The SOE at Belhaven Hill – on Zoom 8th April 2021

Early in WW2, the school was evacuated from Belhaven Hill, and the building was requisitioned by the War Department. It became a special training school for the Special Operations executive (SOE). The SOE was established by Winston Churchill soon after Dunkirk, with the instruction to “Set Europe Ablaze”. Trained SOE agents would be dropped in occupied Europe to work with local resistance groups whilst gathering information. Belhaven Hill’s function was to train operators and agents in wireless telegraphy skills, and the site was chosen because it was 400 miles from the SOE base in Southern England, giving similar transmission distances to operational sites in Europe.

There were two types of trainee at Belhaven Hill. Women wireless operators were all recruited to the FANYs (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and were destined for listening posts in UK. The Jedburghs were the three person teams deployed into Europe. Although the true function of the School was a closely guarded secret during the War, the trainees were not quarantined, and mixed socially with the many uniformed service men and women in the town at the time. The true nature of SOE activities at Belhaven Hill did not become clear until well after the War.

George Robertson’s family befriended two young men from Belhaven Hill during their stay in Dunbar. They were deployed forward, and both survived the war. One of them, Eric Sanders, now aged 101 years, is a talented musician and a prolific author. We are privileged that Eric will join us for our on-line zoom talk to give his own account of his time in the SOE at Dunbar and elsewhere. This is a unique opportunity to hear some living history about wartime Dunbar.
A zoom link for the talk at 7.30pm on 8th April will be circulated nearer the time.

Spanning the Centuries – the Union Bridge 1820-2020

A review of the book, by Stephen Bunyan

This handsome volume tells the story of the Union Chain Bridge built to cross the Tweed by Captain Samuel Brown a few miles from Berwick on Tweed, between Horncliffe and Fishwick. The book does much more than that. It demonstrates how this bridge built in an unlikely location was to point the way to other important bridges, how a bridge which eventually seemed in a rural back water was eventually realised to have immense interest. It was close to the point of closure, but its huge significance was fortunately recognised. A group of friends was formed and much important support was secured and Roland Paxton became a patron. The Bridge
Samuel Brown [1774-1852] had developed the use of iron chain for ships in the Royal navy and by 1811 they were in regular use. He patented the procedure in 1817.By 1819 he was able to use wrought iron. His original iron works was at Millwall but in 1818 he opened a second works at Pontypridd [or Newbridge] and it was from there that the iron came for the Union bridge.
By 1819 Brown had the contract for the bridge and with John Rennie as consultant and responsible for the masonry started to build the bridge. He decided to use chains with eye bar links This cost £5,000 whereas a masonry bridge would have cost £20,000 and would have required piers in the water.
The bridge was recognised in the Guinness book of records in June 2020 as the world’s oldest road suspension bridge and can still carry vehicular traffic. Its formal opening in 1820 was a major event with a large and distinguished audience and Brown demonstrated its capability by driving a loaded carriage as well as twelve heavy carts of stones over it. Its purpose was to convey Northumberland coal and salt to Scottish farms.
The bridge had an important effect. It inspired Telford in his construction of the Menai bridge. Small built other bridges, eg at Kaleworth in 1830. By 1840 he had built twenty others and Brighton pier.
The Union Bridge inspired the construction in 1826 of an elegant pedestrian chain bridge at Melrose. It was built by J.S Brown [Redpath and Brown] and was designed by John Smith. It was restored in 1991.
The Union Bridge was identified as a building at risk and was closed to traffic in 2007. This caused local concern and a group of friends was formed supported by Roland Paxton and Brian Whittle.
Plans were put in hand for its restoration and matters are well advanced. It was decided to celebrate its bicentenary on 26th July 2020 with a symposium at Horncliffe. Plans were made and distinguished speakers were arranged but Covid 19 put paid to that. The talks by world experts were ready and Roland Paxton who had planned the celebration and driven the movement for restoration has created this excellent book which contains the papers which would have been given as well as the programme for restoration which has been put on hold.

The result is a volume which is a detailed account of international Bridge building up to modern times. The book is richly illustrated with material relating to the Union Bridge and other iconic bridges. The first printing was greeted with wide acclaim.

