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Muses invited to advise Prestongrange Heritage Museum: February 24th @ 7pm or email

Will David Spence's Dream Now at last Come to Life?

ELC Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Ruth Currie, and Museum staff led by Sarah Cowie have invited 'the community' to speak up and out with their views on the future of the Heritage Museum at Prestongrange. The invitation is for:

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 24th @ 7 PM @ THE PENNYPIT CENTRE

and/ or by email to Sarah Cowie @ scowie@eastlothian.gov.uk

The Museum has of course a long history since the pit closed and the last Area Manager David Spence made his bold attempt to create the Scottish National Mining Museum on site. But as local government was reorganised in the last quarter of the 20th century that role went to Newtongrange with a £50m budget. Since then, many a 'big' idea has been floated for Prestongrange but all without success - so far. Meanwhile the local museum staffs have honourably continued to tell the industrial history of our community to approaching 10,000 visitors each year. An excellent audiotour narrated by John Bellany is available. Additionally the site has been used for 'unrelated' heritage gatherings such as 3Harbours and multiculturalism. Exhibitions are regularly staged in the old Power House such as the recent displays on slavery.

But inevitably over the past 40+ years since the pit and finally the brickworks closed, the heritage assets have deteriorated. The Steamies have for several years been unable to let off steam to the enjoyment of weekend gongoozlers; the Beam Engine which made coal mining truly feasible from the late 19th century no longer captures the imagination; artefacts lie scattered around; the brickworks is fenced off ...

Is it now time to think BIG again?

Certainly the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust is keen that the Heritage Museum should think big again. It wants to build its new circular pavilion to accomodate the 104 metre Tapestry and to restore the old Miners' BathHouse for use as a Living History Centre - as well as interpreting there the original purposes of the BathHouse itself.

The Battle Trust's Petition to Holyrood in December 2010 brought forth an encouraging response from Historic Scotland indicating they would be willing to look seriously at how the Listed structures at the Museum can also be restored.

What beckons, according to Max Gaunt of highly respected RGA Consultants' in his 'Potential Visitors Study', is the possibility that an exciting Heritage Museum at Prestongrange could readily become a day-visitor destination for upwards of 100,000 each year if executed to world class standards. The Tapestry alone has already shown its ability to attract thousands each time it is exhibited.

Friends Groups Required ...

Is it not possible to encourage groups from within the community to take 'ownership' of key elements of our community's 1000 year history and seek 'living history' activities at Prestongrange? There are regular proposals from pottery groups; Newbattle Abbey has stimulated interest in salt making which Preston Lodge has joined in with the Arts Festival; Fowler's Ales have been brewed again since 2004; the Steamies have been a long running group; surely water engineers can be found who 'care' about the beam engine; and there must be brickies aplenty who'd love to see batch production of bricks again. And that's before anyone sets to work farming oysters anew.

There's so very much in all this to involve our young with too - the generation that is often accused of believing milk comes from the Co-op not cows.

Every community needs a sense of place or it ceases to be a community

So, whilst talk of social uses, gatherings and walking, are wholly appropriate, the future must surely be to honour our heritage and learn from it. That's something far more ambitious. Much if not all the research and understanding of our heritage needed is already to hand. Prestonpans was a mightily significant player in the nation's industrial revolution. What is required now is a stage on which to present that history and to share it with 100,000 visitors and more every year.

click to enlarge press cutting


Published Date: February 17th 2011


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