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’.
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
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.