Tranent 1547 – Adventures Underground
Before the Battle of Pinkie (10th September 1547) the English Army had marched through East Lothian. They camped under Fa’side Brae and set about searching out and making secure the immediate area. During the course of this, parties of troops ventured into Tranent. The stories from that episode are remembered to this day – many were written down by Peter McNeill, a local historian and author. Less well known are the English accounts, compiled shortly after the event. The following extract comes from a scarce volume, now fortunately digitised and available on the Internet Archive. The author of the extract was William Patton, nominally a non-combatant with the English Army. He took notes of the campaign, later published in the form of a diary. The spelling and grammar have been lightly edited to make the account easier to follow:
George Ferrers, a gentleman of my Lord Protectors, & one of the commissioners of the carriages of this army, happened upon a cave in the ground, the mouth whereof was so worn with the fresh print of steps, that he seemed to be certain there were some folk within, & gone down to try, he was readily received with a hakebut or two. He left them not yet, till he had known whether they would be content to yield, & come out ; which they fondly refusing, he went to my Lord’s Grace, and upon utterance of the thing got licence to deal with them as he could and so returned to them with a score or two of pioneers. Three vents had their cave, that we were aware of, whereof he first stopped up on (them), another he filled full of straw and set it afire, whereat they within cast water a pace, but it was so well maintained without, that the fire prevailed, and they fain within to get them belike into another parler (parlour, place?). Then desisted we (for I happened to be with him) to stop the same up, whereby we should either smother them, or find out their vents if they had any more as this was done at another issue about a xii. (12) score (yards) of, we might see the fume of our smoke to come out, the which continued with so great a force, & so long a while, that we could not but think they must needs get them out, or smother within; and forasmuch as we found not that they did the one, we thought it for certain they were sure of the other: we had done that we came for, and so left them.
The cave was, of course, the entrance of a coal-mine – either a drift or a drainage level from the context. The Belters had retreated underground, with their expert knowledge of their own coal-workings, and made themselves secure with all the goods that they could shift with them. From within, anyone appearing in the entrance was framed, while the defenders were in darkness. So those outside would be clear targets. It is obvious that the English troops were extremely reluctant to venture in and so resorted to ‘smoking out’ the defenders. This tactic was defeated by the many ‘vents’ (drains, adits and shafts) which could not all be stopped up. After setting several fires, the English appear to have convinced themselves that the defenders would suffocate and so left.
The battle the next day, and its aftermath, distracted the English from returning. The people of Tranent would soon be able to rebuild their ruined homes, but it would likely be a hungry time unless they had managed to get at least some of their livestock and harvest hidden safely underground.