Coastal Industries of East Lothian
East Lothian’s first inhabitants were bands of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Remains of their camp-sites have been found along the coast and the evidence shows that the seaside provided a large amount of their food and resources. They established a pattern that has developed and continued to the present day!
Temporary camps became permanent settlements (and in some places iron-age forts became castles). Landing places became harbours with walls and piers. Granaries and warehouses were built close to the harbours. Shipyards, rope-walks, nail-makers, net-makers, sailmakers and coopers set up beside them. Some of the evidence for these industries survives around the harbours today.
The rich agricultural produce of East Lothian was traded from the developing harbours. In medieval times (a thousand years ago) the economy was based on sheep. Wool and sheepskins were traded to Holland and luxuries were imported. Later, grain and malt were exported and timber and manufactured goods from Europe were imported. Salt, coal, pottery, suphuric acid and vast amounts of fish (dry and salted) and fresh oysters were all important exports at different times.
Today fewer people work directly with the sea. Most of the goods made or used in East Lothian are shifted by road or rail transport and the equipment used by the remaining fishermen also comes from outside East Lothian. The fishermen that are left have to work with carefully designed quotas so that fish stocks are conserved.
The harbours that were built for coastal trade and fishing are now home to yachts and sailing boats. Other boats specialise in sight-seeing, diving and leisure fishing. Despite all the activity along the coast over thousands of years it remains unspoilt and a haven for wildlife and the natural environment.
Tourism still plays a large part in East Lothian and it probably always will! The Gallery on this page shows a selected range of images featuring coastal industries from the past. We’ve just posted low resolution images in the Gallery (so some are blurry) – higher resolutions are available if you contact us.