Dunbar High Street including Town House

Dunbar Townscape Heritage Initiative

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On behalf of East Lothian Council, SHBT directly managed the five-year Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) project to revitalise key buildings in the historic centre of Dunbar.

Completion Date:


Total Cost:

£4 million

History of Dunbar

The coastal town of Dunbar has an extraordinarily long history, known to extend back into the Iron Age and possibly further. Its castle, situated on the coastline, was a key centre of power for much of the Medieval Era and was purposefully destroyed in 1568. The adjacent town, centred on the High Street, continued to develop and the harbour became an important fishing port. The High Street was widened in the 18th century, but retains many of its distinctive rigg plots, laid out at right angles on both sides of the street. Dunbar town centre was first designated a conservation area in 1969. It incorporates seven Category A listed buildings and three scheduled monuments, including the castle ruins.

Townscape Heritage Initiative

The Townscape Heritage Initiative programme was created by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It saw towns and cities across the UK granted funds over a 5 year period to support the regeneration of the historic urban environment. The Dunbar THI was operated and funded through a partnership between the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and the local authority, East Lothian Council, resulting in an overall investment of almost £4 million into the town fabric.

SHBT worked with East Lothian Council throughout the project (2004-2009), managing all aspects of the THI grant funding scheme and helping to deliver a range of projects. This included working closely with the owners of the pre-identified priority buildings to develop major restoration projects, as well as overseeing the substantial funding allocation for smaller projects and delivering a range of training and education programmes. A good example of a smaller project was that undertaken at 4 Silver Street / 2 Castle Street, a typical 19th-century cottage close to the town centre which received repairs and repointing to all its external stonework. The two most substantial projects were those at Dunbar Town House and McArthur’s Store.

The Town House

Dunbar Town House before and after comparison

Situated on the High Street, the Town House (or Tolbooth) has been the focus of civic life in Dunbar for over 400 years. The A listed building is dated to circa 1620 but likely incorporates the remains of earlier structures. Inside is Scotland’s oldest functioning Council Chamber as well as two historic jail cells. The building’s importance within the town and dilapidated state made it an obvious candidate for restoration.

LDN Architects were appointed to oversee the necessary modifications. The building received a thorough external restoration, including masonry and roof repairs, lime mortar repointing and the application of a traditional limewash. Inside, the significant historic spaces were given minor, necessary repairs, whilst others were substantially modified to provide new museum and exhibition space as well as community offices and meeting rooms. The project was enormously successful in ensuring the survival of this important building and giving it a newly enhanced role within the community. The Town House is now open to the public on a regular basis and is home to the Dunbar and District History Society, who operate a local history search room within the building. The Council Chamber continues in use for municipal business and can now also be hired for weddings and events.

McArthur's Store

Dunbar McArthurs Store after restoration

McArthur’s Store, also known as Spott’s Girnell, is situated on the edge of Dunbar’s eastern harbour. Its existence is first recorded in 1658, but the present structure mostly dates from the early 18th century. The building’s importance lies in its continued use by local fishermen as a place to mend and store their nets and creels. This makes it a key site within the history of Dunbar as a fishing town and one of the oldest continuously-used harbour buildings in Scotland.

McArthur’s Store is owned by the Dunbar Harbour Trust, who appointed LDN Architects to oversee the restoration project. The work included extensive repair to the stone and wooden building fabric, the installation of electricity, a new roof and re-harling and painting to the exterior. Inside, a new community meeting room and offices for the Dunbar Harbour Trust were created as well as eleven modern and improved fishermen’s stores. The restoration both revitalised the building and secured its long-term continued use. In 2012, McArthur’s Store welcomed an artist-in-residence, Alastair Cook, whose work focused on capturing photographic portraits of Dunbar’s fishing community. These portraits were put on display shortly afterwards in the new exhibition space at the Town House.

Dunbar McArthurs Store wide view with harbour