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The Legendary Johnnie Moat - Sculpted by Nature

Our Arts Festival has now officially added a further 'inherited work of art' to the collection that forms our Murals and Arts Highway through town - the Johnnie Moat, a dark blue whinstone boulder some 9ft long, six feet high and 6 feet wide. Sculptured for us all by nature!

On March 10th 1992 the East Lothian News reported that the Johnnie Moat was once again seated on the shelf known as Girdle Rocks at Prestonpans. It had toppled in December 1952, forty years before. And those 40 years had been amongst the most miserable in the history of the town with the closure of colliery, brickworks, potteries and brewery with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Click on the pictures for an enlargement
The Johnnie Moat on its original site

The Johnnie Moat on its original
Stone Ceremony on Tuesday, March 10th, 1992

Stone Ceremony on Tuesday, March 10th, 1992
Johnnie Moat, May 11th, 2002

Johnnie Moat, May 11th, 2002

The origin of the boulder was almost certainly the glaciers of long ago which had pushed it before them but left it behind in retreat as part of their terminal moraine. But many other charming and outlandish explanations are also in circulation - perhaps a meteorite or blast debris from an erupting Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.

The origin of the boulder's name however is much more certain. It is named after a huge figure of a man, Big Johnnie Moat, who was Harbourmaster and Pilot at Morison's Haven in the 17th century. Local folklore tells us that lads walking along the foreshore had been so imprerssed by the size of the boulder that it reminded them of the man himself - hence the name that has stuck for over 300 years.

The legend is that "as long as the Johnnie Moat stands on its rock shelf the town will flourish". And whilst it stood there from the Ice Age until December 1952 it watched over the original settlement by Norse fishermen at Althamer and its successor townships and baronial burghs such as Priestown, Sal Priestown, Salt Preston and Prestonpans; and flourish we did. Salt works, oyster beds, potteries, ropeworks, soap works, chemical production, market gardens, coal mines, brickworks and breweries all played a significant role.

Now, after the 40 year hiatus when we saw all too much bad news, things have been on the up since March 10th 1992. And most lately of all here is our own determination to make a modest contribution to an even better future.

Johnnie Moat is up again, and the Cyber-Barons too.

P.S. The resources to lift the toppled Johnnie Moat back on Girdle Rocks shelf came from the contractors busy laying a new sewerage system along the foreshore. Destiny moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. Councillor Pat O'Brian, now Provost of East Lothian, was a leading light in getting the boulder back in its rightful place (second from right in 1992 picture).

And our local hero Davy Steele was moved to write and sing his song to celebrate the boulder itself.

Published Date: May 11th 2002

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