Settlements & Sites

Standing Stone, Pencraig Hill

Standing Stone, Pencraig Hill

In this section you will find a growing number of articles about the parishes, towns and villages of East Lothian, as well as about specific historic and archaeological sites.

Please leave a comment below if you have ideas or suggestions for articles you’d like to see in this section.

Overview

The East Lothian landscape is dominated by the volcanic plugs at Traprain Law, North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock offshore. North Berwick Law and Traprain Law were both centres of settlement in the Bronze Age and later fortified during the Iron Age to create hillforts, visible today as earthen ramparts. But even earlier settlements have also been discovered – along the coast near Dunbar are the remains of Scotland’s earliest house, dating from the Mesolithic period about 10,000 years ago.

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age the East Lothian plain would have been full of small enclosures and settlements, and many of these appear as cropmarks in aerial photography. A string of Iron Age hillforts is found along the edge of the Lammermuirs.

Evidence of Roman activity in East Lothian is centred on the Roman fort at Inveresk, situated at the commanding position overlooking where the River Esk meets the sea.

The control and domination of East Lothian’s landscape during the medieval period is also revealed by the many fine examples of castles such as Tantallon, Dirleton, Hailes and Dunbar.

From the 12th century many parish churches were established, but only a few examples, such as St Martin’s Church in Haddington, survive in their original form. These churches and their later successors served as focal points for the burghs in East Lothian which, from the 11th century onwards, began to emerge as centres for trade and local justice. Indeed, Haddington was the site of a royal palace in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many of these burghs received royal charters in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The landscape of East Lothian is also ‘bathed in blood’, with many significant battles that have national and international ramifications having occurred in the county. Battles such as Athelstaneford, Dunbar I, the Siege of Haddington, Pinkie Cleugh, Prestonpans and Dunbar II all took place in the county.

The richness of the farmland in East Lothian attracted innovative farmers, and it is not surprising that the Agricultural Improvements started in East Lothian, with people like Andrew Meikle and John Rennie. Many fine farm steadings dating to the mid 19th century can be seen, and attest to the wealth generated by these farms at that time. It is not for nothing that East Lothian was known as the Market Garden of Scotland. Unsurprisingly, the sea and coast have also influenced life in East Lothian. Indeed, historically fishing and farming were the mainstays of the economy of East Lothian.

From the 19th century heavy industry has played a significant part in shaping East Lothian landscapes, from coal mining through to wireworks and nuclear power stations. Railways and roads have also played their part in shaping our landscape.

Even though much has changed in our landscape, large elements of it would still be recognisable to our distant Mesolithic predecessors. The hills, plains and coast are all constants upon which our past is written.




15 thoughts on “Settlements & Sites”

  1. I have an interest in Gaelic and when and where it was used in the East of Scotland. Latterly, Musselburgh railway station carries the name of Baile nam Feusgan. Can you inform me when that term for Musselburgh was commonly used by the populace, and when last use? From another source I was informed that Gaelic has been in modern use for at least 40 years in that area. I should appreciate it if you could clarify this use for me.

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi Alex,
      Thank you for your enquiry. I’m afraid that at present, the resources in our collection do not have the answer to your question. According to a Gaelic place names reference book, Musselburgh is Mas Coill Bruch, meaning round hill. I think some general references on the history of Gaelic in Scotland claim that it was in use in the Western parts of the Lothians till about circa 12th Century. But as I said, I cannot confirm this. You might like to try contacting the National Library of Scotland or the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.
      All the best.

  2. Angie Skene says:

    Hello, I am trying to determine if an ancestor was born nr Garvald, East Lothian or Garwald, Dumfriesshire (which is where she married and lived her life). The place names on the parish register (not sure which parish but it states Garvald) are Barra, Upper Newlands, Gateside, Winderan, Linplum Mains, Spade, Snadon (the last few not sure whether this is the correct spelling).

    I’ve attached a copy of the baptismal record.

    Would appreciate any observations.

    Many thanks

    1. Graham Barnes says:

      I recognise SNAWDON, LINPLUM and BARO as being associated with GARVALD, EAST LOTHIAN.

  3. Katherine Pym says:

    Could anyone please tell me if Innerwick is the same as Anderweek? I cannot find a connection between them or when the name was changed. Thanks very much,
    Katherine

    1. StephanieL says:

      I passed your query on to the Scottish Place-Name Society, and they replied : “I have never come across ‘Anderweek’, to my knowledge; the main variations for Innerwick that I have come across have been between Inverwick and Innerwick, a variation that has been quite common with inbhear names, such as also between Inverleithen and Innerleithen. There is another Innerwick in Glen Lyon, Perthshire. It probably ought to mean ‘small confluence’, Gaelic inbhear bheag, but the odd thing is that there is no obvious confluence of watercourses, or mouth of a watercourse into the sea, to which the site of the village or the castle would refer.”

      1. David says:

        Hi Katherine, Stephanie

        Wrt the ‘mouth of a watercourse’, Innerwick the village takes the name of the parish; the present village is the current principal settlement but a coastal site, now Thorntonloch, is thought by some to be of greater antiquity. It’s by the burnmouth.

