PRESTONPANS AS I REMEMBER IT - Jimmy Burns (1905-1996)
Jimmy wrote this article for the Gala programme several years before
he died and it gives a fair picture of the town in his early lifetime,heis
fondly remembered as a great supporter of Preston Athletic football
Club and Prestonpans - in that order'.
My first visit to Prestonpans was in 1910. I was carried on my brother
Samuel's shoulders (Sam Burns) as we walked from Musselburgh to
Northfield Cottage. Prestonpans. my grandfather's house. now occupied
by Mr Galloway. About 1911. our family moved to Prestonpans and
I lived in Rennies land. One of my memories is being caught by my
hair at Rope Walk where M Clark made their ropes. My mother had
to cut the hair from the rope (it would be nae bother now!)
Coming to Prestonpans through the "Looming Braes", that
winding road now used as a Council dump for whin chips etc.. the
sea used to strike the wall and the road often flooded. At the start
of the Looming Braes was Aggie Purdies's shop. Aggie sold anything
and everything and her cats lay in her shop window on the top of
the sweeties (very tasty!). At the end of the Looming Braes was
the Brickworks (Prestongrange). where I started work at the age
of 14 and next was Prestongrange Colliery. Across the road seawards
lay Morison's Haven Harbour, where boats were loaded with coal.
bricks, pipes etc. I often worked at this, loading bricks.
In the 1930s, the next stop after Morison's Haven was the halfway
house (at Burns' yard. now being restored to its original condition).
The halfway house was built in 1690 as a toll house and was later
used as a lodge gate for Prestongrange Estate. Next was Mathieson's
Garden, once a sand quarry. (By the wav. Burns' yard was a whin
quarry, operated by W Baxter & Sons. Quarrymasters. Sam Burns
filled the quarry with rubble to enlarge his yard.) Across the way
on the sea side. Prestongrange Rovers made a football pitch on the
Shore, covering the shingle on the beach with six inches of soil.
Then they had a grand team. winning every cup and the League, all
except the Scottish Cup. Those were the days!
Then we came to the Cuthill School and across from it was Brodie
Allison's shop (everything sold here). Mathieson's haulage contractors
had a good going business, first with horse and cart. and then with
the motor lorries. Further on. on the right hand side. lay the Cuthill
Mission Hall. Mr Park was the missionary and he had a well-filled
hall every Sunday.
Between the Cuthill houses and Summerlee there was a vacant space
where the young men played their hearts out at football, very often
with rags tied in the shape of a ball. Some of the older people
will recall the Bing Boys who played on the top of the red bing.
now a nature reserve pIanted with trees of all kinds. The Bing Boys
were Pud Carwell. Jocky Russell. Wullie Baxter. Johnny McGinty.
Bob Buchanan, Bill Anderson. Max Meharry. Bill Buchanan. Sinky McLeod.
Jock McLeod. Dominic Cairney. Baldy Reid, Big Dod Cunningham and
Wee Dod Cunningham.
Next on the way. behind the Co-operative Society's West End shop.
was Belfield's storage yard which is still there. Round the corner
on the same side as the Store, lived Auld Nirl (James Smith). When
the main road was build up, the door to his house was only five
feet high. Continuing along the main street, after passing some
houses, was Belfield's Pottery, which sold their products all over
the world. I can remember Wull Fraser taking the goods to Edinburgh
to be shipped abroad. Wull Fraser also ran a market garden for Belfield
and regularly took the produce into the Waverley Market. I can.
again, recall going in Wiles' bus to Aberdeen to see Prestonpans
Athletic F C (first class juveniles). At 2.30 in the morning Wull
Fraser was coming out of Belfield loaded with vegetables and the
bus struck the lorry. No damage was done. One of the players in
the bus was Geordie Fraser. one of the sons of the driver Wull Fraser!
