HHS Syllabus

If you are interested in joining the Society then please follow this link. 

Syllabus for 2021-22

Meetings are at 7.30pm


9th September –  Graeme Cavers: The Whitadder Project – Investigating archaeology in the Lammermuirs. this will be part of East Lothian’s Archaeology Fortnight. By zoom

21st October –     Dr Hanita Ritchie: Of Popcorn and Picture Houses: A History of Haddington Cinemas.

18th November – Andrew Kerr, Naval Historian: The Grand Fleet in the Forth – The Royal Navy in WW1

9th December –    Members’ night


20th January –     David Connolly and Hana Kdolska: Stories from Garleton: A Castle’s Tale

17th February –   John Hamilton: Lost Haddington


***Next meeting***

17th March –        Ruth Boreham, Scottish Book Trust: Mary Somerville; Queen of Science


21st April –           Emily Freeman, Treasure Trove Officer NMS: Peebles Hoard


19th May –           Outing to Thirlestane Castle, Lauder

Meet at 10am for coffee at the castle before the tour at 10.30am

Please let Vivian Hastie know if you would like to book a place.  email vivian@alderstonfarming.co.uk

Please also let Vivian know if you need a lift

Cost of coffee and tour £15 per person


We have moved to the West Church where we meet in the church itself known as The Sanctuary. Entrance is by the side door accessed by the lane which runs between Hilton Lodge and the West Church. There are no steps but the path is uneven in a few places.
The Sanctuary is set out with chairs at socially distanced either singly or in pairs. There is a regular cleaning regime according to COVID guidelines and good ventilation. A mask must be worn. Please give your name to the Treasurer, John Revuelta, at the door so that we know who has attended the meeting.  Any visitors will be asked for a £2 donation.
The Sanctuary has an induction loop if you wish to use it. There is a large screen which should be easily seen by all.



17th February 2022        Lost Haddington

Lifetime Haddington resident John Hamilton has taken on the mantle of past collectors of photographs of Haddington such as George Angus and Jack Tully-Jackson and has digitised thousands of photographs and slides plus a few videos. In his interesting and informative talk to the society he described how these photographs were originally detailed with hand written notes and a colour coding system but could now be catalogued on computer to create a searchable collection. The detail of information includes date and time of capture, place, aspect and names of people. He uses the social media platform Facebook to display these photographs and finds that the platform has many advantages over running a website. John also collects Haddington ephemera often purchasing items on ebay. He brought along a selection including beer bottles, photographs of the town taken in the 1860s, festival brochure and a local man’s war time ration book. He also collects present day items for future interest.

The computer can be used to enhance photographs and John used the example of a glass slide of Haddington Scouts taken in 1909 not long after the Scout Movement started. The slide, which is a negative could be changed to show the photograph and then the definition could be improved and colour added allowing more detail to be seen. The editing technique can also be used for other purposes and some years ago John created an April Fools photograph of the Town House with a digital clock added. Many people were taken in. In 2018 photo editing allowed John to recreate the flood of 1948. The area around The Sands and Victoria Bridge was surveyed using a theodolite and water levels marked with orange ping pong balls. The starting point was taken from a 1948 photograph showing a person standing beside the old fire station in the Sands indicating the height the water had reached. New photographs were taken and the computer used to fill these modern day photos of the street with water to the height of the balls. The water reached above the level of the ground floor windows of the Waterside Inn.

John is often contacted to answer questions about Haddington. He recently looked up photographs of the Waterside to answer a question about its frontage. A gentleman in America who had been brought up in care found information about his father who had lived in Haddington.

John has gradually been correcting a few mistakes found in the dating of photographs or anomalies between photographs and written evidence. He keeps a spreadsheet of a timeline events such as the opening of a shop or a society inauguration so that he can post relevant photographs on Facebook to commemorate anniversaries. John’s collection is not just a record of the past history of the town but is an ongoing record of events and people. He has been recording the new housing and shopping centre including footage using a drone. Restrictions and closures during the Covid pandemic were photographed and a brochure from on of the new shops put into his archive.

At the end of the talk members of the audience were able to ask to see photographs from the collection of places of particular interest to them and John was thanked not only for his talk but for the ongoing work in keeping the collection up to date.

20 January 2022             Stories from Garleton: A Castle’s Tale

In a very entertaining talk David Connolly led us through some of the complexities of the construction and history of Garleton Castle sited at East Garleton. Specifically, he had been tasked as an archaeologist to investigate a building in one corner of the site: the south west lodge. This was a substantial residence, remaining so until recent times and which long outlasted the castle tower which was allowed to fall into a ruinous state during the 18th century. The lodge now consists of a ground floor, first floor and attic space, with a stair tower (now without stairs) on the south elevation; originally it was much taller with a second floor. It seems likely that the upper floor was removed and the roof lowered and remodelled accordingly in the late 18th century under the ownership of the Wemyss and March estate.  It is likely that this was because the original roof and upper stories were in poor condition. The building was thus converted into two cottages for agricultural workers, and seems to have served this function until the early 1960s after which it was used to store farm equipment.

The ground floor rooms have vaulted ceilings and one of them contains a large fireplace. After removing a substantial depth of accumulated detritus, including rubble probably derived from the demolished upper floor, the original ground floor surfaces were exposed. Further work revealed the presence of a bread oven in a space behind the fireplace, apparently accessed from a room next door (a rather strange, not very practical set-up). Wooden stairs from the tower led to a landing above the bread oven, and remaining evidence in the building structure infers the presence of a significant space under the stairs at this location. This was probably a designed-in priest hole, not surprising in that the family who built the lodge were devout Catholics living in a time of persecution by the protestant state. Among other finds was one dating to the late 18th/early 19th centuries, an identifiable bottle and clear evidence of an illicit still. More recent artefacts found as the floor was cleared were a Babycham bottle and a couple of copies of a 1971 edition of ‘The Scotsman’!

The history and personalities associated with Garleton added life to the stone and mortar. The first definitive evidence of residence at Garleton dates from the 13th century when the lands were held by William Noble – a knight and vassal of de Vaux of Dirleton. It is likely that the dwelling at that time consisted of some kind of fortified manor, although no physical evidence of this has been uncovered on site. Similarly, although it seems highly probable from circumstantial evidence, like the Anglic name ending ‘ton’ in Garleton, that a settlement existed there from the 7th or 8th centuries (when the area was part of Northumbria) there is also a lack of physical evidence. The Nobles held the estate until the late 1300s, when it then passed fairly quickly via William Napier and the Douglas family to Sir John Towers. The Towers family also held lands around Edinburgh (their main seat was Inverleith) and gradually accumulated significant wealth and power, with its apogee under a later Sir John in the 16th century. Throughout this time, and into the later 18th century, the settlement continued to be known as Garleton Noble

Towards the end of the 16th and into the early 17th century the Towers were responsible for the construction of the castle and associated buildings, the ruins of which we see today. It seems that this branch of the Towers family was developing a power base in East Lothian. Political events around the religious unrest mid-century dropped the family into serious debt and in 1643 the property was sold to the Seton Earl of Winton. The Setons then held Garleton Noble until just after the 1715 Jacobite rebellion when it passed to Colonel Charteris of Amisfield. One or two colourful events cast light on personalities – in particular the Setons of Garleton – in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

We begin by recognising the family as devout Catholics, often at odds with the political and religious circumstances of their times. They were strong supporters of the Jacobite cause after the replacement of the Catholic James II by William of Orange and Mary in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. At that time Garleton was in the possession of Sir George Seton (2nd baronet). He was host for a time, illegally, to Jesuit members of the Scottish Mission, sent by Rome to convert protestants back to the ‘true faith’ and who may well have made use of the priest hole in the lodge house from time to time. (As it happens, the Scottish Mission was not noted for its effectiveness!!).

