Short History of Templelands

The terrace known as Templelands comprises of a terrace of two symmetrical, two-storey-and-basement houses. Each house has three bays. The building has an ashlar front, rubble basement and rear, and rusticated quoins, and other decorative features. The central doorways have Ionic surrounds, panelled doors, and plate glass fanlights. The building was listed at Category B in 1971.

This pre 1900 scene without motor cars shows the High Street looking North, with the tenement of Templelands on the right. We can surmise that it is post 1800 as there is gas lighting. It is in fact one of five paintings that were commissioned by the Order of the Eastern Star for Dunbar Castle Social Club (credit: Christine Brown and A1 History.) The painting seems shows a Victorian street scene with the Templelands terrace on the right. There is no back road to The Priory at Abbeylands, for it is not yet built, only a way to the fields that lay behind. The Old Post Office, which is described by MacWilliams as “urbanely Baroque” in the Lothian edition of the International Architecture Guide (Pevsenr) in 1978, has not yet been built, this occurs in 1904. There are two smaller 3 story buildings next door to Templelands, which also no longer exist. The substantial tenement next door to Templelands (31-35) was built in 1899. The Masonic Lodge opposite is not yet extended. The Dunbar Gas Company was created in 1836, so we know this scene must be sometime between 1836 and 1899. But William Marr, the painter, was actually born in 1919, so the scene is obviously taken from an early photograph or a postcard – possibly after 1860.

The plan geometry of the tenement is not immediately obvious from the outside, but the terrace is built on a parallelogram. Although the facade appears to show two identical and perfectly symmetrical homes, there are discrete differences in room size, proportions, so much so that the internal cantilevered stairs are not exact mirror replicas. The middle windows on the top floor were both originally false. Lashed together with inferior wood and thin plate glass and they were painted black internally. Hidden from the inside by lathe and plaster to form 2 small presses, or cupboards. Internally the middle bays straddle the 2 street facing rooms below. The external appearance was clearly more important than the internal plan geometry, which is somewhat cramped and boxy despite the high ceilings. The main reception rooms excepted, most rooms are modestly proportioned, high ceilings aside.

Prior owners of 2 Templelands include Charles Sawers, though which of the Sawers family bought or inherited the plot and built the original property is a matter of speculation. Judging by inspection of the Edinburgh Dean Guild, petitions for tenements and finer buildings were put in by builders and stonemasons, and will have included a rough plan, in our case modelled on somewhat grander terraces typically found in Edinburgh. Other properties thought to have been built around 1820 include Barnlea a few doors down on the High Street, The Retreat, in Loch End woods and Kirkhill House on the Queen’s Road are all considerably grander.

We have seen at least one early record that predates the building, but which clearly relates to the tenement at Templelands, and is dated 1734. It is a disposition and it starts:

Be it Known to all Men By these presents Me Jean Wood Relict of James Smith Merchant in Dunbar, heritable proprietrix of the tenement of Temple Land after Disponed with the pertinents For as much as Norman Hamilton Son of the deceased Mr John Hamilton Merchant in Dunbar now Barber and Perewigmaker in London by his Bond.

The detailed description of the plot is altogether suggestive that this refers to the very same land. The document outlines a claim by Jean Wood, over said land.

Be it Known to all Men By these presents Me Jean Wood Relict of James Smith Merchant in Dunbar

The building’s exact date is uncertain, but but others, including the listing suggest it could be as late 1820, while others have it a bit earlier 1790 (our neighbours deeds apparently suggest so, but we’ve not seen them).

What we do know from the 1830 John Wood map is that the site had been built on, and the outlines are very likely the boundaries of the current buildings. Baillie and Sawers are the respective owners of numbers  1 and 2.

We also know something of the historic ownership of a plot called Temple Land. James Miller reports in his 1859 History of Dunbar:

“Among the old houses was a tenement called Bamburgh Castle which latterly stood near the head of the High Street, but at one time was probably detached. Tradition affirms that it had a subterraneous communication with the (Dunbar) castle the entrance to which is still shown and that in later times a foolish piper in attempting to thread his way through this intricate labyrinth was supposed to have been suffocated by pestilential vapour for his bagpipes were only heard to vibrate as far as the bottom of Silver Street when their dying notes ceased. This tenement and the lands adjoining (Templelands) belonged to the Knights Templars.

Elsewhere in his history, Miller has it that Simon Sawers is an occupier of Newhouse, which for many years will be associated with Templelands. Calton in 1970 writes at some length about Newhouse and its connection with the Sawers family and reveals:

Simon Sawers died 3 years later, in 1849, while still Provost of Dunbar. His son, John Lorimer Sawers, survived him only 11 years, and died at the early age of 31 in London, of a sickness contracted in the Indian Army. Two men, who were probably Simon Sawers’ brothers, were Charles Lorimer Sawers (1795-1876) at one time Baillie, and the John Sawers already mentioned who was a Surgeon in the East India Co. in 1827.


