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Jessie D Beith

When conditions and people are changing so much today, it is often a stabilising force to look back on times when people were in the same occupation for forty years at least. The doyen of them all was T G Young, headmaster of Prestonpans Primary' School. Of average height, T G had a short clipped moustache and a manner verging on the military. He came to Prestonpans from Elphinstone and as well as an insistence on discipline, which encompassed teachers as well as pupils, he was devoted to choir singing, an enthusiasm shared by Miss Hoggan and Miss Main. respectively infant mistress of the largest infant department in the county (East Lothian as it was then). Both these elderly ladies trained children for the Infants' Singing Games Banner at the Edinburgh (Competition) Music Festival. For as long as I was a pupil and later, after the Second World War, when I was a teacher. Prestonpans Infants carried off the Banner. As I recall it fifty years later, this prized trophy was of navy silk with a fringe, and it depicted children dancing around the maypole, beautifully embroidered in delicate colours. It hung in a polished case of solid mahogany which was attached to the middle of the downstairs corridor in the "White School".
I started lessons in the old grey school in Miss Craig's class. The "White School" was well under construction and naturally Mr Young was determined to arrange a concert of outstanding calibre to present before Sir William McKechnie, Secretary of the Scottish Education Department, who was to declare the school open. With him were: R D Robertson Esq. MA. the Director of Education: James Reid of Tyncholm, PencaitIand, Chairman of the Education Committee, accompanied by their wives along with the Rev Dr Logan Ayre. minister of the Parish Church. This opening concert on a lovely sunny day marked one of the highlights of my school days, for. since I had elocution lessons at the time. the headmaster called on me. aged eight, to give a recitation before this august assembly. Wearing a white satin dress and a bandeau of pink rosebuds and blue forget-me-nots, especially made for me by an aunt. and clutching an ivory fan. the subject of the poem, I walked onto the stage, made the obligatory curtsy to the principal guests and recited "A Lesson with the Fan". One more curtsy at the end and the performance was over. I still see the time on the Parish Church clock - 11.45-for I kept my eye on its face. rather than the sea of human ones below me. Summoned to Mr Young's room afterwards. I entered with fear and trembling to be presented to the Secretary of the Scottish Education Department. William McKechnie as a noted wag all his life (I encountered him at student conferences during the Second World War). "Dressed in white satin, no less!", he exclaimed, "you should be going to a wedding or a ball. Not a school concert!" I have cherished that compliment from a great educationalist to a wee girl at school all my life. It was T G's continuing boast as he lived to over 90 that he had received more from ELEC in retirement than he had ever earned. While every child in Prestonpans was known to T G Young, every adult knew the Parish minister, the Rev Dr Logan Ayre. Wearing his clerical frockcoat and flat hat, mischievously referred to as "a shovel hat" by the irreverent youth, the worthy cleric walked everywhere in the parish to tend his flock. A gentle soul, he was a real charmer nevertheless with his educated Irish intonation. He was of slight build, but spry and his smile was indeed a blessing. Born in Ballymena, he studied at McGie Divinity College. He was an assistant at St Mary's. Dumfries, where he plucked Miss Grace Wallace from the choir and married her. Mrs Logan Ayre was a well-loved figure to the girls and women. Everyone admired her. She was artistic, charming and encouraging. Even when she was over 80 she was still painting the most exquisite china. Their son Peter, born in Kirkcowan became a minister too and held the Church of Scotland charges at Calcutta and Geneva with distinction. Margaret trained as an infant teacher following Froebel methods at St George's Teacher Training school. As teacher and Guide Captain she was rightly adored by all who came under her spell. Full of fun and laughter. Margaret Logan Ayre was the belle of the Masonic Balls, especially recalled wearing a pink dress. Far from being snobbish, she took pleasure in dancing with the miners present. Now over 80 and living in Stenton, Margaret (Mrs MacKenzie), had married Harold MacKenzie. a rubber pIanter who had been interned in Chiangi Jail, Singapore by the Japanese in 1941. For their services to Johore after the war. the Sultan created them Dato and Datin, almost the equivalent of countess.
