Case Study: MacArthur’s Store, Dunbar

Figure 18: Re-used ship timbers from MacArthur’s store in Dunbar. The deck beams from a likely 18th century coastal trader offer rare insights into ship timber assemblages in the Scottish vernacular context and the possibilities that abound to study the tangible remains of the Scottish merchant marine, ©Headland Archaeology.

The re-use of ship timber in terrestrial buildings is a practice for which there are still relatively few authenticated examples in the archaeological record in the UK, and even fewer in Scotland. To date, isolated discoveries are confined to both domestic and industrial buildings located in areas such as the coastal towns of the East Neuk of Fife and city dwellings such as Gladstone’s Land on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

The fascinating discovery an assemblage of re-cycled ship timbers at McArthur’s Store in Dunbar offers rare archaeological evidence of such practices in Scottish contexts from the age of sail. The assemblage comprises the largest corpus of re-used ship timbers from a vernacular context found to date in Scotland, a point of considerable historic significance. This assemblage like those discovered elsewhere are almost certainly derived from vernacular craft, such as fishing vessels and coastal traders, probably built, operated and broken up in the numerous coastal communities around the Scottish coast. The timbers as a whole appear to be far removed from the more standardized, higher quality ship timber components derived from naval vessels, such as those discovered at Chatham Historic Dockyard, the former Dockyard at Deptford and the Chesapeake Mill in Hampshire (Atkinson 2001; Prescott and Atkinson, 2003; Atkinson, 2007). The significance of discoveries such as those at Mac Arthur’s Store lie in the relative rarity of these finds – and ultimately the information that can be gained from such discoveries.

What is clear is the very apparent un-tapped resource for research into aspects of boat and ship timber re-use in Scotland. The story is potentially extensive, both geographically and temporally, and a well structured research strategy could add considerably to the known maritime cultural heritage resource and evidence for ship-breaking and the recycling of timber in terrestrial vernacular and industrial contexts.

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