This seems to be suggestive, if tenuous evidence that the Sawers/Baillie may even have commissioned the terrace and perhaps first occupied it. Could it be that John Sawers is the first surgeon to practice there, if very transiently? Was 2 Templelands continuously used as a doctor’s surgery until the 1980s?

Robert Orr Sawers (1837-1880) inherits the property, but it is not clear whether he lives there or for very long, as he is the General Manager of National Bank of India (1863-1880). His correspondence and papers, 126 folios, between 1842 and 1863 are held in the National Archives among some other papers. He is also author of Account of Voyage to India. More mundanely, back in Dunbar, there is a record of him buying up a strip of land at the bottom of the garden at Templelands from the local burgh council. It appears then that it being used as a dumping ground for rubbish and other matter, and as a condition of sale, Robert is to wall it off to stop this.

Feu Disposition by Magistrates and Town Council of Dunbar to
Robert Orr Sawers, and his heirs and assignees, recorded in
Dunbar B.R. 03 Oct. 1879, of ground in Church Street, Dunbar,
contains the following burdens: 

the said Robert Orr Sawers and his foresaids shall be bound as
by acceptation hereof, he binds himself and his foresaids
within six months from the dates of roup, being 23 & 30 May &
6 Jun. 1879, to enclose the ground so feued by a stone wall or
wooden paling at least six feet in height and to uphold and
maintain the same; and as the proprietor of the ground
adjoining on the west has a right of ingress and egress to and
from his gardens; the said Robert Orr Sawers and his foresaids
shall be bound as he is hereby bound in erecting the wall or
fence or in other ways enclosing the ground or building
thereon not to interfere in any way with the said right, all
right and privilege competent to the said adjoining proprietor
with reference to the said ground now feued being hereby
specially reserved all in terms of the articles of roup and
under the penalty of Ten Pounds in case of failure of erecting
and maintaining said wall or paling or enclosing the ground so
feued; and it is hereby expressly provided and declared that
the waste ground was exposed to roup partly for the purpose of
preventing a nuisance being continued by the public depositing
rubbish and other matter thereon.

Robert makes quite sure his access to Church Street is not interfered with, and it is not until the 1990s that this burden is finally discharged. The 25 inch Ordnance survey map shows the strip in question. It also shows a number of other features, including a largish greenhouse. The Coach House has not been built (mapping between 1855 and 1900). The steps up to the garden are positioned more centrally at this time, while it appears both gardens at Templelands were divided by a wall, remains of which are still visible at number 1. Sheet 6 of the First Edition 6 inch (Survey date: 1853; Publication date: 1854) shows a building where the coach house is today.

Fast forward to the end of the 1800s, and Dr David Black, son an MD from Cockburnspath, is recorded to be renting the house. The valuation roll shown below suggests that the late Robert Orr Sawers was the owner at this time, which means the Sawers family retained the house at number 29 until then. Charles Notman, the Town Clerk, is shown as living next door. Bamburgh Castle, which apparently bears the last vestigia of the old town wall, at number 25 has a full house too.

Subsequent valuation rolls then show Dr James David Black as the owner of Newhouse as well as 2 Templelands until his death in 1923. James Black and James D Black appear in the same register at different addresses in 1885 – it seems that Dr James Black, father has taken on the house at the corner of 1 Church Street, implying perhaps that the two didn’t get on? Did James Black grandfather pass everything on to his grandson? It seems highly likely he gave him a helping hand as Dr James didn’t marry.

Dr JD Black is also affluent enough to acquire a motor car, which we know because he advertises the sale of his horse in 1904. He may well have had the Coach House adapted at this point, judging by the stonework, which is not altogether dissimilar to the Swanston & Legge rear tenement, built in 1899.

Templelands on the right sometime before the Swanston and Legge Building is erected at 33 High Street in 1899

No dramatic changes are evident for the first 80 years of the recorded history, though at some point the chimney stacks on the left are raised. The Coach House is built and this looks like it remains within the curtilage until the 1980s, when the plot is divided.

By around 1900 there is a record of another addition to the building when Mr Notman, the notary public living at 1 Templelands, along with Dr Black together petition the Dean of Guild to insert oriel windows on the back of the house, in what were then possibly withdrawing rooms. This event is noted in Canmore, but the original petitions may have been lost.

An application to install a WC is also noted at around the same time in the minutes, but again we know not whether this was an outdoor privy or an internal one. The detailed plans of the Dunbar Dean of Guild have, with a few minor exceptions, been mislaid perhaps lost entirely, though some of the meeting minute books and a handful of petitions that are misfiled do survive.

