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John Davidson of Prestonpans

It is nearly 400 years since the death in 1604 of the first and turbulent Minister of the Reformed Church in Scotland in Prestonpans, John Davidson. Prestongrange Church which the Rev. Robert Simpson leads today was built from 1596 when Davidson arrived in ecclesiastical exile from Edinburgh and Haddington. It was constructed at Davidson's expense on the baronial lands of the Hamiltons of Preston that they gifted not on the lands of Mark Kerr, then Baron of Prestoungrange. There had it seems been considerable rivalry between the two parties in bidding for the location. The town had apparently had no church since the the Earl of Hertford's expedition in 1554 had burned down both Preston Tower and Preston Church.

Dr R Moffat Gillon wrote the definitive study of John Davidson entitled John Davidson of Prestonpans - Reformer, Preacher and Poet in the Generation after Knox.

Click on images to enlarge

The tower of Davidson's church, pictured above, has survived to this day as have several early features, some related to the Barons of Prestoungrange.

J Fowler Hislop writing in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, April 11th 1892 pp. 241-250 describes details of a Hamilton family heraldic oak panel dated 1604 which is depicted below. He also gives an extended account of the history of the church itself.

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the manuscript page provided by the Misses Hislop in May 1941

The rivalry between the Hamiltons and the Kerrs as local barons seems to have subsided by the 18th century when the Grant family held Prestoungrange. The south facing porch of the church by then proudly displays a Mural Monument to perhaps the most famous of all the Grant Barons - William.

The 8th Baron of Prestoungrange, and Lord Advocate of Scotland from 1746-1754, is commemorated with a mural. He was subsequently also Lord of Sessions as well.

This imposing mural monument was erected to the memory of William Grant, Lord Prestongrange. It is on a gable (of the Hamilton Loft).

The large classical monument stands on a plinth between two windows. The monument's exposed position has not helped preserve the inscription, which is eroded. Fortunately, the text was duplicated inside where the organ loft stands but which was once the Laird's Loft which held the Grant family's pew. It appears below in the original Latin as well as English.

At the Reformation the newly formed Church of Scotland abolished in the 17th Century the practice of burial within churches. However, over the course of time, the graves of the well-to-do, gentry, aristocrats and ministers tended to predominate close to the walls of the church or even within vaults and chapels built on to the exterior of the building.
1st Mural

Prestoungrange Church - Visitors Guide
Prestoungrange Church the first 400 years 1594-1994 - Book

Guliemo Grant,
Marito, Parenti, Civi,
Fideli, pio, egrigio,
Advocato Regio,
Diserto humano,
Utriusque Curiae Supremae Judici,
Probo, integro;
In variis vitae muneribus,
Fama aequabili et inviolata;
Vidua filiaeque orbatae
Hoc Marmor
Maerentes, extruendum curarunt
Vixit annos 63.
Obiit A.H.S. 1764.
Juxta eum sita est vidua ejus supra posita
faemina in primis spectabilis, Grishilda Millar,
Quae, anno 1792, fato concefsit
Annos 83 nata
Hic quosque conditae sunt reliquiae Christinae Grant
filiae eorundem natu minimae, quae, anno 1761,
diem supremun obiit, 18 annos habens;
et itidem suae neptis, Joanettae Suttie, quae,
anno 1767, vita excefsit quinquennis.
To William Grant,
Husband, Father, Citizen,
Faithful, pious, honourable,
Advocate to the King,
Eloquent learned,
Judge of both sides of the Supreme Court,
Upright, blameless;
In the diverse offices of life,
Of impartial reputation and incorruptable;
His widow and orphaned children
This marble Mourning, provided for the erection of. He lived 63 years.
He died in 1764 A.H.S.
Beside him is placed his widow above mentioned,
a woman of prime respectability, Griselde Millar
Who in the year 1792 was carried off by God's will 83 years old Here also are buried the remains of Christine Grant their youngest daughter, who in the year 1761, met her final day, being 18 years old; and likewise their granddaughter Joanette Suttie, who, in the years 1767, departed this life at 5 years old.
Organ Loft

Hislop in 1892 also referred (p. 250) to the discovery in the Prestoungrange Burial Vault at the church of a large number of family funeral hatchments that, by permission of Lady Susan Grant Suttie at that time, had been photographed after identification by Mr Balfour Paul before being replaced in the vault.

These photographs have so far not been located but one very fine example of a funeral hatchment, 978mm square with oil paint on tin, hangs on the wall of the church today as depicted below. It is for Harriet, daughter of the 8th Earl of Wemyss who married Sir George Grant-Suttie of Balgone and Prestoungrange and who died in 1858.

The hatchment includes the arms of Suttie, Semple, Grant of Prestoungrange, Wemyss, Charteris of Amisfield, Douglas and the Earldom of March. The pendant beneath is the Badge of Baronet of Nova Scotia which her husband held in Suttie descent since its grant by Queen Anne in 1702. The full description appears in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 116 (1986)

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Published Date: February 28th 2003

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