East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists Society – 10th August 2020

Dear Member,

I feel I should make a progress report but it is rather a no progress report.

I wrote to you some time ago saying that because of the government imposed Lock Down we could not meet. I had hoped then that if we abandoned the summer meetings, we would be able to have autumn talks. I feel that with present guidelines this will not be possible, nor is it clear that members would wish to attend. I feel therefore,  sadly, that we should cancel our meetings until at Least Christmas. I am sure this is the worst scenario we have had in our history of  nearly  a hundred years.

We are still doing a certain amount. Our accounts have been made  up and have  gone for audit. Arran is working on the Transactions and we hope to publish them as expected in the Spring. If you intend to submit material please get in touch with him.

We launched an idea for the website inviting short contributions .We have not been inundated. Only three pierces have appeared. Two by me and one by Joy so it’s over to you, if we are to keep this feature going.

Three obituaries have been placed on the forum on the web site; for Ailsa Maxwell who  died on 10th Feb 2020; for Rennie Weatherhead who died on 9th March; and for and Brian Young who died on May 28th

Dunbar was to have celebrated the 650th.anniversary of the charter granted by David 2nd on 8th February  but this had to be abandoned. It was suggested because there was a very different population now in the town, that I, as a survivor, who had played various parts in the intervening years might write some history in Lock Down.

I agreed to do so and have written a series of pieces about Dunbar since 1970, which may be of some interest. There are 16 in all, edited by Philip Immirzi, and are now on Dunbar Community Council Web site.

On our own web site you can also see;

‘St Anne’s Upon Dunbar Sands  stands closest to the sea’  and ‘A mystery solved ,The guns at Bourhouse’

both by me and,

‘Prestonpans West Kirkyard’ by Joy Dodd;

both on the Members Forum.

I will be in touch again when I feel; we are making progress.

Best wishes to you all in these trying times

Stephen Bunyan

Bartholemew half inch 1940-1947 showing coastal defence areas to the North East

A mystery solved: Guns at Bourhouse

The guns at Bourhouse were known to have existed but nothing else was known about them locally. By an amazing chance this position changed in 2005 when The Rev L Twaddle forwarded to me a letter he had received about ten years before. I decided to telephone the sender with little hope of success to my surprise and delight I found Mr Emery alive and very willing to talk. I feel that his report is of importance and that I should put it in the public domain. I therefore publish his letter as sent. Continue reading

East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society – 20 March 2020 – Letter from the President

Dear Member

I am writing to you to you to express concern about the present position. We face, as you know, a grave situation where life seems to be closing down around us. Who would have believed a month ago that we would have museums closed, the Boat Race and the Grand National cancelled!

We were to have had a Council meeting this evening but responding to government guidelines we decided not to hold it but the office bearers have had some discussion via telephone and “virtual” Minutes will be collated and distributed to Council members. I am sadly writing to tell you that we feel we should put the majority of our programme on hold for the foreseeable future. So;

  1. The Dinner proposed for 17th April is postponed until a possible date in the Autumn.
  2. The AGM was proposed for 9th of May. We will try to do the business by e mail, Skype or more probably telephone conferencing.
  3. An outing to the Farne Islands on the 20th June. is now not likely to be possible and so we are cancelling it.
  4. We will revue the rest of our provisional programme in May in the light of UK and international events.
  5. We are continuing to work on the Transactions.
  6. We have set up a Members’ Forum on the website and are encouraging members to make short contributions of 500 to 600 words with images. If you have something you would like to contribute please contact Arran. Johnston arran_johnston@hotmail.com It is easy to use the web site; just type in the name of the Society and you will find it.
  7. Obituary It is with sorrow that I intimate the death of Ailsa Maxwell, a long term former member, on the 10th February and of Rennie Weatherhead, member and former member of the Council of the Society, on March 10. Obituary notices have been posted.

I hope that the world situation will improve so that we can soon resume normal service.

Best wishes

Stephen Bunyan

Rennie Weatherhead BSc Hons

Born 5th October 1936 Died 9th March 2020; Principal Teacher of Physics, Antiquarian.

