THE fishing village of North Berwick became a baronial burgh under William Douglas, the 1st Earl Douglas, who built Tantallon Castle in order to consolidate his power.

It later became a royal burgh under James I.

After the railway had arrived in 1850, North Berwick became a fashionable seaside resort, attracting elderly people who wanted to live near the sea, Edinburgh residents who wanted to take a swim or play golf, and an incessant stream of tourists.

Other attractions were the West and East Bays, with sandy beaches perfect for bathing, on either side of the old harbour.

The celebrated postcard artist Reginald Phillimore (1855-1941) came to North Berwick in 1902 and would stay here for the remainder of his life.

West Bay

West Bay

He lived at ‘Rockstowes’, the comfortable terraced house he had inherited from his aunts, at 7 (today 9) Melbourne Road.

This road runs along the East Bay, with uninterrupted seaside views towards the Bass Rock.

Golf was (and still is) a popular sport in North Berwick. In 1905, due to the overcrowding of the West Links golf course, it was decided to construct another one, the Glen golf course at East Links, which is still operational.

The Tantallon Hotel nearby was constructed in 1908, overlooking the golf course, but it no longer stands.

In the background of Phillimore’s card is the Law, a high conical volcanic hill, on the summit of which are ruins of some military buildings dating back from when the Law was used by lookouts.

It offers splendid views of the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock.

Since 1709, the summit of the Law has been adorned by a whalebone arch, the bones being replaced three times until finally removed in 2005.

But in 2008, an anonymous donor paid for a replica whalebone arch to be airlifted to the summit, in order to give North Berwick back one of its landmarks.

The earliest church in North Berwick was at Kirk Ness near the harbour; it was in use from the 12th century until 1652, and its porch and ruins can still be seen.

The ruins of St Andrews Church

The ruins of St Andrew's Church

A new St Andrew’s Church was constructed at Kirk Ports: it was mostly completed in 1718 and a tower was added in 1771. In 1820, a vestry was added, as were two large new windows.

The church remained in use until 1883, but since the growing population of North Berwick needed a larger church, it was demolished and the lead, slates, woodwork and floor sold at auction. The walls of the deserted church were allowed to stand as a picturesque ruin; they still do so today and have regular visitors among the curious.

North Berwick’s Town Hall, dating back to the 17th century, is situated at the corner of High Street and Quality Street. An outdoor stair leads up to the council chamber, underneath which are two shops, one of which formerly the prison.

The stocks depicted on Phillimore’s card were for many years kept in the Town Hall, until they were given to the local museum; they are today to be seen at the Coastal Communities Museum on School Road.

The small tree on the left of the postcard is still there; having grown to considerable size, it today obscures the Town Hall itself.

Further down High Street is the church of St Andrew Blackadder, which looks entirely unchanged since Phillimore’s time.

Canty Bay is a small former fishing village two miles east of North Berwick. Known for its beautiful and unspoilt countryside, sandy beaches and proximity to Tantallon, it was popular with tourists and people wanting to play golf on the links nearby.

Canty Bay

Canty Bay

The steam launch ‘Bonnie Doon’ took the more adventurous tourists out to the Bass Rock from Canty Bay.

Phillimore was fond of taking a stroll to Canty Bay, to admire the unspoilt scenery and make a sketch or two.

The water off East Lothian is remarkably clear and free from pollution, rendering the area of Canty Bay a haven for wildlife.

The Canty Bay Inn was popular among the tourists, catering for golfers, nature enthusiasts and people coming to North Berwick to enjoy the seaside and see the sights.

Constructed around 1900 as a hotel, the building still stands today, functioning as a superior bed and breakfast establishment.

Wresden House, the home of the former North Berwick school left to Phillimore by his maiden aunts, was let as a private hotel at the time he immortalised it in one of his postcards, although he eventually sold the house. This substantial building still stands today, at 2 York Road, looking well-nigh unchanged since Phillimore’s time, although it has been subdivided into flats.

There are views towards the Bass Rock from the upper windows.

This is an edited extract from Jan Bondeson’s book R.P. Phillimore’s East Lothian (Stenlake Publishing 2020)