George’s brother John and cousin James contributed to the Jacobite subversion of the state by holding up the ‘post boy’ from Cockburnspath and stealing official dispatches from him. These Seton ‘highwaymen’ dressed in their finery and bestride horses of quality, all easily described by their victim, nevertheless felt that by wearing masks they would escape detection. Amazingly, they were caught! However when the Haddington town Bailey progressed to the kirk in due ceremony, the Town Officers marched with him. The Setons took their opportunity to escape and, for their negligence/stupidity, the Bailey and Town Officers were jailed instead.

Another story concerns Sir George himself. Married to Barbara, the daughter of another staunchly Catholic family, he conducted a long and barely concealed series of adulterous liaisons in Edinburgh with one Anna Cheisly. On Hogmanay 1704, having heard enough of this scandalous business, the Kirk Session heavies broke in on the couple, finding Sir George wearing only a night shirt and Anna rather less. This, together with many other transgressions, led Barbara to take out divorce proceedings against her errant husband – a very major undertaking for anyone then, but more especially for a Catholic. She won her case despite her husband declaring that she could not be granted a divorce because she was a Catholic!

From the late 18th century, before its refurbishment, there is the legend of a ghostly visitation to the lodge house. This was reported by one Miss Janet Hepburn a very eccentric and devout woman who lived there with a lady companion and one servant. The ‘ghost’ was an old man who entered the house through a locked outer door, had creaked his way up the wooden stairs to her room, and entered. Assuming him to be a thief she asked who he was and what he wanted, he replied “This is my native place, and I have a long history to tell you!” She did not listen further and invited him to take any valuables and leave her. Next morning nothing had been taken or disturbed and the outer door was still locked. Was it Sir George, or a dream? True or not, documentary evidence confirms occupation by Janet Hepburn and her death at Garleton in 1784.

A heartening coda to this archaeological and historical account is that work is afoot to refurbish the lodge house and return it to use as a comfortable country residence.

Peter R


18 November 2021          The Grand Fleet in the Forth – The Royal Navy in World War 1

Andrew Kerr treated us to a detailed and fascinating talk covering the range of naval actions in WW1 – those of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet (Hochseeflotte). Among the images he used were a number of very impressive works by marine artists showing the ships at sea and in action. Contemporary photographs further illustrated his talk.

  1. The British Ships.

The fleet consisted of around 160 ships which, in order of size and fire power, consisted principally of battleships, battlecruisers, cruisers and destroyers. In 1914 there were  around 50 capital ships: 35 battleships and 15 battlecruisers. All that now remains of the capital ships which survived the war are the two 15 inch guns mounted at the entrance to the Imperial War Museum; one from HMS Resolution and one from HMS Ramillies.

Battleships armaments were typically 8×15″; 14x 6″ ; 2x anti-aircraft guns. They also carried 4 submerged torpedo tubes. The 15″ guns fired a shell weighing about 880 kg ( about the weight of a car) with a range of up to 18 miles. The firing rate could be 2 rounds per minute. About 30% of the ship’s weight was armour plating.

Battlecruisers had fewer guns and less armour (20% of their weight) which meant they were significantly faster than battleships. However, they were more vulnerable when caught in enemy fire.

2. The War at Sea

The Grand Fleet was initially based at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, and in the Cromarty Firth but eventually moved south to the Forth. The German High Seas Fleet was based at Wilhelmshaven. In the first significant naval action in August 1914, a detachment of the British fleet attacked German warships in what was called the Battle of Heligoland Bight, where the German navy lost three light cruisers and had a number of other vessels severely damaged. Casualties and damage on the British side were relatively light.

In late 1914, elements of the German fleet bombarded Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby, causing significant damage and a considerable number of civilian casualties. Early in 1915 a squadron of the British fleet ambushed and chased a German flotilla, engaging them at long range. The armoured cruiser Blücher was sunk while the British battlecruiser Lion was badly damaged. The German navy learned an important lesson: to save a ship where fire threatened the magazines below the gun turrets – the threatened magazine was flooded. They then went about strengthening the armoured protection of the magazines on their ships before risking battle again. The British failed to learn this lesson.

The first and last naval action involving most of the Grand Fleet and most of the German High Seas Fleet took place 31 May/01 June 1916 – the Battle of Jutland. While it might be considered a tactical victory for the British because the German fleet never again left port until the war was over, it came at great cost. The losses on the British side greatly exceeded those of their opponents in ships and men. Three battlecruisers were lost, two of which blew up when shells penetrated their magazines. In all the British lost 14 ships and 6000 men, while the Germans lost 11 ships and 2500 men.

3. The Grand Fleet in the Forth

The battlecruiser group was the first part of the Grand Fleet to move into the Forth The ships were moored above the Forth Bridge toward Rosyth, and protected by the antisubmarine booms suspended from the bridge. When sufficient protection was in place seaward of the bridge – two sets of booms between the Lothian and Fife coasts, sufficient gun emplacements on the Forth islands – the battleships moved down from Scapa Flow. One can only imagine from this distance in time what a concentration of large warships occupied the area around the Forth Bridge. Getting in and out of the anchorage involved raising or lowering booms to let ships through, and when a squadron of battlecruisers was tasked to leave together this also involved very careful manoeuvring to avoid collision or running aground. That the anchorages were never penetrated by German ships or submarines is testament to the effectiveness of the Forth fortifications.

4. Surrender of the German High Seas Fleet

In November 1918 the cruiser HMS Cardiff left the Forth to rendezvous withe Grand Fleet 50 miles out in the North Sea. The German fleet there surrendered to the British and was then escorted, led by the Cardiff, to a temporary anchorage east of Inchkeith. The escort consisted of two lines of battleships and battlecruisers, 6 miles apart, one on each side of the German line. It included an number of French and US ships. In the Forth that day was gathered the largest concentration of warships ever seen. Within the week the German fleet raised anchor and was escorted to Scapa Flow, where it languished until June 1919 when the skeleton crews left on board carried out the secret order to scuttle. This was done to prevent the ships being appropriated by the navies of the allies. Some were left in situ and nowadays provide interesting locations for scuba divers, but the majority were raised over a number of years and scrapped.

Peter R

21 October 2021              Of Popcorn and Picture Houses: A History of Haddington Cinemas

Dr Hanita Ritchie, Archivist and Local History administrator at the John Gray Centre, delivered an entertaining talk covering the development of cinema in Scotland in general and Haddington in particular. Early beginnings in the late 19th century saw the introduction of cinematograph performances at what was called the Empire Theatre (now Festival Theatre) in Edinburgh. Many other mobile ‘cinemas’ were to be found in church halls, ice rinks, theatres and other community spaces. This was the situation throughout WW1 after which the growing popularity of film drove the construction of cinema (picture) houses in cities and towns throughout the country. The advent of ‘talkies’ from 1929/1930 further increased popular interest in cinema. The art deco style picture houses many of us remember were built during this period. During WW2 cinema was very much at the heart of public entertainment, and a major source of public information and propaganda. Its popularity continued into the 1950s and early 1960s, but audiences declined steadily over these years due at least in part to the influence of television. This led to the conversion of many cinemas, particularly provincial ones, into bingo halls. Although there was a resurgence of interest in cinema from the 1980s, with many famous Holywood ‘blockbusters’ leading the way, many of the old city cinemas were converted into multiplexes, and newly built ones conformed to this design. A very few survivors in their original form include the Cameo in Edinburgh. Many provincial old picture houses simply disappeared to make way for other developments.

This historical pattern was followed in Haddington. From the late 19th century peripatetic cinematic entertainment was to be found in public halls, church premises and so forth. Records show that the Corn Exchange was a cinema centre from 1904 (entrance 2/- or 1/6p). Similarly the Public Hall in Gifford and Forester Hall in North Berwick also served this function for a time. The main name behind the early development of Haddington Cinema in the Edwardian period and through to the early 1920s was William Cadona. In the early days he ran a ‘mobile’ cinema and rented Ball Alley from the council as a site for his set-up, for the princely sum of 30/- per week (roughly £90, modern equivalent).

