A Brief History of East Lothian Field Naturalists’ Society

Early History

The Society was founded on 10th May 1924. The declared aims then, were essentially the same, as they are today; “ to study the antiquities of the area, to collect material of interest, to publish relevant articles, to go on appropriate excursions to have lectures and to stimulate general interest in the history of East Lothian”. The subscription was 5/- p.a, which in real terms, was probably more than our present subscription of £15.

The founders were largely gentry, Major J A Baird of Lennoxlove,. Lt Col P N H Grant of Biel. Sir A Buchan-Hepburn of Smeaton and Sir J Dobbie of Edinburgh. The first Hon. President was The Rt. Hon The Earl of Balfour [the former prime minister].The president was Major J A Baird and the council included Sir H Dalrymple. Lt Col Grant. H Mortimer Batten esq. and The Revd. Marshall B Lang.

By 1925 there were 146 members. The Earl of Balfour died in 1930 and his position was left vacant but his sister was made Hon Vice President She was made Hon President in 1936 but died later in that year. Lt Col J P Hamilton-Grant became President in 1934. In 1937 The Rev Marshall Lang became President and held that office until 1944,when he was succeeded by Gilbert N Ogilvy.Gilbert Ogilvy was succeeded in 1948 by Col C de W Crookshank. He in turn was succeeded in 1949 by Lady Edith Broun Lindsay with the Earl of Wemyss, who had become a member of council in 1946. as vice president an office which he still held until his death on the 12th December 2008. Sir David Ogilvy Bt. succeeded Lady Broun Lindsay in 1979.

As early as 1929 there was a proposal for a cairn at the Battlefield of Prestonpans and in 1935 the idea of a Bird Sanctuary at Aberlady was discussed. The East Lothian Bibliography was published.In 1937. Marshall Lang proposed unlimited membership. Buses for excursions were proposed and the possibility that they might be subsidised. Cars did not have such a wide ownership at that time. The natural history collection given by Miss Balfour was stored in County Buildings. The Question of storage and security of bequests was to be an ongoing problem.

At the outbreak of the Second world War it was decided to restrict the society’s activities but the proposal made by W Forbes Gray that he, together with H Jamieson should produce the volume of East Lothian Biographies which is still of great use was agreed. [250 were produced]. Despite the war, it was agreed that the Society should make two excursions that year to Traprain Law and to Herdmanston which was almost on a bus route. The second of these was cancelled because of the threat of invasion.

The society’s books were housed in the gallery at Newton Port in 1940 and were the nucleus of the local history library when it was set up in 1976. The museum items were formally handed over on 9th December 1998 to East Lothian Museum service.

Haddington House

The Question of Haddington House was to dominate the society’s thinking for many years. The idea of using Haddington House as a museum was put forward by Mrs Broun Lindsay as early as Nov. 1942 and it was agreed that it was an excellent idea which should be gone into at a more propitious time. On 15 Nov 1948 Mr. Purves, the proprietor of the house, indicated that he intended to sell it and offered it to the Society for £1500 with an option of three months. The society considered the matter and wondered if the National Trust for Scotland would undertake the upkeep if the Society purchased and what support they might obtain from the Town Council of Haddington and the Ancient Monuments Commission. The society hoped to use the house as a museum.The great question was could they raise the money. Considering the Society’s budget realistically .the answer had to be “no”. In December The Earl of Wemyss offered to put up the purchase price on behalf of Wemyss landed estates until the society could raise the money. An appeal was launched and money trickled in. In 1951 they received a substantial legacy of £1000 towards the purchase. On the other hand in 1953 repairs costing £1340 were identified. In 1954 it was agreed that the necessary repairs should be undertaken and that the wider implications should be considered. If the National Trust was involved they would require an endowment. There was a problem of the tenant and the garden. A special meeting in 1965 considered the whole problem. It was agreed that to secure the property and its future, a large sum of money would be required. Various options were considered. The idea the sale of part of the garden. and a sale of the house under strict conditions to be controlled by the National Trust and the possible retention of the extension by the society was considered. To make this possible it would be necessary to acquire the house back from the Earl of Wemyss and to convey it to the N.T.S. In Aug 1965 Lord Wemyss made a proposal that the society should buy back the property under a feu charter from the National Trust for Scotland for £1500 of which they would pay £1000 and he would donate £500 but it was noted that £32897 was required for repairs. This arrangement was concluded at Martinmas that year. This arrangement would use up almost all of the available funds. At this stage the tenant Mr Faunt died. Negotiations were concluded to sell  1.27 acres at the East end of the garden to the Haddington Cottage Society for Incapacitated People. In October 1966 an agreement was made with the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton to sell the House and part of the garden to Hamilton and Kinneil Estates for £4700 to form part of the Lamp of Lothian project. The sale was concluded early in 1967.Restoration was to be carried out by W Schomberg Scott and all plans were to be approved by the NTS and the society. This meant that while the salvation of Haddington House was achieved the other aims were not and the society had no base. In the meantime it retained a room by arrangement in Haddington House.

