Biarritz of the North
Nunnery and Witches Coven
Harbour and Fishing
Times of Change
Between the War Years
Coastguard and Lifeboat
Coat of Arms 1373
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|'' A quaint and quiet little place, its houses were chiefly thatched and had outside stairs and picturesque outshots overhanging the street on beams of wood and pillars of stone. - 'The White Cockade' by James Grant|
During the eighteenth century the Royal Burgh of North Berwick was separate from the Westgait. The Royal Burgh comprised of two streets Trongait (Quality Street) and Eastgait (High Street). While the area known as Westgate stretched westwards from the Clarty Burn which flowed down Kays Wynd (Law Road) and across what is now Market Place to the sea. Westgate ended at School Alley (Church Road) where the buildings there gave way to open fields on the Glebe and West Links. The only building standing in what is now Forth Street was the Dirleton Granary. There was no road to the harbour, access was across the sands.
Beyond Westgate there were two tracks, one leading south to the ruins of the old Abbey (Abbey Road) and the other following what is now Pointgarry Road leading through open ground to Whin Stone Quarry, the remains of which can be traced on the West Links. From this point outside the town boundary, the main road to Edinburgh, maintained each spring by ploughing, rolling and harrowing, cut through the fields of Abbey Farm to Dirleton.
During the 10th century the Earl's of Fife owned the land at North Berwick and David, Earl of Fife established a ferry from North Berwick to Earlsferry and built a hospice for the pilgrims travelling to St Andrews. Duncan, 4th Earl of Fife established a Cistercian nunnery around 1150, but there was no mention of North Berwick in the mid 13th century Gough map. The first reference to a port at North Berwick was in 1177. At that time a stone quay was constructed at the harbour but shortly after the Earl's moved away to Threave (Kirkcudbright) and shipping from the port declined. The last of the Earls of Fife to own the North Berwick estate was Isabel, Countess of Fife who lived through the revolutionary reign of David II
In 1344, King David II appointed William Chalmers keeper of the port at North Berwick. To challenge the growing influence of the Earls Of Douglas at Tantallon, King David appointed his law officer, Adam Cissour as coroner of Berwickshire and keeper of the 'winter port' at North Berwick in 1358. David also installed Walter Bell, the St Andrews trained Chaplin as vicar of North Berwick in 1365. This was to strengthen his control over the swelling pilgrim traffic passing through the chapel dedicated to St Mary at Whitekirk, the ferry crossing at North Berwick and the St Monans shrine in Fife. By 1413 over 15,000 pilgrims travelled this spiritual route, raising 1422 merks annually.
The harbour was at it's peak with foreign trade in the last half of the 14th century. In the Exchequer Rolls for 1374, the customs duties paid to the Crown amounted to £ 115-12s-0d. In 1377 the duties increased to £171-17s-11d and the following year to £ 270-13s-0d. The largest payment was in the year 1393 when the sum was £539-16s-7d. After 1401 when the amount was £168-2s-9d the payments fell considerably, and in 1454 ceased entirely. They recommenced in 1488 at greatly reduced figures. At this time the ships at the port averaged about six, and the boats four. North Berwick and Leith were the only ports at which English malt could be imported.
In December 1380 a ship while on the high seas bound from North Berwick to Flanders was captured and taken to Newcastle and the goods distributed to the loss of the owner William Fawsyde. The Mayor and bailiffs of Newcastle were ordered to levy a sum of £75-15s (English money) on those who had taken possession of the goods and hand it over to the Warden of the Marches for payment to Fawsyde.
In 1434, the land was divided between the prioress and nuns of the North Berwick Abbey and the burgesses of the town. The land granted to the burgesses stretched along the East Links to the Millburn (Glenburn) while the land to the south west was owned by the Abbey. Pont's map of the Lothians in 1600 showed North Berwick as a small line of buildings hugging the coastline. To the west was Ferry Gate and to the east the Rhodes, a rocky outcrop with an anchorage in the bay.
Lauder's Protocol Book dated 1540, lists the roads in the town as Trongait (Quality Street), Eastgait (High Street), Nungait (part of the High Street from Market Place to Westgate); Calendar's Wynd (Balderstone's); Westgait; The Vennel (Melbourne Lane); North Road (Victoria Road); the Common Square (Southern part of Quality Street) and Clarty Burn (Law Road).
In 1633, Patrick Home sold the estate of North Berwick to Sir William Dick of Braid, a merchant and Provost of Edinburgh (1638-1640). Dick was so wealthy it was said he could ride a horse from Linlithgow to North Berwick on his own land. He established a beach fishing station in the town and funded a herring works in 1642. By 1649 the ownership of the lands at North Berwick were divided into two parts. The first part to Sir William Dick and the second part was jointly owned by John Inglis of Nether Cramond and John Jossy of Westpanes.
Sir William Dick rented out his portion of the town lands to Robert Lockart a merchant and burgess of Edinburgh. In 1649 the land was described as Fermelandis or Fermeaikeris of North Berwick, with links thereof extending in all to 15 husbandlands, west part of the town of North Berwick called Nungait, on west of burn called Clartieburn, 4 crofts on south side of town and St Seybastian's alter in parish kirk of North Berwick, teind sheaves and teind fishing of part of North Berwick, meadow called the Law Medow and North Berwick Law, crofts of mill Kinkeith, lands called Horscruik, Pontoun, Myrefauld, Stingaback, Pontoun Rig, Pontoun Myre, North Medow of the Heuch near North Berwick Law and lands of Bonningtoun and Greinsyd which are part of said lands of Heuch, all in parish of North Berwick. A Charter in favour of Robert Lockart was signed in 1652. The part owned by John Inglis and James Jossy was rented to a James Gram and Sir Thomas Stewart of Coltness. In Tucker's account of the Scottish ports in 1655, no harbour was mentioned at North Berwick. The feudal baronies of North Berwick and The Bass were two separate entities. In 1694 the Dalrymples bought both superiorities, resigned them into the hands of the Crown and had a new single barony issued encompassing both.
A horse race meeting was established in North Berwick in 1695. The race took place on the sands with the spectators watching from the top of the dunes. The prizes were donated by the Town Council and the Laird. Later the race took place on the West Links on Hansel Monday, the first Monday in the new year.
On 12th July 1698 five ships from the Darien Company anchored off Kirkaldy before the start of their voyage to Panama and only one ship returned. Hew Dalrymple was a director of the company investing over £1000. The North Berwick Town Council also invested in the ill-fated project as part of the contribution made by the Convention of Burgh Councils. Dunbar contributed £100 and Haddington gave £400.
To the south of the town was Berwick Law and the Mains Farm where a stable and byre were built by James Hogg in 1727. The Glebe (Law Road to Nungate) was granted to the Parish Kirk and the revenue was used to provide for the poor and minister's stipend. The hill on the Glebe was mentioned in the 16th century as 'Colles Procorum' (Swine Hills) and there was a waterfall in the area now Brentwood Hill. On the east side of Quality Street (Trongait) was the Town Barn (opposite the Blackadder Church), then moving south, the Arms Houses built by Lauders of the Bass and then the Great Tenement, on land now occupied by the Dalrymple Arms. West of the foundry in the East Bay was a cooperage where tubs, bickers, cogs and various other wooden domestic utensils were made.
In the 1840s John Neillans cooperage was situated on the site of the present Museum and Library in School Road. 'Cooper's Well' is all that remains behind the Coastguard Cottages. John Neillans, the son of a fishmonger was born in North Berwick in 1786 and with his three sons John, Robert and Thomas they made thousands of barrels for the herring fishing. Using a bow saw to cut the round top, base, and staves. They would open the joints with a flaggering iron, insert river reeds and fill the holes with a putty made from herring oil and whitening. Thomas Neillans continued the cooperage into the 1860s. From the cooperage the land opened into the town common or Coo's Green where the burgesses grazed their cattle, while the feuars of the property outside the burgh in Westgate were granted the right to graze their animals on the West Links by Sir Hew Dalrymple.
The Dalrymple dynasty was a dominant force in the Scottish legal system during the 18th century. Sir Hew Dalrymple, the 1st. Baronet of North Berwick, was Lord President of the Court of Session from 1698 to 1737 and was the third son of James, 1st. Viscount Stair. His eldest son, Sir Robert Dalrymple of Castleton, was a member of the Town Council in 1727. His younger brother Hew was also a member of the Council and appointed a Judge of the Court of Session in 1726, taking the title of Lord Drummore. Sir James Dalrymple of Hailes, elected MP for the Haddingtonshire Burghs in 1727 was the 2nd. Baronet of Newhailes, near East Linton, his father being the fifth son of Viscount Stair. Sir Hew Dalrymple, the 3rd. Baronet of North Berwick, assumed the name Hamilton on inheriting the Barganay estate (Girvan) from his uncle John Hamilton. The Dalrymples had representatives on the Town Council for over a century, and in the year 1785-6 there were no less than four of them.