A figure, short, stoutish with a ruddy complexion was another "weel kent" person perpetually going about Prestonpans dressed in grey or blue with a grey homburg hat. This was the Rev Kenneth McLennan. MA, BD, the incumbent of Prestongrange Church. He always wore thick-soled boots because of all the walking he undertook. Born in Kingussie, Kenneth McLennan went to school there. winning a scholarship to Aberdeen University, where he graduated MA in Classics (Latin and Greek), he was appointed to the Nicholson Institute in Stornoway but the call to the preaching of the Gospel was stronger so he went to Edinburgh and took a BD at New College. He then went to Canada as a "Prairie Padre". By now the Great War had started and so "Mr Valiant for Truth" now became army chaplain, leaving behind at Fortrose his wife Mary McNiven Campbell and tow children (under two years of age). He served First in France with Church of Scotland Huts and Canteens. At one period he was stationed at Salonika in Greece. One night when he was in bed. insurgents invaded the camp. Mr McLeiman escaped in his pyjamas: lucky to escape with his life. My father always addressed him as "Padre".
As soon as Mr McLeiman heard someone was in hospital, he was off to Edinburgh by bus or train to offer solace. Many a deathbed he sat by in the Infirmary and "saw the soul safely over to the other side" and I am sure he gave the same service in the Burgh. Being HighIand he was inclined to be emotional. Man's a time at Communion, he would administer the Sacrament with tears streaming down his face. Although reunited with the Church of Scotland in 1929 and following its liturgy, the services conducted by Mr McLennan were sIanted towards the Free Church tradition where the preaching of the Word and ex-tempore prayer were the outstanding practices. Anyone listening to Ins prayers could not fail to be moved by his sincerity and depth of experience. His fervent praying for a member of the congregation after death and at the graveside left one in no doubt of his belief in God's goodness and the life everlasting.
His gentle wife and five children (three girls and two boys). Filled the manse pews with the epitome of a loving, happy Christian family, the core of the church and participants in all its activities. The Rev Kenneth McLennan was only a few days off 90 when he died in 1963.
Over half a century ago everyone walked about the town itself, only using the bus or train for visits further afield. No one would have dreamed of taking the bus to Port Scion. Many people even walked to Levenhall to take a trarncar. at 3d (in today's currency lp). as this was the cheapest form of transport. Incidentally the students of Fifty years ago from Port Scion and Prestonpans used to go to the Saturday evening dances in the "Union" in Edinburgh. How they travelled home was determined by their Financial position. If flush, the train at I Id single was favoured. Sixpence (3p) ensured a scat on the last bus at 10.3()pm but. provided it was a dry night, the majority caught the last tram to Levenhall at I lpm and costing only 3d (lp)! What a happy, good-natured band we were walking home in the utter darkness of wartime Black-Out by the Looming Braes and the Brickworks.
Perhaps the best-known tradesman was the immaculate Christopher Whitelaw. undoubtedly "THE" grocer in the burgh. Every morning quite early he left his semi-detached stone villa opposite the old Salvation Army premises to make his way to his grocer's shop about quarter of a mile west of Ayre's Wynd. Here one encountered the exotic smell of spices, coffee, hams and bacon of all kinds. sliced meticulously on his Berkel machine. None of the pre-packed, plastic boxes we have to put up with now! Oh for a smell (and taste) of smoked Belfast ham! No matter what time ofday a customer went into Mr Whitelaw's shop, stacked as it was with delicacies from all over the world, there he stood behind the counter, his white apron neither creased nor stained, courteously giving his whole attention, whether for a box of matches or a whole list of items for a week's family shopping. Although he was the family grocer par excellence, it had not been Christopher Whitelaw's intention to be one. He had trained as an engineer, applied for and been accepted to work on the erection of a bridge in the USA subject to passing a medical examination. Naturally a young man in the full vigour of his early manhood thought it a mere formality. Alas it revealed that he had one arm slightly shorter than the other - not noticeably so. nor was it defective. But no job in the USA! One of eight of a family, he didn't move far from his birthplace in Caird's Row. Musselburgh. when Mr Whitelaw set up as a grocer in High Street. Prestonpans. A family man. he had a son and three daughters, the youngest of whom. Jean, now retired, was his worthy successor in the business. Everyone agrees Jean made a wise decision when she rebuilt and enlarged the shop with a flat above. Jean always had a reputation as a tomboy, a very good-natured and ingenious one. This is best exempliFied by as escapade in early 1939. Opposite the old grocer's shop were the offices of the Gas Company owned by a Mr Maedonald who came from Inverbervic. He was a jovial man with a ginger moustache (caused by smoking we would declare nowadays) with many interest and especially interested in youth and education. He eventually became Provost of the Burgh. He owned the gasworks and its one dumpy gasometer. In the spring of 1939 he directed two of his staff. Dave Ostler and David AlIan to strip off the 19 coats of paint on the gasometer. It was hot and tiring work and occasionally either of the men came down the ladders, walked along to Whitelaw's for Five Woodbine cigarettes. Jean soon worked out a wonderful ruse for she wanted to see the marvellous view of Prestonpans from the top of the tank. Of course this was forbidden by safety regulations. Jean. however, was not to be so easily put off She arranged for the men to signal to her about noon and along she ran. clutching the thin pale green packet of Five Woodbine, climbed the ladders, got to the top of the tank and revelled for a few minutes in the panorama of sea and countryside spread below. Maybe she was extra careful, for the old cemetery was just over the wall!

