This year Haddington History Society has been working on a project recording memories of people who were brought up or lived in Haddington’s Nungate, and copies of the interviews have been deposited here at the John Gray Centre. Perhaps the most striking thing that comes across is the strong sense of community associated with the Nungate. People have happy memories of growing up– it was a tough place to grow up, but it was also a great place.
The Nungate was and still is a close-knit community with a strong sense of identity, set apart from Haddington. Indeed Nungate and Giffordgate was a separate barony and until recent times it was the custom for a Nungate Baillie to be elected to the Town Council to represent the interests of the people.
The village was separated from Haddington by the picturesque Nungate Bridge, thought to be one of the oldest bridges in Scotland. For centuries the bridge was the only means by which wheeled traffic could cross the Tyne at Haddington, unless by the Ford at the Sands. Carrying one of the main routes into Scotland, it was at the mercy of invading armies and was severely damaged during the siege of Haddington in 1548.
John Martine in his Reminiscences of The Royal Burgh of Haddington, first published in the 1880s writes: “The Nungate Bridge has been the scene of many a ‘bicker’ between the Haddington and Nungate boys, especially during the time of a snow-storm”. The rivalry between the ‘Nungate boys’ and the ‘Haddington boys’ was still evident in the 1930s and 1940s (and much later) when many of those interviewed for the project were growing up – “there were often wee bits of scraps”. The boys from the Nungate were identifiable by their tackety boots while the ‘townies’ wore shoes. The Nungate boys often felt that they were looked down on by the Haddington boys on the other side of the river. One interviewee clearly remembers walking up to his granny’s house in Haddington when boys playing football stopped their game: “lift the ball, lift the ball, here’s somebody from the Nungate”.
Perhaps these attitudes stemmed from the fact that many of the original inhabitants of the Nungate appeared to come from hawkers and travelling people who settled there. The hawkers sold goods which they made themselves but many people were wary of them. There were also lodging houses which provided homes for labourers, many from Ireland, and although these men were hardworking people, even the Nungate boys were scared of them:“We used to come back from school and we came over the old Nungate Bridge and once we got near the lodging house we used to run like the clappers and get away past them”.
But it was this itinerant community which gave the Nungate something else which made it such a close-knit community, it’s own kind of language known as ‘the Cant’. The Cant is the jargon of the Scottish travelling people and it spread easily into the Nungate. Some of the words are still in use today, here are just a few examples. A gourie or gadgie was a man and “If you were a fine chappie you were a bari gadgie”. A manishie was a girl or woman; guddies were sweeties; the word for pollce was stardie and yerrackan was an Irishman.
The children from the Nungate crossed the bridge to go to school in Haddington but otherwise the village was quite self sufficient with it’s own pub – The Golf Tavern or the Long Bar, and several shops. One shop keeper everyone remembers was Lizzie Barrie. Quite a character Lizzie would use a hooked stick to bring down the items her customers requested from the higher shelves, she never missed.
To find out more about the Nungate Memories project why not come along to our Family History Day here at the John Gray Centre, Haddington on Saturday 10th September. We have a full programme of events including children’s activities . Between 2pm and 3.30pm we are holding an Afternoon Tea where there will be a chance to view our Nungate Memoryscape – a short film made up of Nungate memories and photographs from our collections. East Lothian Shorts – film footage of East Lothian from our collections – will also be screened. Tickets for Afternoon Tea are £2 (all proceeds go to the Sick Kids Hospital) and should be bought in advance from the John Gray Centre, or contact the Archive and Local History team on 01620 820695 or email@example.com to reserve your tickets.
A big thank you to Haddington History Society and all the people who have been interviewed for the project. The History Society is keen to interview more people about their memories of the Nungate, especially women. If you can help please contact the Archive and Local History Centre.