The Rev. John Brown – Preacher, Author and self educated man


The Reverend John Brown

John Brown Manuscripts, East Lothian Archives EL192 

 A famous and influential figure in the history of Haddington, the Reverend John Brown was born in Carpow in Abernethy. Orphaned at the age of 11, he educated himself while working as a shepherd. Not only did he pick up reading and writing but he also went on to learn Greek, Latin and Hebrew.  He worked as a schoolmaster and was a soldier in the defence against the Jacobites before becoming a preacher. He was the first student of divinity for the burgher branch of the secessionist church he was ordained and preached at Haddington where he lived until his death. 

Click here if you want to learn more about the United Secessionist church and the rather complicated history of the burghers and anti-   burghers 

A prolific author as well as being an inspirational preacher he wrote several texts on religion which were widely popular and it was said that there was hardly a house that did not have a copy of his most famous work – the Self Interpreting Bible. Robert Burns himself makes mention of Brown’s literary talent in his poem ‘An Epistle to James Tennant’ when he says 

‘My shins, my lane, I sit here roastin’
Perusing Bunyan, Brown and Boston,

As well as Burns, Brown is also said to have met and influenced two further famous Scots – the poet Robert Fergusson who he met in Haddington cemetery and the philosopher David Hume who said Brown preached ‘ as though Christ were at his elbow’ 

Like a lot of our records, the manuscripts have found their way to the archives by accident. Deposited with a local solicitor some time ago they were only found last year when the firm closed down.  East Lothian Archives were given a large black metal box stamped with ‘Manuscripts of the Reverend John Brown’ on the lid which contained the original handwritten drafts of several of Browns works –including the ‘The Dictionary of the Holy Bible’, ‘Scripture Key Part 2 A View of the Prophecies therein contained concerning Adam and Noah and their families’ and ‘Tracts for Self Improvement’ 

Below are some images of the material firstly as it was donated in its rather fancy box and then some individual pages from John Browns Dictionary of the Bible. 

All the Fun of the Festival

By 1981 the Livingston Festival had become the largest community festival in Scotland. But in the early years of the new town annual gala days were only held in Livingston Station and Village, where they were already an established tradition. It was the celebration of Livingston’s tenth birthday in 1972 that inspired the beginning of a new West Lothian tradition in the form of an annual festival.

The first festival week held in Livingston was a huge success and included art and industrial exhibitions, a Ladies Football match, schools open days and the Livingston village gala. The celebrations ended with a jazz concert and a fireworks display.

The town accepted the challenge set by the Chairman of Livingston Development Corporation to make the festival an annual event and from 1973 the festivals began to roughly follow the same pattern. The week opened with a parade of floats from each housing district, during the week the schools and housing districts competed against each other in a variety of organised events, there were schools open days, an art exhibition and a motor gymkhana. The end of the festival was celebrated with a fireworks display in Howden Park.

Records in the Livingston Development Corporation collection, including minutes of the Festival Committee, souvenir programmes and promotional material, give an insight into the planning and organisation required to hold the Festival each year.

An early constitution of the Livingston Festival Committee, held in West Lothian Council Archives, stated as one of its main objectives:

“To promote a Festival of which Livingston people can be proud”.

The records and photographs held in West Lothian Council Archives indicate that this objective was readily achieved. The Festivals included a diverse range of events and activities such as festival floats, raft races, rock climbing, soap box derby, mini tattoo, Victorian Cricket Match, kite flying competition, athletics, Highland Dancing, roller derby and wheelbarrow races.

During 1985, the International Year of Youth, a Youth Theatre/Youth Arts project was formed under the umbrella of the Festival. Their production ‘Spectrum’ was performed three times during the Festival and featured a cast of over 50 young people from all over West Lothian.

Over the years local communities within the town established their own galas and the town wide Festival was reduced to a one-day event.

Wheelbarrow Men

Bob Carlisle and his Peep Show

The Black Collection is a remarkable record about Penicuik and surrounding area from 1880 to 1930. It is named after James Black and his son Robert, who assembled a mass of material about life in Penicuik.

The collection includes research and lecture notes, newspaper cuttings, notebooks, postcards, photograph albums and many other items. It is particularly strong on papermaking, the Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners, the Penicuik Rifle Volunteers, and Penicuik and the First World War.

