How well has the battlefield at Prestonpans been protected and interpreted?

2006 - 2019

Rationale: This analysis and the necessary action lines arising are intended to set a precedent for Scottish Local Authorities who host any of the nation’s Designated Battlefield Areas listed in the National Inventory created and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland [HES].

What protection currently exists: There is no legal protection provided under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 Ch 46 [as amended] Clause 32B which requires the ‘establishment and maintenance by Scottish Ministers of an Inventory of such battlefields as appear to be of national importance’ which they have delegated to HES. Under Scottish Government Planning Policies however [i] HES is designated as a Statutory Consultee which may register any Objections it might choose which are to be shared with the relevant Local Authority; and [ii] all Local Authorities are themselves required to ‘factor in’ the existence of the designated battlefield in all their planning considerations and decisions made. [iii] Since April 2019 Ministers have specifically required that HES draw to their attention ab initio to any planning proposals that impact significantly on any Designated Battlefield [currently 40]. Objections to any Planning Decisions reached by Local Authorities may be appealed to the Ministers whose decision will be final subject only to Judicial Review.

What has been the experience in Prestonpans since the National Inventory was established: The Battle of Prestonpans [1745] Heritage Trust was established in 2006 as an independent charity to protect and interpret the battlefield which was Designated in 2012 LINKED HERE

It encompasses Tranent where the Prince’s Highlanders arrived first from Edinburgh through the Riggonhead Defile to the battle lines west of Seton. Sir John Cope’s army was encamped on recently harvested lands from Preston Tower/ Preston House in the west to the 1722 Waggonway in the east with his baggage train at and close by Cockenzie House. His dragoons fled past Bankton House towards Birsley Brae pursued by the final Jacobite casualty David Threipland of Fingask, Strathallen Horse, who was shot at St Clement’s Wells Farm.

Status quo at the time the Inventory was created:

The western end of the battlefield in Prestonpans had been extensively developed with Preston Lodge School, Community and Health Centres and much housing although the Tower still stands. The Riggonhead Defile had seen extensive opencast coal mining in the mid20th century and was already destined for development as a new community of 3000+ homes. Three significant fields remained of the lands on which the British Army camped and the battle was actually fought. The marshy grounds at the foot of the Tranent escarpment had been drained and turned into playing fields known as Meadowmill and St Joseph’s School built. Two significant roads have been constructed almost centrally across the battlefield running south/ north and east/ west. This latter is paralleled by the main line railway to Edinburgh and a branch railway running SW/ NE introduced to carry coal to the Cockenzie Power Station constructed on the old site of Preston Links colliery close by the Forth. Power was carried to the National Grid via pylons which similarly bestride the battlefield.

Clearly extensive urban development had taken place on lands long identified on Ordnance Survey maps as the battlefield with crossed swords.

However all had certainly not been lost: At the time of the closure and clearance of the coal mining in the area the creativity of the then East Lothian Region’s Chief Planning Officer Frank Tyndall had ensured the creation of a Bing affording a spectacular 360 degree Viewpoint on the battlefield with brass engraved interpretation plates. A Development Trust had invested to restore Bankton House, the former residence of Colonel Gardiner, as private apartments whilst its Doocot was converted into a micro museum gifted to the Council. When the branch line to the Power Station had been built skeletons unearthed on the battlefield had been reinterred close by the existing 1745 Battle cairn erected in 1932 by the Society for the Preservation of Rural Scotland. That cairn itself had been deliberately placed by the east/ west roadside when the last boughs of the hawthorn tree by which Colonel Gardiner was mortally wounded in 1745 were felled. The tree’s location was meticulously referenced by East Lothian Antiquarians with tree fragments safeguarded in national collections and that location subsequently recalled with a cairn in a play area of new housing built at the western edge of the battlefield. Finally the oldest remembrance of the battle, Colonel Gardiner’s Obelisk to the north of Bankton House erected in 1853 by public subscription in the aftermath of Walter Scott’s Waverley, and still stood proudly visible from the main line railway. A missing toe from one of the guardian lions on the obelisk had been privately restored by the Robertson family locally in honour of their ancestors. The County Archaeologist Biddy Simpson had documented the heritage of the Riggonhead Defile as plans for the new community there were first formulated and called for its interpretation as building went ahead.

