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Ensuring the Restoration of Prestonpans Town Hall ... & More ...

Time for New Year's Resolutions then ...

2009 was not a good year for preserving the built heritage of Prestonpans. The community lost the iconic Auld artdeco Fowler's HQ at the behest of Lidl's supermarket with the acquiesence the nation's Minister of Culture, his quango at Historic Scotland, and of East Lothian Council. The Community Right-to-Buy the building Petition was avoided by Lidl's conditional offer to sell for Scotland's cheapest housing as the eastern gateway to our community. In April 2009 all the potential for the restoration of Auld Fowler's as a community asset was lost to the demolition claws of Nicholson's of Glasgow. All that was saved were interior photographs, the hop-motif wrought iron gates and the floor linoleum with the Mercat Cross logo which Fowler's had used since 1745.

Every consenting participant in its demolition has since been publicly exonerated from any blame by either the Scottish Ombudsman and/or the Scottish Information Commissioner as they allowed this latest destruction of our industrial heritage to take place against the express wishes of the community itself because they followed their own rules meticulously. The community was not permitted to know what was best for it. Rules which as a community we know simply give the 'wrong' answer, must rule.

So how to change the vexatious rules? Our Ministers of Culture, four now since 2006 [not much continuity there then!], have all been asked as has East Lothian Council, but none has acted. So the Petitions Committee at Holyrood was also asked to consider the matter and to urge the Minister to change those rules, but that Committee resolved that what was needed was 'transparency' not a change of rules. Historic Scotland readily agreed to seek to be more 'transparent'.


Think 'heritage' positive for 2010 ... as in 1897 then ...

Putting the bitter disappointment of 2009 behind us then, let's see how we can restore Prestonpans' built 'heritage' on another front where urgent attention is required .... our 'auld' Town Hall.

When speaking at the Opening of Prestonpans Town Hall in early August 1897, Mr W Ranken, Chairman of the Literary Institute which had campaigned ever since the town became a Burgh in 1873 for just such a Hall, paid tribute to the constant support his campaign had received throughout from Mr Hislop [whose family had owned Fowler's Ales], acting as Chairman, Mr James Belfield [MD Belfield Pottery], Lady Susan Grant-Suttie and many others. Together they collected by bazaars and donations 900 of the total eventual cost of 1500 required for the building. In concluding he refered to the future of Prestonpans as follows:

"I was horrified just lately to see in a geographical reference that Prestonpans was a decaying village on the Firth of Forth. I hope very much to see it take its place as the Brighton of Scotland. I further hope that our guest today, *Mr R.B. Haldane QC, MP, will consider this a good cause for defamation and libel and will take it up on behalf of the town."

Colonel Cadell VC, Chairman of Cockenzie Parish Council, expressed his envy at such a fine Hall and hoped the people of his community would always be welcome to encourage diffusion of knowledge and good fellowship.

Mr Haldane, longtime President of the Walter Scott Society, recalled Waverley and the Battle of Prestonpans and how the warlike spirit of those times lived on to this day in the Prestonpans community. Controversy was an excellent thing in its right spirit and place. It was the force that moved the machinery of municipal life; it showed there was public spirit. And as for the new Town Hall, what is a town hall, he asked? "It is a place in which the common spirit of those who are thrown together by a common bond makes itself manifest. You cannot keep such a spirit alive without such a building." He gladly accepted that if anyone again ever declared the town to be a decaying spot, he would act as advocate, even in the benighted courts of England if needs be, to defend its reputation for heavy damages and vindicate it.

He concluded with the wish and hope "that the people of Prestonpans might make a use of this Hall worthy of the exertions that had called it into existence."

click to enlarge picture of the Town Hall and tram track - posted September 1917


1. That Town Hall of theirs'/ ours' still stands to this day ..

....each succeeding generation is its steward. If our community loses its sense of heritage our spirit loses. So as with Auld Fowler's, a campaign in 2010 for the Town Hall's restoration to honour the exertions of those who called it into existence has been launched by the Arts Festival - once again with the comprehensive support of Prestonpans Commmunity Council.

Research for August 1897 by Craig Statham in the Haddingtonshire Courier has already revealed in the most explicit detail how the interior was decorated, and of the missing vestibule. And the addition subsequently of the Burgh Arms of Prestonpans above the entrance. If the Town Hall was a fine enough cause for Mr Hislop whose ancestors had been steeped in Fowler's Ales a century and more ago, it's surely good enough for us. It's good enough for Historic Scotland this time too with an existing C Listing! We might have lost every original trace of our brewery heritage but we can still honour the community values Hislop clearly shared and advanced.

The Hall was, records show, designed by Pans' architect Peter Whitecross and built by joiners, plumbers and slaters who were Panners too working with masons from Musselburgh and inter alia using bricks from our own brickworks.

.... and when the restoration is complete the August 1897 news reports have also provided complete details of the concert the night it opened in 1897, and of the cakes and wine served at the Black Bull! We'll need a black bull of course!

2. Mr Ranken's 'Brighton of Scotland' is perhaps no longer a dream either ....

Why? Because the demolition of Auld Fowler's and the imminent changes at Cockenzie Power Station have triggered a determined new campaign chaired by Iain Gray, our local MSP, that is committed to see the integrated renaissance of the entire foreshore/ seafrontages from West Pans to Seton Sands. Just think of the potential when one includes the Three Harbours, the 1745 Battlefield, Scotland's first Waggonway, Cuthill Park, John Muir and the Heritage Museum. It begins its work this month ..... with both local Community Councils, both Arts Festivals and the Battle Trust taking part .... It's a seashore that our artists' community has already made its own through the Three Harbours Festival .....

_________________________________________________________

* at the time Mr Haldane, a Scot, was Liberal MP for Haddingtonshire but he was destined to be twice Lord High Chancellor of England as Viscount Haldane, first in Asquith's Cabinet from 1912-1916 and later in Ramsay MacDonald's first brief Labour Cabinet in 1924. He also played a vital role as Secretary of State for War 1905-1912 in the restructuring of the British Army prior to WWI and encouraging the development of air power.[Ed.]



Published Date: January 1st 2010


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