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

East Lothian People

History is not just a set of events that take place in isolation. It is about how those events shaped the people who lived through them, and also about the people who made them happen. Here we will gradually be adding pages about some of those who have found themselves a place in the history of East Lothian, and we welcome your suggestions and contributions for new articles.

The rich farmland and fishing grounds of East Lothian have always attracted people, and there is evidence of settlement here reaching as far back as the Stone Age. Our documentary evidence only covers more recent times, however! Surname research shows that many settlers over the last thousand years came from Europe and England. Norman families took over big estates in the 13th century by invitation from the king: de Gifford, Broun, Martine. Others came as Huguenot refugees, merchants and skilled tradesmen.

The list of famous residents is vast, and includes Alexander II, King of ScotsJohn Knox, the revolutionary Protestant reformer; John Witherspoon, who signed the American Declaration of Independence; writers such as Samuel Smiles, Jane Welsh Carlyle, Margaret Oliphant and Nigel Tranter; artists such as Archibald Skirving, William Gillies, John Bellany, Ken Lochhead and the celebrated ceramicist David Cohen; engineers include John Rennie and Andrew Meikle; and East Lothian can even claim a former prime minister, AJ Balfour.

If you have suggestions about people you would like to see featured in this section, please leave a comment below. If you’d like to contribute an article yourself, please use our simple template and send it to us. Or simply write a piece in Your Stories.

If you wish to carry out any of your own research on East Lothian people or families, please contact the local history centre at the JGC.

Further reading

Black, George, Surnames of Scotland: Their origin, meaning and history. Most recent edition 2007, Birlinn.

McNicoll, Diane, The Surnames of East Lothian: based on the old parish registers of births & baptisms for Haddingtonshire. 1999, East Lothian

Gray, W. Forbes and James H. Jamieson, East Lothian Biographies. Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society, 1941

Dick, David, A Millennium of Fame of East Lothian. Clerkington Publishing, 2000

37 thoughts on “East Lothian People”

  1. Tracey kirby says:

    I’m researching my family history and I know William archibald worked at wallyford colliery, as a hewer, and lived on brick row lane, any Info would be great
    Many Thanks

  2. Kate Ferguson says:

    I am researching my 4xgrandfather John Hamilton c 1770 he was a itinerant farm work in parishes south of Edinburgh.He married Jean Sandilands 1791 Cranston It appears he apprenticed his two younger sons Francis 1805,and David 1808 to their cousin David Hamilton, Blacksmith Milton Mill Pencaitland.By 1808 John Hamilton and his family were in Ormiston.I would like to find the correct parents for John Hamilton c 1770 Any help would be appreciated Regards Kate

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi Kate,
      Thank you for your enquiry. I’m afraid it would be virtually impossible for us to determine the parents of John Hamilton. As you may know, in the stipulated period of time, births are recorded as entries in Old Parish Registers and a name like John Hamilton is quite popular. We will not be able to determine where he was born as there are quite a few results around the date you gave from across Scotland. I suggest you look at his marriage entry to see if it mentions which parish he is from. You will then have to make an informed guess from there. You can do this on the ScotlandsPeople website or visit them at the National Records of Scotland building in Edinburgh (if you have not done this already). Wishing you all the best with the rest of your research.

  3. John Johnston says:

    Dear John Gray Centre volunteers,
    I would be grateful for an image, or transcription, of the Haddingtonshire Courier notice, 14 April 1905, Page 2, Column 2 which concerns the death of Margaret Home Sievwright in Gisborne, New Zealand.
    Thank you.
    John Johnston

    1. BillW says:

      John, I’ve sent the details of your enquiry to your email address. Hope this will do?

  4. Jimmy butler says:

    Hi. Does anyone know any details of ,John or George, Butler,commissioners of witches trials,1630s in haddington, East Lothian.
    Jimmy Butler

    1. HanitaR says:

      Dear Mr Butler,
      Thank you for your enquiry. I’m afraid we could not locate any details in our records. Perhaps you might like to contact the National Records of Scotland. Their contact page is at this link:
      Best Wishes.

  5. Morag Mckinnon says:

    I am trying to track down the audio version of: “Transcript Of Oral History Interview With May Tait” relating to Millknowe farm which is under the Whiteadder reservoir, from East Lothian Archive. It used to be held by Borders Memory Bank, who no longer seem to have a copy. How can I find the audio version?

