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That was the year, That was ... and how!

8th Annual Report of the Trustees for year ending October 31st 2014

It has been a year full of surprises and delights. It ended with the Prestonpans Tapestry on well received display in Oban Distillery [a first such venue] as a significant element of that town’s annual textile festival, Fasanta – which is Gaelic for fashionable. Oban is of course replete with Gaelic street signage as we now are in Prestonpans thanks to continued funding support from Bord na Gaidhlig. The Bord is also contributing to the enhancement of the interpretation boards atop the Battle Bing at Meadowmill.

The annual re-enactments in September were the biggest highlight for our Alan Breck Regiment which continues to grow significantly and now offers a wide range of ‘other’ re-enactments across the nation and the Border. Having members as both Highlanders and the redcoat Edinburgh City Guard means it is in high demand and self-sustaining financially. That goal must also be met each September in the coming years and we were grateful to East Lothian Council for its contribution of £5,000. Plans are now afoot for an entrance fee to be asked in 2015.

For 2014 they were as ever excellently created and executed with Sir John Cope’s redcoats providing a much enhanced living history encampment for the many visitors, Cobham’s Dragoons and Birkbeck’s cannon once again present along with all our regular contributors including the 77th Montgomeries from the Czech Republic. The Tapestry was on ‘safari’ display half at the Prestongrange Heritage Museum and half at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg. Andrew Hillhouse’s collection of battle paintings was additionally on display at Cockenzie House – as a foretaste to the planned two month exhibition at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg from November 27th which will include his latest addition to the collection – Colonel Gardiner’s last Stand at The Thorntree which was unveiled on October 24th.

The 2nd Battle of Prestonpans was joined on no less than four fronts during the year

The unveiling of Andrew Hillhouse’s fine Colonel Gardiner artwork on October 24th was the occasion for a great deal more of significant concern. It was the meeting of the 4th Biennial Scottish National Battlefields Symposium, events we initiated with Heritage Lottery support in 2008. This was perhaps the most momentous of the series thus far and the participant list bears witness to that – they came from the 1745 Association, the UK Battlefields Trust, Athelstaneford, Culloden, Bannockburn, Killiecrankie, Flodden, Dunbar, Pinkie and Prestonpans. Messages of support came from the USA Civil War Battlefields Trust, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Naseby.

Whereas in 2013 our horizons had seemingly looked across just our own county, subsequent events had now gathered the nation at large together. To the absolute astonishment and incredulity of all present Historic Scotland, as supposed guardians of the nation’s battlefield heritage as identified in their National Inventory, had been rolled over not once but twice by developers. First in Culloden where the atmosphere of the battlefield was threatened by peripheral housing and secondly on our own battlefield. In order to make a connection to the National Grid, InchCape Offshore Energy had asked and received the endorsement of Historic Scotland at ‘un-minuted meetings’ to build a SubStation actually on our Prestonpans core battle site at a location we also believe to be the main burial ground of those who died on September 21st 1745. And East Lothian Council had acquiesced.

Such was the dispraise of Historic Scotland that by the acclaim of all present Accord was reached to establish a wholly independent Scottish Battlefields Trust – working in partnership with the UK Battlefields Trust. Members of such a Trust might not win all their battles but it was resolved it must absolutely support all who fight in every corner without fear or favour.

Opposition to InchCape Energy’s proposal is based not only on the Battle Trust’s determination to protect the core of the battle site, but also on the fact that just a hundred yards to the north there is extensive brownfield land available. Yet ironically it is that very same land which is the scene of the second battle front. Midyear our coastal community at large learnt that Scottish Enterprise in collusion with East Lothian Council was minded to create a giant Energy Park on the site of the now redundant Cockenzie Power Station. Its planning envelope would include further segments of the core battlefield and drive a 24/7 industrial wedge including a large seaport between the communities of Prestonpans and Cockenzie/Port Seton, eliminating the Greenhills as it went and diverting the John Muir Way. The Battle Trust’s indignation in the matter was eclipsed by the uproar created in the local communities leading to the formation of an ‘alternative’ Coastal Regeneration Alliance with upwards of 3000 members.

Our third battlefront is at Blindwells, which the Trustees prefer to call Charlestoun, where Hargreaves the developers have now tabled their initial proposals for 1500 homes on the area which bestrides the Riggonhead Defile. Currently there are pleasingly no hostilities on this front since Hargreaves initial ideas seemingly honour the significance of the Defile but we must perforce remain vigilant.

Our fourth front has but very recently opened with the publication of East Lothian Council’s Main Issues Report [MIR] which is precursor to a necessarily revised County ‘Local Develoment’ Plan that must include 10,000 more homes by 2024 and associated economic development. It has suggested that the whole of the core National Battlefield Inventory area currently un-built upon should be designated for ‘mixed development’.

Staying focussed on our Objectives

As can be imagined, with so many challenges on so many fronts, it has been somewhat trying to keep the Trust focused on its objectives. The Trust was established to conserve and interpret the battle and all that it represents in Scottish and indeed UK history. We confess we were taken unawares by the inability of Historic Scotland to protect what remains of our battlefield, and others, but have readily accepted that if they cannot and/ or will not we must address that issue ourselves very much in partnership with all other likeminded battlefield groups across Scotland and the UK. Since we have thus far been Biennial Symposia convenors we have agreed to allocate resources to ensure that the Scottish Battlefields Trust, as a nationwide co-operative, is established immediately to inter alia bring necessary additional strength to all our own activities, hopes and ambitions for Prestonpans.

Amongst all the hubris of this 2nd Battle of Prestonpans, we have reminded ourselves regularly that our super-ordinate objective is to conserve and interpret the battle that took place on September 21st 1745. We remain committed to advancing that objective by raising funds to create a Living History Centre and Tapestry Pavilion at Prestongrange Heritage Museum. We have clearly perforce given salience in pursuit of that objective to the need to ensure that the core battlefield is itself protected and indeed enhanced as and when the industrial railway and coal store are decommissioned. We wish to see as much as possible returned to agriculture as it was in 1745. We further wish to see any development outwith the ore undertaken in a sympathetic and appropriate way as is hopefully now envisaged by Hargeaves for Blindwells/ Charlestoun.

Our negotiations with East Lothian Council, as owners of the Heritage Museum, are once again active and now at a very critical stage. Unless by end 2014 a clear and mutually agreed way forward has been identifed we shall be most deliberately looking at alternative strategies to achieve our Objectives. This would involve a quite different approach both for the Tapestry and Living History beyond the annual re-enactments. Some aspects are already being explored in the context of a proper restoration of Colonel Gardiner’s Obelisk and of The Bankton Doocot and the creation of a Field of Remembrance at the battle site itself – for which latter interpretation Planning Consent has now been given by East Lothian Council.

Ed. Delighted to report that Planning Consent in Principle has now been received for the Tapestry Pavilion at the Museum site. Now to raise the £2 million we need to make it a reality.

Published Date: February 7th 2015

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