Please note: due to the recent Covid-19 outbreak the Centre is currently closed, but our website is still open for business.

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Lockdown Work

Hi, it’s Claire the Collections Officer here. Do you ever wonder what work could a Museums Collections Officer possibly be doing during lockdown, seeing as all museums are shut? Well, I thought I’d write a wee blog; something I should do more often but shy away from if the truth be told, to show you just some of the things that I have been up to.

So I have been reading about contemporary collecting and how museums all over the globe are collecting items that document the impact of Covid-19 on our lives – more on this in a separate blog to follow another day. But I also have to check on the objects that are on display in our closed museums. This is classed as essential heritage conservation work and is thus allowed. Checking objects involves ensuring light and humidity levels are safe for the objects and won’t damage them, and also that there are no pests present. When we are open, these things are monitored daily but obviously when closed, this isn’t happening. We have a mid-19th century banner on display at the JGC that could be at risk from clothes moth attack, so with a socially-distanced colleague we removed it from display and then I examined it carefully with a magnifying glass.

Looking for moth larvae

Thankfully there was no evidence of moths! I was specifically looking for moth larval cases, tiny white things that are the cocoons for the larvae to pupate in before emerging as adult moths and larvae themselves. They like to hide in the dark folds of material and munch away, leaving a tell-tale trail of frass (pooh!).

Although the banner appears to be safe, to be doubly sure I covered it and rolled it around a large tube, within which I placed a couple of moth traps. The whole thing then fitted nicely instead a gusseted garment bag made of Tyvek – fabric that is totally impregnable and untearable. I then hung it between two supports to prevent any stress on the fabric; which would occur should I lie it down. It will be stored there until we can open the museum again.

Any views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent those of ELCMS or ELC.

All Locked Down and Nothing to Do?

The John Gray Centre Museum, Archives and Local History library may be shut at present – but there’s still plenty to explore from the comfort of your own home. We thought we’d pull together some of our favourite heritage on-line sources for you to explore at your leisure – but be careful: time tends to zoom by when you’re wandering deep into the past.

First, a quick refresher on our own website. A key part is the East Lothian HER, or Historic Environment Record, the Archaeology Service’s view of East Lothian. Perhaps a bit of a mouthful, but if you explore the map, it all becomes clear. Just zoom in using the +/- buttons on the bottom right, click on one of the (nearly 17,000) hotspots, and off you go. The HER connects the modern landscape to all manner of archaeological and historic sites. If your house is listed, it’s in here. Links within the HER pages connect further to CANMORE the national equivalent maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. A useful adjunct to both is Scotland’s Places. which gives you access to the documentary record from the past.

Getting back to the JGC websites we have pages about East Lothian People, Places and Events. The directory column on the left hand side allows you to navigate and see related material. Finally, our thousands of online images can be searched from here.

Moving on, East Lothian Museums were a major contributor to SCRAN, Scotland’s Digital Museum, and now another part of Historic Environment Scotland. Many of the records we contributed there are being added to our own website (see the image search mentioned above), but as there are many thousands there’s a bit of a lag. You can search SCRAN freely, but detailed information is only available to subscribers (free for East Lothian Library members or try the three day trial on this page). All we ask is that you keep any images for your own use and don’t cross-post them to other websites!

For those that like to read about the past East Lothian Antiquarians and Field Naturalists have recently uploaded the complete run of their Transactions to their website. This provides access to readers at home to scholarly reports from 1924 to the present day. Just over the southern county border Berwickshire Naturalists Club have been recording their county since 1831 – and a lot of East Lothian material can be found in their annual ‘History’. A lot of the older volumes have made their way on to the Internet Archive. See here. The Internet Archive is a worldwide collaboration of Libraries dedicated to digitising out-of-copyright books, and it’s a treasure trove. Often the books are provided in different formats – for Kindle, iPad, and other reading devices – and are fully searchable. We find the availability of works from East Lothian authors a great boon in helping us provide our service. See, for example James Miller’s History of Dunbar, Peter McNeill’s Tranent, or John Martine’s Reminiscences, their other works, and many more are all here.

