door collection in the town for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was in September 1739). At the fete, as well as games for prizes donated by the residents there was a children's fancy dress competition, followed by a parade through the town. The Fire Engine and Town Council vehicles, decorated in flags and bunting, carried the children through the streets.
During the 1930s the town's shopkeepers and tradesmen took part in the parade, many on horse back. In those days the procession took in the west end of the town, where the young shop assistants would visit the residencies in York Road, Cromwell Road and Dirleton Avenue, where they had delivered goods throughout the year. At each stop, they were offered 'refreshments' by the household staff, and collected donations from his 'Lordship' towards the fund raising.
The Coo's Green was used for the last time in 1959 and that year also saw the final Fancy Dress Parade. The Town Council had purchased Lady Jane Park (Lodge Grounds) and mansion house in 1938 and the Town Fete moved to that location in 1960. At that time the Lodge Grounds had two fields, both fenced off for grazing cattle and sheep. Later the live-stock were moved to the east field and the other opened up to the public, although the practice of locking the gates to the Lodge Grounds at dusk continued.
Lifeboat back on Station
The population of the Parish in 1951 was 4,580 (Burgh - 4001, Landward - 579). There were 35 private hotels, 6 licensed hotels, 6 restaurants and numerous boarding houses. During the summer months the town was attracting more day-trippers with as many as five times the population on a single day. Christmas day was now observed with Church Services and all the shops closed. In 1939, architect and builder George E. Shackleton started the construction of Dundas Avenue. In the 1950s his company sub-divided many of the large properties into apartments including Morseby, West Links House, and Inchdura. The land south of St Baldred's Road and Clifford Road was occupied by the Mains Farm, which stretched to the base of Berwick Law. The Town Council purchased this land in the 1960s and developed Gilbert Avenue, Wishart Avenue and Cooper Avenue for Council Housing. They also sold off part of the farmland to private developers who then built Lady Jane Gardens, Macnair Avenue and St Baldred's Crescent. (Above George Kelly Snr.)
Throughout the early sixties the town remained a popular destination for holidaymakers, despite the ease of travel to more exotic destinations. By the end of the decade, holiday patterns began to change and the town gradually move from a tourist based economy to a dormitory for commuters to the capital, Edinburgh.
Our visitors have always been more aware of the town's golfing heritage and the late sixties saw an increase in the number of golfers from round the world wishing to experience the West Links. The popularity of the course was boosted when Arnold Palmer and Tony Jacklin played the famous 15th hole 'Redan', with legendary golf commentator Henry Longhurst during the filming of '18 holes at 18 different courses helicopter round '. The Open Championship at Muirfield in 1959, 1966 and 1972, added to the profile of the area and the West Links became an integral part of the 'golf package tour'.
In May 1966 a lifeboat was stationed at North Berwick for the first time in over fourty-one years. Following an appeal by the children's BBC 'Blue Peter' TV programme, four inshore lifeboats were purchased and Blue Peter III was assigned to North Berwick. The 16 feet D-112 inflatable, was limited to a five mile radius and operational from March until November. The boat is now on display in the RNLI Lifeboat Museum at Chatham.
Since then North Berwick has had five successive D class lifeboats named Blue Peter III. The early lifeboats had no radio on board and the crew were supplied with coloured flares to signal to shore and each colour meant something different. For example, the crew would launch a green flare if they required the assistance of a doctor. The crew had only oil skins to wear back in the early years, no dry suits, they were usually soaked to the skin just as soon as they launched and the plywood decking was pretty hard on the knees.
In June 2013, Blue Peter III was replaced by a new lifeboat which had the latest technology including Chart Plot system and AIS, a tracking system used for identifying and locating vessels which allows the Coatsguard to track the position of the lifeboat and coordinate search and rescue operations. The new lifeboat named Evelyn M. was funded by the Evelyn M. Murdoch Charitable Trust. She lived in Edinburgh and enjoyed her family holidays in North Berwick.
The first lifeboat to be stationed in the town came about after one particular tragedy left the community feeling helpless, when a rescue boat may have saved the lives of the five crewmen who perished. The tragedy happened on Tuesday 25th October 1859, when the schooner Bubona loaded with coal from the Tyne, was making for Aberdeen with Mr Adams as master. Nearing Dunbar Bay, the wind shifted to the north-east, and a tremendous sea got up. By nine o'clock in the evening, the wind had strengthened to near hurricane force, and the vessel was spotted in difficulties inside the Bass, her sails had given-way and the crew had no choice but to make for the shore.
The Bubona, landed among rocks about two hundred yards west off Canty Bay, and the Coastguard proceeded at once to the scene with the life saving apparatus. They fired four-rockets over the vessel and were successful in landing a line across the stern of the boat but the crew who appeared to be lashed in the bows, were too exhausted to take advantage of the situation.
By this time a large crowd had gathered on the shore, watching in silence as the vessel continued to break up on the rocks, her masts were over the side and the sea was breaking over her. The poor crew, five in number, stuck together in the fore-part of the vessel, until she finally broke up about midnight, when they all perished.
That night the hurricane force winds caused havoc along the coast of the UK and resulted in 200 shipwrecks and the loss of 800 lives. Captain Robert Fitzroy from Suffolk, was so appalled by the number of deaths and the inability to warn ships of bad weather that he developed a line-of-sight communications system. This system consisted of 15 stations around the country which would raise a 3ft cone to warn ships of imminent storms. Fitzroy was also the founder of a scientific system to predict weather conditions, he called it 'the weather forecast'.