I can also recall seeing the small lot of Iand beside the pottery,
where the horse used to pull the mill wheels around to mill the
clay for Belfield Products. Further along still on the sea side
was a row of cottages. Pat Cullen lived there: he was the village
chimney sweep. At the end of the cottages Farrow and Hubbard built
a repair garage: it was later used by John Hastie who has the garage
at Preston opposite the old Preston Lodge.
Then the Burn Dyke, a favourite place for people with time to spare
- you had a grand view of the sea! The Burn Dyke, named for the
Redburn. is a wall to keep the sea from the main road. The course
of the Redburn was supposed to be Bankton Colliery. The Burn emerged
underground a few yards from the high road (the North Berwick road)
and ran open to the Penny Pit works gate. then underground until
it came to Charlie SutherIand's stable on the right hand side of
Rope Walk facing the sea. then again underground when it came to
the main road. Wull Fraser dammed the burn to water his market garden
further down where it emerged.
Charlie SutherIand dammed it to get water for cleaning his stables
(he was the local coal merchant). The tile works was situated near
the Penny Pit (Northfield Colliery) and made fine china souvenirs.
Quite a lot of local girls worked there. It ceased production between
Just past the Burn Dyke was the local joiner and undertaker, W &
J Greig: I can still picture him standing outside his yard, with
his white apron and a big fat belly. When his business folded. Johnny
Antonelli (chip shop) built a dance hall on the site, which was
later used by the Ebenezer Church, the RAF Club and Lowe who were
in the line of radio and general electrical goods.
I can remember German bands playing on the balcony of the Goth before
World War I. That is on the left hand side of Redburn looking towards
On the right hand side there ran. from the Penny Pit to the main
railway line. a railway cutting which was later filled in with the
town refuse. The Penny Pit was bounded by Redburn Road. Rope Walk
and the Double Dykes. New Street and McNeill's fields.
The Prestonpans Co-op Killing House was situated near the bottom
of Redburn Road. The Co-op workers walked the cattle through the
Double Dykes and if you happened to be travelling through the Dykes,
the bullocks always won! The Double Dykes was a feature in Prestonpans.
It consisted of a path edged by two walls not much more than a yard
The two red bings which were in the Penny Pit were used to make
bricks at Prestongrange Brickworks and. during the First World War.
there were allotments all over the Penny Pit created to boost food
After the Redburn and opposite W J Greig was McKinlay's dairy. Jock
Samuel used to deliver the milk from a gig with a five gallon churn
and a pint milk scoop. There were other dairies in the 'Pans: McLennan
up Ayres Wynd. Buchanan's (two of them) in Nethershot Road and the
local Co-op in West Loan.
Along a bit further lay Cookies Wynd. The name is derived from Rennie's
the bakers who used to operate a bakehouse in the 1930s in the same
place as the Salvation Army used to hold their meetings. Henry Todd
and Mrs Todd carried on the bakery business and supplied their customers
from their gig which travelled all over the 'Pans. Across the High
Street is Whitefield Place. There is now a tidy housing scheme there.
Further along lies Walford House where the Doctors George and William
lived, along with their father, Dr McEwan. Opposite Walford House
was the Gas Works which supplied the town with coal gas. The retort
used to explode with a loud bang when the gas was being extracted
from the coal. The smell of gas and gas dust was everywhere.
Adjacent to the gas work was the old cemetery which has headstones
built into the walls in remembrance of the many foreign sailors
who died at sea. The sandstone is very much weathered. Across the
road stood the Black Bull Inn, a very popular haunt of the locals.
