East Lothian

Parish Church, Prestonpans
©2024 Gazetteer for Scotland

Parish Church, Prestonpans

Located between Musselburgh and Cockenzie. Prestonpans was created a burgh in 1552 and over time it grew to incorporate a collection of nearby villages of Aldhamer, Preston and Cuthill. Known mainly for its coal and salt industries, there was also fishing (including oyster beds offshore) and the making of pottery and bricks. The Guild of Chapmen (pedlars) also met annually here until the late 19th Century to elect their 'King'. There were once three sizeable collieries around Prestonpans, namely Bankton, Prestongrange and Prestonlinks, and several smaller ones. Prestonlinks was the largest, with a peak workforce of 820 men in 1950 but deep mining here ended with its closure in 1964. Prestonlinks became the site of the Cockenzie Power Station, itself subsequently demolished. The village grew rapidly with the construction of public housing in the 1930s and 1950s. Further housing was developed in the later 20th century, with significant private housing estates constructed to the northeast (2004-06) and southwest of the village (2010-18).

The early post-Reformation parish church (1596, enlarged 1774) has an 18th-century painting of a fishing scene. In front are the Coronation Garden, dedicated in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, while on the opposite side of the High Street is the Burns Memorial Garden. Other sights include the Mercat Cross, Preston Tower (15th century shell), a War Memorial (1921), two large doocots, and two 17th century mansions, Hamilton House and Northfield House. Harlaw Hill House, from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, is described as 'a townscape gem despite dereliction'.

The defeat of the government (Hanoverian) troops at the Battle of Prestonpans (1745) gave the Jacobites control of most of Scotland barring several castles and forts. Sir Walter Scott lived in Prestonpans while gathered historical information concerning the battle for his novel Waverley. The battle is now interpreted by the Prestonpans Battlefield Viewpoint.

For festivals there is the annual Fisherman's Walk to celebrate the traditional annual return of the boats, and the Miners' Gala. There is also an 18 hole golf course at Preston Grange House.

Notables born in the town include naval commander Robert Aitchison (1795 - 1861), surgeon Sir William Fergusson (1808-77), army physician Thomas Alexander (1812-60), engineer James Howden (1832 - 1913) and boxer John Taylor (b. 1991). Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Prestonpans in 1991 as part of a trade delegation while he was serving as an advisor to the Mayor of St. Petersburg.

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