Excuse the absence of East Lothian posts for a couple of months please – it’s been hectic!
Our new Sporting East Lothian Exhibition is up. Featuring gems such as sporting bibs worn by George McNeill from Tranent. George McNeill was one of the fastest men in the world in the 1960s running 110m in 11 seconds. Also included are archive sketches from the BBCs ‘It’s a Knockout’ when it was held in North Berwick and an account of the shooting of the silver arrow in
Musselburgh from 1647. The shooting of the silver arrow is thought to be the oldest sporting competition in the world.
Illustrating the Archive – Lucy Roscoe
We are lucky enough to have the very talented Lucy Roscoe working with us at the moment. Lucy is taking stories and records from our collections and providing beautiful illustrations. See her first blog and illustration on our website here.
We welcomed our volunteers back now that we are settled in our new premises. They are working on various projects including providing scanned images for each of our collections to help us build up an imagedatabase and to improve the appearance of our catalogue and helping us identify and prepare material in our collections for us to use for our WW1 centenary project next year. We’re glad to have them back!
The accessions keep pouring in too. In the past 2 weeks we have had:
- a collection of log books from St Josephs School 1930-1989,
- diaries of a farmer covering the period 1913-1984,
- records of Musselburgh Merchants Association 1898-1985,
- ledger and maps relating to the former Bruntons wireworks 1916-1987,
- a raft of bound District Council minutes 1975-1995,
- diaries of a Musselburgh seamstress 1977-1983,
- papers relating to the Hope family and Luffness estate 1915-1916
- records of Musselburgh Tennis club 1924-1988
I’d better get cataloguing!
Since opening the archive searchroom has welcomed almost 200 visitors and produced almost 700 items.
One of my favourite things about being an archivist is the exciting new material we receive. With all the publicity surrounding the opening of the John Gray Centre we have been fortunate to have a sharp rise in the number of accessions we’ve been given. Here are just a couple of the gems.
- Records of East Linton Curling Club (EL338) were recently handed to us along with a collection of curling medals. The records are mostly minute books and membership records covering the period 1847-1980. The club was founded in 1837 itself had possibly the oldest curling stone – 1689
- Police records for Ormiston for 1894-1944 (COP/1/12-COP/1/18) giving us details about criminals, police officers and army deserters in the county. This accession also came along with a set of handcuffs (pictured)
- The sometimes rather gruesome Burial Grounds Committee Minutes – our most recent accession. One entry here dating from 1899 recounts the terrible state of the churchyard
“I visited the churchyard while the sexton was digging a grave a great quantity of bones were lying on the surface. Three skeletons had been cut through…..the bones of two skeletons were on the ground tufts of hair still adhering to the skulls”
As well as being handed new things we have also found some interesting things in the move. Although found separately both finds relate to the Lighthouse Stevensons. One is a plan relating to a ferry crossing from North Berwick to Elie and the other a letter from Robert Stevenson to North Berwick Town Council applying for work on the harbour improvements.(NB/5/3/2/18)
I look forward to finding out what else turns up. Please do let us know if you have anything of interest.
On 14th April 1912 the jewel of the White Star Line, the ‘unsinkable Titanic, hit an iceberg. The massive hulk scraped the starboard side of the ship leaving a large gash. Water began to flood in, pouring over the bulkheads. It was soon clear that the ship could not be saved and the lifeboats were brought into action. But there were not enough spaces on the lifeboats, and some were even put to sea half empty. The Titanic sunk at 2.20am on 15th April. Repeated attempts to signal nearby ships were in vain, and those that did respond were too far away. And so 1,517 people died in the icy-cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Colonel John Weir
John Weir was born in 1852 in Scotland. Married, divorced and re-married, he became a soldier and rose to the rank of Colonel. During the Spanish-American War he was appointed Quartermaster-General by no less a man than President McKinley. He later became president of Nevada-Utah Mines & Smelters Corporation and was highly regarded in Nevada. One newspaper would write of him:
His heart was young, and his strong body … bore the straight lines of the typical soldier.
