In writing a foreword for any book, you're always supposed
to say what a privilege it is to be asked. Sometimes this
is said sincerely, sometimes not. Let there be no doubt,
however, about what I feel about this foreword and indeed
about the book itself. I am not only privileged, I am honoured.
When you think about the thousands of books published each
year, you must also wonder how many are worth publishing.
Certainly the vast majority of them rise briefly, and sink,
deservedly, without trace. Alasdair Anderson's account of
the Dean Tavern and concurrently, of life in Newtongrange
in the days gone by, is clearly worth a place on any library
It is history in the best and truest sense of the word.
Not the traditional rubbish concerning the antics of kings
and queens and various assorted dukesalthough a few
minor aristocrats are inevitably mentioned in contextbut
a history of real people and places. Although a work of
researchand enormous researchit is never boring.
For the people of Newtongrange proud of their heritage as
a mining community, it is a fascinating and invaluable book.
It would have been a great shame had this book not been
written. We should be grateful that there was somebody like
Alasdair so willing and so able to write it. Of course,
there is a very special reason why I should feel personally
honoured to be permitted this very minor contribution. For
the first 22 years of my life, I livedno, not in Nittenbut
in Gorebridge. Or. to be more precise. in Birkenside, which
may reasonably be called a high-class suburb of Gorebridge.
In the immediate vicinity of these three jewelsArniston,
Gorebridge and Birkensidethere were three pits, when
I was a schoolboy, anyway. Newtongrange had only two, but
we needn't elaborate on that. Suffice to say that, like
just about everybody else in that corner of Midlothian.
I used to be lulled to sleep, nightly, not by a lullaby
but by the fairly-melodious sound of clanking wagons.
Strange to remember that Newtongrange and Arniston are
separated only by a very short stretch of straight road
less than a mile, I 'd think, though I've never measured.
From the Lady Vie to Newtonloan Toll. "The Ropes",
they called that stretch then, and probably still do. But
that's the geographical distinction. In some ways, it could
have been many a mile. In the 1930's and the 1940's, which
was just about the time I spent in Gorebridge, we very seldom
went near Newtongrange. except, naturally, to pass through
or to stop off at Victoria Park for a couple of hours. By
the same token, Nitten folk seldom ventured up the braes,
not even, unfortunately, to soak up the cultural atmosphere.
It has been said that they would always be too easily recognised
by their pointed heads and shambling gait, knuckles trailing
on the ground but, quite frankly, I believe that to be a
serious exaggeration. Returning to the occasions when we
would visit the uncharted territory that was Nitten, well,
we had to admit they didn't have a bad picture-house. The
Palace, no less, and it even had a Balcony.
Dundas Hall, while a superior establishment in terms of:
quality of Elms shownthey took different distributors
and we had both Cagney and Bogartthere was no balcony.
Now, of course, both are closed, anyway, sacrificed to
the great god TV.
Then there was Victoria Park, home of Newtongrange Star,
a somewhat minor outfit compared with Arniston Rangers,
but again, you see, there was a structural difference which
we envied a little. The Star had, still has, a grandstand.
And yet again, the quality of our product was superior,
but neither old nor new Newbyres Park had a grandstand.
As Alasdair points out, however, a game between the Star
and Arniston Rangers was always an event of much significance.
In terms of rivalry, it matched an Old Firm game but without
the nastiness. But, as Alasdair also says, the rivalry was
good natured and despite any lighthearted comments
I may have made earlierwas based on mutual respect.
Certainly there was no segregation of spectators. There
was a remarkable mutual trust, too. Before the start of
a game, a common sight was that of a fan or fans walking
round the track waving, say, a ten-bob note and shouting,
"Ten bob back the Star". Or, naturally, "Ten
bob back Arniston". From the crowd would come: "Gie's
half-a-croon O' that, Jimmy", or "Ah,ll hae it,
Dougie". The man with the note didn't always know exactly
who he was betting with, but that didn't matter. Everybody
always paid. It was a matter of honour. Leafing through
Alasdair's book almost at random, there are gems on just
about every page.