One of the contributors to the Internet Archive is the National Library of Scotland. Their eResources open another door into the past, all available to explore from home. Their map site is also worth a look. Check out how your town has changed over the years.

For those interested in researching their family tree, sites such as Scotlands People, Find MyPast, and Ancestry all offer access to thousands of records (for a fee.)

Ancestry has provided free access until 30th April 2020 via library membership where borrowers sign in with their library number and pin. This is courtesy of ProQuest and its partner Ancestry. Click here to access it

Finally, if reading the newspapers is your thing, hundreds of years’ worth of British newspapers are available at the British Newspaper Archive. Search for free, but a subscription is needed to get beyond the snippet view. However, it too offers a free trial.

We’re still here so please get in touch with any questions and we’ll do our best to help while we are working remotely.

Take care, everyone – and happy (virtual) exploring until we see you again!

Calling all Museum, Science and History Postgraduates!

An exciting opportunity exists for a BSHS Engagement Fellowship with East Lothian Museums Service. We are seeking applications from graduates with a relevant degree for a Fellowship funded by the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), to start early 2020. The successful Engagement Fellow will be based at the Museums Service HQ in Haddington. We have a fascinating collection historical medical instruments and textbooks that were used by a female GP in a local town. She worked during the 1950s and later, and the practices she performed in people’s homes have radically changed. Her story is not just one of the changing role of medicine in the late 20th Century, but also of the role of women in medicine, plus hers is an immigration story too. The successful Fellow will update the Museums database with information about the objects, and also has the opportunity to undertake oral history recordings and design and mount a small exhibition thereby gaining valuable transferable exhibition and communication skills. If you think this sounds the perfect opportunity for you in your early career in science history and or museum curation, please email for the role description and details of how to apply to [email protected]

Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders Archaeology Conference 2019!

Well folks, it is that time of year again! The leaves are turning wonderful shades of gold, russet and sunset orange; the geese are squawking and honking in their raggedy V’s overhead, there is a fresh chill in the air, lacing the spider webs with early morning frost.

Whilst the last vestiges of summer are still hanging on in our wonderful parks and gardens, and our memories of another successful East Lothian Archaeology and Local History Fortnight still linger in our minds, the changing of the seasons also allows us to look forward to what is next. And for us at the Archaeology Service, as we crunch through leaves on our way to work, and look out onto autumn skies across Haddington, we are looking forward to the annual Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders Archaeology Conference 2019!

We’ve got another jam-packed programme this year (yes, it’s also time for making jams and chutneys everyone!), full of exciting talks about the latest excavations and projects from this year, as well as continuing updates and the results of long term projects.

copyright AOC Archaeology Group

Who doesn’t want to hear about cursus and pit alignments in East Lothian, lost villages in Bunkle and bridges in Ancrum, the past lives of Leith and the origins of the Cowgate? What about grand buildings such as Panmure House and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, or the Borders landscape of the Whiteadder? And the final slice of pumpkin pie? Community archaeology and training at Black Bull Close.

copyright Addyman Archaeology

So if you want to cosy up with a hot drink, some good company and some marvellous mind-expanding archaeology, please do come and join us for the Conference on Saturday the 16th November at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh.

You can find the full programme and details of how to book here:

Alternatively, Conference tickets are available on the day (although lunch must be pre-booked)

We hope to see you all there!

Days Out in the Past – Dunbar

For the good people of Dunbar, 3 September 1650 must have seemed as if the end of days had arrived. It was a wild stormy night of howling wind and rain, and then in the early hours of the morning came the crash and thunder of battle, as Oliver Cromwell’s army of Parliament fought a Scottish force just outside the town.

