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Prestonpans and Vicinity

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That a regular place of worship had been erected in the district is evident from the historical fact that "the church of Preston, along with Preston Tower, was burned down in 1544 by Lord Hertford and his English army, " but where the church was located no hint is given.
The sacred edifice was never restored—but no wonder; for Reformation times had set in, the power of the priests was gone, and the Abbot of Newbattle—a Kerr of Fernie-hirst—could scarcely be expected to play into the hands of the reformers; but if the abbot did not restore the church, he certainly took the earliest opportunity of secularising the church lands, and this, it is said, with the " connivance of the king, for he feared the power of the Kerrs. " Whether or not the king really connived at this spoliation of church lands need not at this day trouble us, but one thing is certain, that either this same abbot, or his brother, at once assumed the title of Lord Newbattle, and became proprietor of the lands of Prestongrange.
There was still no church or chapel, priest or minister, in Preston or Prestonpans district, and this state of affairs continued from the destruction of the church in 1544 till the appointment of Maister John Davidsone in 1595.
From the terms of Davidson's appointment, it is evident that the church of Preston was not located in the sea coast village. The Presbytery records state definitely that he was " appointed to South Prestoun, including ye Pannis east and west. " Had the original church been situated in "ye Pannis, " he would scarcely have been called to South, but to Salt Preston.
On accepting his appointment, Davidson applied to Mark Kerr of Newbattle for a church, or assistance to erect a place wherein his people might meet for worship, but his application was in vain unless he would agree to its being built on his lands of Prestongrange, which extended over South Preston to within a few yards of the Tower.
The minister approached George Hamilton of Preston with a view to the same end. The reply was that unless the church was built on the lands of Preston neither would he assist him; but the Hamiltons were ever to the front as reformers, and, directly on the back of his refusal, he gave the minister, free of expense, land whereon to build a church, a manse, and a school. And there, within the grounds of Preston, and on the site still occupied, the church of Davidson was built—but not wholly at the expense of the minister, as erroneously stated in various journals. Extracts concerning the erection of the church are still extant, and while it is stated that Davidson, having means of his own, bore the greater part of the burden, these extracts also furnish the names of those of his Congregation who supplied certain of the woodwork, tiles for the roof, nails, and various other necessaries.
On the erection of the new church, the district hitherto nominally under the charge of the Abbey of Newbattle, but parochially under the church of Tranent, as held by the Abbey of Holyrood till Reformation times, was formed into a quoad sacra; but in 1606, and under the ministry of the second pastor, John Ker of Faddonside, it was finally disjoined from Tranent and erected into a parish.
Here a curious little item crops up. At the formation of the parish, whether the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had done it unwittingly or purposely, having the burned church at Preston and Davidson's appointment to South Preston still in view, is unknown, but it was called the " Parish of Preston, " —but, adds ecclesiastical history, common usage over-rode the Act of Parliament, and it became the " Parish of Prestonpans. "
In 1617, through the influence of Sir John Hamilton of Preston, a charter was obtained from James VI. erecting the western district of Prestonpans, including Prestongrange, into a burgh of barony; Preston, including the eastern district of Prestonpans, through the same influence was erected into a burgh of barony at the same period. But the curious little village of Cuthill had long forestalled them both, being erected into a burgh of barony during the previous century through the influence of the Abbot of Newbattle.
Prestonpans is in the Presbytery of Haddington and the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. The stipend during the 17th century, owing to the continual ecclesiastical strife for supremacy between presbytery and episcopacy, would be—if there were any at all—a very scarce commodity. At all events, during the early part of the 18th century (1730) we find Carlyle, the minister at that period, complaining that he had but £40 per annum, and felt unable to support his family on that sum. Morison, who held the lands of Prestongrange at this period, was under sequestration, and Carlyle, through the influence and the pleading of his friends Lords Grange and Drum more, Lords of Session, got an augmentation of £150. In 1755, it was £116, 16s. 9d.; in 1798,
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