In 1915 plans were put to the Council to build a picture house at Skinner’s Close on the Hardgate. The building was completed, and opened on 08 February 1918 as ‘Haddington Picture House’. The first film was ‘The Shielding Shadow’ – 2nd episode! By 1922 Codona was no longer involved in Haddington and the Picture House closed. He continued for a time with the Winton Cinema in Tranent and the Prestonpans Picture House (the ‘Scratcher’ !). Robert Scott rented the Corn Exchange from 1922, with wooden benches and piano. ‘Talkies’ made it to Haddington in 1932 at the Corn Exchange: Columbia Pictures, ‘Africa Speaks’ and ‘The Criminal Code’. In 1933 The New County Cinema opened in Hardgate on the site of the old Picture House and served until 1944 when it was destroyed by fire. The story goes that film caught fire in the projector and the burning material was removed and thrown out on to the cinema passageway.

Plans to rebuild were accepted and the replacement building retained the art deco frontage of its predecessor. It opened in 1946, the first films shown being ‘Tall in the Saddle’ (with John Wayne and Ward Bond) and ‘Belle of the Yukon’ (with Randolph Scott and Gypsy Rose Lee). In 1947 it screened the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. The cinema continued through the 1950s into the mid sixties where declining interest led to its conversion into a bingo hall in 1966. The final film shown was ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ with the cast of the Carry On series. Finally, in 1990 the cinema was demolished and replaced by the block of flats which loom over the Hardgate today.

Hanita concluded by inviting members of the audience to contribute any memories of cinema in Haddington and East Lothian, several of which were forthcoming. For example, we were reminded of the common practice at children’s matinees in the 1950s and perhaps later, to use jam jars or glass lemonade bottles as currency to buy admission.

Peter R

9th September 2021      LiDAR and the Landscape of the Lammermuirs   Graeme Cavers AOC Archaeology

On Thursday 9th September the first talk of the 2021/2022 season, which was part of East Lothian’s Archaeology Fortnight, was delivered by zoom due to COVID. Graeme Cavers of AOC Archaeology gave a presentation entitled “LiDAR and the Landscape of the Lammermuirs”

Graeme explained that the data was collected by a plane which flew over the area using GPS coordinates. Lasers attached to the plane collected data which allowed the pinpointing of objects in the landscape to an accuracy of within 10cm and often as close as 3cm. This technique allows a view of the landscape, a level of detail and identification of anomalies and objects that would be very time consuming and, in many cases, impossible to get from the ground.

The data was made available to the public who helped to scrutinise the pictures and mark places and landforms for further investigation. A survey of sheep folds and abandoned farmsteads was carried out. Areas of rig and furrow farming now abandoned were identified and the remains of forts previously unknown were noted.

Several sites were excavated to collect further information. Graeme described the work at Bunkle Castle carried out by the Bunkle and Preston History Group, the discovery of a curved wall at Morham Castle in East Lothian, a Bronze Age burial chamber near the Whitadder reservoir and a curiously shaped long narrow building which was thought to be for sheep and perhaps belonged to the monks from Kelso Abbey.


Syllabus for 2020-21

Changes subject to progress of Covid 19 Pandemic – 2020 physical meetings cancelled.


3rd December –    Tim Porteus: Is that True? – ‘historical truth’ and the role of the oral tradition     by Zoom



21st January –  Stephanie Leith (EL Archaeol Service): St Martin’s Church – New Light on an Old Ruin   by Zoom

18 February – Jenni Morrison (Addyman Archaeol): Bringing Buildings Back to life – community archaeology at Black Bull Close, Dunbar   by Zoom

18th March –  Fran Woodrow (JGC): The Marquess of Dalhousie – duty, devotion and diamonds   by Zoom

15th April –    Professor Sir Geoff Palmer: Scottish Caribbean Historical Connections   by Zoom

8th May –       Members’ Outing – postponed


Syllabus for 2019-20


5th September –  Seton Archaeological Society: Search for the lost Palace of Seton

17th October –   Gordon Barclay & Ron Morris: The most powerful naval fortress in the British Empire: the

                                                                                 fortification of the Firth of Forth, 1880-1977

21st November – Frank Bigwood: Taken to Court – a window on life in the past

5th December –   Members’ Night: Offers to give a short ten-fifteen minute talk would be welcome.



16th January –   Ian Ralston: Neolithic, Dark Age or both? A tale of eastern Scottish timber halls at Doon Hill, East                                                             Lothian and Balbridie Aberdeenshire

20th February – Ruth Fyfe: From Dear Green Place to Green Space, voices from the Glasgow overspill



16 January 2020      Neolithic, Dark Age or both? A tale of eastern Scottish timber halls at Doon Hill, East Lothian, and                                                  Balbridie, Aberdeenshire

Professor Ian Ralston entertained us with an engrossing talk on the development of interpretations of the Doon Hill archaeological remains, long thought to represent British/Anglian timber halls. Ian’s prelude to the re-interpretation of the material is as follows

“Doon Hill, at the east end of the Lothian Plain, the location of the Scottish army before the 1650 battle (Dunbar) which resulted in its defeated soldiers languishing in Durham, is still the only archaeological site anywhere in Scotland which was spotted as a cropmark from the air subsequently to be marked out in coloured concrete for the public to visit. Discovered by Dr St Joseph of Cambridge in 1959, it was dug between 1964 and 1966 by Brian Hope-Taylor, the renowned excavator of the Yeavering Anglo-British palace complex, near Wooler in Northumberland. Although the evidence was never published, Doon Hill was presented as the superimposed remains of two mid-first-millennium AD timber halls, set within a palisaded enclosure and with accompanying graves. The older hall was envisaged as indigenous British (and so Celtic), its replacement as distinctively Anglian and thus signalling the expansion of the English into Lothian in the seventh century. Around 1980, this hypothesis faced its first challenge when a major building not dissimilar to the British hall at Doon Hill was dug in Kincardineshire and – despite doubts then vociferously expressed – eventually demonstrated incontrovertibly to be well over four thousand years older. Sixty years after its initial discovery, how should Hope-Taylor’s site on Doon Hill now be interpreted?”

The older hall (Hall A) was around 24 metres long and about 12metres wide, represented by a post hole outline. It had been burned down and, not long after, a new, smaller hall (Hall B) was constructed within the footprint of the old one. There were features of Hall B  which were interpreted to resemble those of the undoubtedly Anglo/British hall at Yeavering, previously excavated and described by Hope-Taylor. Hence the Dark Ages date, and the suggestion that the two halls represented the earlier British one (Hall A) which was burned down and perhaps replaced by the Anglic Hall B around the time the Northumbrian/Bernician Angles were expanding their territory into southern Scotland.

Although he presented, in the late 1960s, an ITV television programme on the Doon Hill site, showing maps of the excavated features, Hope-Taylor did not publish his findings in detail in academic papers (see above). The original evidence from the dig was retained in his possession and was not made available in its entirety to his peers. On Hope-Taylor’s death in 2001, the release of his papers allowed a searching re-analysis. Meanwhile, in the second half of the 1970s, Ian Ralston, then at the University of Aberdeen, and his colleagues conducted an archaeological dig on the remains of a hall, of similar structure to Hall A, at Balbridie. It had many features in common with the Doon Hill Hall, and was expected to be a Pictish edifice, also dating to the Dark Ages (say 500 – 700 AD). However, charcoal from the post holes was carbon dated to around 3,800 BC – the early Neolithic. This rather set the cat among the archaeological community pigeons! Various reasons were proposed to explain this “misleading” data in an effort to support a Dark Age date. However, the matter was conclusively resolved by radiocarbon dates for ancient cereal grains found on site which confirmed that the hall was Neolithic.