Jean's photo shows this is certainly a "high" in her memories!

One of the fascinating objects in the grocer's was the set of scales. None of your wee dials but a majestic column of brass 3ft high with a round brass pan on one side for the weights and a gleaming white rectangular swinging "shelf' on the other, ready to weight anything from an ounce of pepper to a "forepit" (3'/2>bs.) of tatties. Beside in military precision were ranked the weights from Viw. to 141bs ( I stone) and always they were gleaming and spotless.
Another respected figure in Prestonpans was Mr H T Laidlaw who was on the road from his house in the village of Preston to his business premises in the High Street early, before 6am. six mornings a week. Like his fellow businessman Mr Whilelaw. H T was always immaculately dressed: suit. shirt and tie always, well polished shoes and a grey homburg hat which he kept on all day. Like himself. Laidlaw's newsagent. stationer and tobacconist was always ship-shape and Bristol fashion - absolutely tidy and spoticssly clean. A big man in every sense of the term. Mr Laidlaw was an earnest Christian. Along with "old" Dr McEwan he ran a boys' club to help to provide interest and activities before and during the Depression of the '20s and '30s. On account of his Christian commitment he never sold Sunday papers. Before moving up to Station Road with his handsome family of three sons and a daughter. Mr Laidlaw lived in a house in the Iane at the side of his shop. The Iane ran from High Street down to the shore. During the War the three sons were in the Forces. Bill and Harry in the RAF, both alas killed, and Jim. the eldest, who learned his father's business before training for the ministry and then serving as a chaplain in a submarine. Strangely enough Jim's First wife struck her head on a bulkhead when visiting him at Rosyth. She died some time later as a result of her injury. In spite of all these blows of fate. his wife having predeceased them. Mr Laidlaw remained a supreme example of a good Christian.
After his war service, the Rev James Laidlaw was called to the parish of Whithorn in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. After his early death he was succeeded by the Rev Peter Logan Ayre when he retired from St Andrew's Kirk in Geneva. Such is the long arm of coincidence in Prestonpans.
Living near H T Laidlaw in Station Road was the Hunter family, comprising Mr and Mrs Hunter. their only son Lindsay and Mrs Hunter's sister Miss Helen B Smith. The headmistress of the four-tcacher infant school at Cuthill. officially West Prestonpans but usually referred to as "the kittle". Miss Smith was a stately figure at all times, but especially on the old-fashioned upright bicycle with strong guards to prevent her longish skirt becoming entangled in the spokes of the rear wheel. She cycled to school and even went home for lunch. In her day. as now. long pendant carrings were fashionable and she wore beautiful jade and tortoiseshell ones. Green was her favourite colour. From her I learned the precept I put into action many years later - "firm but fair". Miss Smith taught the entrant infants herself with patience and encouragement. In my time at the West School. I cannot recall her raising her voice let alone her hand.
There is an amusing social commentary on these times. The Hunter family, who attended the Parish Church, were very straight-laced, but sincere. When the son Lindsay came to prepare for his first Communion, they asked the minister to arrange that wow-fermented wine should be used as they did not wish their son to get a taste for alcohol from having wine at Communion!
Many years later in another parish the same request for unfermented wine was made when changing over from the common cup to individual cups or glasses. "Do you mean to say that people entering the church are to be asked, 'Common or individual cup? Fermented or unfermented wine?' God forbid!" The minister in question was himself strictly TT but favoured fermented wine.
Commercial vehicles operating in Prestonpnas were mostly horse-drawn. Coal in bulk was delivered in a high sided two-wheeled cart. In my mind's eye I can still see Dod Anderson with his ruddy complexion and 'Kaiser Bill' moustache perched over 6ft above the road in his fine green cart with its big red wheels. He had the contract for delivering the miners' coal. Household coal for other people came in hundredweight bags costing from £l-£2 per ton depending on the quality. Naturally the household coal was transported on a low flat cart. By law the carter or coalman was obliged to carry scales and if anyone was dubious of the weight, they could demand to have the bag reweighed. No housewife worth her salt would fail to have the empty bags folded and placed at her feet. especially during the Second World War when coal was rationed.