This was to be one of Cromwell’s greatest victories. His army had been forced to retreat to Dunbar, a dishevelled and outnumbered force that expected to escape in ships waiting in the harbour. But instead Cromwell spotted a weakness in the Scottish positions and ordered his army to attack. It was said that he rode about his regiments on a pony, biting his lip until it bled in nervous anticipation of the battle to come. Then when victory was certain, Cromwell was seen laughing uncontrollably as sheer relief began to set in.

The events of that day will be reenacted on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September as part of East Lothian Archaeology & Local History Fortnight. There will be encampments to explore and activities for all the family, before the two sides battle once again with the sounds of musket and cannon.

The aftermath of the battle was brutal, with Cromwell’s cavalry troopers mercilessly pursuing the fleeing Scottish soldiers. Some were taken prisoner and marched away to captivity in Durham, where gruesome evidence of their fate came to light a few years ago, with the discovery of mass graves.

An exhibition at Dunbar Town House Museum explains the back story of the graves, how they were discovered and the painstaking process of uncovering their history. The exhibition is open daily  between 1 – 5pm, until 30 September. A special event, CSI 1650, will reveal some of the techniques used by archaeologists and scientists to identify the bodies and piece together their story.

Dunbar itself has a real sense of place, with a wealth of historic buildings and a maze of narrow medieval closes leading off the High Street. One of these unique and atmospheric spaces will be opened up to the public, as part of an event on Wednesday 11 September. In Black Bull Close derelict buildings are being brought back to life by local social enterprise The Ridge. Recent archaeological investigations have revealed the fascinating story of these historic buildings, from their medieval origins to the Victorian period.

The Cromwell and New Harbours are also well worth visiting, still home to working boats bringing in the catch, and with many nooks and crannies to explore. The picturesque ruins of Dunbar Castle still dominate on the cliffs above the old harbour, but also look out for the Battery. Built in the 1700s to defend the town from the French, it has recently been restored as an outdoor venue. The Battery will provide the setting for a dramatic event commemorating the Battle of Dunbar on Friday 13 September.

Something to eat? There are lots of cafés to choose from on the High Street. A stone’s throw from the harbour are Creels Restaurant and the Volunteer Arms pub, both historic buildings built in the early 1800s.

How to get there? By bus – East Coast Buses X7. By train – Dunbar railway station is close to the town centre, served by Scotrail and CrossCountry trains. By car – off the A1 on the A1087.

Event details:

  • Battle of Dunbar 1650 Re-enactment Weekend, off Spott Road Dunbar, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September, 11am – 5pm, Adult £5 Child £3.
  • Bodies of Evidence from the Battlefield of Dunbar to Durham, Dunbar Town House Museum, exhibition until 30 September, open daily 1pm – 5pm.
  • CSI 1650, Dunbar Town House Museum, Saturday 14 September, 1pm – 4pm, for booking phone 01620 820699 or call in at the Dunbar Town House.
  • Restoring Buildings Restoring People: Community Archaeology at Black Bull Close, Wednesday 11 September, 7.30pm
  • The Soldiers of Dunbar 1650, Dunbar Harbour Battery, Friday 13 September, 7.30pm – 8.30pm.

Words: David Hicks

Days Out in the Past – Cockenzie

The coastal town of Cockenzie has an obvious living heritage, working fishing boats in its harbour, fish shops, curers and a boatyard lining the narrow lanes leading to away from the sea.

During the East Lothian Archaeology and Local History fortnight there is plenty to explore and get involved in in and around Cockenzie
Cockenzie harbour today …but once the harbour and town was a hive of industry

One of these living traditions is the box meeting, first established in 1813 by the Friendly Society of Fishermen of Cockenzie and Port Seton.  The box containing members savings, a financial safety net for those who fell on hard times, which was paraded through the town by the fishermen and their families.  The event still happens today, an occasion for the community to come together and celebrate their heritage.