As part of a revised relationship with the Lamp of Lothian in 1982, Stephen Bunyan became a Trustee of the Lamp on the Society’s behalf. The Society continued to have a room in the House. The Lamp required to let part of the house and in July 1992 to facilitate this the society gave up their room and the society agreed to give up the right to hold meetings in the main rooms. It was agreed that the society could hold its council meetings at the Poldrate Complex free of charge. Its records, books and museum artifacts were housed at Library head quarters. This position was confirmed when the lamp leased the whole property to East Lothian Council in 1995.The society has come under pressure in both locations.

The Society Post WW2

In 1943 there was a proposal to publish “The History of Haddington“ and to make it a viable proposition, non members were to be asked to subscribe one guinea. It was to cost £200 for 250 copies [final figure£233-16]. Because of the war it could not be done by Croalls [The Courier] and it was printed in Edinburgh in 1944. It has since been reprinted for East Lothian Library Service in 1986.

With the end of the year in sight it was proposed that an excursion be made to the Battlefield of Prestonpans on 21st September 1945, being the two hundredth anniversary of the battle. It was agreed that it should be on Saturday 22nd to be led by W Forbes Gray. A second excursion was arranged to Newhailes.

In 1946 a letter was received from the Cromwell Society asking about the possibility of erecting an obelisk-on the site of the Battle of Dunbar. As it would not appear on the skyline the society made no observations. In due course a memorial was erected on the site of the battle in time for the tri-centenary in 1950. It was moved in 2000 to a position close to Broxmouth South Lodge. In 1966 The society also expressed concern about the state of the Gardiner monument at Prestonpans, where one of the Lions had fallen over.

In 1957 it was agreed to have junior members There have never been many but we do have a number of young people who attend meetings with their parents

In 1958 there was an exhibition of Miss Nimmo Smith’s drawings which she had given to the society. She helped to have them framed. They were shown again in 1971 when they were seen by 1000 people. They now form an important part of the museum collection. George Angus was permitted to make a series of slides in 1992.

In 1976 it was decided to continue the former practice of having a dinner with a speaker. This still happens and is the conclusion of the annual programme.

In 1977 Stephen Bunyan, Rennie Weatherhead, Sam Macmillan and pupils from Dunbar Grammar School carried out a project to record and move the remnants of the Meikle Mill at Belton Dod for the country Life Section of the Museum of Antiquities [the mill was the subject of an article in the Transactions by Norman Cartwright {VoI XI 1968}]. In 1978 Lady Scicluna bequeathed a mounted copy of Forrest’s map. In September 1981 the monument to John Rennie with its bronze by Alexander Carrick was moved from its position on the side of the A1 Road to a site in the wall at Phantassie and the society was granted a 999 year lease of the site of the monument from 20th September that year.

In 1982, after ten years as secretary, Norman Cartwright retired and was replaced in September by Stephen Bunyan who had become a member of council in 1978. In 1983 Norman Cartwright was made a second vice president. In 1984 the Friends of North Berwick Museum were set up and the society had two representatives. In 1987 the society was registered as a charity.

