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

Treasures in the Archives

Archives at the John Gray CentreThe John Gray Centre houses all of the Council’s historical records – this means it covers the entire geographical area of the county and goes right back to the earliest days of its administration.

Records come from: Burgh/town councils; parish councils; district council; county council; schools; and some police and court records. We also hold archival copies of the current council’s papers. You can see some of the burgh collection in our online exhibition, ‘The King, the Queen and the Vicious Strumpet’.

Back in the 1970s the majority of East Lothian archival material was entrusted to the then Scottish Records Office, now the National Records of Scotland, in Edinburgh. When the JGC was built and its special archive store was approved by the NRS, this material was returned to East Lothian. Encompassing the core burgh and council records, it offers insight into almost every aspect of East Lothian life for the past 700 years.

Artist Lucy Roscoe explored the archive shortly after the JGC opened, and it inspired the ‘Illustrated Archive‘, with drawings of some of the stories she discovered.

Key holdings:

Haddington Burgh Charter (1318 copy)HAD/1/3 Bruce Charter

An obvious treasure is the oldest document in our collection – the Bruce Charter. Dating from 1318, this is actually a confirmation charter. Haddington had become a royal burgh around 200 years previously but had mislaid its original charter(!). This document, sealed by Robert the Bruce, confirms Haddington’s rights, such as the right to hold a market, etc. And anyone annoying the burgesses ‘will face our heavy displeasure’! You can see the remains of the seal attached to the document. This is one of a number of important seals we hold in our collection. Seals are used primarily to authenticate documents, specifically those which carry some legal importance. Initially used by royalty and religious figures they were eventually used by landed gentry and often featured their family crest.

Read a full translation of the charter here.

Mary Queen of Scots signature and sealHAD/4/6/54 Mary Queen of Scots: letters and signature

The signature of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley is another of the treasures in the collection. Dating from October 1565, this was found amongst the Haddington burgh papers that were returned to the county from the NRS in December 2012. It is an instruction to the good people of Haddington to stay away from the various raids that were happening around the country at the time – she wanted them to stay at home and make money for the crown. Here we see the signature of Mary and her husband of just a couple of months, Henry, Lord Darnley.

Official name of the document:

Letters Of Licence And Discharges (5) Subscribed By Henry And Mary, King And Queen Of Scots, Regent Lennox, Regent Morton And James VI To The Burgesses Of Haddington To Remain At Home From Various Raids And Armies

This document is definitely one we like to show off as it bears the signature of Mary Queen of Scots and her husband of the time the ill fated Lord Darnley. Mary signed this document in the French fashion, Maria R and Darnley signs as Henry R. The ‘R’s denoting the Latin for King and Queen – Rex and Regina.

Though hard to read, the document is written in Scots rather than Latin. It has been partially translated by the archivists. In it Mary is appealing to the good people of the burgh of Haddington to stay at home from various raids and armies that were springing up throughout the country. Haddington at the time was a very important burgh and made significant money for the crown. Mary was keen that this should continue uninterrupted.

The document would likely have been kept for a long time alongside other important burgh documents in a wooden chest which can now be seen in Haddington Town House. Despite this less than ideal storage, the document does not look bad for 450 years! A small central portion is missing but it has undergone conservation from the National Records of Scotland conservation team which, coupled with the storage conditions in our archive store, should stand it in good stead for the next 450 years.

Mary SealHAD/1/10 Charter under the Great Seal of Mary Queen of Scots (1566)

An almost perfectly preserved example of the Great Seal of Queen Mary. The seal depicts the Queen dressed in robes sitting on her throne under a canopy. The inscription around the seal is now difficult to read – ‘MARIA.DEI.GRA.REGINA.SCOTORUM.DOTARIA.FRANCIE.’ – this translates as ‘Mary by the grace of God Queen of the Scots, Dowager (Queen) of France’.

On the reverse of the seal you can see a shield with the royal coat of arms. Over the shield is a crown of fleurs-de-lis. Supporting the shield on either side are two unicorns holding a flag with the saltire cross.

The Great Seal of Scotland was used to signify that the document carried the force of the Queen’s will. Thus the great seal authorised official documents without the monarch having to sign them. The Charter this is appended to is transferring the Church lands to the burgh of Haddington in the aftermath of the Reformation.

Seals were usually made of beeswax, softened by heat and attached to a document. A mould or matrix was used to make the impression in the soft wax. From the 12th century, seals were used extensively in Scotland by kings, clergy, nobles and towns. In a society where few people could read or write, they provided evidence that documents were authentic.

Mary Queen of Scots has many associations with East Lothian. For example, it was the Treaty of Haddington signed in 1548 between France and Scotland that promised Mary, Queen of Scots to Dauphin Francis in marriage, in return for French aid in the siege of Haddington. Mary, then only 6 years of age, travelled to France and married the Dauphin 9 years later.

mus-5-3-5 Roll of ShipsMUS/5/3/5 Roll of ships

Transcription soon to be available

This is a page from the Roll of Ships from Fisherrow covering the dates 1635–49. We’ve learned lots of words for wood during the transcription of this document! Gives the name of the skipper of the boat, owner, cargo and place of origin which is commonly Fife.