Next to the harbour is James Dickson’s fishmongers and curers, a business established in 1921 and now something of a local institution. This family business has a fish shop in the Harbour Road, but their vans are also a familiar sight throughout East Lothian.

But it wasn’t just fish that was important to the town.  The Tranent – Cockenzie Waggonway was the first railway in Scotland, established in 1722 to carry coal from the mines to waiting ships.  Now a group of local enthusiasts have brought some of that heritage back to life, establishing a museum at the harbour.  For East Lothian Archaeology and Local History Fortnight they are inviting people to become an archaeologist for the day, as they try to uncover the hidden remains of a salt pan house dating back to 1630s.

The 1722 Waggonway group recreated a traditional salt pan in the grounds of Cockenzie house
Salt panning the traditional way at Cockenzie House

Another group of local activists are ensuring a future for Cockenzie House, an important survival from the town’s past that dates back to the 1600s.  It was originally built for the harbour master and for centuries was the home of the Caddell family, with an extensive garden and orchard.  This historic house is now run by a local charity, offering studio space to artists and a venue for weddings.  An exhibition space is open to the public, displaying the work of local artists.

The gardens at Cockenzie House are definitely worth exploring, with many nooks and crannies and surprising features.  Look out for the grotto built of lava stone, with the jaw bone of a whale decorating its entrance.  This quirky structure is the result of the Caddell family’s trade in salt with Iceland, with their ships using volcanic stone as ballast for the return voyage.

For East Lothian Archaeology and Local History Fortnight Cockenzie House will host a traditional skills festival on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 September.  There will be demonstrations and a chance to have a go at stone carving, salt making, metal casting and signwriting.  Guided walks will lead visitors along the route of the old waggonway, and a special workshop with the Edinburgh Sketcher will focus on capturing the historic architecture of the town.

The Edinburgh Sketcher becomes the Cockenzie Sketcher for a day on the 8th September.
An example of the Edinburgh Sketchers work from Edinburgh

Just a short walk up the road is the hidden gem of Chalmers Memorial Church, one of Scotland’s most important arts and crafts buildings.  Its elegant and restrained exterior gives no clue about the decoration inside, which remains virtually as it was on its opening day in April 1905.  The open timber roof is decorated with blue and cream painted stencils of fishes and birds, and the chancel has delicate red and cream stencilling, altogether a truly striking design.  On Sunday 14th September this hidden gem will open its doors for a concert as part of the Lammermuir Festival, a unique opportunity to enjoy music in this distinctive setting.

Something to eat? Caddell’s Café at Cockenzie House is open every day and has fine views out over the gardens.

How to get there?  By bus – Lothian Bus 26.  By car – off the A1 on the B6371

Event details:

  • Waggonway Project Big Dig – Salt Pan Excavation, Friday 6 – Monday 9 September, 10am – 4pm each day
  • East Lothian Traditional Skills Festival, Cockenzie House, Saturday 7 – Sunday 8 September 11am – 4pm daily.
  • 1722 Tranent to Cockenzie Waggonway – guided tour, Saturday 7 September 11am – 12.30pm, to book e-mail [email protected] or phone 01620 827118
  • Edinburgh Sketcher in Cockenzie: Cockenzie House and Gardens, Sunday 8 September, 1.30pm – 4.30pm, to book email [email protected] or phone 07866 927 663
  • Quator Mosaiques II, Chalmers Memorial Church, Saturday 14 Sept, for more details see the festival website

Words: David Hicks

Days Out in the Past – War Walks

These days East Lothian is known for its beautiful beaches and countryside, and it’s hard to imagine the place as the front line in a war.  But the traces of past conflicts are there, and with a little local help their stories can be revealed.

During both World Wars the East Lothian coastline was of great strategic importance, guarding the approach to Edinburgh and the naval base at Rosyth.  It was heavily defended against any possible attack and that has left its mark on the landscape.