So what now for the Doon Hill Halls? The site data held by Hope-Taylor was not quite as clearcut as he had presented, with significant doubt over the features of the smaller hall which had been ascribed to the Anglian period. In addition, more recent radiocarbon dating, and identification of pottery sherds, placed both Hall A and Hall B firmly in the Neolithic period at around 3000 to 3800 BC. Hence from a progression of interpretations from Hall A as Dark Age British and Hall B a later but still Dark Age Anglian construction, to Hall A being neolithic and Hall B Anglian, we reach the current situation in which the evidence points to both being Neolithic. This says much for the skills of an ancient people: making large, squared posts from tree trunks using stone tools, and building a large, complex buildings. The context is a continuum of ancient British constructions requiring sophisticated techniques, like Scara Brae in Orkney (dated to 3000 – 3500 BC) and Stonehenge (dating between 2000 – 3100 BC, although there is evidence for earlier wooden structures).

Peter R

21 November 2019   Taken to Court: a Window on Life in the Past

Based on his work of many years at the National Records Office, Frank Bigwood distilled some of the minutae of our social history from Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court records covering the period from the early 18th to the mid 19th centuries (approximately). He was clear that he would not be looking at legal matters, but on what light the information available to the courts could shed on life back then. He divided his talk into five main sections: Local Happenings; Clothing; Food; Drink; Transport.

Local Happenings

Disturbances or riots at Linton Market were a sadly regular feature. One case involved itinerant sheep shearers from outside the county inciting the locals to join them at the hirings in demands for better wages. Agricultural workers were relatively poor and their employment was quite precarious, hence continuing tensions over wages and conditions. We learned of the tradition of wedding guests, and no doubt others, firing guns and blocking the couple’s chimneys to greet the entry of the newly weds into their new abode – activities which could readily get out of control. The reported incident was from Prestonpans. Other cases highlighted an underground assault in Tranent Colliery; a ‘plundered’ shipwreck at Cockenzie (wrecks were regular occurrence around the coast, and reflected the large numbers of ships of all sizes involved in trade up and down the east coast); derailment of a waggon at Portobello Farm in 1843 ( a few years before railways proper were laid here) referenced the Tranent to Cockenzie waggonway carrying coal from the mines to the coast for export (stones laid on the line by a miscreant/miscreants, to see what might happen); theft of three shirts from a hedge in Humbie (hedges were widely used for drying laundry) which apparently belonged to a notable Greek person, guest of the local gentry.


From cases involving the theft of clothes from hedges and so forth, we learned something of the clothing typical of the time. The range and quantity of clothing were considerable. The theft of a pair of trousers made from Genoa cloth is an early example of a pair of ‘jeans’. The absence of underwear from any of the clothing lists was not accidental: underwear was not generally worn.


From itemised shopping bills (cases of failure to pay), it seems that people ate much more meat than is the case now. Mutton and beef (including salt beef) were the main components. From the grocer one could purchase tea at 8/- per pound (very expensive), ‘aqua vitae’ (whisky) bought by the gallon (per month), short bread, rolls, soap, starch.

Coffee was very expensive indeed and well outside the budgets of ordinary people. However, even farm servants could get some from smugglers.

There was no sign of fruit in any of the lists. Scottish diet?


Whisky, tea and coffee have already been mentioned. It seems that the main drink quaffed by everyone was ale, and many families brewed for their own consumption. Malt was purchased and used to make wort, subsequently fermented into ale. Clashes with the law occurred with some frequency given that, often, ale was made surplus to family needs and sold on. Customs duty was payable on any ale sold on and there are many examples of revenue fraud cases. For example 92 (ninety two) people were arraigned in one day in the 18th century. In one example more than 40 gallons of wort were concealed below straw in a barn and, in another, the wort was concealed under a stair.


Apparently stage coach races between Tranent and Haddington (coaches from Edinburgh going south) were common, and accidents led to the courts. The law determined the maximum number of people permitted to travel on top of a coach – a law often flouted. A case involving the Marquis of Tweedale illustrates the power of the aristocracy over common people at the time. On losing a wheel on his coach from Haddington to Gifford one night, he demanded the immediate attention of a local blacksmith to carry out the repair. The blacksmith was in bed for the night, and refused to get up and do Tweedale’s bidding. The end result was a court case in which the blacksmith was found guilty of a number of misdemeanours , one of which was ‘being inhumane’, and had to serve time!

From the 1600s, roads became the responsibility of Justices of the Peace who could require property owners to supply ‘statute’ labour to the tune of 6 days unpaid per year for road maintenance. County Councils were formed in the later 19th century and took over responsibility for roads. Meantime the Turnpike Acts introduced a fee paying mechanism for the use of roads, with the institution of tolls and toll houses. Avoidance of tolls was common, with legal consequences, as was seen frequently in the East Lothian courts. Another change in the 18th Century, originating in East Lothian and concerning agricultural improvements, involved the loss of the rig system and the introduction of field enclosure. This led to the diversion of a number of routes which used to follow rigs – a case at Athelstaneford involved locals complaining that the land owner had ‘removed’ their ‘road’ to the kirk. The enclosures required the re-routing of roads to get round them, often seen in the sharp, sometimes right angle, bends which feature on some of our country roads today.

Peter R


17 October 2019

The most powerful naval fortress in the British Empire:  fortification of the Firth of Forth, 1880-1977

No report. PR not present

05 September 2019        Search for Seton Palace

In a fitting contribution to the East Lothian Archaeology and Local History Fortnight, three of four Port Seton metal detectorists, who are also keen amateur historians and archaeologists, served up a very entertaining and informative presentation of their work on the ‘lost’ Seton Palace. The team name came into being when, after following up permission to do some metal detecting in the grounds of Seton Castle, the four locals discovered rather more than they expected and, with further permission from the owner were given a short time to carry out a ‘dig’ on the soon to be re-laid front lawn. They chose the name Seton Archaeological Society (SAS, of course!).

Gordon Neil summarised the fascinating and often unfortunate history of the powerful and influential Seton family. The Setons were prominent in Scottish political affairs from 12th until the 18th century. Sir Christopher Seton attended Robert Bruce’s coronation at Scone in 1306 but, following the Battle of Methven, he was captured by the English and, of course, brutally executed in London. His brother Sir Alexander Seton was a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath. Later he was governor of Berwick when it surrendered to the English in 1333. In the course of the wars with England, Sir Alexander lost 3 sons. His grandson Willian was created the first Lord Seton in 1371. The 5th Lord Seton died at Flodden with James IV. George, the 7th Lord Seton, supported Mary Queen of Scots becoming Privy Councillor and Master of the Household. The queen was a frequent visitor to Seton Palace. On her last visit the marriage contract between Mary and Bothwell was. The Setons’ power continued into the reign of James VI when Alexander Seton was made Lord President of the Court of Session and then later became Chancellor of Scotland. Seton Palace remained the family seat until the Jacobite rising of 1715 when George Seton, 5th Earl of Winton, a staunch supporter of the failed Jacobite cause, had his palace and estates confiscated. The palace fell into a state of ruin and was demolished in 1789, to be replaced, under new ownership, by a Robert Adam designed mansion using much of the stone from the old palace – essentially the Seton Castle of today. The castle was commissioned by the first owner, Lt Colonel Alexander Mackenzie, and in due course passed to the Earls of Wemyss and March who held it until the early 21st century. It is currently owned by Steven Leach and was put on the market recently, asking offers over £8 million.

Billy Campbell then took the floor to explain the background to the group’s interest. The uneven nature of the old lawn had caught their attention and they wondered if this might have anything to do with the previous structure on the site – Seton Palace. An old illustration of the palace encouraged this view. After a meeting over coffee with Mr Leach, permission to excavate was obtained. This had a restricted timescale because the area was to be levelled with a new topsoil prior to relaying the lawn. They had 6 months starting in the October, for a team who could only work part-time! It did help that Gordon Neil applied for, and got, the job of caretaker.

