Seven Year Itch at the Battle Trust ... lots of momentum and fun but now it's time for progress!
“Nothing was achieved that we had really hoped for ….. but, as ever, we certainly had momentum aplenty to show for ourselves .....”
2013 was a good year at the Battle Trust for the redcoats. Our final October event saw the symbolic raising of the ‘then’ Union flag on the Battle Byng and throughout the year our new re-enactment unit, The Edinburgh Town Guard, played a major role. Our Alan Breck re-enactment Regiment now has an excellent balance of all the combatants involved in September 1745. It meant that Cope’s landing and Council of War at Dunbar could be well presented and a spectacular redcoat race to the top of Arthur’s Seat could be reinstated to honour Captain Burnett’s 15 minute challenge. The final cluster of interpretation boards supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund were also installed.
Not that the Highlanders’ role at the battle was eclipsed as King James VIII was proclaimed at Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross. Once again the Riggonhead Defile was walked at dawn and despite the inaugural presence of redcoat dragoons at the annual re-enactments the Prince was able to claim a conclusive victory after the finest Charge we’ve yet seen. Visitor numbers again broke records at the Greenhill with over 3000 estimated over the weekend. In the evening of September 21st, the exact anniversary, the Prince and his entourage gate crashed partygoers at Pinkie House to re-enact their 1745 demand for bed and breakfast!
Throughout the year we have been delighted with the support we have received from Bord na Gaidhlig that is enabling us to bring the language the Highlanders spoke to the Trust’s activities – initially in one of our Tapestry publications which has been distributed to schools across the Highlands. But plans are also afoot for new bilingual signage in The Pans.
Our Gaelic language initiative flowed from Ronald Black’s contribution to the 3rd National Biennial Battlefield Symposium in 2012 but went further. The Trust commissioned Ronald Elliot to depict on canvas the scene at the captured redcoat cannons where the Prince took breakfast after his victory in the company of Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, the great Gaelic poet who accompanied the Prince at Prestonpans. It’s the first attempted depiction of the poet and involved careful research which was duly reported in The Scotsman.
A second significant outcome from the 3rd Biennial Symposium, with support from Historic Scotland, was Arran Johnston’s historical research and new book, Our Bloodstain’d Fields. This places our own battle in 1745 in the context of all the confrontations across East Lothian from pre-Roman times until the present day. It was a great bonus that HG The Duke of Somerset, descendant of the English victor at Pinkie in 1547, gladly contributed a Foreword and spent three days in our community sharing in dramatic re-enactments and battlefield walks.
Two other titles were added during the year to the Trust’s ever growing bibliography. In July when Martin Margulies, Colonel-in-Chief of the Alan Breck’s was in Prestonpans the 2nd Edition of his seminal book, Battle of Prestonpans 1745, was published, with extensive illustrations from the Trust’s first seven years and significant text updates not least details from the battlefield archaeological studies completed by Dr Tony Pollard for the Trust. The second title, Jacobite Traitor? by Alasdair Roberts & Valerie Cameron Smith, seeks to draw a line under the longstanding controversy as to whether Coll MacDonnell who fought with the Prince at Prestonpans and Falkirk eventually betrayed him.
So what hopes have not been achieved?
The Trust was established to create a permanent Living History Centre and despite nigh on two years discussions just where that can be located is unresolved. We are committed to co-locate at Prestongrange Heritage Museum in partnership with East Lothian Council but until that can be agreed upon we can take no serious steps to raise funds. Similar lack of resolution has dogged the 2010 Petition to East Lothian Council where none of the requests tabled have been acted upon - even street signage still gives an incorrect message.
We have also been frustrated with our inability proactively to resource as many educational visits to schools as we want to achieve, although the Alan Breck Regiment has been able to react to all calls it received. These activities remain amongst our highest priorities.
In 2014 we are adamant that we must see progress - if not as we still hope then we shall move outside the box. By the time of our 4th National Biennial Battlefield Symposium, to be convened jointly with Historic Scotland, we shall have the hard decisions made. It will, incidentally, also be the occasion for the launch of the Trust’s new registered tartan design.
The Tapestry Exhibitions have continued unabated across the year
Our ‘celebrity’ tapestry has continued to honour Prestonpans as it draws the crowds, visitor numbers now reaching 250,000 after its six weeks display in Bayeux. It has taken a great deal of time of course to mount and demount exhibitions across the nation and in France but all the while we are learning what to do and what not to do when our permanent home eventuates. For Bayeux 30+ travelled to provide a magnificent Opening Weekend Scottish Fest, with grant support from Creative Scotland for travel and accommodation costs. That weekend alone saw 4000+ visitors at the Museum. Bayeux’s Maire and the Museum’s staffs readily endorsed the 1745 Treaty of Fontainbleau and throughout the exhibition truly delivered in the spirit of the Auld Alliance. Our French language book, animated DVD and panel narratives were well appreciated.
It has also been gratifying to see the completion in 2013 of The Great Tapestry of Scotland which our own artwork inspired Alexander McCall-Smith to create with Andrew Crummy as designer. And 2014 will see the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry completed in Prestonpans by the Arts Festival for the Homecoming and beyond. What a legacy the Prince left behind and what a legacy our own great tapestry is creating too.
Sir Garth Morrison, Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian and Trustee from our foundation in 2006, sadly passed away during the year. He was the kindest of men who made myriad contributions to the Arts Festival in Prestonpans and to our particular work, not least by bringing HM Lord High Commissioner, Lord Selkirk, to Prestonpans to see our tapestry. He's as greatly missed as he was always appreciated.
Published Date: December 18th 2013