| is low and sandy, with a bulwark of low reefs, much shattered
and water-worn, along its margin. It commands a picturesque
prospect of the Firth of Forth and the southern parts of Fife.
The parish is traversed by the public roads coastways from
Edinburgh to Aberlady, &c., and there is easy access to
the Tranent and Prestonpans Station on the North British Railway.
The "Pocket Gazetteer of Scotland, " 1860, thus describes
the old village: —" An ancient town on the shore of the Firth
of Forth, Haddingtonshire, 9 miles east of Edinburgh, 2 1/2
miles from Musselburgh, and 13 from North Berwick. Its
long, gloomy, and narrow street, with its mean hovels on every
side, ill paved, ill lighted, having dirty puddles in all
directions; notwithstanding, the place is celebrated for its
ale, which is reckoned by some a good beverage. "
The " Imperial Gazetteer, " of a more recent date, does not
improve matters: —"The town itself, " it says, "consists principally
of a single street, about a mile in length, wriggling along
the beach. A rill runs across the roadway, cutting off from
the west end of the street an ugly suburb called Cuittle,
or Cuthill. The houses of the town have a mean, blackened,
worn-out appearance, scarcely any two of them stand in a line,
and the whole are so allocated that the town might be described
as zig-zag at both ends and crooked in the middle. "
On scanning these brief notices, one cannot help wondering
if they had been written with a view to " jokularity, " for
the grim humour pervading them is exquisite; but no word of
comfort had the maligner to bestow upon the village, not even
a gracious remark, in passing, for the villagers.
Oh, thou weary, weary, woeful village ! isn't it sorrowful
to think that, after so many long, dark, and dreary centuries
have passed over thy devoted head, during which thou hast
suffered crosses and losses enough to drive any other hamlet
to despair, yet because thou had'st forgotten to cleave thy
jutting corners, pave thy uneven streets, and drive thy decaying
dwelling-places out into the middle of the Forth, before these
cool defamers entered thy time-hallowed precincts, thou must
bear their reproach perhaps for ever; and yet, out of these
very surroundings, which they have handled so scornfully,
how many of thy sons have risen from low to great estate !
Perhaps the very windings of thy streets, and the ruggedness
of thy buildings, were the means
of sending inspiration into their souls in their youth, which
again was the means of forcing them into eminence in their
maturity. Be this as it may, according to thine own records
thy sons have never been ashamed to return and spend their
later years in the place of their nativity. But many others
besides thine own seem to have found pleasure in treading
thy crooked streets, inhaling thy salubrious air, and residing
in thy curious jutting dwelling-places—but of these anon.
THE ORIGINAL HAMLET.
A little to the west of Ayre's Wynd, on the north side of
High Street, stands a stately old house, built in 1716, and
recently known as Alexander's. It is still in possession of
one of the family—Mr W. A. Meek—and is known as Aldhammer
House. One reason for calling attention to this abode so early
is not only because its name differs so slightly from that
of the original hamlet, but because the earliest real intimation
extant of the village is through salt making, and the manufacture
of salt is being pursued on this property at the present day
as vigorously as ever; though whether it has gone on at this
particular spot throughout all these centuries we would not
like to maintain.
"Newbattle Chartulary" intimates that the monks of that Abbey
found a footing in the district in 1184. From the same source
we learn that they began to manufacture salt in the hamlet
of Althamer in 1189, and this is the earliest intimation extant
of the village now known as Prestonpans.
Althamer! the name sounds decidedly of Dutch extraction, but
how it originated, so far as historical records are concerned,
no information can be had. As a rule, however, whenever history
fails tradition steps in.
Tradition tells that about the end of the 11th century there
flourished a man named Althamer; that he was one of those
famous, or infamous, sea rovers, better known as pirates,
who had been wont for many years to keep the adjacent isles
and the German Ocean astir. This continued till one day, being
caught in a hurricane, he was swept round Gullane Point, right
into the Firth of Forth, when his fragile bark was dashed
to atoms among these very peaceable looking boulders lying
loosely along the shore here.
Tradition continues: —That these shipwrecked mariners,