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Prestonpans and Vicinity

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In 1770, Lord Grange seems to have got tired, not only of his beautifully and artistically laid out garden, but of the entire estate of Preston as well, for in that year he sold the whole property, part of it going to Watson's Hospital Trust, and the remainder to his factor, Dr William Ramsay, who was then factor also to Lord Elcho and his grace the Duke of Roxburgh.
In 1780 the estate of Preston—less Watson's portion—was acquired, and Preston House occupied, by Dr James Schaw.
The house, though in ruins now, was a two-storied building, constructed in the old Scotch baronial style. The whole building, from east to west, measures 142 feet. The main or front door is closed up, but quite a number of the finely rounded steps leading up to it are intact. There are a pair of beautiful circular pillars, one on each side of the door, with very fine fluted stonework behind them. Schaw's, or some other coat of arms, is said to be emblazoned over the door, but heavy rods of ivy hold the mastery here, and whose they are remains a mystery.
From the main door passages run east and west the whole length of the building, and there is a continuous passage from wing to wing in the lower flat of the building. A few of the lower windows are or have been iron-stanchioned, while several of the upper windows have been treated in a similar manner.
The old kitchen is situated on the ground floor in the west wing, and a curious little place it is. It has four diminutive windows, two to the front and two to the back. The ceiling is low but strongly arched with stone. The floor has been laid with pavement, and that business has been meant with the fire is evident from the fact that the fireplace covers a space of nine feet, while a couple of iron hooks still retain a place in the ceiling, capable each of bearing aloft the dead weight of either boar or bullock. There is a fine room, 18by 15, over this, but the ivy is creeping in everywhere.
At the extreme east end of the building is a very spacious and lightsome room. It contains a very small fireplace, four very large windows, and a monster of a door at the east end, fully three and a half feet wide by eleven feet in height. This is known as Dr Schaw's Library. A very large recess in the wall shows where his bookshelves had been, but not a single volume of old forgotten lore is to be found there now.
Along the back or south of the house runs what is called the avenue. It is simply a continuation of what had evidently been a direct route eastward through the village of Preston in days that are no more. Opposite what remains of the south side of the ruins there remained until recently a large stone-paved court. It was bounded by the parapet wall still overlooking the garden southwards. Along this parapet wall still runs the original wood railing, with its great iron spikes which formerly went to embellish it. This wood railing was set up when the house was constructed, and it has now become so frail that but for the fruit trees Mr Wright planted against it many years ago it would hold its place no longer.
Almost in a line with the old house runs a very high and time-worn wall. That this wall had been built many years antecedent to Preston House is evident, and from the door and window marks shown therein it is also evident that Preston village extended very much farther east at one time than many people now imagine; and it was only, we doubt not, when Preston House was built that this main highway through Preston village was unceremoniously stopped.
Dr James Schaw enjoyed his new possessions for a very short time. He acquired the estate of Preston in 1780 and died in 1784. After his decease it was found he had bequeathed Preston House, in the first place, " to be fitted up for the maintenance and education of boys of poor but respectable parents. " The age of admission from four to seven years; they might be retained till they were fourteen years of age; and preference was to be given to names in the order set down: — Schaw, M'Neill, Cunningham, and Stewart.
When boys left the institution they were to be bound as apprentices to some sort of trade, or be disposed of otherwise according to the discretion of the trustees, and for the benefit of the youngsters. There were nineteen trustees, including the parish ministers of Tranent and Prestonpans, appointed to superintend the institution, and it was to be conducted by a governor and a matron.
It was found that Dr Schaw had also bequeathed the whole of the lands and barony of Preston, together with the proceeds of other property, for the support of the establishment. His daughter's portion was also to revert to the funds of the Hospital in the event of her dying childless, which was the case, Mrs Sawers, his daughter, dying at Bath without issue.
Schaw's Hospital—Preston Old House—was first opened as an institution in the year 1789. At the opening, and for a considerable time after, its inmates numbered fifteen; but the building was afterwards suited to accommodate twenty-four.

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