Short History of Templelands

An unusual view of the High Street painted from a pre 1900 postcard

Templelands includes 2 listed Georgian town houses in the old market town of Dunbar. 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 [cited from Wikipedia]. The building was listed at Category B in 1971.

The image above is one of five paintings that, according to the website A1 History, were commissioned by the Order of the Eastern Star for Dunbar Castle Social Club. (Thanks in advance to Christine Brown and A1 for allowing us to reproduce them here.) The painting shows a late Victorian street scene with the Templelands tenement on the right. There is no back road to the Priory at Abbeylands, not yet built. The Post Office, described by MacWilliams in 1978 as urbanely Baroque (he wrote the Lothian edition of the International Architecture  Guide known as Pevsenr), has not been built yet either, this occurs in 1904, and there are two small 2 story buildings next door to Templelands. The Masonic Lodge opposite is not yet extended but the painting has a tell tale light shadow of the Abbey Church, now a ruin. William Marr, the painter, was born in 1919. The painting was one of five, commissioned by the Order of the Eastern Star for Dunbar Castle Social Club. The tenement next door to Templelands (31-55) was built in 1899, so the scene is obviously taken from an earlier photograph or postcard.

The curious 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 and geometry. The middle windows on the top floor were both originally faux. Lashed together with inferior wood and thin plate glass painted black internally. Hidden from the inside by lathe and plaster to form 2 small presses, or cupboards. Internally the middle windows in fact straddle 2 street facing rooms. The external look was clearly more important than the internal plan geometry. The main reception rooms excepted, most rooms are actually quite modestly proportioned, but with high ceilings.

Prior owners of 2 Templelands include Charles Sawers. Who bought 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 this 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, which relates to the tenement at Templelands, dated 1734. The disposition 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

We have not been able to trace the building’s exact date but research by others and the listing suggest it could be as late 1820, but as early as 1790 (our neighbours deeds suggest so). 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 building. 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 Lands, though the name gives it away. 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 some years will be associated with Templelands. Calton in 1970 (TRANSACTIONS OF THE EAST LOTHIAN ANTIQUARIAN AND FIELD NATURALISTS’ SOCIETY TWELFTH VOLUME 1970) writes at some length about Newhouse and its connection with the Sawers family and reveals:

Simon Sawers died 3 years later, in I849, while still Provost of Dunbar. His son, John Lorimer Sawers, survived him only II 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 (I795-1876) at one time Baillie, and the John Sawers already mentioned who was a Surgeon in the East India Co. in I827.

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? For the next couple of hundred years it looks like 2 Templelands was continuously one of the local doctor’s surgeries.

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 is the current owner at this time, which means the Sawers family retained the house at number 29 until then (also known as 2 Templelands). 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 2 Templelands and Newhouse 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 exactly get on. Did James Black grandfather pass everything on to his grandson? It seems highly likely he gave him a helping hand.

No dramatic changes are evident for the first 80 years of the recorded history. By around 1900 there is a record a possible addition to the building when Mr Notman, the notary public living at 1 Templelands, along with Dr Black petition the Dean of Guild to insert oriel windows on the back of the house in the withdrawing rooms, and this is also noted in Canmore. An application to install a WC is also noted at around the same time in the minutes. It seems the detailed plans of the Dunbar Dean of Guild have, with a few minor exceptions, either been mislaid perhaps lost entirely, though some of the meeting minutes and petitions survive.

David Black’s grandfather was an inn keeper and property owner, who also owned the Railway Hotel (last known as the Dolphin and currently unoccupied) and the Commercial Inn. Valuation roll evidence shows that Dr James Black then moved and was renting the house at Inchgarth, perhaps due to ill-health, just before he died. Upon Dr J D Black’s death, Georgia Black, his sister, inherits 2 Templelands and Newhouse along with 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 J D Black’s death. We don’t know much at all about Dr Lowe, for he appears on the medical register and then disappears. Though there is a grizzly mention of his 1940 assessment of a brutal murder, in the Bo’ness Journal, and Linlithgow Advertiser – Friday 08 November 1940.

Georgia, David Black’s sister, dies unmarried in 1949. We assume that the house is being used continuously as a doctor’s surgery. The property at Newhouse however possibly passes to William Gillespie’s family, who married Catherine Black at 2 Templelands. He died in 1927 and she lived on to 1948 – both are buried in Inveresk).

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 still being used as a doctors surgery, but major changes are afoot. Dr Christopher is practicing there for a while. But not long after 2 practices operating out of Templelands, with multiple doctors when partnerships are established. The upper floor is seemingly converted into a self contained flat, possibly for the junior doctor/s (the inventory for the flat is under the floorboards still, exactly where I found it). The ground floor is dramatically altered with 2 or perhaps 3 rooms created in the morning room. Doors are blocked off and major realignments and structural modifications are made – 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 (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 and 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.

Mr Stewart is one such character, falling into the second group, but perhaps thinking he was in the first. During the 80s Mr Stewart is recorded as residing at 2 Templelands in the 1980s, and he gets the necessary permissions and consents sometime around 1989 to separate the Coach House (then used as a store). The Coach House is not seemingly listed despite being clearly within the curtilage of the original house, it was always accessed via Church Street. The Coach House seems to have been built long after the terrace was erected, most likely at the same time that Barlas and Sharp commission Swanston and Legge to build 2 rather fine (Grade 2/B listed) and very substantial tenements on the next door plot around 1900.

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’s 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 seems to have attempted the conversion of 2 Templelands back to a house, while installing his mother in the Coach House or so I have been told. The Coach House was described as a store, and from older photos betrays few signs of even being heated. Mr Stewart, like many of us, is perhaps challenged by the scale of the earlier changes, which were drastic and significant. When Mr Stewart’s fortunes change, he has the property repossessed by the Britannia Building Society, local reports have it due to bankruptcy.

Margery Clinton purchases the property at auction in around 1995 from Britannia Building Society. We have some idea of the proposed changes that take place at this time, though the plans we have seen were not entirely implemented. The Garden Flat was created by Margery and the bathroom and bedroom are still decorated with her hand decorated tile creations, but conceivably the layout was created by an earlier intervention, which sees all the dado panelling taken out, probably removed to install damp proofing. 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 a number of the 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.

By this time there are very few internal features that survive intact at number 2, notably the winding stair case, a flagstone hallway (the threshold stone replaced). Hall dimensions have changed, doors have been filled in and moved. The morning room was squared off, possibly as a surgery waiting room or consulting rooms. Shutters were either nailed shut and painted over or had been reduced in size to accommodate shelving below the windows. Architraves sawn off at window height 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 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 an intact fragment of original cornice hidden behind a false wall. No original mantle 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 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. At number 2 Templelands, Ruth & Philip currently offer self catering accommodation holiday lets, in the self contained flat downstairs.