Royal Burghs, essentially were privileged communities granted rights by the king to enable them to develop internal and external trade. Within this only the burgesses could carry on any kind of retail trade even in native commodities. The burgesses were peasants first, rising to become small merchants or craftsmen with the right to market and the exclusive monopoly of trade and carrying on crafts within the burgh.
A burgess ticket was given to a burgess on his admission as such, when he became entitled to share in the privileges of the burgh. In many burghs a burgess ticket was necessary before one could trade in the burgh, and often it entitled the holder to buy seats in the church and gave an opportunity to be elected to the town council. The Ballies gave out the licenses to the stall holders, restricted trade to the designated areas and enforced the Burgh bye-laws on market day.
In earlier centuries, with these privileges would often come responsibilities. These include the cess, a tax paid by each burgess according to the size of his property within the burgh, and a duty to play his part in the watch and ward. In the seventeenth century new burgesses were either the sons or the sons-in-law of existing burgesses.
The result of these privileges held by a small clique of interconnected families inevitably lead to corruption. Town Council contracts went to the provosts' friends, the property of the burgh was let at derisory rents to relatives, and burgess rights were sold for private gain. Some of this exclusiveness the royal burghs had experienced waned after 1660, when fairs and markets began to proliferate where there were no burghs at all, and after 1672 the royal burghs lost practically the whole of their monopoly of foreign commerce. For a long period after 1690 the Scottish town councils remained notorious for their graft.
The burgesses had the right to elect new members and magistrates to the town council, but none of this could happen without the silent approval of the laird. During the eighteenth century the Dalrymple family had complete control over all aspects of the day to day life of the community.
The markets were held in Quality Street and a paved circle in line with the High Street once marked the place where the Market Cross and Tron or Weigh-House formerly stood. During paving operations in 1901 there was deposited in a cavity beneath the circle a bottle containing newspapers and coins of that year. The trade was carried out by stances given off to the merchants by the town council. In a table of customs prior to 1743 these entries appear - Shoemaker is to pay maill (rent) for each daill (board) 3s (Scots); Shopman or merchant's stand is to pay for each daill length 3s (Scots). A board or stand was a table for displaying their wares.
The Municipal Reform Act of 1833 placed restrictions on the power of the guilds, and the Abolition of Burgh and Corporation Privileges Act of 1846 ended the monopolistic trading rights of burgesses.
The High Street had buildings irregular in appearance, with access to the upper floor by an outside stair jutting on to the street. The 'lums' were also built out from the building. The properties on the north side of the High Street extended to the sea. In 1750, a proprietor on the south side was allowed to enclose a space of ground in front of his property by way of a railing. Thus encroachments were made which explains the narrowness of the street today.
Halfway along the High Street a narrow passage on the north side known as the 'Cats Close' led into a court built round with old houses. In 1906 this was considered the oldest part of the town. The house immediately above the passage was formerly known as the Jacobite Chapel having probably been an Episcopal meeting-house in the days of the penal laws. Next to it on the east was a house of about the same period in the 16th century which had an outside turnpike stair. This was the Manse of the Auld Kirk or the priest's house. The isolated house at the crossing of Market Place and High Street was the Burgh School with Flesher's Market underneath.
There were two town officers who acted as police, sheriff officers, bellringers, scavengers and labourers. One of the officers, John Dobie was allowed for 'ringing the bell', three pound of candle during the winter season of 1727. The salary for ringing the 'bigg' bell morning and evening was £12 Scots. Among the other Town Officer's were Andrew Patterson (1740); John Affleck (1746); Archibald Briggs (1755) and Thomas Tait (1790). The officers uniforms were grey coats faced with red, and hats with a cockade. In 1740 a town piper was appointed at a salary of £5 Scots which was paid as his house rent. In 1754 the Council allowed him the privilege of making advertisements and the crying of all roupings and things that were lost. The roupings was an annual auction of certain privileges in the burgh. The highest bidder gained the exclusive right to sell such items as sand from the beach, seaweed, and the removal of dunghills from the streets. The earliest recorded reference to the public roupings was when George Patersone, a burgess of North Berwick paid £40 Scots for a tack of the 'leckes' set to him after public roup in 1681. This refers to the removal of stone from the East Bay for building purposes.
| In March 1728 a bond for 1000 merks was granted for the erection of a new Tolbooth. This
refers to the present Council Chambers and shop below. The older part of the building was probably erected at the end of the 16th
century as the Tolbooth is mentioned as far back as 1638. The contract to build the new Tolbooth was given to Archibald and John
Brouns, masons in North Berwick and Patrick Forgan mason at the Heugh. There is an entry in the accounts 'To the masons a quart of
ale, 4s' - a custom known as a 'founding pint'. In the older part of the Tolbooth was two prison cells, one on the ground floor
entered from the High Street, and lit by a slit in the north wall. The other directly above was accessed by the stair to the
Council room. In 1749 the shop below was occupied as a dwelling house. |
The earliest reference to the Mercat Cross was in September 1751 when the Magistrates decided to remove the Cross to a more appropriate location. Nothing more was recorded until December 1770 when the following entry appears: "Taking into consideration the ruinous condition of the Cross and inconvenient situation of it, the Council have agreed that it shall be removed and put up a new at the east end of the Toune House, also that the stair up to the Council Chamber being much failed, agree that it should be completely made up and repaired." As the account paid to the mason was for rebuilding the Tolbooth stair and taking donne the Cross, the probability is that the remains of the Cross will be found built in the stair. A sum of 6d. was paid to workmen for carrying away rubbish from the Cross.
The earliest surviving Town Council minute book commenced 5th September 1727. The previous minute books from 1639 -1727 are missing. The first of many repairs to the harbour was carried out in 1728 by the Town Council. In 1731 the Treasurer warned the neighbours and burgesses that each house was to send a man able to carry out the clearing of the channel out of the harbour, under penalty of half a merk Scots. The Council wrote to Sir Hew Dalrymple as superior in Westgate, requesting that the inhabitants there should also assist in clearing out sand in the harbour.
In 1728, the bakehouses were thatched and the whins and other fuels stacked close by were causing the neighbours to be 'holden in continual fear and dread of fire'. The Magistrates instructed that all bakehouse roof's should be constructed of slate or tiles and that no stacks of heather, broom, whins and other fuels be kept adjacent to the bakehouse under penalty of £10 Scots. The Council met with the bakers every quarter to settle the price of wheat and each baker was requested to put his name or mark on the bread as there had been complaints of light weight.
An increased number of 'debased persons' were causing a nuisance in 1739 by gathering daily in the street and on the common. In November that year the Council ordered all persons who had cruives or huts towards the street to pull them down. An entry in the burgh accounts refers to at least eight cripples visiting the town in 1742. The Rhodes was a dumping ground for vagrants as there frequently appears -' To carriage of a cripple to the Rhodes 4 pence'. Sometimes they were taken to the Heugh, while another entry reads, 'Carrying a blind woman from ye toun, 2 pence.' The Council ordered that no beggars could pass through the town except on Wednesday (Market Day) and if the rules were disobeyed the officers were to imprison all vagrants. This Act of Council was published through the town by tuck of drum and copies thereof affixed to the Cross and Kirk door. The same procedure was adopted in 1754 and 1773 showing that the nuisance had not abated.
There was only meagre reference to the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions in the Town Council minutes. But the following note discovered on the flyleaf of an old leather book, chronicled by the Town Clerk when Brigadier Macintosh's force landed here after crossing from Fife - 6th October 1715. The militia went out to Haddington - 40 days pay each man.' '13th October 1715, being Thursday about ane acloach in the morning the Highland men ran a shoar att this harbour, and att Aberlady, Dirleton and Adam (Auldhame) they war reckoned to be about three thousand under the command of Brigadeer Macintosh, my Lord Nairne, and two of the Duke of Athol's sones was with them; they proclaimed the King here and then went to Haddington and proclaimed him yr. and then went to Seton hous and upon the Saturday went to Leith and upon the Sabbath day cam back to Seton hous and went away upon the Tuesday to the North.'
During the 1745 uprising North Berwick High Street rang with the clatter of the hoofs of Fowke's dragoons in their headlong flight from the Prince's Highlanders at Coltbridge. Home, the author of "The Rebellion of 1745" says "they galloped to North Berwick and being now about twenty miles from Edinburgh they thought they might safely dismount from their horses and look out for victuals". The sheep and turkeys of North Berwick paid for this warlike disposition, but just as the mutton was to be put on the table they heard the same cry of 'the Highlanders' and they got on horseback and cleared the town.
