A Little Bit of History

Dunbar’s history has been traced back 2,000 years to the Iron Age with the remains of a fort by the cliffs giving rise to the town’s name which means “summit fort”.

For a period Dunbar was within the kingdom of Northumbria (England), but in the 11th century became a part of Scotland. Lying almost exactly between Scotland’s capital Edinburgh and Berwick, across the English border, Dunbar played an important defensive role with a great castle (now ruined) at the harbour. Major battles between England and Scotland were fought in the area over five centuries until the 1650 Battle of Dunbar which was won decisively by the English.

Dunbar prospered as a military base and a fishing and farming community, eventually becoming popular in the late 19th century as a seaside and golfing resort. The Dolphin Inn’s history can be traced back to this time although records show that a building occupied the site as far back as 1746 (housing known as Denneval’s tenement).

Dunbar is famous as the birthplace of John Muir who was born in the town in 1838 and lived on the High Street until 1849 when he and his father left for America. They first travelled from Dunbar on Scotland’s East Coast to Helensburgh on the West Coast, a route that has recently been developed into the 134 mile (215km) John Muir Way.

The young John Muir would have walked past the building that became the Dolphin Inn many times. As a young boy he was interested in natural history and achieved fame due to his legacy in America where he was a visionary environmentalist and conservationist.

The Valuation Role shows that the building (known now as the Dolphin Inn), was bought in 1846 by a local entrepreneur James Black who recognised the opportunities that would be brought by the new railway station that opened in Dunbar that same year.

Until sometime in the early 1900s the building was formed only of a single building, the extension was added to expand the number of bedrooms and we understand to add a tea room upstairs in which the feature bi-folding doors and hatch still remain.

In 1855 the building was registered as a public inn or tavern and it was registered as the Railway Inn in 1863. It appears the name was changed to Railway Hotel in 1884 and the Valuation Rolls often make mention of stables, a coach house and gardens indicating a much larger footprint than in its present form. Throughout this period the building was owned by generations of the Black family though a variety of tenants managed the hotel.

Between 1883 - 1884 the hotel was renamed Jacksons Hotel after the tenant at that time. It wasn’t until 1930 that ownership of the building moved from the Black family. Eventually in 1962 it was sold to James Galbraith Forsyth and renamed, the Dolphin Hotel, at this point the stables and other properties were no longer part of the hotel curtilage.

From the 1960s package holidays became increasingly popular and as a result Scottish seaside holidays began to decline in popularity as people discovered warmer and more exotic European resorts. By the 1980s destinations such as Dunbar were no longer so popular. Tourism faded (and with it Dunbar’s famous outdoor pool was sadly demolished). For Dunbar however the building of the Torness Nuclear Power Plant between 1980 - 1988 meant that tourists were replaced by construction workers and the hotels in Dunbar, including The Dolphin, continued to be prosperous.

However, once Torness was completed and commissioned in 1988, it is understood that the upper floors of the Dolphin Inn were closed off although the bar on the ground floor remained active until 2013 and when it was closed the building was boarded up until it was bought for its current development project in 2019.

If anyone has any further information about the Dolphin Inn we would love to hear from you.

Please email: info@dolphindunbar.com