The main part of the collection is a series of carefully compiled scrapbooks on life in Penicuik. The subjects range from local industries, sport, clubs and societies, and biographies of Penicuik people.

In the 1970s, the Black Collection was gifted to Midlothian Library Service by James Black’s grandson, William. The originals have been indexed and microfilmed, and these can be consulted in Penicuik Library or in Local Studies at Loanhead.

Amongst the collection is a small, 3-page scrapbook about the curious phenomena of ‘Wheelbarrow Men’.

Originally Wheelbarrow Men were carters or delivery men, who carried goods from one place to another on their wheelbarrows. They were too poor to own a horse to pull their wheelbarrows so instead relied on their own strength and power.

With the arrival of the railways and improved transport the role of the Wheelbarrow Man changed into one of entertainment and novelty. Wheelbarrow Men promoted themselves as being able to travel huge distances by their own efforts whilst relying on charity and donations to survive. The idea seems to have originated in the United States of America where there are records of several Wheelbarrow Men who tried to walk across the entire continent pushing their wheelbarrow.

The scrapbook in the Black Collection mentions several intrepid Wheelbarrow Men who became quite familiar characters in late nineteenth-century Scotland. Amongst these were ‘Cochrane’ the Dundee Street porter who in February 1887 walked from Dundee to London and back again in 45 days, pushing his wheelbarrow all of the way. The report states: ‘He received very little encouragement in England, and was barefooted and almost starving ere he got back to Scotland. Since he crossed the border on his return matters have improved.’

Another prominent Wheelbarrow Men was Michael Heriot, who in June 1887 walked from Cramond to London and back again in 28 days. Herriot’s feat was doubly remarkable as he had only one arm, the other having been replaced by an iron hook after an accident. Heriot also met with little success or sympathy in England. The newspaper report states: ‘The reception accorded him did not meet his expectations, or even his requirements, and for several days he was without even some of the necessities of life.’

Gambling and betting were an important factor in the story of the Wheelbarrow Men. They survived by taking bets that they could accomplish various feats. In some cases they were encouraged by wealthy sponsors who challenged them to achieve certain tasks. This in turn created a circle of betting about their progress and whether or not they would succeed.

The scrapbook contains an account of the life of Bob Carlisle, a famous Wheelbarrow Man of the late nineteenth-century. Carlisle claimed to have been the first man to introduce the idea into Britain from the United States. Carlisle was a native of Edinburgh but was brought up in Haddington. When a young man he heard of an American visitor called Weston, who took bets that he could walk two thousand miles in one thousand hours on the turnpike roads of England. Carlisle resolved to do something similar and his first stunt was to walk one thousand miles around the roads of Cornwall. Subsequently he made his living by undertaking mammoth walks around the country pushing his wheelbarrow. On at least one walk, from Glasgow to London, he was accompanied by his wife.  

Carlisle was certainly a colourful character with an eventful life. He had been in the Navy and a merchant seaman, and worked in the travelling circus as a clown and a lion-tamer.

However by the time of the newspaper report in 1906 the days of the Wheelbarrow Men were starting to fade. To earn extra income Carlisle built a tiny house on the top of his wheelbarrow and put on a miniature peep-show for paying customers.

Prison break!…….Musselburgh style

Musselburgh Burgh Records, James Watherstone Jailbreak, East Lothian Archives

Probably our most lucky deposit was a find of a large number of Musselburgh burgh records a couple of years ago. While clearing out a basement council workmen were throwing everything into a skip. Eagle eyed though they noticed some documents that ‘looked a bit old’ and called us. Much excitement ensued when we realised how old the documents were. The oldest dated back to 1545 and contained some real gems.

One gem was the story of a jailbreak from the tollbooth in Musselburgh contained in the Baillie Court books. It dates back to 1620 and recounts the tale of James Watherstone  – a young man who was charged with theft and ‘encouraged’ to name his accomplices. When the encouragement came in the form of a whipping by the hangman he was only to keen to give their names. He falsely named three people and when his lies were uncovered he was imprisoned in the Tollbooth. He was a bit of an enterprising and supposedly brave (or desperate!) young man and managed to escape by climbing over the battlements  – risking his life in the process-  an act for which he was heavily fined.

An image of the account can be seen below and a full transcript can be seen here

There were so many gems in the collection that no doubt we will be returning to it in later posts.