An entry in the Town Council accounts for 1714 -5 reads - 'To spent when Highlanders were here £14.14s (for refreshments). These entries support the inference that the town was on the side of the Old Pretender. The only reference to the 1745 rebellion reads 'Boats coming into the harbour are to be detained.' The accounts mention two pound candles to soldiers keeping guard and billeting some soldiers. Bailie Lauder for ane express to Edinburgh in the late troubles - 3s; for Mr Vetch himself going to Dunbar for news at that time - 7s; To 4 men for watching the approach of the Highlanders - 1s. 6d; and billeting some soldiers - 6d.
In 1755, the population of the Parish of North Berwick was 1,412. That year John Simpson wrote to the Town Council complaining that it was impossible to earn a living in the cloth business in North Berwick and asked if he could sign up with one of the battalions being raised in the town. In 1779, the Scots born John Paul Jones, founder of the American navy, mounted several raids on Scotland during the American War of Independence. In 1775 Spain and France joined America and the privateer John Paul Jones with a party of French anchored five ships off North Berwick much to the consternation of the local inhabitants, but a storm blow up and his ships was forced further out into the North Sea.
There were fourteen burgesses admitted between 1785 and 1816. Honorary burgesses were admitted from all parts of Scotland and included, a Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, Lord Advocate Grant of Prestongrange, Sir William Maxwell of Monrieth, Robert Blair, advocate, afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session: merchants from Edinburgh, Leith, Dundee, Aberdeen, Selkirk, Coldingham and one from Liverpool.
The first mention of Forth Street was in 1785, although there had been a track there named North Road or Back Street for the previous forty years. This area was the dumping ground for dunghills and the Council resolved to have the streets swept and dung collected in heaps every Thursday and Saturday ready to be carried off by the tacksman who paid the sum of £53 for the refuse. In 1817, the Town Council constructed a stone wall on the north side of Forth Street at the high water mark. Built by James Gieve & Son the wall can been seen today between the westbeach and the houses.
The Clartyburn appears to have been an open sewer up to 1800, when a drain was put in. The road to the harbour was made up in 1799 and the land in Shore Street (Victoria Road) was feud in 1801. Toll bars were installed in 1805 at the Clartyburn (Law Road), Abbey Toll (Pointgarry Road) and Heugh Brae, but the townspeople were exempt from payment of the toll. At this time the land now between West End Place and Station Hill was occupied by three piggeries.
There were several friendly societies in the Burgh, and for those wishing to join, they had to be under the age of 35 years, in good health, had the ability to pay and was supported by two members. The Benevolent Society was divided into two distinct funds. The 'Funeral Fund' for allowances upon death of a member, their wife or widow and the other the 'Cow Fund' for giving mutual relief and assistance to members losing their cow by death. No member was permitted to kill their cow, even when rendered useless by accidental injury.
In 1829, Robert Emond, a grocer and draper in North Berwick was charged with the 'barbarous' murder of his wife's sister and her daughter in a cottage near Haddington. Among the witnesses called to the Sheriff Court in Edinburgh were James Paterson, teacher at North Berwick, John Dunbar, a barber at North Berwick, Charles Ramage, a constable and Major-General Dalrymple. Robert Emond was convicted of the murders and executed at the head of Liberton Wynd (260 High Street, site of the present City Chambers) on 17th March 1830 and his body was delivered to the Professor of Anatomy for dissection.
In 1831 the population of North Berwick numbered 1,824, the Royal Burgh and West Gate (1100) and the landward area (724). During 1832, sixteen cases of Asiatic Cholera were diagnosed in the town, the first seven died and the others survived with primitive medicine and prayer. The same year the Surveyor of Taxes described North Berwick as a small decayed Burgh with little or no trade, situated on a low sandy plain on the shores of the German Ocean. 'It appears to have been long quite stationary and there seems no reason to anticipate any alteration of its character in this respect.'
The laying of a single-track railway line by the North British Railway Company in 1850 was to herald a dramatic change in the Burgh's fortunes. The town became more accessible to visitors, attracted by the healthy aspect of sea-bathing, golfing and the scenic views. At this time the only other connection with Edinburgh was a coach with two horses.
The original single-track line was opened in August 1849, and terminated at Williamstone Farm where a temporary wooden platform was erected. The passengers were then conveyed by horse drawn carriage to North Berwick. The cutting beyond Williamstone was completed the following year and the rock used to construct new railway stations at Dirleton and North Berwick.
The North Berwick station had a single platform virtually on the same site as the present station. The facilities were rudimentary including a small track engine shed and a private siding for the lime works at the Rhodes Farm. The goods yard was gradually improved with a cattle loading bank, and a coal store. The outward trains carried large quantities of fish, grain, potatoes, and even guano from the Bass Rock.
In the early years the line was losing money and by 1856 the steam engines were withdrawn and a horse drawn service known as the 'Dandy Car' introduced. This was nothing new as the engine attached to the first train which left here for Drem was unable to pull the carriages up the hill and had to be taken off and replaced by horses. The Dandy Car only lasted six months before the steam service was reinstated.
In 1894 the North Berwick station was extensively rebuilt with a second platform, waiting rooms, telegraph office, concourse and new frontage constructed. Together with a goods shed, weigh house, stables, engine shed and signal box situated beside the bridge over Ware Road.
The Gas Company proposed to erect their gas works adjacent to the burgh coal yard on the Anchor Green (Seabird Centre), but permission was refused. In 1845 the gas works were constructed at the westend of Pointgarry Road, and that year the town was lit by twenty gas lamps which were extinguished at 10.30 pm. They were not lit on moonlight nights.
In 1857, the Town Council adopted the Police (Scotland) Act which compelled Scottish Burghs to form a police force. Although the first police constable in North Berwick was appointed in 1832, assisted by the Burgh Officer. The uniform was a blue jacket with red collar, corduroy breeches and English-style helmet. Later a copper-coloured metal badge was worn, the origin of the slang word 'copper'. By the 1890s the helmet was discarded for the military type peaked cap but it was not until 1932 that the now familiar 'Sillitoe' chequered cap band was introduced.
The Police (Scotland) Act also covered civil maintenance such as drainage, cleaning streets, lighting, paving and removing ruinous or dangerous buildings. When the Act was enforced it had to be funded locally, and by May 1861 the Town Council had completed the laying out of Quality Street and High Street in causeway stones. No longer would the inhabitants risk being drowned in a sea of mud while crossing the roads during wet weather. A new pavement of Caithness stone was also laid , each proprietor paying for the laying opposite their own property. A new sewerage system was installed which added to the clean and well kept appearance of the town.
Other roads and tracks formed during this period included Graham's Close (Tigh Mhor, 83 High Street), Russell Square (Creel Court), Heriot Place (Lower Quay), Forrest's Court (5, Beach Road), Manse Road, Park Place or Crombie Place (17-25 Old Abbey Road) and Bass View Terrace (Tantallon Terrace). Travellers entering the town from the west, until 1869, paid road tax at the Abbey Toll House while on the east the Lochbridge Toll was situated at the foot of Heugh Brae. There was one police officer Alexander Hay and a watchman at both the west end and east end during the night.
The properties at the west entrance to the town (Westgate) had been in a dilapidated state for many years and several rickety buildings were being replaced by new dwellings, to be sold by public auction. A branch of the British Linen Bank was established on a vacant piece of ground west of Charles Cunningham's brewery in Westgate, and a new road constructed leading to an elevated terrace. The feuing of a row of houses on the west side of Quality Street was in hand and the construction of a new street of working-men's houses by Sir Hew Dalrymple, leading from Shore Street towards Melbourne Park was also in progress (named after Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne,1834-1841). The term 'feu' in Scottish Law is a right to the use of land in return for a fixed annual payment (feu-duty).
At this time the High Street (Quality Street to Market Place) had undergone a series of improvements which had entirely changed its character. During an eighteen month period from June 1869, the work included the Town Council ordering the pulling down of an unsightly building known as 'Somerville's Turnpike' or the 'Roundal'. It had a round staircase which stood at the front protruding into the street. The staircase or turnpike was removed in 1834. To the east of this was a new building (48, High Street) being constructed with an ironmongery warehouse underneath. At the same time a new property was being erected opposite at No. 43. Next door, the frontage of the General Post Office (No. 37) was completely renewed by Peter Brodie.
The old tenement that stood at the corner of Law Road was gutted in the 1860s in order to make way for a large shop at No.1 Westgate (now No.59 High Street). Mr. Edington was in the process of enlarging the Commercial Hotel (County Hotel) with the addition of an upper floor and attics, the latter commanding a splendid view of the sea. The amount of building work in the town added £300 to the rental accommodation in the Burgh.
St Andrew's Well which provided the major source of water for the burgh was situated close to the Wall or Well Tower in the Lodge Grounds. This would have been a focal point in the town for hundred's of years, and the Well can still be located. There is a spring of the finest water in the same area which has to be pumped daily from the Ship Inn cellar. Other wells can be found between the buildings at 29-31 Westgate, 21 Westgate, Westgate Court, 58 Forth Street, 8 Victoria Road, 1 Quadrant, Oatfield House in Windygates Road. The well behind the Coastguard Cottages and inside 1 Tantallon Terrace, site of a stableyard and blacksmith's forge.
