| >inding it impossible to take to their old calling, not
so much for want of will as for want of a ship and munitions
of war, they elected to remain on the shore whither the raging
billows had driven them, where they formed a settlement, and
agreed to name it " Althamer " in honour of their chieftain.
These, though only stories handed down from sire to son throughout
the centuries, have such a very reliable ring about them that
ordinary mortals, in lieu of more reliable information, need
scarcely be blamed for accepting them. One thing, however,
is certain, that when the monks of Newbattle, in 1184, obtained
a settlement in the district, they found the hamlet of Althamer
occupied by villagers.
Whatever the origin of the name, it soon became Aldhammer;
but even this did not continue long, for shortly after the
monks obtained a footing therein it became Priests town. Then,
as if to keep pace with the commodity manufactured there,
it became Salt Prieststown; and, as if for ease of pronunciation,
was soon reduced to Salt Preston In good time the " Salt"
melted away, when the " Pans " was added, and it ultimately
became the town and parish of Prestonpans.
That the original settlers in the hamlet of Althamer would
be mostly engaged in the fishing trade, when the monks of
Newbattle took residence there, may be taken for granted;
and that certain of their sons would seek employment in the
newly-established saltworks, need scarcely be called in question.
Very likely the fishermen of the district are the genuine
descendants of those ancient sea rovers • and possibly
the present-day salters may be the real descendants of those
who, in 1189, went to serve at salt-making. Be that as it
may; that these occupations have gone on without a break from
the 12th century to the present day need not for a moment
During the earliest years of the 13th century, coal was discovered
and excavated by these new settlers in the district. No doubt
the singular discovery lay considerably outside their original
boundary. Their original gift from De Quincy of Winton and
Tranent was the lands which ultimately became known as the
Barony of Prestongrange, but he made them a second gift of
land in the meadows of Tranent ultimately known as Bankton.
In these meadows they fed their sheep, and out of these meadows
he allowed them to excavate peats, and then and there it was
they came upon the black diamonds at the outcrops. It is a
well known fact that certain seams of coal crop out along
these meadows between Bankton and Seton. The Black Well or
Bankton Level, for instance, which comes to the surface on
Portobello Mains farm, was simply carried in through the outcrop
of the upper or great coal seam, and this is supposed to be
very near the Original spot of coal discovery in 1202-10.
Be this as it may, to these early settlers at the Grange alone
belongs the honour of instituting this great industry of not
only the district but the United Kingdom, for the first English
charter to dig coal is that of Newcastle, 1234, fully a quarter
of a century behind this highly-favoured district of East
Lothian. This is referred to further on.
The 14th and 15th centuries seem to have been remarkably sleepy
ones, so far, at least, as the village and surrounding neighbourhood
of Salt Preston is concerned, and the only hints we catch
up now and again throughout a lengthened period are of a very
limited nature; but they speak to a continual strife going
on between the upper and under villages — which, during the
early part of the 16th century, came both to be known as "
Preston, '' without any distinguishing appellation—as to which
would become the great controlling centre of the district.
The influence of the Hamiltons, and various other wealthy
settlers in the upper village, together with the main highway
between Edinburgh and London being directly through that village,
kept it for a long series of years to the front, but most
of the life and dash it contained was borrowed; whereas the
lower Preston had not only its fishing industry to keep it
moving, but it had its salt manufactories long established
and still flourishing. In addition to these, it had established
potteries, breweries, and several other branches of business,
and through these it was likely to progress, while the other
was just as likely to retrogress, and this to a great extent
was the ultimate result.
The upper village, however, with the new century, seems to
have taken a new lease of life. During the early part of the
16th century, so flourishing were the various trades in lower
Preston, that a regular harbour had to be made for shipping
purposes, and, curiously enough, a charter for this purpose
was obtained (1526) from the Abbey of Newbattle, to which
abbey these lands at that period belonged— but it was the
king, who happened to be there at the time, who granted the
charter, not the Church.