1995 was the 250th Anniversary of the Battle: East Lothian Council arranged the first known, ambitious and very popular re-enactment on the playing fields known at Meadowmill. The micro museum at Bankton Doocot was equipped with a battle table and other interpretation. But there had been no legacy thereafter until Peter Mackenzie, a local primary school teacher, took the initiative with his children and began Walks in 2000. It was to him that the Prestoungrange Arts Festival, established earlier in 1997 to tell out loud the 1000 year history of Prestonpans, turned when its focus fell on the battle in 2006. It resolved to establish the discrete Battle of Prestonpans [1745] Heritage Trust as a Scottish Charity.

The Objects of the Charitable Trust - and Action Lines since 2006:

‘The Charity is established for the purpose of advocacy on behalf of the preservation of the site of the Battle which took place near to Prestonpans on September 21st 1745, the honouring of those who fell, and for the advancement of heritage research and education leading to greater understanding and proper remembrance of the Battle, including studies facilitating the interpretation of all matters leading up to and consequent upon the Battle and the social, political and environmental context in which it was fought, and in so doing making use of all manner of literary, artistic and other representation to enable the widest possible appreciation of the heritage to be discerned. The Trust will seek to establish a Living History Centre to further its Objects and in doing so support the regeneration of the local area and promote human welfare including recreation and other leisure pursuits for the community at large.’

The Trust is counselled by a Committee of High Patronage which is open to all Clan Chiefs and British Army leaders present in Prestonpans on September 21st 1745. It is managed for its members by a Board of Trustees, and led in its activities by volunteers and sessional staff. It has been funded by donations and grants to date totalling £925,657 in direct cash to October 31st 2019 with myriad off balance sheet, in-kind and volunteer contributions mobilising two millions more.

Action Lines 1: Advocacy on behalf of ‘preservation’:

From the outset it was accepted that the Riggonhead Defile would be lost to many thousands of new homes and as soon as its lead developer Hargreaves was appointed the Trust initiated contact. The advocacy was that the interpretational recommendations of the County Archaeologist should be honoured and the Trust was ready to provide all necessary support and historical advice. The response thus far has been encouraging with Hargreaves clearly conscious that the new community can gain a considerable sense of place from its 1745 heritage. The extensive requirement for water management has created a Prince’s Loch with a matching Prince’s Park. The Trust’s ambitions grew as discussions began on potential name for the community other than the coal mining description of Blindwells. The Trust consistently argued for Charlestoun and simultaneously for the creation of Scotland’s first equestrian statue of The Prince to be installed.

The Trust’s most determined advocacy has been occasioned by the ‘national necessity’ to create an onshore sub-station for incoming off-shore wind farms in The Forth. Once again the Trust accepted the national priority since connections to the National Grid were already in place as a legacy from Cockenzie Coal Power Station that was decommissioned and has now been spectacularly demolished. The first planning proposal lodged envisaged building on the battlefield itself, on Thorntree Field, to the west of the 1722 Waggonway. The developers said this was the only neighbouring land that owners, Scottish Power, were prepared to make available. Historic Scotland [now HES] initially objected but [as FoI requests uncovered] after un-minuted discussions with the developer HES agreed to withdraw their objection. ELC then granted planning approval. The Trust was and remains vehement in its objection, lobbying hard nationally and locally and highlighting the area was not only part of the battlefield but a burial ground for many of those killed. This was already apparent from the discovery of skeletons when the branch railway had been constructed for coal supplies to Cockenzie Power Station. There was also much neighbouring brownfield land potentially available surrounding the decommissioned Power Station on which it could be located. The Trust’s online Petition opposing the proposal drew over 13,000 names.