Just some of the regular customers' names that I can think of Are
Auld Snib, Jimmy Nirl, Wullie Steel. Andra McLeod. Jimmy Robinson
(Bison). Jocky Russell, Gunner Russell and Wull Pollock. Wull Rodgers'
stable and shop were next to the Bull. The waste water pipe was
exposed as it came from their sink. It jutted out onto the pavement
and when you kicked it. it responded in the houses. Out came Mary
shouting but you were away past the Bull, and safe. Next was Sunny
Side which had a sundial on the wall. C B McLeod, the Provost, lived
in one of the houses and Charlie Farrow. The Co-op Grocery Manager.
lived below. The next place of note was the Beehive Tailors and
Outfitters run by John Anderson. where the hairdresser is now. Next
was H T Laidlaw's paper shop: he also ran the Lads Meeting in the
Town Hall every Sunday.
Next lay Curnow's shop, later occupied by the Misses Bathgate. One
favourite game was sticking our heads in the door to ask, "Have
you any wild woodbine?". The answer being "Yes",
we would then say, "Well go and tame them!" - and then
Across the street was Camperdown, the Co-operative Buildings. The
Co-op comes next and has not altered much in recent years. Then
Munro's Wynd, where Andrew Munro (A & W Munro) was the local
We come now to Cadona's Picture Palace and Robert BelIany who was
the local chimney sweep, town crier and leerie (lamplighter). As
leerie, he used to go round the streets with a pole hollowed at
the top, a light taper in the hollow to light the gas street lamps.
His nickname was Syboe and he had a parrot that could speak. As
chimney sweep, he was always black-faced and the parrot used to
say. "Syboe, away and wash your face!". As town crier.
Robert also had a bell, which he used to attract attention.
Next was a shopping centre housing Chris Whitelaw, grocer. Black
the ironmonger and Don the chemist. Across the street was Aggie
Bagnoll's sweetie shop - she later flitted along to near Wullie
Wilson's drapery shop at the foot of New Street.
Aldhammer House was opposite New Street and, early in this century,
was inhabited by the Meek family who owned the Salt Works. Nearby
is the Town Hall which, in my younger days. was well used for dancing
and other events. Ayres Wynd has seen many changes. Jimmy Greig's
pub. well known as Kinghorn's. Sinclair's and now Greggies. graces
the corner of the street. Opposite is Ford's the Bakers. It used
to be Robert McLean (hardware): he was a gentleman. We. the Summerlee
corner crowd, needed a football, at sixpence a week. which he provided.
Someone said that he was going to the Police, as we had never paid
anything after the First tanner. I was deputed to go and see him.
he said even if we never paid any more. he would not go to the Police.
We never went back. The war memorial stands directly at the foot
of the Wynd.
I must mention Dod McKenzie. the barber. He used to cut my hair
then. and. when I went for my first shave, he called the cat over.
This was his standard joke!
Jimmy Pow had a killing house just where the War Memorial is now.
His killing house was fronted by a cobbled yard. He used to walk
his sheep from his field next to Woodbine Cottage, also tenanted
by the Meeks of the Saltworks. Further up West Loan. on the same
side as Woodbine Cottage after Pow's Field, there was a Glebe Park.
next to the Free Kirk Manse. One of the minister's perks was the
use of the Glebe to lake a crop from it. usually a field of wheat.
Next was Castle Park House. The Fowlers (Brewery) family lived there
at one time. Before and during he First World War. the Whites lived
there. Later the Co-operative Society used it as flats which they
rented out to their employees. It was later bought by the Orange
Lodge and is still used by them. The Inkbottle is opposite Castle
Park: Provost Wilson lived there. At Castlepark there is a sort
of turret which has a tunnel underneath: it was supposed to lead
to Fa 'side Castle.
Approaching form the west. Preston started at a property called
Forth View. next to Northfield Cottage. Then were the field workers'
houses and turreted Northfield House, at one time the home of McNeill.
who owned the Penny Pit (Northfield Colliery). There were also dwelling
houses along to the top of West Loan. Across the road was the farm
owned. I think, by James Gillies. The Northfield Farm yard has been
converted into dwellinghouses. Station Road has not altered very
much with the beautiful building of Preston Lodge House standing
on the corner. Eraser's market garden, in which stands the Castle,
was a feature of the 'Pans in my young days. Preston Cross is still
in good condition, although it was vandalised in the 1880s when
someone threw a stone and knocked the horn off the unicorn. Nearby
is Prestonpans Primary School, built after Preston Lodge burned
When I was young there were, past Preston Lodge House, a few houses
and cottages, and then farmIand. Bankton Colliery has left its mark
in the farm of Bankton Bing and on the old pit site at Meadowmill.
there is now a sports centre.
