East Lothian Industries

Industrial Overview

Air view of East Lothian fieldsThe rich arable lands of East Lothian are testament to the county’s history of agricultural development, and are still a mainstay of the economy. However, all across the county survive traces that relate equally compelling stories of innovation in a diverse spectrum of industrial activity.

Agriculture fed in to malting, brewing, distilling and soap-making as well as tanning, saddlery, shoemaking and textile industries based on wool and linen. Fishing gave rise to processing facilities in the coastal communities. The rivers powered mills across a range of industries from textiles to paper. The earliest documented coal mines in Scotland lay between Tranent and Prestonpans and ultimately the rich seams were pursued far out under the Forth. Placenames from Serpenthall to West Pans recall centuries of salt production, a mainstay of pre-technological food preservation. Engineering in wood and metal on small scales provided farm equipment and facilities as well as ships, fishing craft and all their requirements, and peaked in the nationally important wire mills of Musselburgh. Entrepreneurs tapped East Lothian’s skilled manpower and resources during the industrial revolution to pioneer significant chemical, glass and ceramic production along the Forth’s shores.

Many of these industries are ghosts in the landscape but they survive in the memories and accounts of past workers, in archaeological and documentary traces and sometimes in the physical nature of existing communities and landscapes. Cement, beer, whisky and engineering are still powerful contributors to the local economy and there are signs that the wheel is turning full circle with a wide variety of craftsmen and -women who find East Lothian a fit place to practise their skills.

The links on this page highlight some of our collections relating to industries. In the near future we will develop detailed accounts to reflect the diversity of production and manufacturing in our county. If you have any suggestions for this part of the website or would like to to contribute an article, please don’t hesitate to get in touch in person at the John Gray Centre in Haddington, or email us, or comment below, or share a story about this topic at Your Stories.

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