  6. Stuart Thompson says:

    It appears to me that this page should mention Reginald Wingate. Originating in his love of golf, Wingate was a serial visitor to, and then a resident of, Dunbar from 1900 till 1953. He originally stayed in hotels and houses of friends and relatives before constructing a house on Knockenhair Hill.

    His death finally occurred, after many events of international significance, some of which will be touched upon below, when he was long retired and mourning the death of his late wife and in ill health himself and in the care of a maid, in the old Bellvue Hotel at the other end of the town.

    In his 90s at the end, Wingate also died a Field Marshal of the British Army and, partly due to this was honoured with a funeral march, involving an escort of soldiers and a gun carriage for a hearse. The march proceeded from the Episcopal Church, where the service was held, in keeping with his faith, to Dunbar Parish Church for his burial, owing to the overcrowding of other places of burial at the time. The High Street was closed as part of the event and attendees included dignitaries such as Winston Churchill, who had been a junior officer under Wingate for part of the war to conquer Sudan in the late 19th century. Wingate had even been of some assistance to Churchill in the latter’s book giving an account of ‘the River War’. This was a time when the young Winston was still often a budding journalist, occasionally an active military officer and always he was determined to grab fame and fortune however, wherever and whenever he could find it. Reginald Wingate, alongside his many other accomplishments, was at one time one of the people in a position to help the younger man and undertook to do so, rather than spurning him as many others did. Hence the loyalty shown to Wingate long after Churchill’s fame had outstripped the former’s.

    Wingate’s significance as an individual in history has been well attested to by his contemporaries and subsequently in biographies of the General by historians such as Warburg, Daley and Dunbar’s very own Pugh. His long term as Governor General of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, second sequentially only to Kitchener’s more famous, but shorter and less successful stint, earned him the sobriquet ‘the maker of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan’, which is part of the epitaph on his grave.

    A less celebrated but nonetheless significant period of his life was spent as British High Commissioner to Egypt. In this capacity, he ended up being made the scapegoat of a mess created by the politicians and civil servants of Whitehall, Westminster etc. through policies he had actually advised against.

    In that period he continued to have some influence on Sudan. In conjunction with Wingate’s long influence in Egypt and Sudan, his leadership role, from a distance, in the nascent Arab revolt in what was then still a large slice of the Ottoman Empire and has ever since the end of the First World War been the majority of a troubled hotchpotch of countries called ‘the Middle East’, gives him a truly international significance.

    All in all, these various factors combine to convince me that Sir Reginald Francis Wingate, Baronet of Dunbar and Port Sudan, ought to be mentioned in the Military section of East Lothian People.

  7. Elspeth Haston says:

    It would be good to have a section for Agriculturalists/Farmers. There are some very well-known farmers in East Lothian who contributed hugely to the science and practice of agriculture nationally. These include Rennie, Brown, Brodie, Howden, Skirving and others. They published extensively, including Brown’s Treatise on Rural Affairs, and founded the Farmers Magazine.

  8. Gregory Lauder-Frost, FSA Scot. says:

    Sir Harry Lauder’s (1870-1950) great-grandfather, George Lauder of Inverleith Mains & St.Bernard’s Well estate was born in Colstoun Woodhouse (Bara parish) on August 5, 1776. His family had farmed Lauder of The Bass lands at Morham & Garvald for centuries. He died fairly young on August 22, 1824 at Inverleith Mains, nr.Stockbridge, Edinburgh, leaving a large family.

  9. Duncan Clephane says:

    My family appear in Haddington in 1634 john Clapen and Marion mirrie when their first child is born, Alisone Clapen is in innerwick 1610, William Clapen has a son James born in aberlady in 1633, the Clapen name appears in BDM’s for the next 200 years + but nothing is documented about this family, why they appeared there? Where has they came from ? Other clapens (Clephane) are all over fife since 11th century but cannot connect them to me, any info that anyone has would be great , Robert clephan & Agnes Richardson are my direct family he was a brewer in Giffordhall, his sons became shoemakers in Midlothian , my GGGGrandfather was Robert Clephan born in yester 1777 and became a plasterer married Jane young , lived in Leith

    1. Catherine Bold says:

      Alison Cleophane born around 1675, is my 7x Great Grandmother, I am descended through her son James Currie, also seeking information. I have put your note on wiki tree I hope you dont mind? I will remove it if you would rather.,Incase I cant find my way back here :/ this is the link, Do you have her on your tree?