At this juncture Enterprise Scotland crashed onto the scene with a bold scheme to create an industrial landscape across all the lands of Scottish Power focused on offshore energy supplies. Their putative initiative led to widespread community outrage since it would have been wedged in between major residential areas. Scottish Enterprise and ELC sought to resolve matters by inviting external consultants to create a Master Plan which after much consultation and debate was achieved – but ELC declined to adopt it, seeing it as simply a Vision and resting their hopes on finding an external investor group to take responsibility as Hargreaves had for Blindwells/ Charlestoun and the Riggonhead Defile. To advance this ambition ELC purchased all the lands of Scottish Power including the Thorntree and Waggonway Fields i.e. much of the surviving battlefield. That ownership has enabled it to impose planning blight in every respect so that an incoming developer might have a free hand, which continues to this day – with implications for the Trust in respect of its plans for both a Living History Centre and Memorials.

There has been one element of good news however, brought about by the intervention of Scotland’s First Minister following a change of heart by the Wind Farmers of The Forth.Once ELC became owners of all the lands that Scottish Power had earlier refused to make available for the SubStation the developers proposed relocating northwards outwith the Thorntree Field to a brownfield area closer to the legacy National Grid connection and the arriving electric power from The Forth. ELC was never given the opportunity to consider this relocation because during a visit to China, where the developers are based, the First Minister called in the application in the ‘national interest’ and the Reporter subsequently recommended approval for the revised non-battlefield location.

There was a second area where it felt momentarily that more good news was imminent when after much lobbying ELC put out the Waggonway and Thorntree Fields for Tender to grow crops in 2019. The Trust had long worked with a local farmer to be ready for such a moment with the ambition to grow rye as in 1745 with an associated opportunity to explore contemporary methods of harvesting and at the same time to ensure the hawthorn location was once again actively remembered. The opportunity was lost as a higher tender led to the growing of Brussel sprouts which provoked endless ribaldry.

Action Lines 2: Honouring those who fell:

In 2006 there had been no formal annual commemoration of the battle for a decade. The micro museum at Bankton House was disused, Colonel Gardiner’s Obelisk and the Battle Bing unattended. Wreaths were however laid at the Cairn by volunteer groups. Colonel Gardiner’s burial location at Tranent Church had been lost during the rebuilding of the church at the end of the 18th century but a single named headstone for British Army Captain Stuart of Physgul could be located at Prestongrange Churchyard. However, Peter MacKenzie’s annual walks begun in 2000 indeed were significantly continuing.

The Trust immediately commenced wreath laying each September 21st and with support from ELC saw to it that the Bing was cleared of litter and the grass area surrounding the Obelisk tidied. These initiatives lead to the granting of a 10 year lease by ELC to the Trust for the Battle Bing, Gardiner’s Obelisk and Bankton Doocot. The Trust successfully applied to Viridor for a grant to restore then immediately introduce AV interpretation at the Bankton Doocot and with matching funds to restore the Battle Bing and railings surrounding the Obelisk. The most substantial initiative however saw the creation of two stone Memorial Tables carved by local sculptor Gardner Molloy, one for the Highlanders who Came Out with The Prince and one for the British Army Regiments. Completed in 2016 it was not until 2018 that they could be installed on the 1722 Waggonway at the centre of the battlefield because of ELC’s planning blight across the area as already reported and a bizarre sequence of planning requests. They were dedicated in the presence of those Clan Chiefs themselves in September and a month later of the Governor of Edinburgh Castle – which never surrendered in 1745. At Tranent Churchyard a memorial tablet was also placed at the location where Colonel Gardiner had been originally buried.