Aberlady Bay is a quiet and peaceful nature reserve, but it also hides a wartime secret only visible at low tide.  In May 1946 two midget submarines were moored at the low water mark in the bay, to be used as target practice by the RAF.  Another surprising feature is the network of defences from World War II.  Today the concrete blocks that line the sides of the bay seem almost part of the landscape, perhaps a long forgotten art installation.  But they were built with a deadly serious purpose, to stop enemy tanks from advancing along the coast.

Tour some of the World War II defences of East Lothian on 3rd September
Miles of concrete blocks defended our coast during World War II

For East Lothian Archaeology and Local History Fortnight a special guided walk led by the local history society will take visitors to explore some of these defences, and cross the sands of the bay to see the wrecks of the midget submarines.

Aircraft were also key to defending the East Lothian coast, and it was back in World War I that an airfield was established near Drem, now home to the National Museum of Flight.  A group of enthusiasts have taken on the task of preserving a little of that heritage , lovingly rebuilding a World War I Sopwith Strutter biplane.  Normally kept under-wraps in the group’s temporary hanger at Congalton Gardens near North Berwick, the public will be allowed an exclusive view of this unique fighter plane as part of the Archaeology and Local History fortnight events.

Visit the reconstructed bi-plane at Congalton Gardens 4th Sept
World War I Sopwith Strutter

East Lothian was also a battleground in the 1500’s, as English and Scottish armies contested over the hand of the infant Mary Queeen of Scots.  English monarchs were intent on forging an alliance with Scotland through marriage, but when their plans were rejected they sent soilders north to force the issue, a period known rather ironically as the ‘Rough Wooing’.

In 1547 an invading English army reached Musselburgh before being confronted by the Scots.  The Scottish commander the Earl of Arran invited his English counterpart to settle the matter man to man, an archaic gesture from an earlier age of chivalry before cannons and gunpowder.  A guided tour led by volunteers from the Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group will take visitors along the route taken by the advancing Scots, starting from the Roman bridge and including the vantage point of Inveresk Church.

Following the battle, English troops garrisoned the town of Haddington, hoping to draw the Scots and their French allies into committing to a lengthy and costly siege.  When the Queens Consort Mary of Guise came to view the scene she strayed too close to the enemy lines, and English gunners opened fire killing sixteen of her followers and leaving the queen stricken with terror.  The reality of siege warfare of this time will be brought to life in a guided walk, led by Jon Cooper from the Centre for Battlefield Arcaheology.  Leading visitors into medieval closes, across the killing fields and into the trenches, he will reveal some of the shocking truths of how the siege was conducted.

Explore the Seige of Haddington on 6th September
The siege of Haddington was the longest in Scottish History

Something to eat? A short distance from Aberlady Bay, the village of Gullane has many places to eat.  The half-timbered Old Clubhouse pub was built in 1890 as the original clubhouse for Gullane Golf Club.  Tom Kitchen has also recently opened the Bonnie Badger, a pub and restaurant in a coaching inn dating to 1836.  In Haddington, Falko Konditormeister is located in a coaching inn dating to the 1700s. and the Waterside Bistro occupies a row of Georgian cottages with a fine view across the River Tyne to St Mary’s Collegiate Church.

How to get there? Aberlady Bay: By bus – East Coast Buses x5, 124 or x24.  By car -on the A198.  Congalton Gardens: On the B1347, close to the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Haddington: By bus – East Coast Buses x7, 106 and 107.  By Car -just off the A1.

Event details:

Words by : David Hicks

Days Out in the Past – Trapain Law

Trapain Law has an impressive presence, an unmissable ancient landmark that dominates the surrounding landscape – exactly the sort of place to find buried treasure.

One thousand five hundred years ago this was the power base for a local tribal chief, someone important enough to be a dealmaker with the Roman Empire. We have a little glimpse into that world because of a remarkable discovery made by archaeologists digging on Trapain Law exactly a hundred years ago.

What they uncovered was the largest hoard of Roman silver from outside the boundaries of the empire, over 250 pieces weighing in total over 20 kilos. 