For example: the Newbattle parish minister, the Rev John
Thomson, who doubtless thought of himself as a Christian,
and his commentsactually written downon the
"lower orders of society ".That was in1839. The
good minister was worried about these lower orders having
too many facilities for drinking. Nearly 150 years later,
we can read that chapter and marvel on changing attitudes.
Or can we? Sometimes, I wonder. For example: the choice
given to Nitten miners as recently as 1932. You can have
bathrooms and back kitchens, gentlemen, OR pithead baths.
A little more than a half-a-century ago, and that was what
they thought of the "lower orders". But again,
one wonders .. . have attitudes really changed all that
much? Think of what was happening to mining communities
NOT 150 years ago, NOT 50 years ago, but two years ago!
On a more cheerful and more refreshing aspect, the book
deals, reasonably enough, with the drinking habits of the
miners in the early days. The research is exhaustive and
illuminating, the reportage expert. What a wealth of history
and memory you'll find in Chapter 13, the grandpa who had
his own seat in the Deannot the only one so privilegedthe
wee jugbar, and the present he'd bring home every Saturday
to his granddaughter. For her, a comb or hair grips, maybe.
For me, on a Saturday, it was a twopenny bar of Duncan's
Hazelnut from my grandpa who worked at the Emily. There
was no better chocolate ever made anywhere.
And throughput, so deservedly, the Dean Tavern, an institution
if ever there was one, is at the core of the book. To call
the Dean a pub is like calling Dave Mackay a mere footballer.
It is unique. Happily, it is likely to remain so. I needn't
tell anybody reading this book why it is unique. Everybody
But consider what would happen to the Dean, if ever one
of the big brewers got their hands on it. In no time at
all, you'd have a low roof, fancy carpets, juke-boxes, imitation-leather
booths, trendy lighting, and all the other manifestations
of the tarting-up syndrome. But that, I know, would happen
only over the bodies of Willie Yuill and the greater part
of the male population of Nitten.
One of my regrets, I suppose, is that the Dean is in Nitten
and not up the braes, but. well, the Germans can't win all
the time. At least, we have Willie's son in charge of the
old Brunton's pub. immediately overlooked by the Birkenside
house where I was born and brought up.
But let me conclude the way I began. It's an honour to
be a tiny pan of this book, a genuine and vital contribution
to the present time and, above all, to the future. To Alasdair
Anderson, thanksand congratulations.
THE DEAN TAVERN
There can be few, if any, public houses in Scotland to
compare with the Dean Tavern. Not only has the Dean retained
its original role as benefactor to the village of Newtongrange
but over the years it has developed a character and atmosphere
which is quite unique.
There may be many opinions as to why this should be but
perhaps the most obvious one is that the Dean has resisted
the trend of wholesale modernisation and the introduction
of so called "improvements" while at the same
time maintaining a high standard of service to its customers.
There is, however, one other important feature which sets
the Dean apart and that is the minute books which trace
its history from the very first meeting in 1899 to the present
day. For that we are indebted to those early committee members
who insisted on keeping such neat and meticulous records.
As I read through these Minute Books it became apparent
that they were not simply an account ot the Deans activities
but an interesting insight into the development and growth
of Newtongrange. I also believed that the story contained
in these books would be of interest to others both within
and beyond Newtongrange and so the idea of the book was
conceived. To find someone who could tackle such a job was
easy. I have known Alasdair Anderson for several years and
of his interest in local history. Alasdair needed little
persuasion and so the project was set in motion. That was
over two years ago and since then Alasdair has researched,
interviewed, sought out old photographs and read through
numerous documents until what had simply been a good idea
has become.a reality. Alasdair has dedicated his book to
the people of Newtongrange and for that we must all be grateful
tor he has spent countless hours in producing it. However,
I am quite sure that there will be many others outside Newtongrange
who will read and enjoy his book.
Councillor James Green,
Chairman, Dean Tavern Trust