In mentioning fuel. I am reminded of one of Prestonpans annual "treats". The gas office had a big plate glass window in which, at Easter, Mr Maedonald. owner of the gas works, placed an incubator heated by gas which hatched hens' eggs and the chickens were there in the window for all to enjoy. Another of Mr Maedonald's acknowledgment of the curiosity of children was to give a prize to Preston Lodge for the pupils who, after visiting the gas works, wrote the best account. It could be either from the scientific angle or historic.
Preston Lodge had as its rector then Andrew H Millar, MA, BSc, a very distinguished graduate of Glasgow University, a brilliant mathematician and excellent administrator. He knew every pupil's background as well as his academic potential. To Pupils he was always approachable but only one's best endeavours would satisfy. In my time credits came from a pupil named John Campbell from Ormiston who came first in the National Miners' Scholarship. He studied medicine. There was Kathleen Harkess who came first in both the Edinburgh and St Andrews Competitive Bursaries in 1942. No automatic grants then. Bursaries were won by intensive study and external examination.
Incidentally Prestonpans was well endowed for education of its sons by the Schaw Bequest. I believe the last winner of "the Schaw" was Peter Logan Ayre. His immediate predecessor was David Neilson who after War Service became the headmaster of Gifford. Having taught under him I would say he was the last of the village dominies, wise. experienced, patient with a kindly sense of humour. he commanded the respect and admiration of pupil and staff alike. In the mid '30s. the Education Authority, then an ad hoc body. in its wisdom, amalgamated all the county's endowment funds - thus reducing the amount allocated for further education in Prestonpans. Lest it be thought only academic distinction was encouraged at PL. here is a list of occupations where former pupils were outstanding. especially after the erection of the "Mining Buildings" about 1938: brewing, law, medicine, nursing. banking, engineering of every type, civil servants.
To everyone's distress Mr Miller took seriously ill during the war and was confined to bed for fully two years. To relieve the tedium of lying still in bed, Mr Miller spent much of his time using his mathematical aptitude to invent knitting patterns. His devoted nurse was his charming wife. a teacher of English. The mathematical ability was evident in their daughter Helen's success at St Andrew's University, while her brother George became an astronomer. Andrew H Miller died at the age of 42. deeply mourned by the whole community. The iniquity of tied houses was never more poignant or evident than when within two months of her husband's death Mrs Miller had to leave their home Preston Park to become Headmistress of the one-tcacher school at Spott.
In Prestonpans there was always a respect for education to the extent that the older members of families helped their parents to put the younger ones "through college". A notable example was the Bogie family at Morison's Haven. The father was an oversman at Prestongrange. There were six children. Thanks to the encouragement of their mother, the youngest. Albert became a minister in the Church of Scotland and his tall. fine-looking, earnest, helpful sister was one of the earlier woman chartered accountants. An older son worked as a miner and a daughter, wearing clogs and a leather apron, walked daily from Morison's Haven to the Brewery.
Besides Fowler's Brewer}. Summerlee Iron Company employed several hundred men in Prestongrange Colliery and its neighbouring brick works. The company had built their own settlement just east of the Grant-SutherIand estate at Cuthill. There were four long rows of red brick terraced houses. "Front Street" alone had long narrow gardens and back courts enclosed by 8ft high walls, behind which were the coal cellar and the outside we with running water. "Front Street" was intended for the most skilful tradesmen, shot firers, joiners etc.
In Middle Street, two rows of terraced houses had a kitchen, a scullery and two bedrooms upstairs. Families of six to eight children were brought up there, some in squalor, other sin clean and well-managed poverty. Summerlee Street was where many of the younger miners lived. The terraces had two flats with outside stairs. Two rooms with two box beds each comprised the accommodation. I can barely remember the dry outside lavatories called "shunkics". What an outburst of rejoicing there was when bathrooms and sculleries were built out to the south! Of course, the pithcad baths were not built until after the War.
One cannot mention Summerlee without including the company's best known employee, the housing factor, "auld Davie Neilson". Small of stature with longish white hair ("longish" when a very short back and sides was the norm) under his tweed bonnet and clad in a beige waterproof. Mr Neilson's keen blue eyes missed nothing. He had to inspect premises for repairs and he collected tlie rents. The bags of silver and coppers he accumulated on his rounds were exchanged at the Post Office for bank notes -much easier to carry up to the Colliery Office at Morison's Haven. Mr Neilson's brother George was the pit manager. His family consisted of two daughters and three sons. Willie. David and Ben, who all became managers of branches of Prestonpans Co-op: Willie had one daughter Nan who had a very successful career in banking: David had a son and a daughter Margaret, both teachers, whereas Ben had no family.