  4. Robert Cuthill says:

    Just completed my first visit to Scotland to further some ancestry research. Can anyone help with some history about the village of Cuthill on the west side of Prestonpans and originally one of the villages in the parish of Preston. Most of my ancestors so far have been from the Arbroath, Montrose, Brechin, Forfar area in angus dating back to the mid 1700s. The name Cuthill is first mentioned in the 1400s and I have seen Ordinance Survey maps with the name Cuthill from the mid 1800s. Any help or direction to other sources would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    1. KateM says:

      Dear Mr Cuthill, Bill Wilson, Local History Officer replies: The one source that I can recommend is a book by Peter McNeill entitled Prestonpans and Vicinity: Historical, Ecclesiastical and Traditional. The link below is to a digital version. https://archive.org/details/prestonpansandv00mcnegoog. This a book will give a good insight into the village of Cuthill (pronounced Kit-hill)

  5. HelenB says:

    Dear Helen
    I’m afraid there’s not a lot to go on as to the history of the swimming pool at Dunbar. I’ve emailed you with some info on other sources.
    The new pavilion was opened in June 1931 by Provost Alexander Stinton.
    October 5th 1981 it was first mentioned in the local newspaper, The Courier, that there were doubts as to whether the pool could remain open for another year. Talks went on for another four years as to whether more money should be spent on it or to demolish it. It was in The Courier November 1984, the Regional Council took the construction of a pool off their “priority list”.
    There seems to have been enough repairs and improvement to keep the pool open for as long as possible.
    The closure of Dunbar Swimming pool came down to the fact that it was going to cost too much to improve it and too much too build a new one.
    I hope this may help you with your research.
    Bill Wilson (Local HIstory Officer)

  6. Helene Mackay says:

    Hello, I am a history student from the University of the Sunshine Coast. I am researching the old sea baths that used to be in Dunbar from about 1925, through the second world war and into the 1950s and 1960s. I am trying to find out when the baths ceased to be used and why. I would appreciate some information or a website which would help solve this mystery.
    Thanks for you help
    Regards
    Helene Mackay

  7. HelenB says:

    Dear Ms Reid, thank you for your enquiry. As we have not been given a date, the only information I could quickly retrieve is as follows:
    I looked up the index for the main broadsheet in East Lothian (The Haddingtonshire Courier) and found only three newspaper entries on a “Charles Reid” from various years and they relate to marriage announcements i.e. these are three different Charles Reids. You could access these entries by typing “Charles Reid” (in quotation marks) into our Search box.
    In addition, we also have many newspaper entries relating to Nairns Mains. You could access the details by searching for Nairns Mains. The full newspaper articles, however, are on microfilm and they can be accessed at our Centre.
    As for Lord Elibank, there are mentions in our website and in some of our reference books in connection with land and property which the respective Lord Elibanks would have owned at various periods of time. For example, there is a mention of Lord Elibank in one of the Council Papers set in our Archive collection. You can read the description at this link on our website:
    http://www.johngraycentre.org/collections/getrecord/ELCAS_DUN_2_4_2_3/
    There is also a mention of the first Lord Elibank in relation to Ballencrieff House in the parish of Aberlady in the following link:
    http://www.johngraycentre.org/collections/getrecord/ELHER_MEL487/
    If it is possible for you to visit our Centre, you could look up the valuation rolls from the period of time that Charles Reid was working for Lord Elibank (and if you know where he lived) and look up details of his accommodation.
    I hope you will find the above information useful but please do not hesitate to contact us again if you have any further questions about getting access to the items mentioned above or for any other information relating to East Lothian.
    Regards, Hanita (Local History Officer)

  8. Alexina Reid says:

    In researching my husband’s family tree I found his great-grandfather, Charles Reid, farmed 136 acres of Nairns Mains. In the will is reference of payment to Lord Elibank estate for rent. If anyone has any more information I would greatly appreciate it.

  9. George says:

    Not a comment but a question, and hope I have it in the appropriate section. Does anyone know the origin of the place Nairn’s Mains just to the west of Haddington? A family of the surname were living in the area early 1700’s and very possible established there before that time.

    1. David says:

      Hello George

      The farm of Nairn’s Mains or ‘the Teuchit Muir’ seems at one time to have been part of Haddington Common. Over time bits of the Common were alienated (by fair means and foul) giving rise to the patchwork of farms in the area between Samuelston and the Gladsmuir village of today. Nairns Mains seems at one point to have become part of the estate of the Murrays of Ballencrieff, Lords Elibank; it was so in the 18th century. It was afterwards leased as a led farm by George Reid, a noted 19th century agriculturalist – and that seems to be all that’s written in the only source I could find, Martine’s Reminiscences (http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/eastlothian/items/115171?query=martine+remiscence&resultsUri=items%3Fquery%3Dmartine%2Bremiscence). The nearby farm of Hodges certainly appears to be named after Robert Hodges WS who got it from the burgh of Haddington in the 18th century, so it is possible that there was a particular Nairn at the root of the name.

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