Dunbar Castle

Dunbar Castle
The image above is from the early nineteenth century. It’s an engraving by John Greig (from a drawing by Luke Clennell) and was published as a plate illustration in Sir Walter Scott’s The Border Antiquities of England and Scotland. A number of prints were made from the original and some of these were hand-coloured by later artists. I recently found one of the coloured versions, neatly mounted on white card, in a car boot sale at Falkirk Football Club.

The picture gives a clear impression of the great mass of rock upon which the Scottish earls of Dunbar built their castle, a structure now so ruinous as to be deemed too dangerous for the public. To the left of the castle – but not shown in the engraving – is the headland known as Castle Park where archaeological excavations in the late 1980s and early 1990s revealed traces of an ancient promontory fort. This older stronghold was occupied as far back as the Iron Age and continued to be used in early medieval times as an important centre of power. Originally a fortress of the native Britons, it was taken over by the Anglo-Saxons in the seventh century when its name was recorded as Dynbaer (from Brittonic din+bar, ‘summit fort’). In the ninth century it was attacked by the Pictish king Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpine) and eventually became part of the kingdom of Alba in the time of Cináed’s descendants. The site of the fortress is now occupied by a leisure centre.

Much of the history of Dunbar’s medieval castle falls outside the remit of this blog but is well worth a look, especially by anyone with an interest in the Anglo-Scottish wars. The castle’s most famous resident was the formidable Black Agnes, wife of the 9th earl, who successfully resisted an English siege in the fourteenth century.

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Further reading:

David Perry and Mark Blackburn, Castle Park, Dunbar: two thousand years on a fortified headland (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2000)

The Canmore record for Castle Park can be found at the RCAHMS website.

Elsa Hamilton, Mighty subjects: the Dunbar earls in Scotland, c.1072-1289 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2010)

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10 comments on “Dunbar Castle

  1. ritaroberts says:

    Nice post about Dunbar Castle How fortunate you found the colored print. Its amazing what you can pick up at the car boot sales. I love browsing both them and second hand shops not to mentions antique shops.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Rita. I should really visit more car boot sales. Stumbled on the one at Falkirk just by chance, because it was in the car park opposite the Helix and the Kelpies (to be reported on in a future blogpost).

  2. esmeraldamac says:

    Lovely! I’ve got a collection of old prints like this myself. Some of them are weirdly inaccurate – I can never work out whether the artist was romanticising or just hadn’t been there!

    • Tim says:

      Yes, I know what you mean. Some romanticising seems to be going on at times, especially with Scottish castles. For instance, I’ve seen a few odd-looking pics of Dumbarton in the last few years (old stuff – not counting my own fumblings with a camera).

      • esmeraldamac says:

        Lol 😉 I even have a print that appears to place Scafell Pike in Workington. I decided that they were trying to portray some kind of spirit of the place – the harbour beyond the scarily high mountains. Although it could be that the artist, having travelled the mountain pass to get to Workington, decided the mountain was more picturesque! Who knows?

  3. Jo Woolf says:

    What a great find! Hmm, I suddenly want to visit some local car boot sales! 🙂

    • Tim says:

      It got me thinking the same thing, Jo. I’m less likely to find Scottish items at my local sales, but something else of interest might turn up.

      • esmeraldamac says:

        I actually look for old prints and maps when I’m *outside* the county, as they are always much cheaper there (although of course living in a touristy area drives up prices). If you are ever in York, the Minster book shop has a huge stock of British historical prints that I’ve plundered many times. If you have deep pockets, the map shop on Pulteney Bridge in Bath is simply fabulous and a great source of original strip maps. Um, did I say I have a collection? 😉

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