2017/18 has been another successful year for the Society, with a good, varied programme of talks and other activities.
Membership and Attendance
Membership remains hardly changed from last session at 106. A few new members compensate for the few who have left the Society, and so we continue to attract new blood. Attendance for our meetings continues to be very healthy, with three talks this session exceeding 50. Guests feature regularly, usually in low single figures, but occasionally more (14 in March and 10 in April). The average turnout of members for the session was 40.3.
In our usual pattern, we organized 7 talks, one per month from September to April, with our usual Members’ Night in December. The session concluded with an outing to Paxton House in May.
Our programme began on 07 September with a talk by Dr Andrew Millard of Durham University on the exhumation and study of the remains of Scottish prisoners taken at the Battle of Dunbar, and transported south to Durham on Cromwell’s orders. On a much lighter note in October, Ailsa Fortune, a local author, gave an entertaining presentation on the development and history of North Berwick Ladies Golf Club, registering on the way the great and the good who could be seen on the course in the interwar years. Margot Asquith’s was a very decided and regular presence during much of that period, and Nancy Astor was also seen around. The November talk by Craig Statham of the National Library of Scotland concerned historical maps of the Lothians and Edinburgh, and the online maps archive, to which he introduced us via the Town House WiFi set-up. Members’ Night concluded 2017 with short presentations on the origins of the fountain in Haddington’s Court Street, on Scottish wedding traditions from oral histories, and David Elder’s photographic quiz on historic houses of East Lothian. In January 2018 Helen Robertson’s ‘Kings Yard’ ranged through the detailed archival research she has undertaken, providing insight into the growing evidence for a medieval royal residence in the vicinity of the Pleasance in Haddington. February saw Arran Johnston of the Scottish Battlefields Trust provide a detailed modern analysis of the Battle of Prestonpans and, in March, Dr Hanita Richie from Haddington’s John Gray Centre, explored the life and achievements of Catherine Blair, founder of the SWRI. Our final talk in April concerned the role of the Lady of the medieval castle, with examples from East Lothian and elsewhere, entertainingly presented by Chris Tabraham, formerly Principal Historian with Historic Scotland. The outing to Paxton House was well supported, with 18 members guided on the general tour of the house and some afterwards taking advantage of the fine weather to explore the grounds.
Work on the Scotland’s Urban Past project has continued this year, and David Haire continues to develop the East Lothian at War website.
A number of Members have volunteered as interviewers for another project set up this year by the European Ethnology Research Centre, University of Edinburgh: East Lothian and Borders: A Regional Ethnology. In addition, written materials will be contributed, as will interviews recorded from Nungate residents as part of the urban past project mentioned above.
We are much involved in the Haddington 700 celebrations, which will run throughout 2018. The inaugural talk on Robert the Bruce held at St Mary’s Church in January had several of the committee involved, with the HHS convenor as Chairman. The Society has also been working with the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists Society to set up and run the annual one day September conference which, this year, is very much on the theme of Haddington, highlighting the confirmation Charter of Robert the Bruce,1318, and the history and development of the town over the 700 years since.
The Society has also produced an up to date text for a new Haddington self-guided tour booklet, which we hope to see published later in the year.
A very ambitious project to prepare a virtual plan of the town, as it was during and after the siege of 1548/49, is under way under the academic leadership of Jon Cooper, a battlefield archaeologist. Society members are much involved in the initial researches into buildings and other documented sites of 16th century Haddington.
Finally, much work has been done in cooperation with the John Gray Centre to set up an exhibition of the works of Dorothea Nimmo-Smith later this year. Working mainly in water colour, among other art works, Dorothea produced a large number of paintings of buildings and street scenes from Haddington as it was in the late 1940s and the1950s. The Society has been involved in selecting suitable examples of her work, and photographing the same scenes as they appear today so that each original artwork and photograph can be set side by side in a ‘then and now’ display.
In conclusion, the Society continues to be very active, with a diverse programme of local history activities. We are clearly heavily committed this year, and shall be for some time to come!
The society organised seven lectures from visiting speakers throughout this successful season as well hosting our usual Members’ Night in December. Lectures ran from 8th September 2016 up to our Annual Outing on 13th May 2017. We also organised an anniversary talk given by Alistair Moffat in March. Membership stands at 112.
Our season began in September with a talk by Dr Daniel Rhodes from the National Trust for Scotland. His work had taken him to many interesting parts of the world including Iceland and East Africa and he had considerable experience in Marine Archaeology. His talk first focussed upon Princess Aebbe of St Abb’s and the search for remains of her abbey there, then on an anti-slavery campaigner, Robert Wedderburn, and finally upon two Iron Age skeletons discovered in the grounds of the House of Binns.