Action Lines 3: Research and education:

From 2006 the Trust has been engaged in a continuous programme of research and provided educational support – most especially after The Jacobites became an element in the National Curriculum. Research went away to a flying start with the synchronous publication in 2006 of Battle of Prestonpans by US civil rights lawyer Martin Margulies whose had a holiday cottage on South Uist and had visited Eriskay and the beach where The Prince first landed in July 1745. He has supported and worked with the Trust immediately becoming Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the Alan Breck’s Regiment of Prestonpans Volunteers established in 2007 by Royal Warrant at The Palace of Holyrood House where the Trust held a reception that year. A major battle mural was also painted on the wall of one of the town’s primary schools in 2006 by international and local artists during the Global Congress of Mural Towns. Presentations and visits at schools and to local societies have been a continuous occurrence frequently aided by the creation of a topographical battle board with superb ceramic models and soldiery.

With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Your Heritage Grant the Trust was able to work with Glasgow University’s Battlefield Archaeology Group to undertake exploratory digs and with the help of supervised detectorists to unearth a number of significant artefacts. It was included in the National Inventory as that emerged. This has been supplemented by donations of 19th century brass etchings of Bankton House and of Colonel Gardiner leaving Stirling as well as a provenanced fragment of the Thorntree. The banner of Gardiner’s Dragoons has been researched and a replica created.

The ever growing list of the Trust’s research publications began in 2008 with Arran Johnston’s Rebellious Scots to Crush, an anthology of much of the better known literature and poetry arising from the Victory. At the same time the Trust also reprinted the 1898 analysis of the battle by Sir Robert Cadell [of Cockenzie House] Sir John Cope and the Rebellion of 1745. As well as these factual studies new novels appeared under the Trust’s aegis from Sharon Dabell, Roy Pugh and Gordon Prestoungrange, respectively A Backward Glance, The White Rose and the Thorn Tree and A Baron’s Tale; Ian Nimo captured the story of Alan Breck; John Lindsay crafted new poetry; Andrew Dallmeyer wrote and presented two new plays Battle of Pot ‘n Pans and Colonel Gardiner Vice and Virtue. Arran Johnston again put pen to paper to explore in Valour Does Not Wait The Prince’s relationships with his elders and commanders and then again in On Gladsmuir Shall the Battle Be added to Martin Margulies’ original analysis by looking at the much wider context of the build up to the battle and its impact on society locally and beyond. Local artist Andrew Hillhouse was commissioned to paint a sequence of six battle scenes and was joined with portraiture by Kate Hunter depicting both The Prince and Sir John Cope.

Action Lines 4: Matters leading up to and consequent upon the Battle:

The role of Arran Johnston’s historical research has already been noted. Significant as that have been the most important perspective of ‘Matters Leading Up to the Battle’ was the design, creation and subsequent touring of the Prestonpans Tapestry.
This 105 metre long community artwork was researched and stitched across the route The Prince took from France to Victory at Prestonpans. Led by Andrew Crummy this artwork gave a fillip to the renaissance of this genre across Scotland. It engaged those communities that hosted The Prince from St Nazaire to Eriskay and Borrodale, to Glenfinnan, Perth, Edinburgh and Duddingston en route to his Victory at Prestonpans; and those who hosted Sir John Cope’s redcoat army in his pursuit across the Highlands and eventual humiliating defeat. It was the catalyst for the Treaty of Fontainbleau, the final act of the Auld Alliance, in October 1745 and the march to Derby.

The Trust promised its hundreds of volunteer stitchers that it would bring back the ‘whole’ tapestry to their communities placing their own moment in context. This was accomplished in 2010 on the 265th anniversary dates of The Prince’s campaign. It then travelled to St Nazaire from where The Prince embarked and subsequently to hang next to the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy – this latter because Bayeux had indeed been the original inspiration. The making of the tapestry was captured on DVD Stitches for Charlie and in an animated DVD version of the completed tapestry created in Bayeux - in English and French. It was accompanied by a full colour artbook Official Guide and also in cartoon formatting in English, French and Gaelic – all accessible at