Lorne Square and Lorne Lane were started in 1872, named after James Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845-1914). He was better known by the courtesy title of Lord Lorne. He married Queen Victoria's fourth daughter Princess Louise and was the 4th Governor General of Canada from 1878-1883.
The property at 23-25 High Street is unique, not only in the design of the stonework but the ownership by only two families can be traced back to 1704. The ground now occupied by the buildings at 23-31 High Street was purchased that year by William Graham from Sir Hew Dalrymple. It passed to his son George Graham and then to his daughter Elizabeth who married David Dall, headmaster at Gifford school in 1760.
In the novel 'The White Cockade' written by James Grant (1822-87), which was based during the 1745 rebellion he describes North Berwick as a quaint and quiet little place, its houses were chiefly thatched and had outside stairs and picturesque out shots overhanging the street on beams of wood and pillars of stone. James Grant was familiar with the town and although the characters are fictional the novel has a historical basis and is the only descriptive account of the High Street during the eighteenth century.
The land at 23-31 High Street was inherited by James Dall, the youngest son of David and Elizabeth Dall. In 1804 at the age of 20 years, James Dall was described as a Merchant of the Burgh, when he established an ironmongery business on that site. In 1812-15, Dall constructed the present three storey building which is one of only three in the town using the same masonry. The stone was quarried from Berwick Law where a unique vent of black carboniferous basaltic rock was found and used to pin the reddish brown blocks in the stonework. The others are in Quality Street - the Council Office and Nos.15-17 opposite.
James Dall was elected Chief Magistrate (Provost) of the Royal Burgh (1839-51), his son James Dall Jnr was also Chief Magistrate (1855-66) and his youngest son Thomas Dall was Town Clerk (1863-80). James Dall Jnr. continued the ironmongery business and when he died in 1868 the property passed to his daughter Janet, the sixth generation of the Graham / Dall families. In 1901 the property at 27-31 High Street was sold by the Dall family at public auction to John Walker and John Whitecross (Builder). John Wightman took over the ironmongery business while Walker and Whitecross developed the garden into the three storey building and shops at 27-31 High Street. The property at 25 High Street continues to be owned by the Wightman family and 23 High Street has been a hardware store since 1815.
Going further eastwards, nine houses had been constructed in the Quadrant, ideal for sea bathing quarters. The first feus in the East Links were sold in 1846 when the roadway was extended to the base of Castle Hill. Annie Abel's Tantallon House (4 West Bay Road), was the original guest house and continued to be very popular with visitors. Accommodation in the town had greatly improved since the opening of the Royal Hotel in 1861 and the Bradbury Hotel in 1870.
Visitors were now supplied with a card indicating the high and low tides, railway timetable, departure times for posting letters and a list of the colours used on the funnels of the passing steamers plying up and down the Forth. These included the General Steam Navigation Company (London) - Blue paddle boxes and painted ports; Aitken's Leith and London Company - Black funnel with red stripes; Miller & McGregor (Rotterdam and St Petersburg) - Red and black top; Inkster & Gibson ( Hamburg and Hull) - Black and white strips and cream and black top; Grangemouth-London - All black.
By 1870 the Water Company was in the process of installing running water to every property. The Town Council purchased Hopes Reservoir situated in the Lammermuir Hills and laid a water pipe the eighteen miles to North Berwick. The storage tank can be seen on the east ridge of Berwick Law on the former Heugh farmland. For many years the Town Council were able to supply the lowest water rates for any town in the county. Previously in 1845 water pipes were laid from Greenheads Road to two public wells, one at the Town Chambers and the other at the Burgh School (Market Place). In 1873 the Town Council placed fire-plugs at intervals around the town, with a length of hose attached in case of fire. Although there had been several serious fires in the town, the first fire engine was not purchased until 1894.
The East Links or Coo's Green, where golf was originally played prior to 1798, was the property of the town, a common for the burgesses to graze their animals at a charge of 7/6d per cow. In 1728, the town herder was paid £5 Scots, with 24 shillings for cutting the weeds and extra for each cow grazing on the green. The burgesses supplied him with food. In 1731, rabbits were destroying the green to such and extent that authority was granted to the burgesses to shot and destroy them.
Admission to the burgess roll was approved by the Town Council and an annual fee imposed. During the nineteenth century with the abolition of the system of election of burgesses the Town Council could only appoint honorary burgesses. These included James Crawford Jnr. W.S. (1836) Town Clerk 1833 -1863; Robert Stewart M.P (1841) who represented the Burgh in five successive Parliaments; Sheriff Substitute Riddell (1842); G. H. Girlie (1848); Allan Wilson engineer to the North British Railway Company when the branch line was formed (1849); Sir Hendry R. Ferguson Davie Brt. M.P.(1868) and Robert Lyle (1874) Town Clerk 1872-1892. The East Links stretched to the ruins of a public washing-house and bleaching-green, near the Burgh boundary at the Glen Burn. At this time the East Links were lined with poplar trees planted in 1853 and provided a safe play-ground for children.
During the 1860s the family of Robert Stevenson, the famous engineer whose work included the Bell Rock lighthouse, spent many summers at Anchor Villa (West Bay Road), North Berwick. Three generations of his remarkable family, shared the holiday home, including his grandson Robert Louis Stevenson. The town made a lasting impression on the young Robert Louis and his first journey by train was from Waverley to North Berwick in 1862. He often recalled playing as a child with his friends as smugglers and pirates in a small cave at Point Garry, learning to ride a donkey on the broad sands, and climbing Berwick Law with his cousins. In the 'Lantern-Bearers', a short essay first published in February 1888 in the Scribner's Magazine, he described the town as ' A fishing village with drying nets, scolding wives, the smell of fish and seaweed and the blowing sands. He remembered the small shops with golf balls, lollipops in jars and penny pickwicks (a delightful small cigar) and the stationer selling the London Journal with illustrations and short stories.' Many of the local landmarks were the inspiration for his writing in such books as Kidnapped and Catriona.
Hansel Monday, the first Monday in the New Year was the main festival in the town when all the inhabitants turned out to compete in games on the West Links. The highlight each year was a horse race and in 1862, Peter Brodie's ' Great Unknown ' was first past the winning post. The day finished with a dance in the Burgh School room. The other two annual fairs were held on the first Thursday after Whitsuntide, and the first Thursday after Martinmas, both described as old style.
Employment in the town was increasing, although most positions were seasonal. The main areas of work were at the Iron Foundry in the East Bay, agricultural labouring, domestic staff employed in the various villas, caddying and herring fishing, with 25 boats and over 60 men. The foundry which stood close to the shore beyond the Coastguard Cottages employed over 30 men and supplied most of the farms in the district with machinery for their thrashing mills. It was established by Robert Bridges and was afterwards carried on by Provost David Meikleham an engineer to trade. The lime kilns on the Rhodes Farm also employed a number of men. An advert in 1802 suggests that the lime produced was of the highest quality and had extensive sales not only in the Lothians but also in Fife and beyond.
In March 1870, North Berwick was the first town in the county to have telegraphic communications. The information was passed along a telegraph line in Morse Code using a standard alphabet with long and short signals (Dots and Dashes) to stand for different letters and numbers. The telegraph poles were situated next to the railway tracks and the messages received at the Telegraph Office situated in the Post Office at 9, High Street. Previously there was no direct post to North Berwick as it was a sub-office to Haddington. In 1801 John Yorkston walked every day except Sunday, from Haddington to North Berwick with the post bag on his back. That year the town's first Post Office was established in the foyer of the Dalrymple Arms Hotel (12 Quality Street).
By 1871, the population of the Royal Burgh numbered 909, the total population in the Parish of North Berwick was 1,427. Life expectancy in Scotland was 42 for men and 45 for women. More than one in every four children died before the age of five, and around 40% did not make it beyond the age of 25.
Biarritz of the North
The railways in Scotland began as wagonways which transported coal and minerals from Lanarkshire and Fife to the coast. In 1842 a passenger line was running between Edinburgh and Glasgow. In England in the 1850s only one train a day carried third class passengers but in Scotland nearly all carried them and the working class were able to make a regular pilgrimage to the seaside. By the 1880s, the express railway engines and plush carriages served the well-to-do, with travelling time from London to Edinburgh reduced from 17 to 8 hours.
On Easter Monday 1895, 1500 visitors arrived in North Berwick on regular and special excursion trains. When added to those already in the Burgh for the weekend, this amounted to over three thousand visitors. Some notable families who spent the months of August and September in the town included the McAlpines of Accrington, Weirs of Glasgow, Forrester-Patons of Alloa and the Coats of Paisley whose summer residence was 34, Dirleton Avenue (Golf Hotel). Peter H. Coats also owned the land to the south known as Smiley Knowe.