The silver was once exquisite tableware, dishes, flagons and platters, the very finest quality produced in the Roman Empire. However each item had been hacked and flattened into many pieces.

The beauty of the objects no longer mattered, they were valued simply for the weight of silver they contained.

The hoard has been dated to around 450AD, the dying days of Roman Britain. The province was under attack from all sides, and it is likely that this collection of silver was simply a way of easing frontier diplomacy. The Romans commonly used bribery to help secure their borders, paying off tribes to ensure peace. Whoever ruled Trapain Law was someone the Romans wanted to maintain friendly relations with.

Now for the first time, some of the most important pieces from the Trapain Law hoard have returned to East Lothian, and can be seen in a special exhibition in the John Gray Centre in Haddington. Look out for the decorative figures of a panther and leopard which once formed the handles of wine flagons, and the bowl decorated with a sea monster. Silverware such as this is rare in the Roman world, let alone beyond the borders of the empire.

As part of East Lothian’s Heritage Fortnight, there are two unique opportunities to discover more about Trapain Law, the hoard and life in the last days of Roman Britain.

There is the chance to explore Trapain Law in the company of Dr Fraser Hunter from the National Museums of Scotland, an expert in the archaeology of Roman Britain. On Sunday 1 September he will lead a guided walk across the hill, telling the story of this remarkable historic site from Bronze Age hillfort to Roman frontier politics.

The Roman military will also be brought vividly to life in a living history event in Haddington on Saturday 31 August and Sunday 1 September, featuring cavalry, artillery and displays of everyday life. For more details on this event watch for updates on the John Gray Centre’s website.

How to get there? For details of how to visit Trapain Law see the East Lothian Council Website

Hailes Castle is also close by and well worth a visit, a picturesque ruin by the side of the River Tyne.

Event details:

  • The Treasures of Trapain, Sunday 1 September, 2pm – 4pm, for booking phone 01620 820690 or call in person at the museum, upstairs at the John Gray Centre.
  • Roman Encampment Family Weekend, Haddington, Saturday 31 August – Sunday 1 September, 10am – 4pm, for more details visit

Words: David Hicks

Heritage to dig into – East Lothian Archaeology & Local History Fortnight

We are gearing up for Archaeology & Local History Fortnight, which will take place from August 31 to September 15. This year the programme is bigger than ever, with lots of events throughout the county. We’ve got excavations and exhibitions, walks and talks, workshops and open days… something for everyone interested in finding out about the history and heritage of East Lothian.

To find out more, download the programme and book an event click here.

This year we are lucky to have a guest blogger, David Hicks, who will be blogging here over the next few weeks all about the Fortnight events – watch this space!

It’s here! East Lothian Archaeology & Local History Fortnight, Sept 1 – 16!

Here at the Archaeology Service we are getting super excited for, yep, you guessed it folks….the East Lothian Archaeology & Local History Fortnight 2018!

That’s right, our annual fortnight is back, with a veritable bang this year, landing multitudes of exciting, fun-filled, and thought-provoking events in a place near you!

Organised by the Archaeology Service at East Lothian Council, but delivered by a number of amazing and enthusiastic local groups and individuals working across East Lothian, we’ve got everything; from welcome returns like the Big Waggonway Dig down at Cockenzie Harbour, (a big hit last year), to guided walks and talks through the lost gardens of Yester.

You can try a bit of time travel walking from the earliest humans to traces of Neolithic settlement and the WWII coastal defences at Aberlady Bay; or get stuck in learning some traditional building skills at the Traditional Skills Festival in Tranent. And with a big focus on Haddington this year as part of the Haddington 700 celebrations, there’s even more of a zing in the air, as we help to showcase our local town’s history and culture. So whatever floats your boat, there really is something for everyone!

To find out more and sign up to get involved, visit: or pick up a programme in libraries and museums throughout East Lothian.