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The fasinating history of McArthur's Store


McArthur’s Store, or Spott’s Girnell (granary) as it was first known, was first recorded in 1658 located on a spur of rock within the eastern harbour of Dunbar that had been established a few years earlier under Oliver Cromwell. Early charters described the property as the “white herring house with girnell” with its close, yards, and falls, with “full sea in all places”. The building is one of the oldest continuously used harbour buildings in Scotland. Archaeological assessment has revealed that the southern side of the existing building incorporated an earlier structure at ground level. Clearly this was its 17th Century predecessor. Excavation on the north side of the building has revealed a further structure running parallel whose central entrance led directly to rock-cut steps leading to the original rocky inlet used as the harbour. 

A major remodelling of the building occurred around 1738 after permission was received from the town council for the erection of the stone stair at the west end of the building. The building was doubled in width and raised to three stories with a double gabled pan-tiled roof. Around 1800 the building was strengthened by the installation of a system of vertical propping of the floors. Most of these props, still visible today, are former ships’ timbers recycled for use on shore. Maritime archaeological assessment suggests that the timbers are from a Scots merchantman of the 18th Century. The existence of these timbers in the building represents an incredibly rare survival. 

The building saw repeated subsequent remodelling relating to frequent changes of use. At one point ventilation slits were inserted throughout the ground floor. These were subsequently blocked and overlain with plaster and timber lining boards in the north half of the building. The double gabled pan tiled roof was replaced in the mid to late 19th Century by a single, slated, double-pitched structure with hipped ends. The slates had been replaced with asbestos cement sheets sometime in the 20th Century. Within living memory the building has been used by local fishermen as stores and a place to make and mend fishing gear.

The surrounding pier head has been mapped in detail and retains many features that date back to the 17th and 18th Centuries. In the early 18th Century the quay on the north side of the stores was formed around a little natural inlet and thereafter was known as ‘Holey Quay’. The existing quayside was created in the 20th Century but the outline of Holey Quay has been retained in the paving of the quay top.

The Restoration

The restoration of McArthur’s Stores has been undertaken by Dunbar Harbour Trust to create 11 fishermen’s stores, an office for the Trust, and a meeting room that can be used by harbour users and the wider community. The overall cost of the restoration project was £1.2 million. The Project was undertaken as part of the Dunbar Townscape Heritage Initiative and was only possible with generous grant aid from:

  • The Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Historic Scotland
  • FIFG European Fisheries Programme
  • East Lothian Council
  • Leader + European Programme
  • Viridor Credits Scotland
  • The Architectural Heritage Fund

The design team was led by LDN Architects and included Morham and Brotchie, quantity surveyors; Elliot and Co, consulting engineers; Irons Foulner, mechanical and electrical engineers; and Addyman Archaeology. Project management was undertaken by George McNeill. The construction works were carried out by Hunter and Clark.

Dunbar Harbour Trust gratefully acknowledges the assistance provided to this project by all the funding agencies, the professional team and the contractors.

May 2009


McArthurs Store old