There were many personalities in the 'Pans. Gabby Russell used to
stop traincars by holding up his hand and saying. "This is
the hand that stopped the motor". One did not stop. Sandy Cunningham.
a real gentleman. Ivy Stewart, who drilled the boys in the Cuthill
Mission Hall. unfortunately walked with a limp, and the boys were
very precise in following him. Billy Mash was in the Sally Ann's
but he always removed his headgear before he went into the Black
Bull. During the 1926 Miners Strike, the Marines were guarding the
Links Pit. The ladies played a football match against them. I still
remember some of the girls who played: my sister Agnes Burns. Charlotte
Edmond. Margaret Smeaton and Maggie Edmond. A well known nickname
is that of Corker -Tommy Thomson of Rope Walk. When he played football
and scored a goal he always described it as a "corker"
and the name stuck.
There were plenty of industries locally to provide work for people:
the pottery, brickworks. fishing, dairies, ropery. gasworks, salt
works, soapworks and the brewery. I used to listen to the clop clop
of clogs on the pavement as the workers wound their way to and from
the soapworks and the Brewery. Prestonlinks Colliery were the first
in our district to provide baths followed by Prestongrange.
The rocks along the seashore seem to me to have become smaller since
I was a boy. The Craig. once massive, has shrunk. I suppose after
over eighty years of pounding by the sea. they must have.
I used to go to Edinburgh on the soapworks lorry, driven by my grandfather
Soapy David (Smith). We delivered to shops all over Edinburgh, returning
Well known places now gone are the Double Dykes. Redburn. Cuthill,
Summerlee. Aldhammer House and the Looming Braes with Drummohr Estate
looming over it and the sea roaring against the sea wall. sending
spray right over the estate. At one time it bought the estate wall
down and closed the road until repairs were carried out.
In the early 20s. Buchanan's dairy byre was stricken by foot and
mouth disease. His entire stock was buried in quicklime in Links
Park. Two football teams played there - Wemyss Athletic and Preston
Deep wells were common in the 'Pans. the masonry being of very good
workmanship. One at Bank House was about five feet across, twenty
feet deep and built in red sandstone. There was a lead pipe and
pump to bring the water to the front, and only a wooden platform
to keep people safe. Therewas another in the same garden but it
was filled and not preserved. Another is situated in Cookies Wynd
but again is filled in an covered in cement. There are more but
they elude my memory.
There was a drinking fountain at the foot of Cookies Wynd - you
pressed a button and collected the lovely cold water in a cup which
was on a chain for security. It was "well" appreciated!
Of course. in Summerlee Street cup and press-button were fixed on
the wall of the stairs. No chance of going dry!
At one time (in the 30s. I think), the Royal Musselburgh Golf Course
came right down to the Goth. along the back of Summerlee Street
alongside Belfield's market garden to the High Road and bounded
by the New Road (no Prestongrange Road). There was a railway which
came from Prestongrange Colliery to connect with the main line and
sidings for the wagons which took the coal away. called Morison's
Haven siding. At Prestonpans railway station on the North Berwick-Edinburgh
Line there was a machine on which you could stamp your name for
During the Great War, 1914-18. in the walls of Prestongrange estate
were loopholes about 6ins x 6ins to help defend the estate if need
be. They were never needed. Some signs of them arc still lobe seen.
Troops were billeted in the estate, among them two of my uncles,
but they slept in the Northfield Cottage which is where my recollections
began - away back in 1910.