Compiled from the Church Guide and
from the booklet published in 1995 commemorating the first 400
years of a Church in Prestonpans, with additional material from
Ian Wallace, Session Clerk
Although there was a church in Prestonpans from the 12th Century,
all trace of it was lost in 1544 when English troops harried the
Scottish LowIands. This was the revenge of Henry VIII for the
refusal of the Scottish Parliament to allow the infant Queen Man
to marry the Prince of Wales (later Edward VI) when they were
aged two and seven respectively!
The story of the present Church begins with the appointment of
the first minister. John Davidson. in 1595. Davidson was a fearless
champion of the reformed faith in the generation after John Knox.
He was an outspoken man. fit for his stormy time. He decried bishops,
denounced those in the Church who took scats in Parliament and
boldly criticised King James VI. He was briefly imprisoned in
Edinburgh Castle in 1601 and to the end of his days forbidden
to leave his parish.
He began to build the first Preston Church in 1596. The two local
Iandowners. Lord Hamilton of Preston and John Kerr of Prestongrange
were reluctant to provide for a parish church. Eventually Hamilton
donated the site but little financial support and Davidson built,
largely at his own expense. the Church, manse and school where
Latin. Greek and Hebrew were taught. This tightfistedness continued
into the 17th Century when several ministers died deep in debt
but this was also the time of the Covenanters who swore to defend
the Presbyterian faith and its independence from the state. Among
them were three Preston Church ministers whose adherence to the
Covenant deprived them of their office.
The eighteenth century brought the Jacobite rebellions and the
Battle of Prestonpans said to be watched by the minister of the
day. Rev William Carlyle (father of "Jupiter"), from
the church tower. In 1774 the church was extensively rebuilt and
the present shape of the cast-west aisles emerged. Galleries were
also added and this meant that between 900-1000 people were able
to be seated.
The next century saw the Disruption which rocked the Church of
Scotland in 1843 and was caused mainly over the right of congregations
to call their own ministers. The mass walk-out from St Andrew's
Church in George Street, Edinburgh was repeated to a certain degree
in Prestonpans when William Cunningham. minister at that time.
left the Kirk with a large proportion of his congregation and
established the Free Church in Prestonpans. Preston Church continued
to flourish and in 1891 the north aisle and the cast porch were
added during the ministry of Rev J Struthers who was there for
forty five years and whose research is the source of much of the
information on Preston.
1929 saw the United Free Churches re-united with the Church of
Scotland and then in 1981 came the union of Preston and Grange
thus creating the new name. Prestongrange Church, during the ministry
of Rev Colin Morton. 1988 brought the First lady minister. Rev
Moira Herkes. and 1994 saw Rev Robert Simpson and his family arrive
This was just in time to start the celebrations of the 400th anniversary
in 1995 and one occasion was a visit from the then Moderator of
the General Assembly. Very Rev James Harkness who dedicated a
marble plaque on Sunday. 7 January. 1996.
A lot of events within living memory were recalled during the
celebrations. The gigantic task. all with voluntary labour of
course, of cleaning and scraping of the pews to bring them back
to their natural colour. Then there was the making of folding
tables for the hall. a total of twenty and nearly all still in
use! Sunday School picnics were by horse-drawn cart in the early
1900s. up to the grounds of Prestongrange House. In the 1920s
the tram was used to go to Messelburgh and in the Fifties and
sixties a whole train was hired to wonderful faraway places such
as Peebles. North Berwick and BurntisIand. Photographs of the
Drama Club's productions were on show and memories of the Hall
were recalled, the Sunday School parties, the Kinderspiels, musical
evenings, wedding receptions. pantomimes. Scout concerts and Jumble
Sales, and the meetings of the Woman's Guild, the Brownies and
There were visits and messages from former ministers of Preston
and Grange Churches and all had one wish in common and that was
to look to the filture, to the next four hundred years and this
led to the gathering together of items for a space capsule.
Ian Wallace compiled the list which includes a photo of the current
Session and one of the Sunday School, and letters from the children
telling what their lives were like in the year 1995. There were
letters from members and one from Rev Robert Simpson with a message
to the minister of the future along with a few Communion Tokens
and copies of the hymn book and the booklet produced for the 1995
anniversary. These were all sealed in plastic bags and placed
in a slainless steel box supplied by GGS Engineering of Macmerry,
and then Kenny Frame bricked it up in a hole in the churchyard.
Exactly where is known only to a few. If and when ever opened
it is hoped that the Church will still be here and still have
a central part to play in the community of Prestonpans.
In the next milleiiniuni the changing social pressures associated
with Sundays that have characterised the eighties and nineties
are likely to continue. Parishes grow larger, congregations proportionately
smaller and there is a developing trend towards a more relaxed
approach to worship which sliould appeal to the young people.
The future is in our young people and the fact that our Church
has celebrated 400 years bears witness to all the "young
people" who have gone before and worked for "their Kirk".
Prestongrange Church in the thirties
- and in the present day