On 3rd January 1987 Dunbar Parish Church was destroyed by fire and later in the year the society published a special volume containing an essay “The Dunbar monument in its historical setting” by Gordon Donaldson, The Historiographer Royal and one on the Earl of Dunbar and another on the History of the Church by Stephen Bunyan. In 1988 following the resignation of Norman Cartwright, Professor Rosalind Mitchison was made a vice President and was joined in 1989 by Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalyrymple Bt., who had become a member of council in 1981.In 1990 Sir David Ogilvy retired and was replaced by Professor Rosalind Mitchison. The society has been represented on The John Muir Park Management Committee from 1980 and on that, for Traprain Law, set up in 1990 after the East Lothian District Council acquired the Law in 1987. After the formation of the New East Lothian Council they were reconstituted as Advisory Groups in 1997. The society is represented on both and also on that for Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve. The President chaired that for Traprain Law until the new Laws group was set up on the 17th September 2008 and chairs the John Muir Advisory Group. John Hunt represents the society on the Aberlady Group. The Society is not at present represented on the Friends of North Berwick Museum Committee. Sue Jenkinson. The first East Lothian museums officer, who was tragically killed in 1994 was a member of Council and Bridget Simpson, the county archaeologist is now a member of council.

During the last decade, Council has expressed concern over various buildings in the county, notably Archerfield (now restored). Herdmanston Doocot, Amisfield Temple and related buildings and has registered satisfaction over the restoration of Newhailes, Bank-ton House, Broxmouth South Lodge, Balgone and Ballencrieff. It was supportive of the purchase of the John Muir Birthplace in Dunbar and its development.

In December 1998 the museum collection, including the portrait of Archibald Skirving, presented to the society in 1981 by Mrs Leila Hoskins, was handed over to East Lothian Museum Service. The portrait was displayed in the Skirving exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery in 1999. Stephen Lloyd. who set up the exhibition gave a lecture on Skirving to the society in 2002.

At the AGM in 1997 the idea of a 4th Statistical Account of East Lothian was considered and it was agreed to hold a meeting with representatives of the other local history and amenity societies. The meeting was held and fourteen other societies were supportive. A special society, East Lothian Fourth Statistical Account Society was set up to carry out the project. Lottery funding was sought and granted in 1999. Volume one, The County, which surveyed the social, political and economic history, geography, environment and people of East Lothian since World War II was published in 2003. Volumes two-six followed containing groups of parishes; Volume two featured the parishes of Garvald, Haddington, Morham, Prestonkirk, Whittingehame and Yester. Volume three covered Bolton, Gladsmuir (with Longniddry), Humbie, Ormiston, Pencaitland and Saltoun. Volume four covered the parishes of Aberlady, Athelstaneford, Dirleton (with Gullane), NorthBerwick and, Whitekirk &Tyninghame. Volume five covered the parishes of Inveresk (with Musselburgh) Prestonpans, Tranent (with Cockenzie &Port Seton). Volume six covered the parishes of Dunbar, Innerwick, Oldhamstocks, Spott and Stenton. The project was virtually complete except for an electronic version of the complete text, with the publication of volume seven, entitled Growing up in East Lothian, in November 2009. At the AGM in 2005 the society agreed to advance funds to make the publication of volume 4, later in that year possible. The web site for the project is www.el4.org.uk

In May 2000 Professor Rosalind Mitchison retired and Stephen Bunyan was elected as president. The Vice President is Sir Hew Hamilton Dalrymple Bart.

The Transactions are an important part of the society’s contribution to East Lothian. Over the whole period of its history except for the war years, it has maintained publication of these highly regarded volumes of articles about East Lothian. Twenty  eight volumes have been published. At first they were published by a sub committee on which W Forbes Gray and J H Jamieson played key roles. Robert Waterston was the first appointed editor. He was followed by Basil Skinner. Edward J Cowan, Professor Rosalind Mitchison and David Moody. The present editor is Chris Tabraham. The society also published The East Lothian Bibliography. East Lothian Biographies. A Brief History of Haddington, a booklet entitled, The ancient fraternity of Free Gardeners of East Lothian, Dunbar Parish Church, Tribute to the past – Hope for the future and an Index to volumes 1-XIII and an Index to Volumes XIV-XXI. The Society has established a web site https://www.eastlothianantiquarians.org.uk With a steady membership and a sustained interest in the affairs of the county the society has entered the new millennium with confidence and optimism.

Stephen Bunyan Revised 31 August 2010