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Prestonpans and Vicinity

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>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 be doubted.
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.
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