One of the earliest references to North Berwick being called the 'Biarritz of the North' was included in article written by Edmund Yates, editor of 'The World' a weekly society journal. In November 1889, Yates wrote an article about Arthur Balfour when he used the term Biarritz of the North to describe the town. The slogan was used as part of an advertising campaign instigated by the North Berwick Town Council in 1902. The North Eastern Railway Company displayed the posters, which featured many of their most popular destinations to increase the number of passengers using the railway.
These wealthy families would bring their entourage of housekeepers, butlers, footmen and nannies to manage the household and the local merchants and shopkeepers would supply all their sundries. The residents included Captain Francis Grant Suttie - Royal Navy (Hyndford House), Robert Chambers - Publisher (St Baldred's Tower), Eduardo de Zoete (Ormesdene, Fidra Road), Sir George Berry - Ophthalmic Surgeon (Kings Knoll), Professor Edward Sharpey-Schafer - Physiologist (Marly Knowe 1902), Walter de Zoete - Stockbroker (Blenheim House), Astor family (Shipka), John Blair Balfour - Lord Advocate for Scotland (Glasclune), Alexander, Isabella and Barbara Keiller of Dundee (Rockview and Belleview, Marine Parade), Sir Patrick Ford - Solicitor General for Scotland (Westerdunes), J. G. Thomson - Wine and Spirit Merchant, The Vaults, Leith, Deuchar family (Inchdura House, Hamilton Road), John R. Dale - Farmer (Abbots Croft), and Shaw-Stewart family - Ardgowan Estate on the Forth Of Clyde (Redholme), Samuel Peploe the Scottish Colourist (Cheylesmore Lodge); Robert Craig - Papermaker Newbattle Mill (Bunkershill).
Since 1849, challenge or brag matches between the best golf professional's of the day, attracted large crowds to North Berwick. In 1899, Willie Park Jnr. who owned the property at the 'Garve' in Beach Road, challenged Harry Vardon to a match for 100 pounds over the West Links, with the return at Ganton; 36 holes played on each course. In July at North Berwick over 9,000 spectators arrived by train to watch the match and it was reported that the shopkeepers closed to follow the afternoon round.
In the summer the 'Rose' a paddle steamer owned by the Galloway Saloon Steam Packet Company would bring daytrippers on a round trip from Leith to North Berwick, tieing up at Galloways Pier on the Platcock Rocks, where passenger would board for Elie in Fife before returning to Leith.
The earliest recorded society in the town were the Freemasons, who established the Lodge St Baldred on 2nd May 1825. They held their meetings in private houses including 112 High Street, North Berwick. The Volunteers 'F' Company, (7th V.B.R.S) Rifle Corps. was raised by Sir Hew Dalrymple in 1860 when Queen Victoria accepted the offer of their services. The Volunteers later held their meetings in the Foresters Hall, situated in the area now occupied by Tigh Mhor in the High Street. The hall owned by the Ancient Order of Foresters was opened in 1887 by Richard Haldane, member of parliament for East Lothian who was appointed Secretary of War in Asquith's 1905 Liberal government. The hall accommodated 800 persons and was the centre of activity in the town. In 1895, Colour-Sergeant Dodds from the Scots Guards succeeded Sergeant Crawford as drill-inspector. He also drilled the pupils at the High School and Public School. The Volunteers carried out their weekly drills on the East Links, with their firing range at Canty Bay. They had 60 members and a Band which played every Saturday evening on the Auld Kirk Green. To the right of the entrance door to the Foresters Hall was Methven & Simpson's music shop where instruments and piano's could be hired by the session.
The North Berwick Golf Club was established in 1832 in Seacliff House, when the feuars granted the use of the links for the annual sum of £4. Among the founder members were Sir David Baird of Newbyth, Sir Robert Hay whose father was tenant of The Lodge in Quality Street, George and John Sligo of Seacliff, Robert Stewart of Alderston Mains Farm, John Campbell of Glensaddell, a Kintyre laird and Captain Brown of the Enniskillen Dragoons and Waterloo fame, who lived in Quality Street where the Dalrymple Arms now stand. Captain Brown was severely wounded at Waterloo and his wife kept the shirt her gallant husband wore on the day of the battle. This same amazing lady was credited with the feat of having driven a four-in-hand to the end of the harbour and turning it there!
They North Berwick Golf Club held four meetings each year and at these meetings a lunch was served in a large marquee on the links. Each member was expected to provide something towards the meal such as mutton, venison and game of all kinds. Major Buchan sent local lobsters and cucumbers grown by himself in the vineries attached to his house, which was situated on the ground now occupied by the Post Office in Westgate. The Major had served with the East India Company and returned home where he could be seen about town escorted by a couple of tame seagulls.
At the centre of the social activities was the Marine Hotel (1875), where among others, Field Marshall Roberts and Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, resided during the summer season. Prince Edward Saxe-Weimar served in the British Army and fought with the Grenadier Guards at Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastopol in the Crimean War. He was Commander-In-Chief of the troops in Ireland (1885-1890). He lost his Royal rank in Germany by marrying the daughter of the fifth Duke of Richmond, but she was accorded the rank of Royal Princess at Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887. They lived in a large house in Portland Place in London and each year they spent several months at the Marine Hotel in North Berwick. It was reported at the time that they alone were responsible for increasing the popularity of North Berwick and thereby laying the foundations for its future prosperity. They also rented The Knoll in Clifford Road where they entertained King Edward V11 in 1902.
Field Marshall Earl Roberts was one of the most successful commanders of the Victorian era. He fought in the Indian campaign and the 2nd Boer War. He lived at Englemere in Ascot, Berkshire and was a friend of Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar. In 1903 it was reported that playing golf on the West Links on the same day were four MPs, the Speaker of the House of Commons, two bishops and the Prime Minister. Later they were joined by Lord Kitchener and HMS Dreadnought on passage to Rosyth, fired a ten-gun salute over the course.
The Victoria Football Club was instituted in February 1888 playing on ground provided by Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple on Abbey Park (Redcroft). Football was extensively played in this district in the seventeenth century and was mentioned in the Session Records of Tynninghame Parish. In May 1619 there was a game of football played on the Sabbath afternoon at Scoughall links between that parish and Whitekirk against the North Berwick parishes.
The outdoor salt water swimming pool, originally paid for by members of the North Berwick Swimming Club opened in September 1900 and the peripheral buildings were completed in 1929. Prior to this, the Swimming Club held their annual aquatic gala in the harbour from 1895. The funds to construct the outdoor swimming pool were raised by public subscription including contributions from Prince Edward Saxe-Weimar and the MP's Robert Haldane and Arthur Balfour. The Bowling Club founded in 1865 played on the bowling green situated on land presently occupied by the Abbey Church Hall. In 1880 they moved to a new green in Kirk Ports before settling in Clifford Road (1903).
The original Yacht Club was founded in 1900 and the curling pond situated at the foot of the Law, and later at the Dowcate Pond in Nungate was used by very active clubs at North Berwick (1855), Balgone (1887) and Tyninghame. On 6th August 1886, the Town Council decided to level a piece of ground on the East Links and layout a tennis court and later the putting green. The Boys Brigade meetings were held in the Foresters Hall and on 12th August 1908 the 1st North Berwick Scout troop was founded, one of the earliest in the country. In 1905, Major General Baden Powell spent a holiday at Leuchie as a guest of Colonel Sir William Gardiner Baird. He was greeted by a large cheering crowd when he arrived at the North Berwick railway station.
Throughout the early years of the twentieth century the sound of music and laughter could be heard from the open-air ' Pierrots' variety show on the esplanade while crowds of over three thousand watched the aquatic gala's at the swimming pool. The controversial subject of mixed bathing was passed by the Town Council in 1905. The harbourmaster James Marr, a well known and popular personality had a string of rowing boats for hire in the West Bay. In 1931, at the age of ninety-five 'Daddy' Marr as he was known, was the oldest harbourmaster in the British Isles. The town centre at the time of Queen Victoria's death in 1901 could easily be recognised today, but lets go back to the beginning of the story of this remarkable Royal Burgh.
| The Early Settlers |
The formation of the landscape around North Berwick dates back over 340 million years, when this area was desert. Berwick Law and the islands of Craigleith, Fidra, Lamb and Bass Rock are composed of igneous fire work formed during the early carboniferous era.
This was the site of many volcanic eruptions and these famous landmarks are the result of the mouth of the volcano being choked with its own molten lava, forming a plug when extinct. During the ice-age, Scotland was covered in a frozen glacial blanket that rubbed and wore away the volcanic ash and soft sedimentary layers. When the glacier receded it exposed the black rock visible today. The oldest rock in the area can be seen at Smiley Knowe. In both the East and West Bays, there is evidence of lava-flow of the most extensive nature with enormous deposits of volcanic ash or scoriae, forming the flat red tuffs visible at low tide. Farther east the colour changes to green and a basalt dyke of considerable length appears on the shore opposite the Leithies. Tuff is much easier to work than basalt and the resulting Red Leck in Milsey Bay was quarried for building and oven lining in the late Middle Ages. There is documentary evidence that red leck from the East Bay was used to line the ovens in Edinburgh Castle. Professor Fleming of Edinburgh University was the first to observe the marks of glacial action on the striated rocks at the Auld Kirk in 1846.