Rescued from a skip in 2006 alongside other volumes of Musselburgh history, the ‘Roll of Schipps’ is a small volume which documents ships landing at Fisherrow Harbour from 1635–49.

It paints a picture of the harbour as being a busy place with ships and cargo being regularly received. Much of the cargo being brought into Fisherrow harbour was wood. Though depending on the type of wood it had several different names such as:

Daillis    – plank or deal
Treis      – trees
Skowis   – a strip of wood; a lath
Stingis   – a wooden pole, stake, stave, bar or beam
Spakis   – spokes

The ships arriving at the harbour commonly came from Fife and Elie, Carrail (Crail) and Syllerdyk (Cellardyke) are commonly mentioned. Ships also came from the north-east too and craft from Montrose, Peterheid (Peterhead) and Abirdene (Aberdeen) were regularly recorded. Some came from further afield, and ‘Noraway’ and ‘Orknay’.

Overwhelmingly, the names of the ships are religious in tone. The ‘Gift of God’ was a common vessel seen in the harbour as was ‘Godspeid’ and ‘Godsend’. The ‘Blessing’ and ‘Providence’ also did brisk trade. Some owners however chose to call their ship after its home town or a loved one and we see the ‘Virtue of Anstruther’, ‘Issobell of Peterheid’ and ‘Charles off Abirdoure’, to name but a few.

Each entry in the volume also gives us the name of the owner and skipper of the boat.

The Roll is just a thin volume but give us so much information into the economic activity in the harbour and a fascinating insight into trade in the county.

James Nisbett Claim DUN/3/5/12-18 – Cromwell papers

The collection contains an account book which details how much each inhabitant of Dunbar was claiming recompense for, as well as a breakdown of what the costs to the town was of providing quartering and provisions to the soldiers. Alongside this account book are roughly 150 receipts, which give a breakdown of what each person was actually claiming for.  In this example we can see that James Nisbet was claiming for twelve bolls of malt and five swyne (swine, pigs) amongst other things. Other claimants claimed for ‘ane pair of my son’s breiks in guid green claith’ and ‘ane pair of sheits’. It’s worth noting that claims were made in ‘merks’ – Scottish currency.

We wouldn’t want to cast aspersions on the moral character of any of the claimants but we wonder if all these claims were completely accurate! In any case the collection gives us an amazing account of the economic and social history of Dunbar. Some work has been done to digitise and transcribe this collection as – as you will see – the writing is perhaps not the easiest to read. Read our blog about the collection.

EL34 – East Lothian Bank

Five pound bank note

Five pound bank note

The East Lothian Bank was begun on 1 June 1810 in Dunbar. It raised capital by issuing 400 shares of £200 each, which were snapped up by the then cash-rich merchants and farmers of East Lothian (who were greatly profiting from good prices and exceptional sales on the back of the wars with Napoleon’s France!). The Board of Directors recruited William Borthwick from a similar regional bank in Falkirk as Cashier – essentially the chief operating officer of the business. Agents and tellers were appointed in Haddington, Selkirk and elsewhere as the bank got into its stride.East Lothian archives hold bank notes and approx 500 letters relating to the bank. As well as the letters we hold there are a substantial number in private hands indicating that a large amount of business ran through the bank. You will probably be dying to point out our spelling error but its is on purpose (honest!) to highlight the misspelling on the banknotes of ELB.

Borthwick and his brother Bruce began to develop other interests in Belhaven and one suggestion was that they may have diverted funds without authorisation from the Bank to support these concerns. However it happened, Borthwick disappeared on 10 April 1822 and a gaping hole in the Bank’s finances was quickly apparent. He was apparently arrested in Savannah, America but as far as can be made out never tried for his crime. We’ve written a blog about this too!

Wartime Autograph Book in the Archives

‘Our Florrie’, from Wartime Autograph Book in the Archives

EL64/11 Fairley’s Cafe Haddington Autograph Book (1914–40) 

This book appears to have acted as something of a guest book in Fairleys Cafe in Haddington. The customers of the cafe, particularly soldiers who were stationed nearby, have written in it. It includes an entry by William Angus who was the first Scottish Territorial soldier to receive the Victoria Cross. Later in the book there is a sketch of William by one of the other soldiers. The soldiers are mainly from the Highland Light Infantry though there are some entries from soldiers of the Royal Scots.

Seamus HeaneyEL15 East Lothian Literary Society

Not all of our treasures are ancient. The records of the East Lothian Literary Society date from the 1970s and ’80s. The Society corresponded with a number of prominent literary figures regarding talks and readings. Therefore within the records we have a number of signatures and notes from authors such as Magnus Magnusson, Joan Lingard and Iris Murdoch as well as the signatures on display here [WH Auden, Seamus Heany, Alasdair Gray, Naomi Mitchison]

While you’re here, why not enjoy a quick peek into the Illustrated Archive?

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