Rennie was the only son of James William Rennie Weatherhead and Isabella Craven Mitchell. James was a banker with the Royal Bank of Scotland and worked in Edinburgh where Rennie grew up. Rennie was proud of his connections with Musselburgh and Prestonpans.
James bought a second home in St Abbs where the family spent happy holidays and St Abbs became Rennie’s spiritual home for the rest of his life. Rennie was educated at Melville College [Since 1972 Stewart’s Melville] and at Edinburgh University where he graduated BSc.Hons on 3rd July 1958

He trained as a teacher at Moray House College. He taught at Peebles High School and St Dennis School. Rennie married Jean Robinson McLean on the 5th. August 1959 and they had two daughters Haydee born on 18 6 1967and Suilven born on 12 1 1969. Suilven has a son Brandon born in 2012.

Rennie’s sister Myrtle hosted a celebration of their diamond wedding on 3rd August 2019. In 1965 Rennie was appointed to the post of Principal Teacher of Physics in Dunbar Grammar School, the post he held for the rest of his career until he retired in 1988. He was a conscientious teacher and was highly respected by the pupils he taught.

Rennie joined and chaired Dunbar Interim Community Council in 1975 but did not stand for the Community Council in 1976. He was a member of East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society and was a member of the Council of the Society for several years. He contributed a number of articles to the Transactions. He and I encouraged Grammar School pupils to be involved in various projects e. g. the search for the Holy Well at Whitekirk and the Colstoun pottery kiln.

After his retirement Rennie developed his interest in the early church in Northumbria and became an expert on the history of St Ebba and the church at Coldingham. The Society visited Coldingham on 6th September 2018.The visit was organised by David Philip but despite being in a wheel chair. Rennie led the group round and spoke about the history of the church. He had brought some of his artefacts to illustrate the history.
Rennie is survived by his wife Jean, his daughters Haydee and Suilven, his son in law Colin, his grandson Brandon and his sister Myrtle.

Stephen Bunyan 11th March 2020

Prestonpans West Kirkyard

On the south side of the High Street Prestonpans (NT384 743) lies the West Kirkyard. Entered by a central double gateway, a path now leads through to the Penny Pit centre. This rectangular walled enclosure is of ancient origin, formerly belonging to Newbattle Abbey.  In 1595, when John Davidson was appointed Minister of Prestonpans he recorded that: “Thomas Sherila ye first yet died after my coming to Prestoun, the lairde’s boundes having nae buriall place and L. Setoun on ye east hand and L. Newbottle on ye west refusing burial to him in Tranent and the west Kirke yarde; I Mr John Davidsoun, new come to be minister at salt-prestouns wrote at ye desire of ye defunct’s friendis to Musselburgh session for grant of burial amang yame, quilk was granted on conditioun yet we sought not ye like again.”  (CH2/307/28/133).

“The Presbytery of Haddington, realizing the urgency of the matter, sought to assist the minister with the work. A Committee was appointed to confer with Lord Newbottle on the subject and also on the provision of a stipend. It looked at first as if his Lordship was to be most helpful, as he agreed to join in the undertaking with the Laird of Preston. He soon began to demur, however, to the Presbytery’s proceedings, and so far from keeping his promise, is said to have become a hindrance. Finally, he excused himself on the grounds that he thought of repairing the Kirk (the ruined manorial chapel) on his own estate and providing a minister for it. (John Davidson of Prestonpans  R Moffat Gillon, London 1936) This indicates that a chapel existed on the west site long before 1595, probably built to serve the salters and miners employed by the Abbey of Newbattle, and possibly destroyed by Somerset in 1544.  After Mark Kerr, Lord Newbottle, died in 1609, the estate was sold. The first recorded burial found in the West Kirkyard is that of Isobel Riton on 11th  March 1603. (CH2/307/28/131). It should be noted that in the Heritors records of the 1890’s the site was always referred to as the West Kirkyard.

The Heritors of the Parish maintained the graveyard until 1928. In 1872 their minutes record “that the south wall has largely collapsed”. It is likely that this is when some of the now very weathered, fine old carved memorial stones of the 17th and 18th century were incorporated into the south and west walls. In the same year a new entrance, was made on the north, with solid pillars and the iron gates that remain today. (HR255/ 1 p.165)

Entering now only two large 19th century stones remain in the centre of the graveyard. All the other stones, mostly of 19th and early 20th century, were gathered prone in the NW corner of graveyard in the 1950’s

A detailed description of the early finely carved stones by Alan Reid can be found in volume 42 of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1907/08.

Joy Dodd 2020.

