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1745 Battle Trust's 11th Year Reviewed ... much still to achieve!

The Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust:
Trustees' 11th Annual Report, year ended 31st October 2017

Our Living History Centre

It was to be hoped that the conclusion of this 11th year would see us able to report that we have at long last got a firm sense of direction for creating a Living History Centre that will include a permanent home for the tapestries. Alas, 2017 saw the wind taken out of our sails. The Heritage Lottery Fund which we approached as our year began seeking initial support for our Living History Centre gave us a comprehensive rebuff. It doubted we should locate at the Prestongrange Museum’s BathHouse, felt the project might well be overambitious and in several ways fell short of their expectations for a viable project. Listening attentively, as they reminded us they all too frequently meet dreamers, we have taken their critique to heart. We are poised to seek external evaluation of what has been achieved thus far and to launch yet more broadscale evaluation of the opportunities for our future development looking at how other comparable battlefield interpretations have evolved .

Most significantly perhaps we have withdrawn from the option to locate at Prestongrange Museum in West Pans and have refocussed, still in partnership with East Lothian Council, on evaluating three potential venues close by the battlefield itself. This refocussing has become more fascinating with the announcement in the final month that East Lothian Council itself is to acquire all the lands of Scottish Power – which of course include the western end of the battlefield which the lately published Master Plan suggests should be permanantly conserved . So far as that is concerned we remain steadfast in our determination to see it returned to agriculture and the creation of the Field of Remembrance with the two Memorial Tables we have already sculpted – for which latter we already have ELC’s Outline Planning Consent.

We are also amplifying the design of the operational activities in our proposed Living History Centre – the desirability of which we have no doubts whatever; nor of its potential economic sustainability once open. Whilst our tapestries can always be expected to be a most considerable visitor attraction there is ample scope for exhibitions of Jacobite artefacts and hubbing an international Jacobite Trail. Educational contributions will be complemented with the literature, theatre and song traditionally associated with the battle which will itself be re-enacted in the East Lothian Battles triennial cycle.

East Lothian County Battles: Triennial Re-enactment Cycle

The triennial re-enactment cycle, led by the Scottish Battlefields Trust, has been sponsored throughout by East Lothian Council and the East Lothian Courier and registered and supported as a National Event by EventScotland. After 2016 success for Dunbar 1650 , the Alan Breck Regiment was instrumental in 2017 for presenting the first ever re-enactment of the battle of Pinkie Cleugh 1547 to some 1900 visitors at Newhailes House with the support of today’s Dukes of Somerset and Hamilton/ Earl of Arran. Now for September 2018 it is once again the turn of Prestonpans to present the county’s major re-enactment which will be preceded by the formal dedication of the Memorial Tables supported by The Clans that Came Out with The Prince at Prestonpans and Representers of the British Army Regiments in 1745.

Protection of battlesite from development

The year has seen considerable successes to offset the disappointment of our Living History Centre rebuff. The threat of building a sub-station for Offshore Energy transmission actually on the western battlesite has now been averted. InchCape are seeking to locate it on former Power Station brownfield land to the north. This has been a definite win for our long running opposition which brought local supporters aplenty to the Trust together with a 13,000 global Petition on the internet. It was also a catalyst for the re-invigoration of the 1722 Waggonway Heritage Group which has commenced archaeological research at Cockenzie Harbour and which shares the Trust’s Walkers APP.

Tapestries continue to attract large visitor numbers on tour

As anticipated, the two tapestries have been widely acclaimed with thousands more visitors to 20 exhibitions. The Battle Tapestry was exhibited in the Scottish Parliament and at the Festival Interceltique in Lorient which was visited by both Alex Salmond and Fiona Hyslop MSP. The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry spent Christmas and New Year and Burns Night in Canada returning to Westminster Hall via Iceland. It returned to Scotland with a Homecoming Exhibition at St Giles Cathedral and in Prestonpans Community Centre, overcoming a ‘temporary’ theft of a Netherlands’ panel at the former. Since then it has had a highly successful visit to Crieff, returned to Helmsdale and graced the TownHouse in Irvine. Website visits from across the globe were in excess of 4,000 per week i.e. over 200,000 pa.

Our responsibilities for these two magnificent tapestries very much include the need for their proper conservation. Whilst we have always been adamant that as community art they must be shared as widely and freely as can be achieved, which embraced the Diaspora’s just completed 18 month tour right around the world, the moment cannot be far off when we have to give conservation most careful attention. The Battle Tapestry has been seen by over half a million visitors since 2010 and the Diaspora Tapestry is now approaching 200,000 since 2014. Access to both is available at their highly active dedicated websites, as art books, as free downloadable APPs and the Battle Tapestry additionally as an animated DVD, so taking these artworks out of exhibition for a sensible period will not be too disappointing.

A decade of Volunteers and Sessional Staffs

It is frequently a source of surprise that the Trust’s achievements during its first decade were entirely attributable to volunteers and sessional staff who together have attracted approaching £1m and some 750,000 visitors howsoever. This 11th year has been no exception with the Alan Breck Regiment of Prestonpans Volunteers and countless others led by Arran Johnston and Sharon Beck providing so much to advance the Trust’s objectives. The Global Tour of the Diaspora Tapestry from Paris in October 2015 to Iceland in February 2017 was led and ably managed by Jenny Bruce. Arran Johnston somehow found the opportunity whilst carrying through evaluative research on the Diaspora Tapestry to pen his third book on the battle entitled Gladsmuir. He also led numerous Walks and gave School presentations and lectures; Sharon Beck led the Educational Diaspora Project with schools across Scotland that saw the results of their efforts exhibited at St Giles. And of course there were commemorative wreath layings and very well attended community events for the 272nd Anniversary of the battle itself in The Pans and Tranent. The Prestoungrange Gothenburg continues to act as volunteer-host to our administration and several activities and has this year increased the display areas for the Trust’s artefacts.

Published Date: November 20th 2017

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