In late November 1859 two of the bodies from the Bubona were washed up and taken by cart to the graveyard in Kirkports. The loss of the crew was felt deeply by the community and to avoid such a tragedy happening again, a move to have the town's first lifeboat was instigated by Rev. Stewart from Liberton and coastguards Walter Malcolm and Captain Thomas Woodrow. A committee was formed, subscriptions raised and within twelve months the Royal Lifeboat Institution agreed to allocate a lifeboat to the town.
In October 1860, the new lifeboat arrived, gifted by Messrs. Jaffray & Son of London, along with its transport carriage and equipment. A.W.Jaffray and his father of St Mildred's Court, London funded the lifeboat at North Berwick. Their legacy also provided lifeboats at Thurso and St Andrews. The Town Council provided ground for the Life Boat House at the end of Shore Street (Victoria Road) and feud the ground to the Royal Lifeboat Institue for one penny per annum. £20 was raised to play the Coxswain salary and crew.
Despite continuous rain on the day of the launch, the whole community turned out, lining the streets and cheering on the parade. Four horses bedecked with flowers, were yoked to the lifeboat carriage and transported from the station in Shore Street, along Back Street (Forth Street) as far as the West Links, before making a complete circuit of the burgh by High Street and Quadrant to the east beach. A number of the committee climbed on board, including the tall figure of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple completely enveloped in oilskins, directing the procession from the bow.
The crew consisted of Captain Woodrow, John Murray (coxswain), Richard Thorburn, John Thorburn, David Thomson, James McLean, Robert Marr and Alex Thomson. Protected by a broad life preserver strapped round their bodies, they took their places on board and with oar-in-hand sat ready for the launching apparatus to be brought into action. With the echo of three cheers still ringing in the air, the 'Caroline' as she was named, slid down to meet a coming wave and North Berwick's first lifeboat was successfully launched. In September 1899, the Lifeboat Institute requested permission to extend the Lifeboat House. The Town Council suggested using a vacant piece of ground opposite the Lifeboat House in Victoria Road for the formation of an esplanade where a lifeboat slipway could be laid.
There has been seven lifeboats stationed at North Berwick over the years and four Blue Peter inshore vessels. The latest, Blue Peter 7 is an all weather boat, on call all year round and is housed in the original boat-house (1860) in Victoria Road, where the names of the crews and the lives they have saved are listed.
In October 2002, the North Berwick crew were selected to carry out trials on the new state of the art IB-1 (In-shore Boat 1) lifeboat. RNLI crews from all over Scotland travelled to the town to inspect the rescue craft and take part in the trials.
In the 1950s, the Town Council purchased Rhodes Farm and used the outbuildings as workshops and stabling for a pair of Clydesdale horses which were in regular use until the early 1960s. The agricultural land on the Rhodes Farm was rented out, and in 1954 new council houses built by James Millar & Partners formed Lime Grove. A pig farm was established on ground where later the Burgh Caravan site was laid out. (Rhodes Park). The Town Council collected all domestic food waste in separate containers and this was fed to the pigs, a very profitable venture which reduced the town rates.
In 1960 the Town Council installed electric street lighting for the first time. They decided to use warm white fluorescent light rather than the more efficient and economical sodium filament. The fluorescent light gave a very pleasing warm glow and was so popular with residents and visitors that the street lighting was switched on during the summer evenings. The gas works at Ferrygate closed in 1972, when the town's gas supply was produced at Granton.
In 1959, shortly after the death of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, Leuchie House was used as a convent and is now leased to the MS Society. The dowager moved out of Leuchie and resided at Blackdykes where she died in 1979. Their son Sir Hew and his wife Lady Anne Louise Hamilton Dalrymple commissioned architects Law & Dunbar-Nasmith to design and converted a cottage on the Leuchie estate as their family home in 1960. Their eldest son Hew, and his wife Janey returned from London to live at Blackdykes in 1992.
In the 1960s Grange Road was a quiet country lane and Green Apron Park was farmland. In those days each field was identified by a name and being shaped like an apron its was originally called the Masonic Apron. Glenorchy Road and Highfield Road ended at timber gates leading to the fields of Williamstone farm (Priory Meadow). To the west of Ware Road was fields of grazing sheep, part of the Hamilton-Dalrymple estate which stretched (Lord President Road) to the market garden at Smiley Knowe. Where the glasshouses produced the first tomatoes to reach the markets in Scotland. (Williamstone Court).
With full employment in the 1960s, a new affluence arrived. Teenagers had more money in their pockets and in 1969 everyone in Britain over the age of eighteen was allowed to vote. The 'Saturday Night Dance' at the Harbour Pavilion was the most popular venue in the county and the Playhouse cinema opened on Sunday, reflecting the times. The swimming pool was heated and the midnight gala with live music on the esplanade was a highlight of the summer.
The town was expanding and the population numbered 4,750. Throughout the decade the Town Council were under pressure to attract more visitors by offering amusement arcades and other entertainment facilities available at more popular resorts. Fortunately common sense prevailed and the town has continued to attract the discerning visitor, all be it in reduced numbers. The community were raising funds towards the building of a sports centre and the town was about to enter a new chapter - a good place to end part one of the story of North Berwick.
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