Another well known, much admired family in Prestonpans was the Hanrattys. Mrs Hanratty lived in Front Street where, with the help of the older ones. she brought up six children after her husband's death. Stoutish with a lovely skin and luxuriant brown hair. Leeby, as she was known to her contemporaries - though no child would have thought of. or dared to address her as other than "Mrs Hanratty" - was warm-hearted if apprehensive. Whenever he reached school leaving age. Edward, the oldest, against his mother's wishes, went up to Prestongrange Colliery to look for a job. As he was crossing the internal rail system, he was knocked down by the "pug" engine and lost an arm. He took various clerking jobs till eventually he qualified as a teacher, his mother's intention for him. Peter. the youngest, studied maths at Edinburgh University. He had barely started teaching at PL when 1939 brought the War. Peter volunteered for the RAF and trained as a pilot. Because of the excellence of his mathematical ability he became one of the famous daring Pathfinder pilots who went allead of the main bomber squadrons and marked the targets by dropping flares. I can always remember when he was flying his Mosquito to La Spezia, the Italian naval base. His apprehensive mother watched anxiously for my father coming home to lunchtime (the Hanrattys lived next door to us) in order to ask if any telegrams announcing lost pilots had come in. I'm glad to report his reply: "It's alright Leeby lass. He must be safely back." Mercifully Peter survived the war. returned to teach in PL a changed man. but died comparatively young, the result of the strain of his RAF service.
Possibly the best known person around Prestonpans Primary School was Mr Thomson, the janitor, better known as Rab. He was indeed a colourful character. Cockenzie was his birthplace. Immediately he left school, he joined his father on a fishing boat. "The Daisy". When the Great War broke out. Rab joined the Royal Navy and served on small destroyers. It was when he dived overboard to save a shipmate that he lost a leg caught in a hawser. When the new janitor's lodge was built at the entrance to the White School. Mr Thomson moved in and he began his career as school janitor. Naturally he needed a stick to keep his baIance with his artificial limb. This stick he used to great effect in keeping discipline in the playground.
Prestonpans had its eccentric characters too. There were Joe and Aggie Bagnoll. a couple of Cockneys who somehow Ianded up in the Burgh. They had a fruit and vegetable shop situated between Ayre's Wynd and New Street. Only run-of-the-mill goods were stocked, cabbages, turnips. carrots, potatoes, apples, oranges and bananas. Avocado pears and kjwi fruit were beyond their ken. Their untidy premises would not be tolerated by the Environmental Health inspectors nowadays. Joe and Aggie hawked their produce on an ancient four-wheeled car - no rubber tyres cither - pulled by an equally ancient but good-tempered horse. They visited different parts of the town with their produce on different days. If the goods were wrapped at all. they were in newspapers, but each purchase was accompanied by amusing Cockney repartee. Whatever the weather. Aggie wore a fur-collarcd coat and a cloche hat and Joe his cloth cap and muffler over his collar-less, tie-less shirt!
The "big store" in the High Street, in addition to being an emporium stocked with goods. groceries, clothes and gear, was the place where another of Prestonpans "characters" was to be found. Colin Campbell. a shoemaker to trade. In Scottish towns the cobbler's shop lias always been a focal point where menfolk congregated to discuss the latest news in the daily papers: again these were days before "the wireless" as the radio was then called. I always regarded it as a treat when I was sent with shoe repairs, because for some five minutes I was allowed to sit on the bench beside the men gathered there and listen to discussions on trade unionism, football, horses, the Town Council and any other weighty matter worthy of discussion. All the while Colin was hammering and stitching, "putting people back on an even keel", as he called it. During the Second World War. he skilfully worked miracles to keep everyone's well-worn but precious, shoes serviceable.
The first people to change from walking to driving to speed them on their rounds were the doctors. Old Dr McEwan - I never knew his Christian name - had originally used a horse-drawn vehicle, but by 1930 Dr George and Dr Willie had cars. Dr George was tall. thin. dark-haired. He wore a moustache. Softly spoken and gentle. Dr George was much esteemed. On the other hand Dr Willie was shorter and burlier. He was much brisker in his manner and favoured by the males in Prestonpans. Neither doctor ever carried a penny, for their father in his time had given away a fortune to his patients, so distressed was he about the poverty he encountered. In the 1950s Dr George retired to Kenya. Later on Dr Willie retired to Longniddry where he enjoyed golfing and gardening.
Doctor, grocer, teacher, miner and all their associated trades and professions by their endeavours have. through the past half century, ensured that Prestonpans has maintained its strong sense of an integrated community. I am sure there are worthy people today to carry on the tradition for another fifty years.

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