According to some writers the first inhabitants of North Berwick came from the Elbe, they settled on the coast where water was available and their principal food was shell fish gathered from the rocks. In 2001, the remains of a Mesolithic round house was discovered at East Barns near Dunbar, dating from 8,000 BC. This is the oldest house to be unearthed by archaeologists in the United Kingdom. It is believed the inhabitants survived on a diet of seafood, deer from the inland forests and gannets from the Bass Rock which they could reach in a day using their currachs. The early settlement at North Berwick would have been similar, constructed on the high ground on the south of Berwick Law, where there is evidence of at least eighteen hut circles, rich middens and a field system dating from 2000 years ago. There is also the remains of a defensive stone dyke and ramparts which were not just military artifacts but show that farming and a peaceful settlement was a feature here. Activity in more recent times can also be found near the summit, notably a rare example of a stone-built Napoleonic period watch-tower with the outline of a garden.
There are traces of four such settlements in the district, first and most important was on the hill, above the west beach. A midden containing a large number of shells of edible species were found in the grounds of 8 York Road. Their burial ground was between that house and the shore, which was discovered when the gasworks were being erected close to what is now the eighteenth fairway on the West Links. A medieval pottery in the shape of a jug was dug up in this ancient tumular cemetry. It measured eleven and a quarter inches in height and about five and a half inches in diameter and was covered in a geeenish glaze common on pottery of that early period. Since ancient times there was a burn in this area which flowed into the sea and was crossed by a timber footbridge, still being used in 1854.
There was another settlement east of the Eil Burn where several internments and urns were found. These internments are believed to date from the beginning of the Christian era. The fourth settlement was above the Leithies on the Rhodes Farm where a kitchen midden was found, it contained a stratum of shells, pieces of broken pottery, fragments of bones and wood ashes. A similar site was also detected on Castle Hill, the grassy mound between Marine Parade and Tantallon Terrace, where a castle once stood owned by the Earls of Fife.
While excavating the lake in Balgone Estate, workmen discovered several wooden plies hidden beneath the surface, as if fixed there to support a habitation. Near them was found parts of a skull, and other items in keeping with an early settlement such as bones, flints and charred stones.
In 1877 a leather bag containing over a thousand silver coins of various values and mints of both Scotland and England about the time of Robert II was found at a considerable depth amongst sand in digging in a garden near 43 Westgate. The house was later called 'Silverbank'.
During the upgrading of the town water mains in October 2002 deposits of animal bones, shellfish and fragments of pottery were discovered buried beneath the High Street. Several midden layers were traced less than half-a-metre below the surface, dating from the 14th century. The material contained a variety of shellfish, mediaeval pottery and bones from sheep and cattle lodged between layers of sand. The largest concentration was found west of the Council Chambers, consistent with a midden pile where the inhabitants would discard their waste into the street.
In May 2003, the foundations of a 15th century wall was discovered in Melbourne Place, leading to speculation that this was the town's eastern boundary wall. This theory was reinforced when the shell and bone fragments discovered in East Road came to an abrupt end opposite the Vennel in line with what may have been the boundary wall.
The remains of an old metal road made up of large red sandstone blocks was exposed 30cm beneath Victoria Road. According to the archaeologists, the road from Quality Street to Victoria Road is the oldest road in the burgh, and among the artefacts unearthed in Quality Street was a whale bone scarred with the marks of a sharpe implement similar to a cooking knife.
The records suggest that a form of Celtic language similar to Welsh, Cornish and Breton was spoken in East Lothian in post-Roman times. During the Roman occupation of Lowland Scotland, Traprain Law which literally translated means the hill of staves because of the wooden fortifications, was an important Roman settlement. Later this site was the tribal capital for the Votadini, the main tribe of the Lothians who were a peaceful people despite their Celtic and Viking ornamentation on their weaponry. A sculpture depicting the Votadini tribal carvings can be seen in the grounds of the supermarket in Dunbar Road.
The Anglo-Saxons then moved north pushing the local tribes westwards and establishing the Kingdom of Northumbria from the Humber to the Forth. The unification of Scotland and the coming together of the different groups that lived in this part of the country was the result of political expansion of what had been the Pictish Kingdoms. At some point in the 9th century the cultural leadership became Gaelic and they expanded aggressively south conquering the Northumbria Territories of Lothian and the Borders and the Gaelic language was heard for the first time in East Lothian. They moved west and took over Strathclyde from the welsh speaking Britions and then move slowly south. This unification was carried out by very aggressive Kings with a strong military following and won by the point of a sword. A key moment was the Battle of Carham when Malcolm II lead an army into Northumberland and defeated the English Earl of Uhtred. A battle that secured Scottish rule from the Forth to the River Tweed, and the central belt became Scottish.
The name North Berwick means North 'barley farmstead'. Bere in Old English means 'barley' and wic in Old English is 'farmstead'. The word North was applied to distinguish this Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, which throughout the Middle Ages the Scots called South Berwick. It was recorded as Northberwyk in 1250.
The Pilgrim Ferry
In the middle ages people would travel vast distances to worship and pray in the presence of holy relics at sites such as St Andrews in Fife. Ever since St. Rule was washed ashore with the remains of the apostle St Andrew in 365 AD, the town has been a place of Christian teaching and worship. The relics consisted of the bones from three fingers, a kneecap and a bit of skull, and the pilgrims thought they had super natural powers and praying in their presence would heal their illness.
Three ferries crossed the Forth at Queensferry, Leith and North Berwick, despite the later being the widest and most exposed it was the shortest route from England. The ferry was established in 950 AD between North Berwick, Dirleton and Earlsferry in Fife. The town of Earlsferry was named after MacDuff, Earl or Thane of Fife who also owned lands at North Berwick and used a ferry to cross the Firth of Forth. The Kings and Queens invested heavily in promoting the monastery at St Andrews. They also built the church of St. Rule, its enormous square tower was like a beacon and could be seen for miles around.
In 1362, King David II narrowly escaped being shipwrecked in the Forth Estuary while sailing from North Berwick to Earlsferry. To show his gratitude he expanded the existing cult and built a chapel to St Monan close to the point where he came ashore in Fife. The original St Monans shrine and Ardross hospice was under the patronage of the Cistercian Nunnery at North Berwick during the period when the Earl's Of Fife prevailed.
To serve the needs of the Catholic pilgrims using the ferry at North Berwick a hospice and church were built. The ruins of the church can be seen on the Anchor Green and the hospice was situated to the north west of the church. The nuns from North Berwick Abbey also looked after the hospice at Earlsferry. There were guest-houses built by the Lauder family at North Berwick harbour to accommodate the pilgrims on a site now occupied by the granaries. Robert Lauder later built and was patron of the famous Hospital of Poor Brethren (commonly known as Lauder's Hospital) at North Berwick circa 1540 sited in the area presently occupied by the Housing Association flats in Quality Street. The chaplain of the hospital was James Cowan.
St Andrew's Well situated close to the Wall or Well Tower in the Lodge Grounds was possibly a holy well, and a meeting place for the pilgrims before they continued their journey by sea from North Berwick. The journey to a shrine was not only spiritual but a holiday, particularly for the peasant farm workers as their landlord was obliged to grant time off work to take part in a pilgrimage and the church looked after their procession while they were away.
Pilgrims meant money, they were the tourists of their day, producing prosperity in their wake in souvenirs and trade at the market stalls. A clay mould for casting lead pilgrim badges was found at the Auld Kirk and is now in the North Berwick Museum. The badge decorated with the cross of St Andrew had loops attached whereby it could be sewn onto the pilgrims clothing as a token they had undertaken the arduous ferry crossing. Often the nuns would light lamps on the rocks to guide the travelers when the Fife coast was shrouded in thick mist and the sea was running high. In 1413 over 15,000 pilgrims passed through North Berwick, stopping at the chapel dedicated to St Mary at Whitekirk before crossing by ferry to the St Monans shrine in Fife and on to St Andrews, raising 1422 merks annually. The ferry depicted in the North Berwick Coat of Arms was also used by James VI in 1592.