Frank Chambers then took us through the work from test pits to a much fuller investigation. With the aid of aerial photographs taken from a drone and more traditional ones at ground level we gained a clear understanding of the progress of the work and the structural details uncovered. At all times the team were guided by advice and support from the East Lothian Archaeology Service and professional archaeologists. However, SAS planned the digs and did the work, painstakingly removing tons of earth and rubble to reveal elements of the old palace. In the process they unearthed human remains which introduced a 6 week hiatus while official investigations were made – fortunately showing that the remains were not recent. The skull and some bones, with many artifacts uncovered on site have been placed with the relevant authorities. Of note was a discarded stoneware container found in the bottom of a latrine drain. Did it contain brandy? Was it the hair of the dog after the night before? Speculation, of course, but perhaps we were seeing something of the behaviour of one of the workers.

Work on the site first uncovered wall bases, one of which was excavated back to the foundations of the west turret – one of the turrets of the original palace. Further excavations revealed part of the south wall and the east turret which match old depictions of the palace as it was in its prime.  A drain and a latrine (see above), flagstone flooring and door checks were found, together with the hint of a spiral staircase. Inside part of a room behind the west turret amongst the rubble the team found pieces of beautiful plasterwork which would have adorned the ceiling. It was very similar in quality and style to existing plasterwork in Winton House (also property of the Seton family at the time). A prize find for the team was a piece of glass bottle carrying the Seton seal.

At this point, time was up, and the site was covered, levelled and the new lawn made. SAS would now like to excavate the site of the old hamlet of Seton Toun nearby, and hope to gain the necessary permission from the new owners of the castle. Currently they are developing this as a community project.

Peter R


11 May 2019      Members’ Outing: Berwick upon Tweed

On a dry but cool day with some sun,  21 members under the guidance of Jim Herbert were given a tour of the Elizabethan walls in the morning and, after lunch, visited the Town and Military Museums at the Barracks. Knowledgeable, with a wealth of interesting stories, Jim proved to be an excellent guide and managed the group and his delivery very well indeed. Two photographs from David Haire reflect the day’s experience. Jim is the big chap in the hat.


18 April 2019     Rosslyn Chapel: Past, Present and Future

Ian Gardner, Director of Rosslyn Chapel Trust, delivered a comprehensive and very enjoyable talk on this remarkable chapel. Conceived as a family chapel by Sir William St Clair (Sinclair) in the mid 15th century, the building was founded in 1446 and construction continued for about 40 years. By 1484, at the time of Sir William’s death, the structure was essentially as we see it today. It is incomplete! Sir William’s intention seems to have been to extend the chapel westwards, creating a nave and transepts, but his death brought work to a halt. His descendants lacked either the funds or the will to complete it. The west wall clearly was never intended to be an outer wall, having features which identify it as internal in structure. During the Reformation the alter was destroyed and the the chapel fell into disuse. In the 17th century, Cromwell sacked Rosslyn castle  nearby, but spared the chapel, using it as stabling for his horses. Stained glass windows were first introduced in the 18th century and the chapel was visited and commented upon by Dorothy Wordsworth and Robert Burns. Walter Scott, however,through his popularity as a novelist and poet,raised the profile of the chapel nationally when he included it in ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’. Visitors here increased as a result, reflecting Scott’s reputation as the founder of the Scottish tourist industry. A visit by Queen Victoria in 1842 amply reinforced Scott’s earlier influence. The chapel was then re-dedicated in 1862 as a place of worship and has served ever since as an Episcopalian church.

Built of local sandstone, including the roof, the chapel gradually began to show signs of wear and tear mainly due to the ingress of water through the porous stone. Serious conservation efforts were undertaken in the 1950s by the Ministry of Works, involving sealing the inside surfaces with a thin layer of cement. However, although this was considered best practice at the time, it could not prevent further deterioration. Trapped moisture encouraged the growth of green algae in the roof and led to further deterioration. Thus in 1997 the Rosslyn Chapel Trust began an extended programme of work to protect and restore the building. A large open canopy was constructed to cover the chapel and to allow the stonework to dry out slowly and naturally. Work continued to repoint the stonework and to renovate and restore some of the intricate carvings inside, assisted by a large Heritage Lottery Fund Grant. In the mid 2000s Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, featuring Rosslyn Chapel, and a film followed. As a result, visitor numbers climbed from a few thousand per year to over 150,000! The restoration project, with a modern and well conceived Visitor Centre was completed in 2012.

Community involvement in the project has been very significant. For example, the local primary school each year provides pupils willing to train up (and dress up in suitable medieval costume) to act as guides for tourists. This has been an extremely successful and popular development which the children obviously enjoy.

The development of the nearby Castle, and of an old Inn next to the chapel,for self catering holiday accommodation provides a steady income for the Trust and so will continue to fund maintenance work for the foreseeable future.

Ian’s comprehensive exposition then took us on a visual and verbal trip around the internal structures and carvings, including the famous ‘Apprentice Column’ and the stories/myths associated with this and with the chapel as a whole.

I conclude by commending the Rosslyn Chapel website as an excellent source of detailed information well worth looking up.

Peter R


21 March 2019     The History and Archaeology of the 1722 Waggonway and Cockenzie Salt Pans

Ed Bethune described the history of the Waggonway from its origins and heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, to its final demise.  Originally, a wooden railway was constructed to transport coal the 2.5 miles or so from the mines around Tranent to Cockenzie Harbour and Port Seton. Some coal was used to fuel the salt pans furnaces, while the rest was exported by sea. The railway relied on gravity to run the loaded coal wagons downhill to the coast, and horses were used to pull the empty wagons back up again. The trackway runs through the site of the Battle of Prestonpans and, in 1745, the government forces made use of the cover provided by its embankments. Over time the Waggonway was extended, relaid with cast iron rails and with passing places. Generally there were three trips a day carrying coal to the coast. Passengers included someone to operate the brakes on the wagons as required, and a horse in a trolley attached to the back of the wagon train, for the return journey. After its redesign by Robert Stevenson, completed in 1833, Cockenzie Harbour had then been equipped with sets of unloading devices which tilted wagons forward to send coal down chutes into the waiting ships. In the mid 19th century, with the construction of the East Coast railway line, it became more economical to transport the coal by rail. The Waggonway continued to operate until around 1880 delivering coal to mainline railway wagons. At this time the old Waggonway, south of the main line, was replaced by a direct connection, and coal trains were then pulled by steam engines to Leith. The northern section of the Waggonway had been disused since the middle of the century and had been to some extent dismantled and the remnants covered up.

It is these remnants that the 1722 Waggonway Heritage Group was formed to explore. Archaeology work became a community project under the guidance of Ed Bethune and his colleagues. Work began in 2017 at the harbour and has since uncovered the remnants of rail trackway, turntables and loading devices. Old photographs, perhaps among the earliest photographs of any kind, reveal the layout of Stevenson’s Cockenzie Harbour and show the coal ships, trackway, wagons and coal loading structures. The heritage team with the local community have been able to locate the remains of many of the Waggonway features seen on the photographs. They have also constructed a full-size replica of a coal wagon seen in one of the photographs. In addition to the Waggonway work, the team has also been engaged in a study of the ‘salt houses’ and the seawater reservoirs cut into the rocks just below high tide level, used as a source of supply. When the tide receded, sea water was bucketed into a sluice which supplied the salt pans in the salt houses. Many of us are aware of another ‘replica’ constructed by the team – a working model of a salt pan, used to produce small amounts of salt. Small packets are sold to help fund the ongoing work.

Ed finished his talk by looking forward to the next phase of their work, which includes obtaining permission to excavate part of the trackway, now a public footpath/cycle path, which crosses the Prestonpans battle site.

