| That a regular place of worship had been erected in the
district is evident from the historical fact that "the church
of Preston, along with Preston Tower, was burned down in 1544
by Lord Hertford and his English army, " but where the church
was located no hint is given.
The sacred edifice was never restored—but no wonder; for Reformation
times had set in, the power of the priests was gone, and the
Abbot of Newbattle—a Kerr of Fernie-hirst—could scarcely be
expected to play into the hands of the reformers; but if the
abbot did not restore the church, he certainly took the earliest
opportunity of secularising the church lands, and this, it
is said, with the " connivance of the king, for he feared
the power of the Kerrs. " Whether or not the king really connived
at this spoliation of church lands need not at this day trouble
us, but one thing is certain, that either this same abbot,
or his brother, at once assumed the title of Lord Newbattle,
and became proprietor of the lands of Prestongrange.
There was still no church or chapel, priest or minister, in
Preston or Prestonpans district, and this state of affairs
continued from the destruction of the church in 1544 till
the appointment of Maister John Davidsone in 1595.
From the terms of Davidson's appointment, it is evident that
the church of Preston was not located in the sea coast village.
The Presbytery records state definitely that he was " appointed
to South Prestoun, including ye Pannis east and west. " Had
the original church been situated in "ye Pannis, " he would
scarcely have been called to South, but to Salt Preston.
On accepting his appointment, Davidson applied to Mark Kerr
of Newbattle for a church, or assistance to erect a place
wherein his people might meet for worship, but his application
was in vain unless he would agree to its being built on his
lands of Prestongrange, which extended over South Preston
to within a few yards of the Tower.
The minister approached George Hamilton of Preston with a
view to the same end. The reply was that unless the church
was built on the lands of Preston neither would he assist
him; but the Hamiltons were ever to the front as reformers,
and, directly on the back of his refusal, he gave the minister,
free of expense, land whereon to build a church, a manse,
and a school. And there, within the grounds of Preston, and
on the site still occupied, the church of Davidson was built—but
not wholly at the expense of the minister, as erroneously
stated in various journals. Extracts concerning the erection
of the church are still extant, and while it is stated that
Davidson, having means of his own, bore the greater part of
the burden, these extracts also furnish the names of those
of his Congregation who supplied certain of the woodwork,
tiles for the roof, nails, and various other necessaries.
On the erection of the new church, the district hitherto nominally
under the charge of the Abbey of Newbattle, but parochially
under the church of Tranent, as held by the Abbey of Holyrood
till Reformation times, was formed into a quoad sacra;
but in 1606, and under the ministry of the second pastor,
John Ker of Faddonside, it was finally disjoined from Tranent
and erected into a parish.
Here a curious little item crops up. At the formation of the
parish, whether the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had done
it unwittingly or purposely, having the burned church at Preston
and Davidson's appointment to South Preston still in view,
is unknown, but it was called the " Parish of Preston, " —but,
adds ecclesiastical history, common usage over-rode the Act
of Parliament, and it became the " Parish of Prestonpans.
In 1617, through the influence of Sir John Hamilton of Preston,
a charter was obtained from James VI. erecting the western
district of Prestonpans, including Prestongrange, into a burgh
of barony; Preston, including the eastern district of Prestonpans,
through the same influence was erected into a burgh of barony
at the same period. But the curious little village of Cuthill
had long forestalled them both, being erected into a burgh
of barony during the previous century through the influence
of the Abbot of Newbattle.
Prestonpans is in the Presbytery of Haddington and the Synod
of Lothian and Tweeddale. The stipend during the 17th century,
owing to the continual ecclesiastical strife for supremacy
between presbytery and episcopacy, would be—if there were
any at all—a very scarce commodity. At all events, during
the early part of the 18th century (1730) we find Carlyle,
the minister at that period, complaining that he had but £40
per annum, and felt unable to support his family on that sum.
Morison, who held the lands of Prestongrange at this period,
was under sequestration, and Carlyle, through the influence
and the pleading of his friends Lords Grange and Drum more,
Lords of Session, got an augmentation of £150. In 1755, it
was £116, 16s. 9d.; in 1798,