Peter McNeill (1839–1929)

 Peter McNeill was born on the 16th March 1839 in Tranent, the son of a woman who worked at the pits until it was made illegal in 1848, and the great grandson of one of the last coalminers to be bound as a serf to his pit and master.

McNeill went to school at the age of four, leaving at the age of nine to start working an average ten hour day in the coal mines. He continued there for ten years. The desire to better himself drove him to take evening classes for two years at ‘Blair’s Night School’ and from that came the job of post runner between Tranent and Gladsmuir for the following four years. At the age of 20, and whilst still working for the Post Office, he opened a newspaper and book shop in Tranent where for fifty years he sold books and pursued his antiquarian interests.

With a grant from the Literary Fund he published two history books, one on Tranent (1883) and the other on Prestonpans (1902) but both including details of the history of mining in the area. He also wrote novels including Blawearie based on his knowledge of the mining industry in the Lothians. The poet-laureate of the local Burns Club, he wrote dialect poems and short lyrics and regularly contributed articles and poems to the Haddington Courier; he also wrote a metrical version of the Psalms.

McNeill married at the age of 22 only when he could earn ten shillings a week; there were 11 children from the marriage. He attended Tranent Parish Church his entire life and died at Inveresk on 12th August 1929.

 Bibliography:

Life and adventures of Archie Tamson, the parish beadle (1867)

The battle of Preston, Gaffer Gray, or Knox and his times, and other poems and songs (1882)

Tranent and its Surroundings: historical, ecclesiastical and traditional (1883)

Blawearie, or, Mining life in the Lothians forty years ago (1887)

A New Metrical version of the Psalms (1899)

Prestonpans and Vicinity: historical, ecclesiastical and traditional (1902)

Copies of McNeill’s works can be consulted at the John Gray Centre or other East Lothian libraries. Some are available online.




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