Peter R


21 February 2019     Horrid Haddington

Based on her work on the Haddington Council minutes, East Lothian Council archivist Fran Woodrow provided us with an entertaining look at examples from the late medieval to early modern periods, reflecting Haddington’s sometimes murky past. Fran began with a description of the source of town stink typical of the time. Household waste and excrement were heaped in middens outside each dwelling, pigs and other livestock freely roamed the town, the local tanning industry flourished pongingly on cattle skins steeped in human urine, the by products of slaughter and butchery ran in the gutters or festered on yet more open middens and, in addition to this somewhat lax attention to public health, personal hygiene was attended to, if at all, at the most basic level. A crowded marketplace, especially on a warm day, would have been something of a trial to our modern sensibilities! When the atmosphere became too malodorous, or a visit by the great and the good was in the offing, the council ordered middens to be cleared.

Thus to disease and, in particular, plague. The latter was, not surprisingly, a source of considerable concern to the town council. There were some outbreaks over the the period, although the council and inhabitants spent more time in fear of outbreaks and trying to prevent them than in coping with the actuality. Measures involved such things as expelling all pigs (not the rats and their fleas which might have been a better move in the light of later understanding of plague transmission) and ‘strangers’ from the town, and preventing the entry of travellers and merchants from outside the town during times when the plague was ravaging other parts of the country. With the occurrence of outbreaks in the town, there is little mention in the council minutes of the ‘plague doctors’ typically employed at the time, although there must have been some. Think of men wearing long cloaks, pointed hats and faces covered in leather masks with large attachments like giant beaks. No doubt houses with plague were isolated to some extent, with regular visits to check on the numbers infected, and calls to “pit oot yer deid” (for immediate and communal burial).

And now to religion and persecution. The town is famous as the birthplace of John Knox who was one of the prime movers of the Scottish Reformation, and an adversary of Mary Queen of Scots. The persecution of alleged witches features in the minutes,especially with the hysteria associated with James VI and the North Berwick ‘witches’. The oldest accused, Agnes Sampson, came from Humbie but lived in Haddington. She and several others, including men, were tortured cruelly to extract confessions, and then burned at the stake. Persecutions of this kind continued into the early 18th Century in Scotland and, doubtless, Haddington made its own contribution.

Crime and punishment naturally feature in the council minutes. The stocks, pillory, ‘scolds bridle’, imprisonment or hanging were the usual options, even for what we see today as very minor misdemeanors, all providing free public entertainment. The pillory served as a restraint for flogging, branding the face, nailing the ears to the boards, and so forth. Banishment was often a preferred option (cheaper, and making the miscreant someone else’s problem) but came with the caveat that unauthorised return could mean hanging. In Haddington, public executions were conducted at the Sands for a time, perhaps using the hook still attached to the nearer arch of the Nungate Bridge, and of course was an unfailing source of entertainment for the populace.

While Haddington was torched by invading English armies on several occasions, accidental fires were an ever-recurring problem for many centuries. Most buildings were of wooden construction and very close together. People could be careless with their domestic fires! The council minutes have many entries concerning fires and produced rules to ensure that folk took due precautions. The town cryer would announce these from time to time, and it was expected that the curfew bell at end of day would not only be a signal to remain at home but also be a prompt to ensure domestic fires were made safe before bed. Entries referencing fires declined into the 19th century and thereafter, as an ever increasing proportion of buildings were constructed from brick or stone.

Interestingly, although the siege of Haddington in 1548/49 was the longest in Scottish history, council minutes of the time apparently don’t exist. Perhaps the worthy burgesses were more concerned with keeping in good favour with the English occupiers, or just keeping their heads down, to have minuted council meetings.

Fran’s work on the council minutes still has much to reveal, and we can look forward to hearing more in future. The public are welcome to visit the John Gray Centre Archive and Local History Centre and browse the information there. Be aware, though, interpreting the old documents is a skill you would need to develop.

Peter R


17 January 2019     Alchemy, Seaweed and Bottles – the early Scottish glass industry along the East Lothian coast

Former Conservator and Collections Care manager at the National Museum of Scotland, Helen Spencer, is an  archaeological scientist with a particular interest in stained glass. Helen first set the scene by explaining, in a very accessible way for non-scientists, glass industry through the ages. Glass is basically melted and solidified sand. However, sand has a melting temperature far greater than anything the only available source of heat in earlier historical times – wood or charcoal- can achieve. Glass making appears to have arisen in the Middle East around 2500 BC when it was discovered that mixing sand with naturally occurring alkaline salts of potassium (nitrum), or sodium (natron) gave a mixture that would melt at temperatures created by wood fires. The solidified product is glass. Other sources of the alkali components included wood ash, and other vegetation. The Egyptians were the first civilisation to make extensive use of glass. The technique was in due course adopted by the Greeks and Romans.

It was discovered very early in its history that various additives could produce glass of different colours. These additives could be minerals containing manganese, copper, iron and so forth, or even metal shavings of brass or bronze. Herein is the origin of the stained glass used for jewellery and windows. While nowadays we have a detailed understanding of the chemistry of glass and its components, historically this was not the case and much was achieved through trial and error, with the creation of ‘recipes’ for various qualities and colours of glass.

In Britain the original glass industry, post Roman occupation, was based on recycled glass obtained from various sources. The manufacture of glass from raw materials was a much later development in the Medieval period. However, for much of this period, recycling remained an important part of the glass industry. In East Lothian the basic raw materials were available in abundance: sand from the coast, seaweed as a source of alkaline salts, and coal as a better fuel than wood. The first records of glass manufacture here date from the later 17th century and continued into the mid-18th century. Morrison’s Haven near Prestongrange was one of several glass-making sites between Musselburgh and Port Seton. The process was carried out in tall cone -shaped kilns called Glass Cones, which, standing around 25 metres tall, would have been striking features of the coastal landscape.

Helen explained how chemical analysis of glass samples could determine the recipe used in its manufacture, and could even pin down the likely geographical origin of the raw materials. For example, the high strontium content of some East Lothian glasses  is evidence for the use of seaweed as the alkaline component in these cases. She also gave some insights into how the finished products were made. These all involved glass blowing. In this way glass bottles were made and, for window glass, blown elongated tubes could be cut along one side and allowed to fold out flat, or flattened discs were made with rapid spinning of the blow pipe. Glass making and glass types were explored further following the talk, as Helen dealt confidently with the many questions posed by members of the audience.

Peter R


15 November 2018    Ship to Shore – an assemblage of reused ship’s timbers in MacArthur’s Store, Dunbar

Maritime archaeologist Dr Dan Atkinson, currently Director of Coastal and Marine with Wessex Archaeology, introduced us to the fascinating topic of old ships’ timbers, the ways in which they were recycled both in ship repair and in the construction of buildings, and what they could tell us about the ships they came from. He set the scene with a shipright’s workshop at Chatham where an archaeological survey had revealed a layer of ship’s timbers under the existing floor. Even more interesting was the story of the Chesapeake, an American vessel captured by the British which, after service with the Royal Navy, was broken up around 1820 and the timbers used in the construction of the Chesapeake Mill in Wickham, Hants. The width of the building was constrained by the length of the ship’s decking timbers used for the floor, with the result that the frontage reflects the original width of the Chesapeake.

Turning to Dunbar, MacArthur’s Store, next to the Cromwell Harbour, was subject to archaeological survey as part of a restoration project by Dunbar Harbour Trust. The original building was constructed in the late 1650s and was used as a granary (Spott’s Girnell) and for other purposes later. Around 1800 the floors, of what had become a building of three stories, were strengthened by the insertion of vertical props. The props were recycled ship’s timbers which, documentary investigation suggested, came from a particular 18th century Scottish merchant ship. They are a very rare survival, probably the only ones in Scotland from that period of history.

Dan took us through some of the features of some of the props which allowed their position in the ship’s decking to be inferred. With others, he showed how mast sections could be identified from, for example the positions of metal collars (long gone) and evidence of various wooden additions, wedges for example.