This talk set the flavour of the year as we ranged across talks about Revenants (loud in volume and full of drama and evil spirits and given by Dr Louise Yeoman), through an examination of what Haddingtonshire might have done had it been forced to repel a German invasion in the 1914-18 war given by Allan Kilpatrick from Historic Environment Scotland.
In December our members joined in the fun and gave us all a very interesting evening. The Convenor, David Haire, updated members on the society’s webpage in eastlothianheritage.co.uk and encouraged members to make use of it. Emma O’Riordan, a new member and an antiquarian herself, spoke amusingly on the topic: “Beards not a requirement. The work of an antiquarian in 21st c Scotland.” David Elder gave us an excellent and puzzling photographic quiz on East Lothian churches and Eric Glendinning updated members on the current society’s project on the history of the Nungate.
In January we were pleased to welcome back another member of the Ramage family, this time Andrew. Andrew, though not an historian, had become interested in his family’s history and sketched out the life and times of his great grandfather, an agricultural labourer moving from farm to farm who, after injury in another job, became a Crossing keeper at Biel.
Dr Fraser Hunter, curator of Roman and Celtic artefacts at the Royal Museum of Scotland, drew a large contingent of guests as he gave an erudite and wide-ranging talk on the information to be gleaned about the Celts from their artistic remains. He showed that the Celts were not a homogenous group, didn’t see themselves as such and that the Romans had been responsible for rediscovering the Classical view of them as a distinct Europe-wide group. He used jewellery, weapons and other finds to show how Celts used such art to identify themselves as distinct from the Romans, post Roman invasion of GB. It was a political statement of identity. It was a fluid and interesting tale, well told.
In March we were treated to a coup de theatre by the custodian of Dirleton Castle, Andrew Spratt, as he rattled through dozens of his self-painted images of what he thought our castles would have looked like in their heyday. His pictures were the weft to the depredations of the Black and Red Douglas families’ warp.
Our year’s highlight was a lecture given by the noted author, historian, University Chancellor and Book Festival organiser, Alistair Moffat. This was an additional lecture arranged to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the society. His talk was entitled ‘Our Scotland: its history from earliest times.’ Our audience was a healthy sixty-nine. Wine and nibbles all helped to make this an occasion to remember and we are very grateful to Alistair, a very busy man, giving of his time to help us celebrate the occasion.
Bill Wilson rounded off our lecture season with a nicely illustrated talk centred around Musselburgh Links. I for one was amazed at how many present day prestigious golf clubs were once resident there. The talk, however, was not all about golf as Bill showed us that much more found its home on or around this well-known patch of ground.
In May twenty-three of us drove to Mellerstain House in the Borders. We thought we were going to be drenched but chose the exact right moment to head indoors for our excellent tour of this lovely house. Recent water damage had necessitated quite a lot of restorative work and we were treated to the wonderful results in the form of bright pastel paintwork and wonderful plasterwork. The house also contains many pieces of interesting furniture. It was all a grand round off for our society’s year.
Haddingtons’ History Society 2015-16
I am pleased to report that all this year’s talks went pleasurably smoothly: no hitches and all speakers present and correct. Our year began with an update on three recent archaeological digs in Edinburgh and East Lothian. Dr Melanie Johnston, from CFA Archaeology, started our season off with a talk upon a 1st and 2nd World War army barracks in Mortonhall, an examination of a Napoleonic barracks off Pinkie Road, Musselburgh, and an in-depth study of a 19th/early 20th c fireclay works, off Niddrie Road.
In October, a well-known local councillor and enthusiastic local historian, David Berry, utilised his wide-ranging interests and his years of sailing off East Lothian’s coastline to treat us to an excellent talk entitled: ‘North Neuk: a maritime perspective, Aberlady to Belhaven.’ David’s talk was often speculative but stimulating as a result and was well received by our members.
We were treated to a wonderful collection of Victorian and Edwardian landscape photographs in November by Dr Lesley Ferguson, head of Collections at Historic Environment Scotland. She is in charge of the maintenance of over 30 million photographs and she came to talk to us about Erskine Beveridge, a Victorian photographer of note. Erskine was a relative of the better known Ernest Beveridge. His photographs, however, had only survived by the merest chance, having been found basically abandoned in a disused factory.
Three of our members bravely stood up in December on Members’ Night and treated us to a lovely range of interesting talks and a quiz. Vicky Fletcher, soon to publish her second book of reminiscences, talked about ‘Growing up with Yester Castle: fact and fiction.’ Gerry Urwin, also about to break into print once again, spoke upon an important Civil War soldier, General Monck. David Elder rounded off the evening with an illustrated quiz on East Lothian castles.
Our new year of 2016 began in fashionable style with a talk given by a reincarnated Cockenzie fishwife, Olive Richardson. Olive arrived in full rig and using her clothing began her talk on ‘Fishwives and fishing’. Olive’s talk was much appreciated and led to many questions from the floor. Her talk was an excellent example of social history.