Templelands 1 and 2 at the turn of the 1900s – on the steps are probably members of the Black family on the left and Notman on the right. Note the flags on the buildings. The attachment points are still visible today.

David Black’s grandfather was an inn keeper and property owner, who also owned the Railway Hotel or Black’s Railway hotel (last known as the Dolphin and until recently unoccupied) as well as the Commercial Inn. Valuation roll evidence shows that Dr James Black mysteriously moves out of 2 Templelands, renting the house at Inchgarth, perhaps due to ill-health, just before he dies in Musselburgh on May 24 1923. Dr James David Black is buried in the Dunbar cemetery. Upon Dr Black’s death, Georgia Black, his sister, inherits 2 Templelands and Newhouse along with the substantial land there, information about which is in digital public records until 1935.

Meanwhile, Dr William Lowe Anderson is recorded as practicing at Templelands for a while after Dr Black’s death and that there are 3 people residing at Templelands in 1926 (an advert appears in The Scotsman – Saturday 09 January 1926 for a capable general servant wanted for … Dr’s House … Apply Biggans), though these numbers and persons were not corroborated by census or the valuation records.

We don’t know too much at all about Dr Lowe, for he appears on the medical register and then disappears. However he is practicing there at least until around 1940. He is appointed certifying surgeon under the Factory and Workshops Acts, succeeding Dr. D. R. Macdonald for the district of Dunbar in 1937 (The Scotsman – Thursday 11 February 1937). There is a a further mention of Dr Lowe, a grizzly reference to his 1940 assessment of a brutal murder in Dunbar, which is recorded in quite some detail in the Bo’ness Journal, and Linlithgow Advertiser – Friday 08 November 1940. In fact he is recorded as staying at Templelands, and the Sasine records show he eventually purchased 2 Templelands in 1950 and continued to own it until 1960.

But during this time, further changes of tenure may have occurred, for an advert appeared in the Scotsman (16th March 1940) heralding the availability of number 2 Templelands for a gentleman or businessman, highlighting the good garden, 2 public rooms and domestic office alongside 4 bedrooms and maid’s quarters. Who knows if the relationship between the Blacks and Dr Lowe had broken down, temporarily?

At the turn of the century, number 1 Templelands, is acquired from the estate of Christina Notman, widow of the former Town Clark, by the Stark family who will stay there until 1978.

Georgia, David Black’s sister, not resident there for some time, eventually dies unmarried in 1949. The property at Newhouse passes to William Gillespie’s family, who had married Catherine Black, James’ sister, at 2 Templelands. William died in 1927 and Catherine lived on to 1948, both are buried in Inveresk). We have found that the house was being used continuously as a doctor’s surgery until the 1970s, as Dr Lowe eventually acquires it.

The Black family in the garden at 2 Templelands just before the great war. Note the Swanston and Legge tenement with high stacks that have since been taken down.

By the 1970s the house is again being used as a doctors surgery, but major changes are afoot. Dr Christopher is practicing there for a short while in a partnership with Drs Seeley and Laurenson. The first floor is converted into a self contained flat, possibly for the junior doctor/s (the inventory for the flat is under the floorboards still, exactly where we found it) and the trust also receives a grant from the local council to make the changes. At this point, things are hazy, the ground floor is dramatically altered with 2 or perhaps 3 small consulting rooms created in the old morning room. Doors are blocked off and major realignments and structural modifications are made inside and out – but mostly unsympathetic to the newly B listed property.

Some local testimony suggests there were consulting rooms in the basement too (there were 2 GP practices so this would make some sense, but apparently there were buildings in the garden too). By the 1980s the doctors move across the road to a new purpose built surgery, which is barely occupied for long before moving again to the site of the market garden on the other side of the road.

The population of Dunbar is growing very rapidly, but the decline of the high street is already in train, coinciding with the commissioning of the nuclear power station at Torness (norse for Thor’s Nose), when local reports are of a “wild west”. Tourist hotels are converted to single room accommodation. Local hostelries do a roaring trade. Investment in high street properties declines, with a minority of owner occupiers. Flats are mainly for rental, as the low prices and relatively high rents extracted turn out to be a nice little cash cow for some “old Dunbar” folk.

The 80s sees a large number of buildings taken down but also the restoration as social housing of 2 important A-listed buildings, the New Inn and Lauderdale house. Investment in Dunbar is mainly of 2 sorts. Hope value drives one group, sit on a property for long enough and someone daft enough will buy it off you, eventually. The other group are people a bit like us, who don’t have a ton of money, but think they like the idea of living in an older property or can’t afford anywhere else.