‘Matters consequent upon the Battle’ were of course the successful unopposed march to Derby and the cultural and artistic celebration of the Victory and its significance for the Jacobite aspirations that had been harboured across the nation since 1688. From the outset the Trust has taken inspiration from the Charles Edward Stuart Society in Derby that has been providing re-enactments each December for two decades and boasts the only statue [thus far] to Prince Charles Edward in the United Kingdom. Its museum houses the Exeter Room where the fateful decision to turn back was made by Clan Chiefs and commanders leading certainly to victories at Inverurie and Falkirk but eventually to defeat at Culloden. The Trustees visited the Exeter Room [below] in 2007 and ‘deliberately reversed that decision’.

l/r Gordon Prestoungrange Peter MacKenzie Christine Cunningham Arran Johnston Gareth Bryn-Jones Avril Wills Sylvia Burgess

The most recent and most broadscale determination from the Trust to debate and interpret both the matters leading up to and the consequences has been the Jacobite Trail Colloquium which attracted some 50 representatives from across Scotland and a most welcome contribution from Brittany which was so supportive of The Prince.

Action Lines 5: Widest possible appreciation of the heritage:

The Trust established an annual cycle of battle cameos/ encampments/ re-enactments in Prestonpans each September from 2007 with the support of hundreds of volunteer re-enactors. They have attracted thousands of local residents as the story was shared. The evening preceding the re-enactments sees a march through Prestonpans with the Royal British Legion providing the pipes and drums of Alan Breck’s. That Regiment has flourished since 2007 locally and nationwide with units representing the redcoat Edinburgh City Guard, the Lothian Levies in 1547 and HM Lyfe Guard of Foote in 1547.

With initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund a Biennial National Battlefield Symposium was established from 2008 discussions at which focussed inter alia on the Gaelic heritage from the Highlanders who followed The Prince. It also debated the growing need for protection of battlefields across the whole nation leading in 2014 to the Accord creating the Scottish Battlefields Trust [SBT]. Specifically within East Lothian it also gave rise to research by Arran Johnston on all the county’s battles leading to the publication with support from Historic Scotland of Our Bloodstain’d Fields. The annual re-enactments in Prestonpans evolved into a Triennial East Lothian Battles cycle across the county with ELC and EventScotland Support additionally telling of the battle heritage of Dunbar 1650 and Pinkie Cleugh 1547. Historic Environment Scotland gave SBT further grant support in 2017 enabling extensive research and interpretation in Dunbar and the development of a national template for more effective battlefield protection and interpretation across the nation.

Alongside the spectacular annual costumed cameos, encampments and re-enactments the Trust has deliberately focused on creating a year round interpreted Battlefield Walk with path signage in English and Gaelic. The AV presentation at the restored micro museum in Bankton Doocot is a highpoint. Hundreds of visitors each month climb the Battle Bing flying The Prince’s flag and follow the signed trail making use of the Battlefield APP created in 2016 that also interprets the 1722 Waggonway which traverses the battlefield. The Trust supported from its creation the now highly active Waggonway Heritage Group supplementing initial grant support from Paths for All. That Group has now created a replica waggon, undertaken much research and archaeology including Cockenzie salt panning. And the fictional tv series Outlander was simultaneously raising awareness.

Action Lines 6: Establish a Living History Centre:

The Trust has campaigned from the outset for the establishment of a Living History Centre in Prestonpans that would provide an institutional framework for the achievement of its Objects. It has always been the strategy to create such a Centre on a self-sustaining basis after initial capex investment to be raised by Appeal. To justify this approach an immediate Economic Feasibility Study was commissioned which justified the Trust’s ambition with annual footfall predicted between 80/ 100,000. A survey of the Travel Trade also gave support. The challenge was to find an appropriate location close to the battlefield. The first studies explored whether it could be constructed on an integral basis with the Battle Bing and visuals were developed by internationally recognised experts Haley Sharpe. LINKED HERE