The Royal Charter
William, Earl of Douglas, acquired the barony of North Berwick in 1371 and laid the foundation of the long, extensive and powerful influence of the Douglas family in East Lothian. It was forfeited in 1455 by James, Earl of Douglas; but in 1479 it was granted by James lll, with most of the forfeited estates of that earl, to his heir Archibald, Earl of Angus and erected into a free barony. It was sold by the Marquis of Douglas to Sir Hew Dalrymple, Lord President of the Court of Session in 1694 and remains in the ownership of his descendants. The original charter of Royal Burgh was granted to the town in 1373 during the reign of Robert III, but this was suppressed by William, Earl of Douglas who held the barony of North Berwick during that period. The Earl refused to implement the charter because he might lose his right of superiority over the port and burgh. Although at this time the main trade was wool and only small amounts were being exported. Even at its peak in 1429 only ten tons of wool were exported yearly.
The charter now in existence was granted by James VI on 18th September 1568. In that charter mention is made of the original document being destroyed by fire. It narrates 'calling to mind that our predecessors of good memory did of old erect and make our burgh of North Berwick into a free royal burgh, and that the ancient infeftment thereupon granted to them by our said predecessors in the time of the burning of the said burgh by the English was burnt and destroyed, and so cannot readily be found. We with consent of our Regent foresaid (James, Earl of Murray) have erected, made, and confirmed, as by the tenor of our present charter we erect, make, and confirm, the said town of North Berwick into a free royal burgh.' A ratification of this was passed again in 1609.
In 1391 Robert III visited North Berwick as shown by the following extract from the Exchequer Rolls for that year :- Et solute pro expensis domini regis factis apud Northberwyk in mense Januarii ultimo preteriti. In 1404, Prince James with his protector Sir David Fleming passed through North Berwick on his way to the Bass Rock, where he was to embark for France for his education and safety. In 1491, Bothwell accompanied by the Bishop of Glasgow also found North Berwick a convenient port of embarkation when on a mission to the continent to find a queen for James IV at the Courts of France and Spain.
Included in the privileges and status of being granted a Royal Burgh was the right to levy the King's custom duties and have a market-cross where the sale of leather, skins, wool and other merchandise was permitted. The town was also allowed to return a representative to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh but according to the records, no member from this district attended until 1481. North Berwick was one of sixty-six royal burghs in existance at the time of the Union in 1707. No new royal burghs have been created since. The Burgh Charter worked effectively for over 600 years until 1975 when government legislation disbanded the Town Council in favour of local authority regionalisation. Part of this restructuring was to elect a Community Council to represent the views of the town and whose first priority was to enlist the assistance of Lord Lyon, King of Arms and successfully reinstate the Royal Burgh title.
Abbey Nunnery and Witches Coven
The Abbey was a Cistercian nunnery founded by Duncan, Earl of Fife, who died in 1154. The remains of the nunnery are the oldest buildings connected with the town and the total length of the building was 170 feet. It was consecrated to the Virgin Mary, and richly endowed with lands in the Manor of North Berwick. Its founder also bestowed on the convent the patronage of the Auld Kirk of North Berwick. In 1296 the Prioress submitted to the power of Edward 1, ensuring protection and for a while the female inhabitants of the nunnery were safe. But with the turbulent violence during the reign of James lll, the nunnery was plundered.
In 1336 the prioress was Elena de Carrick; and in 1463 the prioress was Marion Ramsay. The later died in 1474 and was succeeded by Elizabeth Forman. In 1482 she applied to Parliament for protection and redress, and the Lords decreed the restoration of the property and the repair of the damages that the assailants had inflicted. Alison Home followed as Prioress and after her Isobella Home, who in 1539 was in charge of seventeen nuns. Isabella was third daughter of Sir Alexander Home of Polwarth and she was followed in 1580 Margaret Home with the last two remaining nuns named Renton and Donaldson. Thus, previous to the Reformation, the nunnery had become part of the Home family estate. After the Reformation, the untransferred were erected into a lordship for Sir Alexander Home of North Berwick, a special favourite of James VI.
The site of the church, which formed part of the Abbey buildings cannot now be traced but several very interesting stained floor-tiles, seemingly connected with it, have been dug up in the adjoining fields, along with a finely carved font.
A charter of the Great Seal of Scotland which was confirmed at Edinburgh on 28th September 1549, mentions Robert Lauder of The Bass in occupation of the lands of Balgone, and Farm-acres, in East Lothian, the superior landlord being the Monastery of North Berwick. In this charter, signed at the monastery on 24th June 1548, Margaret, Prioress of North Berwick, sold the superiority of these properties to Alexander, brother of Patrick Home of Polwarth.
A letter dated 9th April 1565, from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Mr John Spens of Condy, her advocate, ordering him to stop registration of the confirmation of Alexander Hume's feu of 80 acres of lands of abbey of North Berwick following complaint by Robert Lauder of The Bass that he and his predecessors had been kindly tenants of these lands. Several Lauders were still resident on the farm-acres in 1690 when there was a dispute about the rentals due by all the various tenants.
The earliest record of land being rented by Margaret Home, the prioress at the Abbey was in 1561 when 80 acres of 'ferme lands of Norberwick' were rented to John Baillye. The Abbey Farm lands surrounded the convent and during the laying of the railway line in 1848 workmen came upon two stone cists on the farmland. Measuring a little more than four feet in length, each contained a human skeleton. In one of them an iron sword and dagger lay together and at the sides of the skeletons in both cists were urns of rough grey ware. Also in the neighbourhood was found several remarkable relics of mediaeval pottery and leaden pipes of considerable extent, which were used to draw water from higher ground to the convent. Several tobacco-pipes were also discovered from the Jacobean and Caroline periods.
There are two roads remaining from those times which lead from the beach directly to the Abbey Farm. Ware Road 'ware' meaning seaweed, which was extensively used as a fertiliser and the other is the path crossing the west putting green over Beach Road through West End Place to Abbey Road which leads to the Nungate or the nun's road. Seaweed was harvested in February and spread on the land in spring as a manure for such crops as corn, barley and later potatoes. Tangle was also used especially for cabbage, while brown kelp was used as a general fertiliser.
The grain from Abbey Farm was milled at the Glen, where the ruins of the Mills of Kintreath are situated. They were first mentioned in 1434, but letters inscribed on the doorpost of the middle mill suggest they were built in the 1300s and occupied until the 1840s. In 1738 a Waulk Mill was established at the foot of the Glen. 'Waulk' means preparing cloth and this mill provided fabric for local weavers. It was short lived and converted into a Wash House. There was a large Mill Pond situated at the entrance to the Glen where the culvert now passes under Dunbar Road. This gave the name Lochbridge to the bridge over the reservoir. The water was controlled by a sluice gate and water lades provided overshot power for the mill wheels. The water then flowed into the Mill Sea, hence the name Milsey Bay. The Abbey was entitled to a percentage of all grain milled and was also known for it's wool, a staple export of North Berwick in mediaeval times. The wool from the Nunnery was known in Italy in the 13th century.
Following the reformation the mills were the property of Patrick Home. In dry periods the water supply was insufficient to power the wheels and the grain was transferred to the mill at East Linton also owned by Home. In 1739 Sir Hew Dalrymple with the permission of the Town Council built a kiln on the burgh land. He also arranged for the construction of a waulkmill for the weavers who worked the looms at Horse Crook.
The wool was exported to Bruges in Flanders where the Scots had a special agreement with the merchants of Bruges who gained a monopoly on all Scottish wool and in return the Scots paid lower custom duties. During the 15th century Bruges was the centre of the wool trade and merchants came from all over Europe to purchase their goods, so Scottish wool had a ready market. The wool was woven into fine materials for clothes, tapestries and Flemish cloth.
The most famous person connected with the Scottish trade in Flanders was Anselm Adornes, governor of the Scottish privileges in Bruges. He became ambassador of James III to the Low Countries, but when King James got into trouble with his nobles, Adornes took the flak and was murdered near North Berwick in 1483. Fortunately trade with Europe continued and during the 16th century, Veere in Flanders became its centre after the river to Bruges silted up. The port of Leith dominated the Scottish trade and the merchants of Edinburgh became very wealthy.
Farming came to East Lothian during the period from 1050 to 1250 through Northern Europe where the monks helped train local communities in agricultural skills. The district climate favoured arable farming which flourished until the 17th century when land was devastated during the wars with the English. In the 1690s there had been five years of famine when two Scots in every ten died of hunger. The parliament was weak and the customs and excise system notoriously corrupt. Scotland's only manufactured export was linen. The Act of Union in 1707 opened up access to markets in England but the only beneficiaries were the landlords who profited from free export of grain and cattle.
Within ten years of the Union, Scottish grain exported to England had increased to unprecedented levels. But these successes produced much suffering for ordinary Scots as grain and beef supplies either ran out in Scottish markets or prices rose dramatically. In the winter of 1719, the markets along the east coast of Scotland were looking empty and ordinary people feared there would be a return to the famine. This led to enormous unrest and great bitterness among the Scots with riots, seizures of grain, burning of ricks and sabotage of landlords water supplies. Gradually the situation stabilised and during the Napoleonic wars there was more land under the plough than at any other time in history.
