Burgh & Community

Panel 7 Burgh East Lothian.inddView related objects and archives.

Haddington had the largest grain market in Scotland

Haddington is one of the oldest royal burghs in Scotland, having been granted royal burgh status in the 12th Century by King David I (r.1124–1153).

Burghs were centres of trade and industry and the market place was the focus of town life. If you look out of the window to the High Street below you can imagine the hustle and bustle on market day. Haddington had the largest grain market in Scotland.

Only the freemen or burgesses of a burgh had the right to sell their goods at market and trade with foreign merchants. Burgesses were usually either merchants or craftsmen.

Town affairs were governed by the Provost, Baillies and Councillors who made up the Burgh Council. Until 1833 elections were not regulated and councils often simply re-elected themselves. Elections were still a cause for celebration as the receipt for ‘aquavita’ to celebrate an election result in North Berwick shows.

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John Wood’s plan of Haddington 1819. The street pattern of Haddington’s town centre has changed little from medieval times. The layout was ideal for markets – at one time the town centre would have consisted of one very wide street.

Musselburgh Burgess Tickets, 1654–1824. In return for their privileges burgesses had to pay a fee to be admitted to the burgess roll and accept a share of civic responsibility such as payment of taxes.

Receipt for Aquavita for North Berwick election, 1783

Panel 6 Burgh East Lothian.indd“East Lothian has many royal connections”

East Lothian has many royal connections, from the birth of King Alexander II (r. 1214–1249) at Haddington Palace (at the site of today’s Sheriff Court) in 1198 to the charters granting royal burgh status to the towns of Haddington, North Berwick and Dunbar.

One of the most significant is with Mary Queen of Scots (r. 1542–1567). The Treaty of Haddington signed at Haddington Abbey on the 7th of July 1548 promised the then 6-year-old Mary in marriage to the Dauphin Francois, son of King Henri II of France (r. 1547–1559). Mary was then safely escorted to France, where she married 10 years later as promised.

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Letter of Licence, October 1565. Signed by Mary and her husband King Henry, Lord Darnley, this letter asks the people of Haddington to stay at home from joining armies and taking part in raids.

Seals are used primarily to authenticate

Charters_table_219x500Our oldest document dates back to 1318 and is a charter by King Robert I (known as Robert the Bruce, r. 1306–1329) confirming Haddington’s status as a royal burgh.

This document ensured that Haddington had the right to trade and hold a market. The charter was returned to the county from the National Records of Scotland and it has been professionally conserved by them.

You can see the remains of the seal attached to the document. This is one of a number of important seals we hold in our collection. Seals are used primarily to authenticate documents, specifically those which carry some legal importance. Initially used by royalty and religious figures they were eventually used by landed gentry and often featured their family crest.

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Charter granted by Robert the Bruce (r.1306–1329), 1318

Document relating to transfer of land with multiple personal seals, 1527

Personal seal of Patrick Cockburn, 1540

Seal of Mary Queen of Scots (r. 1542–1567), 1566

Privy seal of James VI (r. 1567–1625), 1576

Seal of the monastery of North Berwick, 1578




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