      1. Duncan Clephane says:

        Hi Cathy

        I see it’s nearly 2 years since you replied to my post, sorry I’ve not looked at my tree since then but now I’m furloughed I’ve plenty time
        I hope you still check this for replies ?
        I have Alison , b.25/03/1675 to John cleppon & isobele congleton in Haddington , I have a copy of my tree I could send you , I’ve just had a look and Alison is in our tree
        If you have an email address I could send you a copy ?


    2. Jeremy Clephan says:

      Hi Duncan
      I’m interested in Robert Clephan who married Agnes Richardson there is a slight possibility that he was my GGGGGrandfather’s brother. Do you have evidence for who Robert’s parents were?

      1. Duncan Clephane says:

        Hi Jeremy
        Robert Clephane is my 5x great grandfather so you are in my tree , Robert’s father was John Clephane m. Jean Elphinstone 1733, he was born 1702 in Haddington to Robert Clephane & Beatrix Hog.
        Who are your parents & grand parents etc ?

        1. Jeremy Clephan says:

          OK – so using Scotlands People by my reckoning John and Jean had 8 children – 5 girls and 3 boys. The boys were Robert (1746), James (1748) and John (1755).
          My 4x great grandfather was James Clephan who married Jean Hewat in 1766 and I know he came from Tynninghame but what I can’t do is prove who his parents were except by association. Jean Hewat was born in 1740 so there was quite a discrepancy in their ages and James would only have been 18 when he married which worries me.
          Can you prove that the Robert who married Agnes was a son of John and Jean which might help me prove my James was also a son?

          1. Duncan Clephane says:

            Birth record of James son of John and jean elphiston 1748

          2. Duncan Clephane says:


    3. Susan Millar says:

      Hi Duncan, I am researching the family name Clephane on behalf of my Aunt trying to follow up a family story that her late husband’s family would tell of Clephane’s being related to them and that they ran/owner/ had something to do with a local caravan site thought to be Thorntonloch.
      I have not found any Clephane so far doing the family tree but we saw the Clephane MI at Dunbar so researched that to see if there was a connection, but alas not yet.
      The names so far in my research are Montgomery Colthard (and the variants) Smith Goodall (and its variants) Pow and Burn.
      I was wondering if you knew of any such connections?

      1. Duncan Clephane says:

        Hi Suzi
        I can’t say I’ve heard of any of the connected names, what are the years you are looking at ?
        I know there were Clephane’s at a place called Overthornton but that was 100’s of years ago.
        I will have a look through all my paperwork and see if there is anything.

  10. marion ramsay says:

    I have a faded sepia photograph of old. Where it look likes they may be sailmakers. One gentleman is holding a tool. Could someone possibly confirm?

  11. Bob Wilson says:

    I wonder if you or any of your contributors can help. We have an extensive picture of my Wives Family apart from tracing the burial plot of her Great Grandmother, Hannah Sleep nee Berg who died at Castle Mofffat Garvald 27th May 1907. Family are sure she is buried at Garvald, but drawn a blank with Registrar at Haddington, Session Clerk at Garvald Church and The Abbot at Nunraw, all of whom have been very helpful, but cant help. It may well be that she is buried in Common Ground, but wonder if there are any death notices etc from that period that may give us an indication of where she is buried. Any help would be appreciated as she died in childbirth according to her death certificate after giving birth to 4 previous children

    1. David says:

      Hello Bob

      We’ve checked our index to the East Lothian Courier to no avail – under both Berg and Sleep. Neither surname is recorded in the Garvald Monumental Inscriptions booklet either.

  12. SUSAN HARLOW says:


    I come from a long line of Gray’s and Robertson’s who were miners and lived and worked in the area.

    My Great Grandparents came to Australia in the 1860’s, have gone back a little way but as there are a lot of Grays and just as many Robertsons from that area it becomes rather difficult especially from this far away.

    Could you suggest some books or literature of some sort that might be of interest. Most of the ancestors were born in Everesk, Glasmuire or Pencaitland my great grandparents were married in Pencaitland.


    1. David says:

      Hi Susan

      I appreciate your difficulty – East (and Mid) Lothian folk spread widely! It may be that things are getting easier: a lot of information is migrating online. Most of our parishes had a historian who collected tales at the end of the 19th century. While we have a good selection here, that’s no good to you so I’d suggest looking on the Internet Archive ( for digitised copies (some are there). For East Lothian mining, look for Peter McNeill (sometimes M’Neill) – histories of Tranent, Prestonpans and a novel, Blawearie; for Pencaitland see WY Whitefield ‘Picturesque Pencaitland’ (also History of Ormiston); James Paterson wrote ‘History of the Regality of Musselburgh’ in 1857. Sometimes reprinted or second hand copies can be found.
      On the family history side, is the place to go, and read up on their guides to searching (our own for our area are in preparation). There are free census and family history websites that can take some of the expense out beforehand, by crossing off unlikely hits so you only buy relevant images of the original records. As with all family history, get as clear a picture of names, places and dates as you can before you start searching.
      If you have a short, specific question use the ’contact us’ route here: and our local history team may be able to help.