Alas, structural engineering problems made this very expensive indeed. This phase preceded the creation of the Prestonpans Tapestry which necessitated a reconceptualization of the Centre. Petitions to both ELC and the Scottish Parliament attracted support for the Centre to be located in the BathHouse at Prestongrange Heritage Museum a mile west of the battle site and with support from international experts BarkerLangham Partners proposals were submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 LINKED HERE

The Lottery declined to give support to the proposals inter alia because there was no Master Plan for the whole museum which had been neglected for a decade and poorly maintained. It also doubted the benefits of cross marketing at the museum and highlighted the distance it stood from the battlefield. The Trust accordingly resolved to find a third possible location close by the battlefield but was frustrated in this ambition by the refusal of Scottish Power that owned al the nearby lands to explore options – a situation which continued after ELC purchased all the lands from Scottish Power and commissioned then received a Master Plan for the future of them all; at this time ELC also purchased St Joseph’s School. The good news of the as yet unadopted Master Plan was that it did include the conservation of two of the fields of the battle as a ‘green lung’ within its suggested developments.

Faced with such unremitting planning blight but nevertheless mandated to create not only a Centre but now also a permanent home for the Prestonpans Tapestry the Trust advanced discussions and successfully concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with Hargreaves at Blindwells/ Charlestoun. It agrees to explore how the Centre might be located on the Riggonhead Defile at the NW corner of the proposed town centre - a location that directly overlooks the battlefield standing in line with the Battle Bing less than a mile east. At this juncture it was with great interest that the Trust was informed ELC was now in the process of developing across a 20 year horizon a Master Plan at Prestongrange Museum, and that there might be a mutually beneficial outcome there. After extensive conversations it transpired that what was presently proposed was the restoration of its neglected Listed Structures with no Master Plan for their future use with revenue streams to support them.

As such the Trust has focused its attention at Charlestoun/ Blindwells. It is anticipated that visuals for the Centre there can be developed in 2020, the 275th Anniversary of the Battle and the 10th of the Prestonpans Tapestry, and the £7m. Appeal launched. To that end donations over the decade had earlier peaked at £131,000 of which £91,000 is still to hand. £30,000 was invested in developing the Museum BathHouse Proposal with Barker Langham and £10,000 as match funding with the Trust’s External Audit in 2018.

This External Audit, which was also supported by HLF’s Resilience Fund, had the intention to assess what the Trust had achieved since 2006 and what its future challenges were. Broadscale consultations and the Audit’s conclusions emboldened the Trust to ask HLF [now NLHF] for further match funding support to carry matters forward in
which included the next steps towards the Centre. NLHF was again reluctant in response even casting doubt on the goal of a Centre at all but still encouraged a more limited request for support of the 275th Anniversary Commemorations taking the Cultural Legacy of the Victory at Prestonpans as its theme LINKED HERE


To achieve its Objects the Trust formally requests public declaration of support from ELC in the following respects:
1. Support for the Appeal for Capital Investment to create the Living History Centre
2. Commitment that the three fields [one in private hands immediately west of Seton] remain undeveloped, continuing in use for agriculture and / or as ‘green lungs’ - including an interpreted hawthorn copse on Thorntree Field at the original location and traditional cropping of those fields giving the occasional opportunity to demonstrate 18th harvesting
3. Commitment to ensure the maintenance of all monuments and interpretations extant on the battlefield including the Battle Bing, Bankton Doocot and the 1722 Waggonway thereon
4. Commitment to the interpretation and commemoration of the Riggonhead Defile across the new community as highlighted by the County Archaeologist
5. Naming the new community or a Quarter within it as ‘Charlestoun’ with street names reflecting those involved in the night march
6. Commissioning of a major equestrian statue of The Prince with Highlanders to be displayed – Scotland’s first
7. Commitment to educational partnership across the county that engages schools with their heritage

Published Date: Monday, December 16, 2019

The Prestonpans Tapestry created by Prestoungrange Arts Festival and the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust in support of the campaign for a Living History Centre in Prestonpans.
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