Work which remains to be done includes dendrochronology to determine the age of the wood in the timbers, which would make it possible to deduce when the parent trees were felled. This could relate to the date at which the original merchant ship was constructed. There is also some recently discovered (rediscovered!) documentary evidence relating to the building work at MacArthur’s Store in the early 19th century still to be closely studied. Dan brought along the original for us to see.

Peter R


18 October 2108     Leaving Nothing but the Plague: The Survivor’s Guide to the Siege of Haddington

Jon Cooper treated us to an enthusiastic and entertaining presentation on the development of 16th century warfare and its relevance to the siege of Haddington 1548/49. War,famine, disease and, of course, death are represented by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, all of which were visited upon Haddington during the time of the ‘rough wooing’. Scottish armies were raised from the able 16-60 yr olds in and around each burgh by a process which laid an obligation to serve for a period of 60 days, supplying one’s own food, weapons and armour. Refusal to serve, or absconding from the army later, resulted in a fine, or worse. However, there were ways around military service which a lucky few were able to exploit. This meant that relatively poorly trained, amateur, soldiery would have entered the field of battle, accompanied by relatively few, more experienced, commanders. Increasing the efficiency of the army involved the hire of professional soldiers (mercenaries), generally from Europe where many such experienced soldiers had plied their trade over many years and wars, in the service of anyone who could pay. Thus, present at Haddington were the Scots and English levies together with mercenaries of various nationalities, in particular French, Spanish and German. Haddington had been taken by the English who, with the aid of Spanish and some German mercenaries held the town against besieging Scots and French.

Jon took us on a somewhat blood-thirsty trip through the history of weaponry from the pike and halberd, through primitive guns and artillery, to the development of standardised and more reliable guns and artillery by the time of the siege of Haddington. Audience volunteers were induced to assist in demonstrations of pike usage, a chair being co-opted as a ‘horse’. Guns and artillery, however, were not in evidence, although descriptions of their effects on a massed group were graphically described to our suitably ranked assembly!

As to the siege, the town was defended by earthworks and artillery, and attacked by artillery and attempts, mainly by the French mercenaries, to take the town by storm. Meanwhile, the defenders and civilians inside suffered shortages of food and facilities to effectively deal with the injured and the sick. Disease, therefore, became a serious problem. With the failure to penetrate the defences over a period of many months, the Scots levies drifted away and the French decamped to Edinburgh (where, apparently, they made much mischief until banished to Leith)! The English then evacuated the town, and the siege was essentially over, with no significant political or military gain after more than a year. Haddington was then left to recover from the ravages of famine and disease and for the community to rebuild in the years following. Interestingly, the Haddingtonians were more comfortable with the English in charge than they would have been with the French mercenaries had the siege been successfully concluded (letters to Mary of Guise). They were, therefore, more supportive of the occupiers than one might expect of an invaded population.

Jon left us with an interesting thought – that although it is well known that Haddington prior to the siege had been a very prominent and politically very important Scottish burgh, after the siege it entered a long period of decline to become just another small, rural market town of little significance in the affairs of state. The town, therefore, never recovered its prominence after the events of the 16th century.

Peter R


19 April 2018         East Lothian Castles and the Ladies

Chris Tabraham, formerly Principal Historian for Historic Scotland, entertained us with a talk on the status of women in medieval castles. As a general rule, the wife of a powerful Lord led a somewhat sequestered life managing the household, and was in sole charge during his Lordship’s extended absences. He looked after business in often far-flung and large estates, attended court and travelled with the king around his realm, engaged in other matters of politics and, very likely, in armed conflicts of various sorts. For much of the year the Lord was not in residence. Other women of the establishment had clearly defined roles under the control of her Ladyship, and there were relatively few to deal with: her own personal retinue of maids of the bedchamber and suchlike, probably women of good family. Generally the Lady would work with the castle Steward (male, of course) to oversee the functions of the rest of the establishment – virtually all male. Fundamentally the role of the Lady in the medieval period was to look after her Lord’s domestic needs and to procreate.

Domestic arrangements were quite curious to our modern eye. The Lord and Lady typically had separate bedchambers to which they had access through their own doors. The two rooms often had a linking passageway or door allowing direct access between them. Although the Lady’s bedchamber tended to be the more modest, both were used for socialising and for private meetings with visitors of all sorts. At night, of course, they would be used for sleep and, doubtless, for love.

Although the Lady would be in charge for the long stretches of her husband’s absence, any small children would tend to spent much of their time with nurses and older male children would often be sent elsewhere for their education and knightly training. Hence the domestic duties of the Lady did not seem to involve the children to any great extent.

There were, of course, exceptions to the general invisibility of the Lady. Our own Countess Ada, wife of Prince Henry, heir to the Scottish throne until his death in the mid 12th century, was a powerful woman who was responsible for the creation of Haddington’s Cistercian Convent and who held in her own right, as part of her marriage settlement, large tracts of land in East Lothian and Fife. It is very probable that she and Price Henry lived in a substantial castle, or palace, which once dominated Haddington from the vicinity of the Pleasance. Management of this would also have been her responsibility. With Prince Henry’s early death, and the death of David 1 shortly afterwards, Ada’s sons became successive Kings of Scots. Therefore, as mother to Malcolm IV and William I (the Lion), Countess Ada would have been a powerful and influential presence at court.

Another East Lothian Lady of note was (Black) Agnes, Countess of Moray, wife of Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and March, who saw off the English army besieging Dunbar Castle in 1338. She had been left in charge of the defence of the castle with only a few men at arms while her husband was away fighting in England. Her success, and her mockery of the English are well known. Two incidents in particular come down to us: her maids dusting the battlements after they were struck by rocks from the English catapults, and her loudly advertised ‘gift’ to the English commander of a freshly baked loaf with some good wine to demonstrate how well supplied the Scots were.

In the transition from the medieval period to early modern in the 16th and 17th centuries, things began to change, with the castle or, increasingly, great house, becoming much more of a home for the whole family. However, the division of labour between Lord and Lady remained much the same, and the household remained very much a male dominated hierarchy right through to the 20th century, when war, universal suffrage, death duties and social change saw the demise (well, mostly!) of this privileged sector of society.

Peter R

15 March 2018      Catherine Blair and the SWRI

Dr Hanita Ritchie of the John Gray Centre delivered this very timely and appropriate talk only one week after the celebration of International Womens Day on 08 March. Born Catherine Shields in 1872 to a farming family in Bathgate, West Lothian, Catherine was a pupil at Bathgate Academy, the local grammar school. She was a bright, academically gifted pupil who from her early years developed a strong sense of fairness and devotion to the idea of a fully democratic society, inclusive of women (not the prevailing view at this time). In 1894 she married Thomas Blair who farmed at Hoprig Mains near Gladsmuir. They had 4 children together, the responsibilities for whom kept Catherine Blair from being a militant member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. However, she was a dedicated suffragette and supported the WSPU by writing innumerable letters to the press, and chairing local meetings in East Lothian. She also played a role, with the full support of her husband, in helping to defeat the aims of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. This Act required that suffragettes released from prison for medical reasons (eg. effects of hunger strike) under licence should voluntarily return to prison when the licence term was concluded. They tended not to do so and, to avoid re-arrest, many were given refuge (hidden) by sympathisers. Catherine certainly participated in this to some degree.

With the onset of the First Wold War, Catherine then turned to other things for the benefit of women. The driving force was the need she perceived to give ordinary women interests and social opportunities outwith the home to which most were closely bound. This resulted in the foundation of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI) at Longniddry in 1917. Other local branches formed fairly quickly – Macmerry, Tranent and then Haddington(January 1919)- followed by country-wide developments. The success of the SWRI (now SWI) down the years is testament to Catherine’s determination and vision.