The Prioress at North Berwick Abbey was also the owner of the tidal island where the ruins of the Auld Kirk of St Andrew are situated. Two walls from the original Romanesque church can still be seen, made up of small stones and constructed facing east to west, typical of the Celtic churches of the period. In the 13th century the church was substantially enlarged with a bell-tower added. The Auld Kirk and graveyard extended to a considerable distance eastwards but the sea gradually nibbled it away until a violent storm in 1656 reduced the buildings to ruins.
During the excavation of the Auld Kirk Green in 1951 an upright slab bearing a cross on both sides was discovered which may have been a marker to indicate the church's right of sanctuary. This was important to protect those fleeing their pursuers till the due process of law could be brought into effect.
For many years the Auld Kirk was used by pilgrims on their journey to St Andrews, but by the 16th century the public belief in pilgrimages had declined due to the pressures of the Reformation throughout Europe and by 1692 there were no ferries at North Berwick. The last Prioress before the reformation was Margaret Home in 1578.
The Auld Kirk remained in the patronage of the nuns until the Reformation and was acquired with all their possessions in the 17th century by Lord President Dalrymple in the hands of whose lineal descendants it remained until the Act of the Abolition of Patronage came into operation at 1st January 1875. The Auld Kirk Green was an island until the end of the 18th century when the road to the harbour was made up.
In February 2000, during the construction of the Seabird
Centre over 30 skeletons were discovered on the site of the Auld Kirk graveyard. The skeletons ranged from a new born to an
elderly woman and were in a remarkable state of preservation, the oldest is thought to date back to the 7th century. The density
of the burials with the coffins laid inches above each other and intercutting made it a complex archaeological project.
The unearthed graves, sited on the eastern portion of the old graveyard date from mediaeval times. It was not until the 17th
century that the church authorities insisted that all future burials should be on the north side, as interments on the east and
south were exposed to storm damage and ground erosion. The last burial at the Auld Kirk was between 1649-1656 when the church fell
into ruin. |
The Douglas and Lauder families are believed to be buried at the Auld Kirk. In a vault in 1788, a stone coffin was found containing a metallic seal with the legend 'Sigillum Williehmi de Douglas' marking the grave of Lord Douglas who lived about the year 1353. A large flat stone lying in the centre of the green enclosed by the Kirk buildings is said to mark the burying place of Lauder of the Bass. The skeleton on the left is over 500 years old.
| The Witches Coven |
During the 16th century there was reputedly a witches coven practising in the town and a well publicised trial of the North
Berwick Witches took place in 1595. Accused of conspiring to do damage to King, James VI during his voyage from Denmark with his
new bride. Their ship was caught in a terrible tempest and although the royal couple escaped, the storm was later blamed on a
group of witches who met in North Berwick.
The town's connection with the plot to shipwreck the king seems to have begun with a poor maidservant from Tranent, Gelie Duncan.
Employed in the house of a wealthy local man, Chamberlain David Seton. Gelie Duncan had an exceptional gift for healing and
comforting the sick. In an atmosphere of fear and misgiving it was not long before her skills aroused suspicion and fearing that
she possessed supernatural powers, her master put her to torture, using the 'pinniewinks' thumbscrews, designed to extract quick
confessions from suspects. When Gelie Duncan kept her silence, Seton had her body examined for marks of the devil, a popular
method of identifying witches. As the devil's signs were identified on her throat, she confessed and was thrown into prison.
Under torture and interrogation, Gelie Duncan claimed that she was one of 200 witches, who at the behest of the Earl of Bothwell,
one of James's greatest enemies, had tried to overshadow the king. Some of their most extraordinary plotting she said took place
in North Berwick. At Hallowe'en in 1590, Gelie Duncan revealed, the witches sailed to North Berwick and gathered at the Kirk. On a
dark and stormy night the devil appeared to them in the church. Surrounded by black candles dripping wax, he had preached them a
sermon from the pulpit. While in the churchyard, Gelie Duncan played a Jew's harp and the throng danced wildly, singing all the
The king had everyone named by Gelie brought before him. Among those put to death were Agnes Sampson from Humbie and John Fian, a
Prestonpans schoolmaster. Both were 'convicted of divers pyntis of witchcraft and brynt'. Historians dismiss the witchcraft at the
Auld Kirk as a myth, the story being tortured out of poor servant girl Gelie Duncan and in the end she was burnt as a witch on
Castle Hill, near what is now the castle esplanade in Edinburgh.
Research suggests that the trials were brought about by the efforts of the minister of Haddington, James Carmichael, working in
consort with James VI and David Seton of Tranent. Basically, it was a royal and clerical outrage that was committed against
ordinary people, which furthered their own political and clerical ends. There had been witch hunts before these trials, but they
had the effect of unleashing a national terror that lasted until the repeal of Witchcraft Act in 1735.
The victims were tortured in the most terrible ways until they said what their inquisitors desired. Bothwell was the one they
implicated, not as the devil, but as one who attended their 'conventions'. This happened at a time when Elizabeth of England had
asked James VI to deal with Bothwell, only a few years after she had his mother executed. Bothwell stood trial in 1593 and was
found not guilty. There were no conventions, pacts with the devil, or witchcraft practises, just ordinary people trying to survive
in an age of unbelievable horror - caused by the kirk and crown.
In 1650, six women were brought before the congregation of the St Andrews Old Kirk on the Anchor Green for practicing witchcraft
in the ruins of Tantallon Castle. According to the Kirk Session Book the women were listed as Agnes Lumsden, Elspeth Thomson,
Marion Patterson, Helen Nicolsone, Margaret Yule and Alison Hale. In April 1650 they faced the congregation, and listen to the
ranting of the minister William Walker against them and their sins. Due contrition was shown by the penitents as they fell to
their knees at the feet of the minister and prayed for atonement for their misdemeanors and after a suitable number of humiliating
appearances, they were forgiven.
The town's connection with the plot to shipwreck the king seems to have begun with a poor maidservant from Tranent, Gelie Duncan. Employed in the house of a wealthy local man, Chamberlain David Seton. Gelie Duncan had an exceptional gift for healing and comforting the sick. In an atmosphere of fear and misgiving it was not long before her skills aroused suspicion and fearing that she possessed supernatural powers, her master put her to torture, using the 'pinniewinks' thumbscrews, designed to extract quick confessions from suspects. When Gelie Duncan kept her silence, Seton had her body examined for marks of the devil, a popular method of identifying witches. As the devil's signs were identified on her throat, she confessed and was thrown into prison.
Under torture and interrogation, Gelie Duncan claimed that she was one of 200 witches, who at the behest of the Earl of Bothwell, one of James's greatest enemies, had tried to overshadow the king. Some of their most extraordinary plotting she said took place in North Berwick. At Hallowe'en in 1590, Gelie Duncan revealed, the witches sailed to North Berwick and gathered at the Kirk. On a dark and stormy night the devil appeared to them in the church. Surrounded by black candles dripping wax, he had preached them a sermon from the pulpit. While in the churchyard, Gelie Duncan played a Jew's harp and the throng danced wildly, singing all the while.
The king had everyone named by Gelie brought before him. Among those put to death were Agnes Sampson from Humbie and John Fian, a Prestonpans schoolmaster. Both were 'convicted of divers pyntis of witchcraft and brynt'. Historians dismiss the witchcraft at the Auld Kirk as a myth, the story being tortured out of poor servant girl Gelie Duncan and in the end she was burnt as a witch on Castle Hill, near what is now the castle esplanade in Edinburgh.
Research suggests that the trials were brought about by the efforts of the minister of Haddington, James Carmichael, working in consort with James VI and David Seton of Tranent. Basically, it was a royal and clerical outrage that was committed against ordinary people, which furthered their own political and clerical ends. There had been witch hunts before these trials, but they had the effect of unleashing a national terror that lasted until the repeal of Witchcraft Act in 1735.
The victims were tortured in the most terrible ways until they said what their inquisitors desired. Bothwell was the one they implicated, not as the devil, but as one who attended their 'conventions'. This happened at a time when Elizabeth of England had asked James VI to deal with Bothwell, only a few years after she had his mother executed. Bothwell stood trial in 1593 and was found not guilty. There were no conventions, pacts with the devil, or witchcraft practises, just ordinary people trying to survive in an age of unbelievable horror - caused by the kirk and crown.
In 1650, six women were brought before the congregation of the St Andrews Old Kirk on the Anchor Green for practicing witchcraft in the ruins of Tantallon Castle. According to the Kirk Session Book the women were listed as Agnes Lumsden, Elspeth Thomson, Marion Patterson, Helen Nicolsone, Margaret Yule and Alison Hale. In April 1650 they faced the congregation, and listen to the ranting of the minister William Walker against them and their sins. Due contrition was shown by the penitents as they fell to their knees at the feet of the minister and prayed for atonement for their misdemeanors and after a suitable number of humiliating appearances, they were forgiven.
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