THE PANS - OLD AND NEW - John Kay Wilson
Prestonpans. known affectionately to the local residents as "The
Pans", is a friendly, cheery town with a population of approximately
8.00U. It is situated on the coast of the Forth Estuary eight
miles East of Edinburgh and the views over the sea arc spectacular,
especially when the sun sets. The main street, or High Street
as it is named, runs from East to West for the full length of
the town and in the daytime is a very busy thoroughfare. It is
the kind of street where you can meet friends old and new and
stop and have a chat. which means a little shopping in the morning
can last for hours. Quite pleasant on a nice day!
Much of the town is new. but the name is not. One could be excused
for thinking "The Pans" is sIang, but originally the
Monks from Newbattle. who early in the 13th century mined coal
in the area. used the coal to boil sea water in huge pans to make
salt. They did this by the shoreline and the site was known as
Salt Priestown Pans. This area was separated from Priestown (Preston)
by a mile or so of Fields and orchards and as this became populated,
the two were joined and the name Prestonpans was and is used for
Even before making its name well known as an industrial centre,
the town of Prestonpans was assured of its place in Scottish history
for the famous battle where "Bonnie Prince Charlie"
and Ins army defeated Johnnie Cope and his Royalist troops so
soundly that the Prince was encouraged to press on over the border
into EngIand. Earlier, during the Reformation of the church, it
was to Prestonpans that the leading reformer was translated from
Holyrood House in 1595. The minister. John Davidson. built the
town's First church on the site near the shore where PrestonGrange
Parish Church stands today having reached its 400th anniversary
in this decade. These two historical events have an interesting
connection for in the churchyard stands a tombstone bearing the
still legible epitaph to a captain in the Royalist army "barbarously
murdered by four HighIanders after the Battle of Prestonpans 21st
The fact that the main coach road to London passed through the
upper part of the town. Preston. could be the reason that it grew
so quickly. Kings, royalty and nobility had to pass through the
town on their way south so. for a time. the Preston area was a
busy and popular place. Large houses were built for the well-off
and some of these still remain. Also. markets were held regularly
at the Mercat Cross and this well-preserved example of its type
is well worth seeing. It is remarkably well-preserved, as for
hundreds of years it was enclosed in private ground and it is
one of the few in Scotland which is still in its original position.
Close by the cross, dominating the surrounding area is Preston
Tower, once the fortress home of the Hamilton family. Within the
grounds, a sheltered housing complex has been thoughtfully incorporated,
the original garden having been carefully laid out to reflect
its past. In the evening the Tower, the Cross and PrestonGrange
Church are all floodlit, enhancing these old buildings and making
them even more interesting.
Other Fine examples of old Scottish architecture arc nearby. One
of these. Hamilton House, is a scale copy of a typical Scottish
mansion house which was said to have been built in 1628 to accommodate
the occupants of the tower when it had been destroyed by fire.
This house is very attractive with some interesting aspects, the
main one being the small paved courtyard in the centre of which
is the original well and this is surrounded on three sides by
ornate doors and windows. The house is at present in the care
of the National Trust.
To the south, beyond the railway line. can be seen a monument
to Colonel Gardiner who was killed at the Battle of Prestonpans.
His residence. Bankton House was a ruin but it has now been carefully
re-constructed and converted into flats. Another interesting building
at Preston is Northfield House which is much larger. Built in
1611 by a relative of the Hamiltons. it has turrets and gables
which give it a castle-like appearance. One unusual feature is
that it contains a fine example of a painted ceiling which was
typical of many Scottish houses of that period.
To the west is situated PrestonGrange House, a magnificent mansion
which, like Northfield House, possessed painted ceilings. These
were removed some time ago, however, and the house is now owned
by the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. The extensive grounds have
been converted into a first class golf course and part of the
building is used as the clubhouse. There is also a fine restaurant
with magnificent views over the Forth. This house could be the
oldest in the district. It has been extended and altered so many
times that it is difficult to say when or what part was built
first but it is known that the Monks of Newbattle settled here
in 1184. Over the years, the house has had many owners, one of
the latter being the Grant-Suttie family, descendants of whom
still reside in East Lothian.
Eventually, the industrial part by the sea became the main part
of Prestonpans. The main industries in the district about 400
years ago were farming, fishing and coalmining. The availability
of the coal soon attracted other industries which required heat
and at one time there were a great number of these, including
Saltworks. Soapworks. Brickworks. Potteries and Breweries. There
was even a chemical works where acids were distilled. Many of
the products were exported to EngIand and other parts of Europe
and Prestonpans salt. pottery and beer were a household name both
at home and abroad. Although Prestonpans has now lost all its
old industries and most of its old buildings. many families arc
content to remain in this close-knit, caring community and arc
happy to commute to Edinburgh and other parts of the Lothians.
Fortunately, the town is well served by trains and buses and there
is easy access to the motorway for those with cars.
A returning exile would see a vast difference in the town since
World War Two. All industrial dirt and grime is now gone. replaced
with new buildings and freshly painted houses. The streets arc
also wide and well lit and new Community and Health Centres have
replaced make-do accommodation. An additional primary' school
has been in operation for a number of years and Preston Lodge
High School has produced many pupils who have gone on to become
very successful in the fields of industry', business, education,
sports, politics and the arts.
The good work continues with dedicated people being elected to
boards and councils, seeking the best for the community which
they serve. Sheltered housing is being built for the elderly and
private housing has attracted new people to the town. The names
chosen for these buildings reflect the sentimental pride and feelings
of the town's inhabitants. One such name is the 'Johnny Moat Place'.
which is a sheltered housing complex situated within the infant
school grounds. This is named after the large rock on the seashore
reputed to be the volcanic plug from Arthur's Scat. Opposite,
where Low's market gardens used to be. is a private housing development
named Harlaw Hill Gardens and two housing developments to the
East on the shoreline are named Sir Walter Scott Pond. where the
famous writer bathed in the Forth for the sake of his health and
Fowler's Court, part of which retains the walls of the original
Opposite the Town Hall there are fine new buildings which enhance
the area. These incorporate the council offices and flats as well
as some retail outlets and they still retain the original name
of Althammer which was the name of an old house there. To the
rear of this building is a courtyard where information is given
about the Saltworks which used to operate on the site and. on
climbing some steps, there is a panoramic view from the PentIands
to the mouth of the Forth.
Yes. some of the buildings are new. some of the people arc new,
but life goes on much as it always did in "The Pans".
The strong community spirit is alive and well as could be seen
when there was a crisis in the supply of gas some years ago and
everyone rallied round helping their neighbours. It can also be
seen in the support given for local events such as Gala Days.
Coffee Mornings and Concerts and in the amount of thriving local
organisations in the town. This is what makes this town unique
and. as we approach the Millennium, we can look back with pride
at our history and look forward with confidence to our future
and be thankful that we continue to be part of "The Pans".
First version published East Lothian Life