  13. Valerie Marwood (nee Clark) says:

    My Great Grandfather was a George Clark who lived in Bankfoot Prestonpans. He is descended from the Clark family who operated a sail and ropemaking business who originally came from Dunbar. I have traced back to a James Clark and his wife Agnes c1790. I would be most interested to learn about their business. It seemed to employ quite a few mid 1800’s. l live in England and have searched the internet in vain trying to learn more about the rope making business in Prestonpans. Maybe this could be included under past occupations. Are there any old photos of the rope works?
    Thank you for reading this.

    1. David says:

      Hello Valerie

      I’m sure that we will cover East Lothian’s maritime support industries in due course. I’m also afraid that the website will always be a ‘work in progress’ and there are many subjects to cover! In Dunbar the Clarks operated the ropewalk for Fall, Melville and Company and I have wondered in the past if the collapse of that company prompted the Clarks shift to Prestonpans.

      Although our photographic collection is large, we have none of the ropewalks or ropemaking. That being said, the ropeworks in Dunbar and Prestonpans can be seen in old maps on our own website and that of the National Library. Within our collections we have only a couple of ropemaking tools to represent the industry although there are other references in our book collection and the local press (see, for example): try a quick search on ‘rope’ and use the left-hand list to refine the search. If there are extracts from the newspapers or books that appear to be of interest my colleagues can supply copies:

      We could feature the Clarks as a ‘ropemaking dynasty’ on the website if you feel like sharing your information on this website.

  14. David says:

    Well Lorna,

    Would your ancestor be George, sen. or jr., Robert, Andrew or Thomas Muat: all 5 were members of the incorporation in 1809! We will get around to filling in the Trades but there are so many subjects to tackle. We’d love it if you would perhaps share your family tales on these pages yourself: it couldn’t be easier, just head here In the meantime, one of our earlier projects touched on the incorporations. You may find this page and the related content of interest:

  15. Lorna Kinnaird or Muat says:

    I’d like to see a whole section done on the Incorporation of Shoemakers – as my MUAT/MOUAT ancestors were mostly shoemakers in Haddington and Edinburgh – and were tied to the Nungate area of Haddington. OCCUPATIONS would be a good display. I’ve got loads of information I would love to hand over to the Centre relating to my particular line of the MOUAT/MUAT clan of Shoemakers. Some hilarious pieces of information – and I believe that the Muat’s were quite numerous within Haddington not just as Shoemakers, but Wine and Spirit Merchants, Customs & Excise Officers,Justice of the Peace, Sheriff Officers – so there is loads I can share with the centre too.


  16. David says:

    Hi Jan, Helen. We have to go a little bit back to get info on Prestonpans’ forgotten hero. He gets a brief mention in Peter McNeil’s ‘Prestonpans and Vicinity’: we have plenty copies ( or it’s online here: We also have a company history: but that seems to be it. Certainly a chap for further study!

  17. HelenB says:

    He sounds fascinating Jan, and definitely someone we should know more about. I’ll add him to our list! And if in the meantime you find out more and want to write something yourself, then do get in touch and I’ll put it on here!

  18. Jan B says:

    I’d love to learn more about James Howden. He was born in Prestonpans c 1832 and lived in the High Street until he was about 19 when he moved to Glasgow to become an engineering apprentice.

    He went on to found Howden, the worldwide engineering firm, yet there is nothing in his birth town to commemorate him or his work (the forced draught system, still used in marine engineering today).

  19. Wendy McFadden says:

    Add a new tab for Sportsmen/women

    1. HelenB says:

      Yes, we’ll do that when we have an article or two ready. Is there anyone you’d like to see represented in that section?

  20. E.H.Glendinning says:

    To people, add engineers/scientists. For example, Rennie, Meikle, James Vetch.

    1. HelenB says:

      Great suggestions, thanks Eric! I hadn’t come across James Vetch before. If you’d like to contribute an article yourself, I can send you one of our basic templates (or you can download it from above). But in the meantime, we’ll definitely add these to our list!

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