St Anne’s Upon Dunbar Sands Stood Nearest to The Sea

The ancient ecclesiastical history of Dunbar is illuminated by an ancient rhyme, but it is confused because there are two versions. The rhyme was

St Abb, St Helen and St Bey
They all built kirks which to be nearest to the sea
St Abb’s upon the Nabs,
St Helen’s on the Lea,
St Bey’s upon Dunbar Sands stands nearest to the sea

The second and probably later version has

St Ann’s upon Dunbar Sands, stands nearest to the sea.

Continue reading

The Society and Haddington House

Haddington House has just undergone extensive refurbishment and restoration and is now available as offices for local businesses and will provide useful income for the Lamp of Lothian Trust.

The Society was concerned about the state of the House as far back as 1942. They attempted to secure its future but did not have the resources to do so. They were however able to do so because the Earl of Wemyss became involved. He supported the Society until his death but his main contribution to the affairs of the Society was, to make it possible for them to realise the ambition of securing the future of Haddington House.

Continue reading

Obituary – Ailsa Maxwell

Ailsa Maxwell MA; B 16 December 1922 d 10 February2020 aged 97. Ailsa Maxwell was a Historian, Enigma Code Breaker and long time member of the society with her husband Stuart who died in 2012.

She is remembered with affection. Stephen Bunyan

The following is taken from her  obituary in the Scotsman on Friday 6th March

Ailsa Maxwell was an unsuspecting Edinburgh ­University student when she was invited to an interview at the Foreign Office for a ­mysterious job. She had just completed the first year of an economics degree with distinction and had intended to join the Wrens when she was summoned in the summer of 1943. They could not divulge what or where the job was but told the 20-year-old it was ­important work for which she was considered suitable. She accepted and less than two years later found ­herself witness to the one of the most momentous events of the ­Second World War – the ­German surrender.

Her appointment had been to the top secret ­British codebreaking establishment, Bletchley Park, known as Station X, in Buckinghamshire, where she worked in the machine room of Hut 6 ­helping to crack the German Enigma code. The encryption changed on a daily basis, resulting in an enormously complicated operation to decipher it and the vital messages being transmitted by the enemy. Maths genius Alan Turing developed Bombe machines, improved by fellow codebreaker Gordon Welchman, to decrypt Engima’s secret ­settings. They were the forerunners of today’s computers and ­Maxwell’s role was to compile bombe menus from “cribs” – clues to guess what the settings of the machine could be – and to check ­their output.

Maxwell worked alongside Asa, later Lord, Briggs, who became a renowned social ­historian, and both were on overnight duty when the unconditional surrender ­message from Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Dönitz, was received early on May 7, 1945, in clear, uncoded text.

Like everyone at Bletchley, she had been required to sign the Official Secrets Act and kept that vow of silence on her work for more than 30 years. The codebreakers’ operation was declassified in the mid 1970s but she admitted: “It took a bit longer for me to talk about it.” More than 70 years later she saw the 2014 film The Imitation Game and observed it was a reasonably accurate portrayal of the Bletchley story.

She left Bletchley almost immediately after VE Day, in May 1945, returning to Scotland to help with the general election and to finish her degree. She was working as a research assistant at the Department of Health for Scotland when she married her husband Stuart Maxwell, deputy keeper at Edinburgh’s National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, in 1953.

The couple had two sons and when her children were older she worked, as a researcher in Edinburgh University’s economic history department, on a 10-year project leading to the publication of Michael Flinn’s Scottish Population History from the 17th Century to the 1930s. The pioneering study of demographic history won the Saltire Society’s Agnes Mure Mackenzie prize. Later, she continued working in the capital’s Register House and, with her husband, undertook research into the history of Scottish silversmiths and goldsmiths, helping him ­prepare for the Society of ­Antiquaries of Scotland’s renowned Rhind lectures in 1975, when he ­presented a groundbreaking series of papers on Scottish silver. They also collaborated on transcribing the diary of George Home from Berwickshire, published as An Album of Scottish Families 1694-96, by Helen and Keith Kelsall in 1990.

The couple lived in ­Edinburgh’s prestigious Dick Place for 65 years, ­during which time she helped to establish the Samaritans ­service in the capital, volunteering for many years and taking on overnight telephone shifts.

Mrs Maxwell, whose ­wartime achievements are commemorated on Bletchley’s Codebreakers’ Wall, was ­resolutely modest about her time at the Government’s Code and Cypher School, which had once been the world’s best kept secret.

Predeceased by her husband, she spent her last 18 months in a care home in ­Portobello, and is survived by her sons Ian and Sandy and granddaughters Anna and Rowan.