‘Spanning the Centuries ‘is available from the Friends, at £ 7. 50+£2 postage or from Grieve’s bookshop in Berwick. The Friends address is; Friends of the Chain Bridge, Horncliffe, Berwick on Tweed TD15 2XT
Stephen Bunyan

Christmas Message from the Chairman

I should like to wish you a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year, after what can only be called an annus horribilis 2020. It has been frustrating to feel we have had to abandon a year’s programme.

We are continuing preparation of volume XXXIII of the Transactions and are confident that they will be published in the spring.

You may have accessed successful talks by other organisations on Zoom. We are considering doing this ourselves in the New Year, and will keep you posted.
During lockdown I was persuaded to write about some local history. Three articles appear on our website, and others on Dunbar Community Council’s site. Dunbar Community Council has now published these in a book, which will appear before Christmas. The order form is attached.
Hopefully we will soon be able to start planning events again, including our Annual Dinner.
Best wishes till we meet again, as surely we will, some sunny day.

Stephen Bunyan

History In Lockdown Order Form

Reconstruction drawing of Hall B and its encircling palisade at Doon Hill, near Dunbar, drawn by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor following his excavations there between 1964 and 1966

Volume 32 of the East Lothian Antiquarian’s Transactions is now online

A review of Volume 32 of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’s Society Transactions penned by Don Martin was published in the Spring 2020 edition of Scottish Local History. We can announce that the volume is now available to download, along with dozens of other publications for free.

You can download a complete pdf of every volume since 1924, with the exception of the most recent transactions, which require membership and entitle you to a printed copy.  Print copies of most volumes are also available for purchase.

A copy of the review can be found in the pdf below: Transaction 32 Review from Scottish Local History

Continue reading

The Improvers and Beltondod

I gave a university extra mural lecture on the Improvers and Beltondod in Dunbar in 1978 and repeated it in East Linton in 1986. I outlined the situation in Scotland and went on to consider the situation in East Lothian which was reputedly the most progressive area in the UK. Progress was made in the 17th and 18th centuries but progress depended on enclosure. Much had been done by 1780 and it was nearly complete by 1840. Four groups of people were involved in the development 

1 The Improvers – The Lairds  Continue reading

East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists Society – 10th August 2020

Dear Member,

I feel I should make a progress report but it is rather a no progress report.

I wrote to you some time ago saying that because of the government imposed Lock Down we could not meet. I had hoped then that if we abandoned the summer meetings, we would be able to have autumn talks. I feel that with present guidelines this will not be possible, nor is it clear that members would wish to attend. I feel therefore,  sadly, that we should cancel our meetings until at Least Christmas. I am sure this is the worst scenario we have had in our history of  nearly  a hundred years.

We are still doing a certain amount. Our accounts have been made  up and have  gone for audit. Arran is working on the Transactions and we hope to publish them as expected in the Spring. If you intend to submit material please get in touch with him.

We launched an idea for the website inviting short contributions .We have not been inundated. Only three pierces have appeared. Two by me and one by Joy so it’s over to you, if we are to keep this feature going.

Three obituaries have been placed on the forum on the web site; for Ailsa Maxwell who  died on 10th Feb 2020; for Rennie Weatherhead who died on 9th March; and for and Brian Young who died on May 28th

Dunbar was to have celebrated the 650th.anniversary of the charter granted by David 2nd on 8th February  but this had to be abandoned. It was suggested because there was a very different population now in the town, that I, as a survivor, who had played various parts in the intervening years might write some history in Lock Down.

I agreed to do so and have written a series of pieces about Dunbar since 1970, which may be of some interest. There are 16 in all, edited by Philip Immirzi, and are now on Dunbar Community Council Web site.

On our own web site you can also see;

‘St Anne’s Upon Dunbar Sands  stands closest to the sea’  and ‘A mystery solved ,The guns at Bourhouse’

both by me and,

‘Prestonpans West Kirkyard’ by Joy Dodd;

both on the Members Forum.

I will be in touch again when I feel; we are making progress.

Best wishes to you all in these trying times

Stephen Bunyan

Bartholemew half inch 1940-1947 showing coastal defence areas to the North East

A mystery solved: Guns at Bourhouse

The guns at Bourhouse were known to have existed but nothing else was known about them locally. By an amazing chance this position changed in 2005 when The Rev L Twaddle forwarded to me a letter he had received about ten years before. I decided to telephone the sender with little hope of success to my surprise and delight I found Mr Emery alive and very willing to talk. I feel that his report is of importance and that I should put it in the public domain. I therefore publish his letter as sent. Continue reading