During the 80s Mr Stewart is recorded as residing at 2 Templelands and gets the necessary permission sometime around 1989 to separate the Coach House (seemingly until then used as a store). The Coach House is not mentioned in the HES listing, despite being clearly within the curtilage of the original house, perhaps because the main access was via Church Street and may not even have been visible to the staff.

The Coach House seems to have been built sometime after the original terrace was erected, and possibly reconfigured when Barlas and Sharp commission Swanston and Legge to build a rather fine (Grade 2/B listed) tenement next door around 1899. The building created on the end plot accessed from Church Street doesn’t have the flair and flourishes of its bigger sister on the High Street, but is recognisably of the same idiom.

RCHMS Dunbar From Church Tower pre 1900 DP00147033 – the stacks of Templelands are visible, just. Neither of the 2 Swanston and Legge tenements has been erected, and there is no Coach House. This photo also shows the Railway Hotel, which was run by Dr Blacks’s grandfather (aka Black‚Äôs Railway Hotel, and before that Jackson’s Hotel), in its original and unextended form as well as 1 Church Street, which he occupied around this time. The Royal Mackintosh has not been extended either. The post office plot immediately opposite the Templelands terrace has 3 humble buildings.
This photo is post 1899 with the Swanston and Legge building in place (highlighted on the left). The low lying coach house is clearly visible in the fug of coal smoke (on the right) and ramshackle of buildings. The Railway Hotel has not yet been extended, but the Royal Mac looks to have been converted.

Mr Stewart starts the conversion of 2 Templelands back into a house, while converting the Coach House, described as a store store into a one floor flat.

Margery Clinton moves to 2 Templelands in 1997. We have some idea of the proposed changes that take place at this time, though the plans were not entirely implemented and it is unclear which features had been already added or taken away by Mr Stewart. The Garden Flat may have been created by Margery and the bathroom and bedroom are still decorated with her hand decorated tile creations, but conceivably the layout was created or adapted from Mr Stewarts earlier interventions. All the dado height panelling was taken out, probably to install unnecessary damp proofing (the sandy soils drain well) and the structural walls, which at number 1 are cruved, are straightened up. The old kitchens would have been at the front, betrayed today only by an oversized plain surround. Number 1 still has an original working range, possibly late victorian or very early 20th C. Hidden from view, is the original soundproofing, surprisingly intact, between the floor joists but above the ceiling rafters.

Dunbar benefitted in the 1990s from a significant Conservation Heritage scheme. Funding was substantially soaked up by a number of very expensive interventions which go someway to saving some of the most prominent buildings at risk. The council creates a new road scheme, which unfortunately damages the under street cellars for both tenements at Templelands, which had remained dry for storage for the previous 200 years. There are still many buildings on the at risk register, though arguably this list under estimates the decline from within (many people assume the listing status applies either just to the front or the outside, or just the listed features, and therefore an unknown number of internal features have been modified and/or lost).

By this time there are a few internal features that survive “intact” at number 2, notably the winding stair case, a flagstone hallway (the threshold stone lost). Hall dimensions have changed, doors have been filled in and others moved. The morning room that was squared off, possibly as consulting rooms during the 60s, still has vestiges of the changes. Shutters were either nailed shut and painted over or had been clumsily reduced in size to accommodate shelving below the windows. Architraves sawn off at window height, hardboard panelling and grey carpet obscured a couple of hundred years of past uses. The pilastered alcove that survives next door was gone, but some tell tale signs on the original floor suggest there was one. The dado panelling is gone too. Three rooms and the hall space had been modified, mainly by the addition of internal bathrooms, though the ground floor changes predate these later additions.

All the cornices on the ground floor were lost, and ceilings had collapsed. We found some intact fragments of original cornice hidden behind a false wall. No original mantles or fire pieces survive on the ground floor.

The one surviving original mantlepiece is in the upstairs drawing room, which retains the dado height panelling and an original intact but unrestored cornice, and is altogether the best preserved room at number 2. The oriel window is intact. Several fire pieces / inserts appear to have been added one on top of the other (typically making the fire box smaller). The latest quite possibly as recently as the 1980s (betrayed by early 1900s tiles underneath the ill fitting Victorian insert). There are shadows a former door connecting the drawing room to a possible ensuite bathroom or possibly a kitchenette, when it was a flat? More or less sensitively reinstated, the wood working betrays no obvious signs of repair, though the plastering is inept and slapdash. The oriel window externals were reinstated at this time and a solution to the window over the bridge is found.

Templelands Oriel Window Drawn by Margery Clinton

Most recently 2 Templelands was the home of the late lustreware ceramicist and artist Margery Clinton, who lived and worked on the premises for around 10 years.

The potter Philip Revell lives and works from number 1, which has an equally rich history.

Today at number 2 Templelands, Ruth & Philip currently offer self catering accommodation holiday lets “downstairs”.