SIR WALTER SCOTT'S MEMORIES OF PRESTONPANS - Betty Wilson
Here in Prestonpans we are proud of our historical connections
and especially of some of the buildings like the Tower, the Mercat
Cross and Hamilton House. Names of streets and places such as
"Hawlhorn Road". "Redburn Road" or "Meadowmill"
also reflect our past and a comparatively recent housing complex
was named "Sir Walter Scott Pend" in honour of a visit
the great author made to our humble town in 1779 when he was eight
years old. While reading "The Journal of Sir Walter Scott".
I was interested to discover that he had re-visited Prestonpans
in June 1830 and visited various well known places.
Walter Scott was born in 1771 and was a healthy child until he
was about eighteen months old when he had a bad fever, which resulted
in him losing the power of his right leg. He was taken throughout
his childhood to various places to "take the waters"
in order to cure this and after a visit to the healing waters
at Bath he was brought to Prestonpans where it was thought sea-bathing
might help his lameness.
He was accompanied on this First visit by his aunt. Miss Janet
Scott and while there met George Constable, an old lawyer friend
of his father, who had retired to Prestonpans. Scott later stated
that he based one of his characters. Jonathan Oldbuck in "The
Antiquary", on this man. George Chalmers. an old friend of
his father's and Mr Constable himself, recognised this when they
read the book. Scolt must have been a very observant child, which
is further proved by another comment he makes about Constable
having "a tendresse for my Aunt Jenny, who even then was
a most beautiful woman. though somewhat advanced in life".
Another interesting character he met during his first visit was
an old military veteran named Dalgetty who had pitched his tent
at Prestonpans. After taking part in several campaigns, he existed
on an ensign's half pay, although he was given the courtesy title
of Captain. This old gentleman had been in all the German wars,
but found very few people willing to listen to his tales of military
feats. so was delighted when the young Walter Scott took great
pleasure in listening to all his stories. Even at such an early
age. the boy enjoyed great discussions with the old veteran, especially
about the war which was raging at that time in North America.
Having acquired a map of that country, they avidly followed the
progress of the campaign, arguing about the various strategies
pursued by the military. In his autobiography Scott stated he
was "struck with the rugged appearance of the country and
the number of lakes in it" and he doubted if the army would
manage to reach the end oftheirjourncy but these doubts were "indignantly
refuted by the Captain".
The house Scott and his Aunt lodged in belonged to a Mr &
Mrs Warroch and he mentions "the large gate or black arch
which lets out upon the sea" and playing on the liiiks where
he arranged "shells on the turf and swam little skiffs in
the pools". He attended church where he "yawn'd under
the afflictions of a Doctor McCormack." It is interesting
to note that in the 400th anniversary booklet of PrestonGrange
Church this gentleman is stated to have later become Moderator
of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland!
Playing in the garden of the old tower with a pretty little girl
called Miss Dalrympic. daughter of Lord Westhall. a Lord of Session,
was another happy memory of Scott's during his stay at Prestonpans.
The children enjoyed eating gooseberries in the garden although
Scott, leaving a vivid imagination, confessed that he had been
afraid that a ghost might appear at one of the windows of the
tower. He also remembered becoming acquainted with Mrs Cadell
of Cockenxie who used to invite his aunt and him to tea. By coincidence
her son Robert was later to become his publisher.
It was this gentleman who accompanied Scott on his second visit
to Prestonpans 53 years later on 28th June 1830. They arrived
by coach about one o'clock and were met by Robert Cadcli's brother
Francis at the "cast end of the Distillery". Again they
visited "a kind of arch or pend" and "stood on
the bullwark for some time". Sir Walter was eager to visit
the site of the battle and they set off on foot "by the Village
of Preston and past Bankton". They trudged up "Preston
Loan" (probably East Loan) and. because it was raining heavily.
Francis Cadell opened the gate of Preston Tower Garden, where
they sheltered in the ruin. which Sir Walter admired very much.
He also admired the old cross at Preston and they discussed the
annual meeting of packmen which took place there every year.
After walking up the narrow road to Bankton Gate. Sir Walter repeated
to Francis Cadell the entire ballad of "Johnny Cope"
after Francis had told him a story about Skirving. the author
of the song, and Lieutenant Smith, who was named in it. They went
to look at the battlefield and here Scott mentions "the Prince's
Park", "Copc's Loan marked by slaughter in his disastrous
retreat" and "the Thorn tree which marks the centre
of the battle". They also saw two broadswords found on the
field of battle, one belonging to a highIander and one to a dragoon.
While Sir Walter was telling them the story of Dr Carlisle and
his friends who had joined the King's army before the battle,
they "turned down the Coal Road & had a crack about the
Scion family and their large possessions" and journeyed on
towards Cockenzie. Here, they were met by old Mrs Cadell whom
Sir Walter greeted very warmly, acknowledging her as the "fifty
years acquaintance of a lame boy who had been made very happy
with her attentions long ago".
Particular mention was made by Scott of enjoying an excellent
dinner at Cockenzie. especially the "tiled whitings"
which were whitings dried in the sun. He recollected enjoying
the same meal at Mrs Warroch's house in his youth and "the
whole time during dinner and after dinner was one stream of amusing
and pleasing conversation". The day ended with the ladies
retiring, while the gentlemen enjoyed their whisky and discussed
the Yeomanry who were in quarters at Musselburgh. Sir Walter Scott
and his friends left for Edinburgh at 8p.m.
It would be interesting to find out how many other famous people
have visited Prestonpans and. as we walk the familiar streets
looking at places like "Walter Scott Pend", perhaps
we should reflect more on the past and be proud that such a great
literary figure thought that our wee town was worth a second visit.
The Journal of Sir Walter Scott edited by W E K Anderson
The Life of Sir Walter Scott by J G Lockhart