We were very fortunate to obtain the services of a very busy man in February. Professor David Breeze, an authority upon all things Roman, came to talk to upon the topic of “Roman frontiers in their landscape setting.’ This proved to be a highly illustrated talk which roamed around Rome’s frontiers with a focus upon why they are where they are (influences of water, hills, trade routes, lack of water, to keep out bandits, etc.) David made the strong point that Rome’s frontiers did not mark the limit of Roman interest.
In March Liz Curtis brought the focus of our attention close to home by talking about ‘Place names of the original John Muir Way: a journey through time.’ While doing this, Liz couldn’t resist side-stepping to look at the origin of Haddington’s name and of that of the Lammermuirs. Members could only marvel at the complexity of her research and of the range of peoples involved in leaving their mark on these lands.
Our season of talks was rounded off by Peter Ramage. Peter comes from a family with a keen interest in family history and he and his relations had done a sterling job of researching the fate of one of the family. The clue lies in the title of his talk: ‘An East Lothian soldier of the Great War: August to October 1914.’ Peter’s relation was one of the unlucky members of the B.E.F. who lost their lives during the Race to the Sea, the early phase of the war of movement prior to the stagnation of the ensuing trench war. Peter linked his relation’s letters home with memoirs of others involved in the same unit. It was a very moving talk.
The society supports the website eastlothianatwar.co.uk researched largely by our Honorary President and written by myself. Progress has been slow as I have been pulled into other matters but the website still benefits from attracting interesting contributions from all over the world and is actively increasing our knowledge of East Lothian during World War Two.
Eric Glendinning is chairing a sub-group of members in a long-term (five years) project as part of the Scotland’s Urban Past project. This is examining the history of the Nungate area.
In February, our society hosted and organised an important annual congregation of interested bodies, the Heritage Gathering. Held in the Town House this attracted an audience of some sixty plus with over twenty organisations presenting displays and/or giving talks. It was a great success all round and allowed interested parties the opportunity to meet eachother and to discover what each society was up to.
Our summer outing, yet to come, is to Arniston House, near Gorebridge.
All in all, a busy, varied and interesting year.
8th May 2016
Haddington History Society 2014-15
Haddington History Society now has 106 paid up members, which largely maintains last session’s numbers. Attendance at our meetings has been anywhere from forty to twenty-two.
This was my first year as Convenor and it began with a bit of a crisis – our first speaker had fled to Portugal and there were only a couple of days to go. Local archaeologist, David Connolly, bravely stepped into the breech and entertained us mightily to a talk on recent archaeological discoveries in East Lothian, which then morphed into a highly amusing talk on archaeology and magic.
Frank Bigwood, an ex-HMI Classics Inspector, spoke in October on “The Yules of Fenton Barns” and described how the family could be described as ‘…upwardly mobile.’ He was very successful in placing the family firmly in their time, the 18th century.
Dr Andrew Coulson, at pains to explain that he was not an historian, rather an interested enthusiast, described the largely forgotten battle of Pinkie Cleugh, near Musselburgh. Andrew’s use of contemporary illustrations was super and he was very successful in highlighting the importance of this battle, however, ‘forgotten’ it may have become.
Our members didn’t let us down on Members’ Night in December and David Elder (a quiz with slides of East Lothian’s statues and plaques), Eric Glendinning (excerpts from the Yester Papers) and Jean Fairbairn (family memorabilia from World War One), all entertained us to interesting fare before members warmed their stomachs with wine and mince pies.
In January I was able to introduce members to the new website (eastlothianatwar.co.uk), a website the society supports financially. Using Powerpoint I showed that East Lothian was far from being a wartime backwater and that there was plenty of material available for a website thanks to the hard work of Jack Tully Jackson.
In February during a significant year for the character in her focus, Professor Jane Dawson from Edinburgh came to talk on her latest discoveries about the life of ‘John Knox, the man from the banks of the Tyne’. The queue of interested post talk questions was proof sufficient of the rapt involvement of members.
Sally Wilson, author of a book about Cockburnspath and the local area, came to us in March and talked about her latest book. This is entitled, ‘Lady Helen Hall – lang-heided lady’. Lady Helen lived in Dunglass and had caught the imagination of Sally when researching her book on Cockburnspath. Her husband, Ken, read excerpts from Lady Helen’s correspondence and provided wonderfully evocative illustrations of events and places referred to in Sally’s talk.
Last but by no means least, Bill Patterson, chair of the Scottish Place-Names Society, came to talk about ‘boundaries and place names of East Lothian in monastic charters’.
The Society organised two outings: the first to the John Gray Centre, where we were shown unusual maps and documents with an East Lothian theme and second to Colstoun House where some twenty members were taken on a fascinating tour of this most interesting local ‘mansion’.