"DUNBAR, a parish in the east of Haddingtonshire. It comprises a main body and a detached district. The main body lies along the coast, and contains the town of Dunbar, and the villages of East Barns, West Barns, and Belhaven. It is bounded on the north by the German ocean, and on other sides by the parishes of Whitekirk, Prestonkirk, Stenton, Spott, and Innerwick. Its greatest length, east-south-eastward, is nearly 8 miles, and its greatest breadth is upwards of 3 3/4 miles; but its area is only about 11 1/4 square miles ... The surface of the interior presents a pleasing diversity of hill and dale, rising gradually toward the Lammermoor hills, and commanding an extensive prospect of ocean and seaboard from St Abb's Head to the Bass Rock and the hills of Fife ... Population in 1831, 4,735; in 1861, 4,944." [From the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, edited by John Marius Wilson, 1868]
A lengthier description is available.



The Scottish Genealogy Society holds a list of pre-1855 gravestones in this parish (400 in total) in its library in Edinburgh. Similar lists may be available elsewhere, for example in the East Lothian District Library's Local History Centre at Newton Port in Haddington.


Church History

Dunbar Parish Church, 1342-1987
(3 papers published by East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists' Society to mark Dunbar's local history week in 1987)
published at Haddington in 1987 (46 pages)

The following quotation comes from the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, edited by John Marius Wilson and published in 1868. This reference was found in volume I, pp.431-432:

"The parish church is a splendid Gothic edifice, built in 1821, and capable of containing 1,800 hearers. There is a Free church .. There are two United Presbyterian churches, the one with 700 sittings, the other with 500 ... There are also places of worship for Baptists, Morrisonians, and Methodists - the last with an attendance of 160."

Church Records

The parish church (Church of Scotland) has registers dating from 1651. Old Parish Registers (before 1855) are held in the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh, and copies on microfilm may be consulted in local libraries and in LDS Family History Centres around the world. Later parish registers (after 1855) are often held in the Scottish Record Office as are any records of non-conformist churches in the area (often unfilmed and unindexed, and only available there).

In his entry for the Statistical Account of Scotland (compiled 1790s, see the Statistics section of the East Lothian page for more details) the Rev. George Bruce made the following comment about deficiencies in the registration of births in the parish of Dunbar in the late 18th century:

"This account [for Dunbar] is pretty accurate, in respect of marriages and burials, but is considerably deficient in regard to births, as many neglect to get the names of their children entered in the public register."

Registers for a number of non-conformist Dunbar churches are available in LDS family history centres around the world. These include the Free Church (christenings for 1846-1861), the United Associate church (christenings and marriages for 1767-1820), and the East Barns Associate Congregation (christenings and marriages for the periods 1762-1828 and 1855-1859).


Civil Registration

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland on 1st January 1855. For details of these and other records held at the General Register Office in Edinburgh, see the GRO tutorial.


Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Dunbar which are provided by:



Extracts for this parish from the 1868 National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland are available.


Land & Property

Burgh registers for Dunbar are held in the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh. A microfilm copy of these can also be consulted in LDS family history centres around the world. The records include sasine registers, deeds and minute books, and a burgess book for the years 1691-1735.


Law & Legislation

Many old legal records for the burgh of Dunbar survive as part of the burgh registers. These include deeds for 1700-1876 and records of sasines (land transfers) and services of heirs (inheritances). The original records can be consulted in the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh, or on microfilm in LDS family history centres around the world.



This map shows the location of the parish in the county.

The Scottish Record Office holds the following as part of its collection of maps and plans:

  • 1764: Plan of the march lines of the division of Eastbarns. Scale 1:3600. Size 48x29cm. Grid (map) reference NT7176. SRO reference RHP.1025/2
  • 1765: Plan of village of East Barns. Scale 1:900. Size 47x59cm. Grid (map) reference NT7176. SRO reference RHP.1025/1 + another copy (dated 1804) RHP.1025/3

You can see maps centred on OS grid reference NT674764 (Lat/Lon: 55.979743, -2.524441), Dunbar which are provided by:


Military History

The War memorial outside the parish church bears the following inscriptions:

This memorial is erected in memory of those members of the 19th Company and of the Lothians and Berwickshire Imperial Yeomanry who fell in South Africa during the war 1900 - 1. They bravely and willingly gave their lives at the call of duty for their queen and country & their sorrowing comrades and friends desire throughout all time to commemorate their splendid devotion.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

Lieutenant Alfred Cochran Campbell shot at Nooitgedach 13th Dec 1900
Sergt WW Romanel Feb 1901 at Johannesburg
Corpl GR McGibbon Oct 1900 at Welverdiend
Corpl GM Addie Oct 1900 at Frederikstad
Trooper AA Cowan Apl 1901 at Brandfort
Trooper GR Peddie-Waddell Feby 1901 at Johannesburg
Trooper G Stobo Oct 1900 Krugersdorp
Trooper D Turnbull 1901 (NB Space left to insert month) Pretoria
Trooper Ian Fletcher May 1901 Winburg
Trooper J McGuire Colt Gun Section Apl 1900 Stellenbosch
& Corpl J McLaughlan Apl 1902 at Steinkop

To the memory of those members of the Lothian and Borders Horse Yeomanry who fell during the two wars 1914 - 1918 and 1939 - 1945

Their names are recorded on the rolls of honour in the Scottish National War Memorial Edinburgh Castle (Note - a small sign attached to the memorial states that a copy is held in the parish church)



A burgess book for the years 1691-1735 survives as part of the burgh registers of Dunbar. This can be consulted in the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh and also on a microfilm copy of the burgh registers, available through LDS family history centres around the world.



Here are some figures showing the parish's population through time:


The 1821 population was increased due to the presence of a cotton factory in Belhaven from 1815 - 1823



Social Life & Customs

In 1833 the lands of Dunbar Common were divided among several landowners. Until that point in time it had been available for the community to use, but an act of 1695 permitted the division of commons, and this began to happen all over Scotland. For a history of Dunbar Common and also an account of the division process (including references to the Court of Session case relating to the matter), see The Division of Dunbar Common by I.H. Adams, published in the Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists' Society, 15th volume (1976), pp.76-86. Many local witnesses were questioned during the division process e.g.:

"A further 96 individuals were called as witnesses ... average age was 57, ranging from 24 to 92 years. From Dunbar came the town clerk, surgeon and grocer. Elsewhere they were hinds, shepherds and tenant farmers"


For a social and economic record of the parishes of East Lothian together with considerable statistical material, see Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, which was compiled in the 1790s. Follow-up works to this were the New Statistical Account (also known as the Second Statistical Account) which was prepared in the 1830s and 1840s; and more recently the Third Statistical Account which has been prepared since the Second World War.

Thanks to a joint venture between the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh the First and Second Statistical Accounts can now be accessed on-line at The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, 1791-1799 and 1845.