The application of Catherine’s artistic interests, and her ceaseless campaigning for the development of rural industries and other initiatives designed to harness the potential of women, led to the foundation of the Mak’Merry Pottery studio (Macmerry) in 1919. It was essentially set up as a womens’ cooperative, linked to the SWRI, with members bringing their own designs to life with clay and paint (although Catherine always referred to herself as “the heid painter”). Catherine saw this not only as a an outlet for creativity but also a means to provide employment and income for poorer women. The pottery became very popular during the interwar years and is now very collectable. It’s popularity in the 1930’s was underpinned by Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) when she ordered Mak’Merry crockery at the 1933 Highland Show.

Thomas Blair gave up the farm in 1932 and he and Catherine retired to North Berwick. A new Mak’Merry studio was set up there and functioned until the outbreak of the Second World War. Catherine continued her advocacy of women’s issues and support for initiatives benefitting women for the remainder of her life. She died in North Berwick in 1946.

Peter R

15 February 2018    “On Gladsmuir shall the battle be”

Arran Johnston, founder of the Scottish Battlefields Trust, delivered an excellent, well received talk on the Battle of Prestonpans. The talk was based on his book of the above title which is the most comprehensive study yet of this famous encounter between the government forces under Lieutenant General Sir John Cope and the Jacobite army in 1745. The rout of the government forces is well known, and provided material for the taunting lyric of ‘Hey Johnnie Cope’,  composed by the Haddington-born Adam Skirving.

Peter R

18 January 2018     The Kingis Yard (Haddington)

In a very interesting talk Helen Robertson made the case for the presence of a mediaeval royal residence by the Tyne, near St Mary’s Church. She was intrigued by some documents relating to work she had begun on Haddington House, the contents of which which led her to delve more deeply into the mediaeval period.

Helen’s research concerned an area known as the Kingis Yard (King’s Yard, King’s Yaird, Kingis Yaird) mentioned in charters and other legal documents relating to 12th century Haddington. The King’s Yard was in the area now occupied by the Pleasance and the north side of St Mary’s graveyard, bounded by Lady Kitty’s Garden and Ball Alley on the east and the King’s Wall (along the edge of modern day Sidegate), on the west. Nearby to the north was a Franciscan Friary. The evidence suggests the presence of a royal residence on the site, perhaps a manor house rather than a palace, close to the original parish church. The latter is thought to have been positioned approximately on the site of St Mary’s chancel. The relationship to David I, but in particular to his daughter-in-law Ada (de Warenne), was explored as far as documentation would allow.

Some examples of documents were used to illustrate the talk. Often extremely difficult to read with the modern eye, Helen was fortunate to have the help of experts with the ability to read the handwriting and to translate from the original Latin. The historical importance of modern Haddington, with the mediaeval town layout still largely intact, was discussed. The route from the east end of High Street to the parish church via Church Street, the Sands and Lady Kitty’s Garden remains much the same as it was in the 12th century. When we walk that route today we walk almost exactly in the footsteps of our ancestors who have used the way from town to church for at least 900 years.

Peter R

16 November 2017      Maps of East Lothian

Craig Statham gave us a fascinating and very informative talk on the use of the maps catalogue held by the National Library of Scotland, in the contexts of local history and genealogy. There are currently around 200,000 maps, mostly of Scotland, available to search on the website (maps.nls.uk), and increasing by several thousand per year. The maps are from the very earliest in the 16th century (Forlani and Pont), through the complete and very detailed coverage of Scotland by William Roy in the 18th century, up to the present day. Highly detailed, systematic mapping using large scales began with the Ordnance Survey in the mid 19th century, with the introduction of the first editions of 25 inch and 6 inch to the mile maps. The map collection is classified into a large number of different categories, some of which are included here as a ‘starter’ for those who might wish to develop or enhance some research with them:

Estate plans; Farm maps; Piers and Harbours (many from Stevenson family, not yet online); OS 25 inch and 6 inch from mid 19thC on; Comparison maps (same area, different times); Industry; Mining; Gardens; Public Buildings; Land Utilisation; Goad plans (occupants of properties, beginning 1950s); WW1 trench maps; Admiralty charts; Bathymetric maps of lochs; Arial photographs (but the old RCAMHS, now Historic Environment Scotland, is probably a better source than NLS).

While this very large map collection can be accessed online, many more maps can be accessed at the library in Causwayside, Edinburgh, and virtually any map of any part of the world can be obtained on request.

With such a large online collection, categorised in so many ways, the website is unavoidably complex and navigation takes practice. Craig took us on a trip through some of it using the Town House WiFi, and all worked perfectly! A property of the ‘georeferenced’ maps, for example, is the ability to make the chosen map transparent. Using a sliding icon the transparency of, say, a 1750s Roy map can be increased to reveal a modern satellite view at the same scale matched underneath, thus allowing an instant comparison to reveal changes since the older map was made. In any location, in our case East Lothian, there is a huge amount of historical information which may be accessed much more easily from the maps than from researching written records.

At the moment the Modern Map Viewer can only be accessed in the library locations in Edinburgh. Hopefully this may change. It is also allowable to photograph maps in the library (for personal use only) using phone or compact camera. Otherwise, for the online maps accessible through your own computer, a print option is available should you want hard copy.

Craig finished his talk with examples of commercial users of the maps: tourist organisations, book publishers, media organisations (TV, film), exhibition organisers. As a fully fledged map aficionado, your Convenor positively itched to rush home to explore the website. Make haste to  maps.nls.uk

Peter R


19 October 2017          Par for the Ladies

This very engaging and amusing talk was given by Ailsa Fortune, known to many of us through her articles in East Lothian Life and her column in the East Lothian Courier. It was the story of the establishment of women’s golf in North Berwick in tandem with the development of the town as a summer golfing and social haven for the aristocracy and professional middle classes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: the ‘Biarritz of the North’.

In a male-dominated pastime, women golfers were at best tolerated and at worst derided by their male counterparts. Indeed, women were considered only capable of fairly short drives off the tee due to the restrictions of their clothing. Moreover, it was considered unseemly for a woman to be seen raising her arms above her shoulders as would be necessary to make a decent swing. However, the golfing women of North Berwick were a determined lot, gradually loosening the restrictions of male prejudice ( and, indeed, of their clothing) and a ‘ladies’ course was developed on the West Links just behind the Marine Hotel. It was a 9 hole course, perhaps considered as much as ‘proper’ ladies could manage! The North Berwick Ladies Golf Club was founded in 1888, and the committee was, of course, male only. This astonishing state of affairs, at least from the perspective of 21st century mores, continued until after the first world war. Women were not represented on the committee until the 1920s.

Over the period, a considerable number of very notable female golfers found local and national fame. We were first introduced to the Misses Gillies-Smith, from Edinburgh, as founder members still playing in 1906. Then there were the six Tennant sisters among others. Note that they and young women like them were all daughters of aristocrats or very successful men of finance, commerce and the law. Of particular note were the three Orr sisters who, on entering the Scottish Ladies Championship for the first time became, respectively, champion, runner up and semi-finalist!

The heyday of development of womens’ golf in North Berwick covered the 1920s and 30s, with post second world war consolidation and the gradual establishment of what we would consider modern attitudes to women golfers. However the passage has not been smooth. When the NB Ladies Club merged with the Men’s Club, in the 30s (I think), they became fully accepted as players on the West Links course. But there was one concession to male dominance: the new combined club was to have 300 male members and 150 females, in which the women would have the status of ‘associate members’. This situation was only rectified in 2005!!

We were left with a picture of North Berwick in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries as a major social hub for the great and the good, based on holiday-making and golf: graced by the Asquiths, Margo Asquith being a decided summer presence on the golf course and in the town, AJ Balfour, Winston Churchill, Nancy Astor and other notables.

But behind all of the glitter, North Berwick produced, and still produces, women golfers of great renown.

Peter R