Origins & History

Heritage & Museum

Clan Court & Household

University Press


Golfing Delights


Court Records

Picture Gallery

Manor of Milton Malsor
East Lodge Prestonpans
Laird of Glencairn

Shop Online

News & Email

Site News

The Baron of Prestoungrange

Dr. Gordon Prestoungrange
Interview by Sarah Powel (part 2 of 3)

Prestoungrange yesterday and today

There is a surprising amount of historical information on the barony and on the mixed fortunes of Prestoungrange and its owners, and the area's history is well recounted in a series of booklets Gordon is publishing at The name Prestoungrange derives from "Prestoun", meaning Priests' town and "Grange" denoting a farm. The earliest owners derived their wealth from the local wool, farming and coal mining industries.

Robert de Quincy, the first recorded owner, was descended from Norman knights. In the twelfth century he was an important member of the court circle of the Scottish King William I (The Lion). Gordon relates that "de Quincy subsequently granted Prestoungrange to Cistercian monks from Newbattle Abbey and the Order remained there for four hundred years. The monks introduced salt panning, hence the town's early name of Saltpreston, now Prestonpans. In the early 16th-century, they built a nearby harbour, Newhaven, which was successively renamed Acheson's and then Morrison's Haven. This was the first important step in the development of the area as a significant, international manufacturing and trading station on the Forth.

"The monks' main goal in building the early harbour was to facilitate exports of coal, salt and hides and also to provide a safe haven for local fishermen. Prestoungrange is reputed to have been Scotland's first coal mining area.

"At the Reformation, the 'Commendator', or administrator of the Cistercian estate at Prestoungrange, Mark Ker, took possession of the properties which were subsequently granted by the King as the Barony of Newbattle, which included the lands of Prestoungrange. During Ker's tenure, a distinctively suggestive painted ceiling was incorporated at the baronial home, Prestoungrange House, which may, according to some contemporary theories, have been connected to 16th-century practices of witchcraft. The ceiling was only discovered - to some consternation - during renovation work in 1950 and has since been relocated to Merchiston Tower at Napier University in Edinburgh.

"After the Ker family, who became the Earls of Lothian, several other distinguished families held the lands and titles including William Morison, Lord Prestoungrange, the Countess of Hyndford and many generations of Grant Sutties. They all aided the development of a range of secondary industries such as chemicals and soap, glass, bricks and tiles, and pottery. The earliest sea-borne trade from the port was with England, Holland and Sweden and this then expanded to include the Baltic States, Germany, France, and Norway. The harbour also brought in valuable additional revenue in the form of dues.

"Robert Ker, the second Earl of Lothian, appears to have sold the estates because of heavy debts. In 1624 he committed suicide, beset by further debt - a not uncommon problem among the nobility over the centuries. Prestoungrange House was then acquired by the Morison family, in whose hands it remained for almost 150 years until debt - this time gambling was the cause - forced its sale to William Grant in 1745 for the very substantial sum of £Scottish 160,000.

"Prior to this William Morison had further developed the harbour, renaming it as he did so. Trade was flourishing and, by the late 17th-century, as much as ten per cent of all Scotland's trade with foreign ships passed through this port, and local fishermen had moved on from their traditional catches to providing lobsters and, particularly, oysters for Europe's nobility. Morrison's Haven was also renowned for widespread smuggling and there were rumours of secret passages to the beach from certain old houses in Prestonpans."

William Grant has been characterised as "an archetypal Scottish Whig", a lawyer, supporter of the established Church, the Union and the Hanoverian crown. He was also a Member of Parliament from 1747 to 1754. By virtue of that office he played a significant role in attending to matters in the aftermath of Bonnie Prince Charlie's ill-fated attempt to reclaim the throne for the Stuarts. Grant had the reputation locally for being rather mean, although this might be unfair as he was known to be supportive of the local development of industry and it was he who established the manufacture of pottery. Exports of Prestonpans "brownware" went to Europe, North America and the West Indies.

On Grant's death his eldest daughter, the Countess of Hyndford, inherited Prestoungrange, there being no sons. She took the keenest interest in the farming activities undertaken there and in her neighbouring baronies, especially Dolphinstoun which is now held by Gordon's youngest son Julian. On her death, it passed to her nephew Sir James Grant-Suttie and his descendants.
Picture 6

Initially, this family's ownership was marked by increasing wealth and expansion of the estate, reflecting the key importance of coal to the Industrial Revolution. However, in the late 19th-century, family circumstances led to the estate being managed by outside advisors which, combined with a drop in revenue from coal, led to a decline in the family's fortunes. While the baronial house remained in the Grant-Suttie's ownership until 1956, for many years from 1909 it stood empty. Ironically, the proximity of the collieries, which had for so long contributed to its owners' prosperity, had become a liability making it unattractive to potential lessees.

In 1924 the property was finally let to the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club (RMGC) which was seeking to move from its existing site next to the Musselburgh Race Course. Some thirty years later the house was put up for sale but the RMGC was unable to raise sufficient funds to purchase it. The Coal Industry and Social Welfare Organisation came to the rescue, buying the house and grounds on behalf of the Musselburgh Miners' Charitable Society and enabling the RMGC, almost half of whose members were from the mining community, to remain there as a golfing sub-section of the society - a mutually beneficial partnership that continues to this day.

Picture 7 The fortunes of the surrounding area have, however, continued their decline. Gordon explains that "the harbour at Morrison's Haven was badly silted up by the outbreak of the Second World War, and was filled in with rubble and ash in the mid-1950s, trade having been diverted to road and rail in the 1930s. The coal mine closed in the early 1960s and the brickworks ceased operation in the mid-1970s. Other traditional local industries such as pottery and brewing have disappeared and the local community has for too long now suffered the consequent unemployment - such a transformation from its vibrant past."
Picture 8 Picture 9

Back Back to top