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THE PANS - OLD AND NEW - John Kay Wilson

Prestonpans. known affectionately to the local residents as "The Pans", is a friendly, cheery town with a population of approximately 8.00U. It is situated on the coast of the Forth Estuary eight miles East of Edinburgh and the views over the sea arc spectacular, especially when the sun sets. The main street, or High Street as it is named, runs from East to West for the full length of the town and in the daytime is a very busy thoroughfare. It is the kind of street where you can meet friends old and new and stop and have a chat. which means a little shopping in the morning can last for hours. Quite pleasant on a nice day!
Much of the town is new. but the name is not. One could be excused for thinking "The Pans" is sIang, but originally the Monks from Newbattle. who early in the 13th century mined coal in the area. used the coal to boil sea water in huge pans to make salt. They did this by the shoreline and the site was known as Salt Priestown Pans. This area was separated from Priestown (Preston) by a mile or so of Fields and orchards and as this became populated, the two were joined and the name Prestonpans was and is used for both villages.
Even before making its name well known as an industrial centre, the town of Prestonpans was assured of its place in Scottish history for the famous battle where "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and Ins army defeated Johnnie Cope and his Royalist troops so soundly that the Prince was encouraged to press on over the border into EngIand. Earlier, during the Reformation of the church, it was to Prestonpans that the leading reformer was translated from Holyrood House in 1595. The minister. John Davidson. built the town's First church on the site near the shore where PrestonGrange Parish Church stands today having reached its 400th anniversary in this decade. These two historical events have an interesting connection for in the churchyard stands a tombstone bearing the still legible epitaph to a captain in the Royalist army "barbarously murdered by four HighIanders after the Battle of Prestonpans 21st September 1745".
The fact that the main coach road to London passed through the upper part of the town. Preston. could be the reason that it grew so quickly. Kings, royalty and nobility had to pass through the town on their way south so. for a time. the Preston area was a busy and popular place. Large houses were built for the well-off and some of these still remain. Also. markets were held regularly at the Mercat Cross and this well-preserved example of its type is well worth seeing. It is remarkably well-preserved, as for hundreds of years it was enclosed in private ground and it is one of the few in Scotland which is still in its original position.
Close by the cross, dominating the surrounding area is Preston Tower, once the fortress home of the Hamilton family. Within the grounds, a sheltered housing complex has been thoughtfully incorporated, the original garden having been carefully laid out to reflect its past. In the evening the Tower, the Cross and PrestonGrange Church are all floodlit, enhancing these old buildings and making them even more interesting.
Other Fine examples of old Scottish architecture arc nearby. One of these. Hamilton House, is a scale copy of a typical Scottish mansion house which was said to have been built in 1628 to accommodate the occupants of the tower when it had been destroyed by fire. This house is very attractive with some interesting aspects, the main one being the small paved courtyard in the centre of which is the original well and this is surrounded on three sides by ornate doors and windows. The house is at present in the care of the National Trust.
To the south, beyond the railway line. can be seen a monument to Colonel Gardiner who was killed at the Battle of Prestonpans. His residence. Bankton House was a ruin but it has now been carefully re-constructed and converted into flats. Another interesting building at Preston is Northfield House which is much larger. Built in 1611 by a relative of the Hamiltons. it has turrets and gables which give it a castle-like appearance. One unusual feature is that it contains a fine example of a painted ceiling which was typical of many Scottish houses of that period.
To the west is situated PrestonGrange House, a magnificent mansion which, like Northfield House, possessed painted ceilings. These were removed some time ago, however, and the house is now owned by the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. The extensive grounds have been converted into a first class golf course and part of the building is used as the clubhouse. There is also a fine restaurant with magnificent views over the Forth. This house could be the oldest in the district. It has been extended and altered so many times that it is difficult to say when or what part was built first but it is known that the Monks of Newbattle settled here in 1184. Over the years, the house has had many owners, one of the latter being the Grant-Suttie family, descendants of whom still reside in East Lothian.
Eventually, the industrial part by the sea became the main part of Prestonpans. The main industries in the district about 400 years ago were farming, fishing and coalmining. The availability of the coal soon attracted other industries which required heat and at one time there were a great number of these, including Saltworks. Soapworks. Brickworks. Potteries and Breweries. There was even a chemical works where acids were distilled. Many of the products were exported to EngIand and other parts of Europe and Prestonpans salt. pottery and beer were a household name both at home and abroad. Although Prestonpans has now lost all its old industries and most of its old buildings. many families arc content to remain in this close-knit, caring community and arc happy to commute to Edinburgh and other parts of the Lothians. Fortunately, the town is well served by trains and buses and there is easy access to the motorway for those with cars.
A returning exile would see a vast difference in the town since World War Two. All industrial dirt and grime is now gone. replaced with new buildings and freshly painted houses. The streets arc also wide and well lit and new Community and Health Centres have replaced make-do accommodation. An additional primary' school has been in operation for a number of years and Preston Lodge High School has produced many pupils who have gone on to become very successful in the fields of industry', business, education, sports, politics and the arts.
The good work continues with dedicated people being elected to boards and councils, seeking the best for the community which they serve. Sheltered housing is being built for the elderly and private housing has attracted new people to the town. The names chosen for these buildings reflect the sentimental pride and feelings of the town's inhabitants. One such name is the 'Johnny Moat Place'. which is a sheltered housing complex situated within the infant school grounds. This is named after the large rock on the seashore reputed to be the volcanic plug from Arthur's Scat. Opposite, where Low's market gardens used to be. is a private housing development named Harlaw Hill Gardens and two housing developments to the East on the shoreline are named Sir Walter Scott Pond. where the famous writer bathed in the Forth for the sake of his health and Fowler's Court, part of which retains the walls of the original brewery.
Opposite the Town Hall there are fine new buildings which enhance the area. These incorporate the council offices and flats as well as some retail outlets and they still retain the original name of Althammer which was the name of an old house there. To the rear of this building is a courtyard where information is given about the Saltworks which used to operate on the site and. on climbing some steps, there is a panoramic view from the PentIands to the mouth of the Forth.
Yes. some of the buildings are new. some of the people arc new, but life goes on much as it always did in "The Pans". The strong community spirit is alive and well as could be seen when there was a crisis in the supply of gas some years ago and everyone rallied round helping their neighbours. It can also be seen in the support given for local events such as Gala Days. Coffee Mornings and Concerts and in the amount of thriving local organisations in the town. This is what makes this town unique and. as we approach the Millennium, we can look back with pride at our history and look forward with confidence to our future and be thankful that we continue to be part of "The Pans".

First version published East Lothian Life 1990

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