Although he worked internationally he always retained his link with Scotland and lived at a house called Ingleholm in North Berwick.
- Ingleholm in North Berwick built for Colonel Weir c1902
In April 1912 Weir had to suddenly return to America on business. He was originally booked on a ship called Philadelphia, but the sailing was postponed due to a coal strike. Unfortunately for Weir he was transferred to the Titanic. On 10th April he boarded at Southampton on a £26 11s first class ticket. Four days later he went down with the ship.
East Lothian reacts
- Haddington Advertiser
When news of the disaster reached East Lothian the reaction was one of shock. Condolences were quick in coming; many church sermons mentioned the event and closed their services with ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’. A performance of The Mikado at North Berwick Foresters’ Hall raised £19 10s, whilst a benefit concert was held by the Haddington Amateur Dramatic Society.
Colonel Weir’s dispute
Unfortunately for Colonel Weir’s family, he had not made a will. Before the estate could be divided a man came forward claiming to be Weir’s son. It was proven that he was indeed a relative and entitled to part of the estate. His intervention meant that the case was not settled until 1914.
The preparations for the John Gray Centre move continue unabated here in East Lothian; one of the larger tasks has been preparing Local History’s collection of fine and early printing for transport. The collection currently numbers 90-odd volumes, with the majority of them having an East Lothian interest – author, topic, binder, or seller. The preparation for transport has involved creating acid-free enclosures for all of the volumes, which are spread in age from the 1600s through to the 1800s.
Unfortunately, many of these items have ended up in relatively poor condition over hundreds of years: some of the cover boards are damaged or broken off from the spines, many edges are damaged through wear, and a lot of the leather has started to dry out and deteriorate. Work has been done to ensure that the condition of the leather bindings is stabilised, and the physical structures of the books have in many cases had to be supported with archival tape. Each book has been carefully measured and an individually sized enclosure built for it using acid-free board.
Once all of the items are suitably prepared for transport, the exciting part of the job can begin – cataloguing these books! There is a wide range of topics and authors covered, and there are sure to be some gems of historical interest contained within.
We’re mad busy at East Lothian Archives getting ready for our move to John Gray Centre in a few weeks. Packing, cataloguing, cleaning, blogging – you name it we’re doing it. The website for the new centre began its user testing this week (and will launch to the public shortly) so many hours have been spent writing content, checking the details and uploading catalogues to make our collections as accessible as possible. With one search visitors will gets results from all heritage services in East Lothian – Museums, Archaeology, Local History and Archives. It’s been an amazing amount of work but we’re really pleased with the results.
All our work and the creation of a new building is having a positive effect on our profile in East Lothian which has already led to an increase in donations. Earlier this week a gentleman visited us to hand over documents of Haddington Inspector of the Poor form the early 19th century. It’s a fabulous collection that he had been holding onto for some years and now feels that East Lothian’s new Archive will be the best place for it. The collection includes details of a soup kitchen that was set up to feed the destitute, a list of paupers for Haddington and an appeal by the Inspector to Whitehall asking for money for the passage to Australia of two children of a convict who had been sent there.
Hopefully this will be only one of many fabulous new accessions we receive – there has to be a upside side to all this work!
It’s been a busy year here in East Lothian with preparations for our move to the John Gray Centre ongoing. We’ve been busy packing and cataloguing and working on our new website and portal where you’ll be able to search across Archives, Museums, Local History and Archaeology collections. We’ve also been setting up our social networks so if you want the latest news on what we’re up too and a sneak peek at the new building like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter
This year we’ve blogged about, war heroes, criminals, ministers, holidays, bankers and assault vests to name just a few, giving you just a taste of what we have in our collections. With the return of much more of our material from the National Records of Scotland and the expected influx of new donations we hope to be able to bring you many more exciting posts.
Wishing you all a fabulous festive season from all of us at East Lothian Archives
We are often asked what an archivist is. There are lots of right answers but I like to think of myself as a keeper of people’s stories. A collection at East Lothian that demonstrates this to a ‘T’ is the Wallace Menzies collection. Wallace Menzies is a firm of solicitors based in North Berwick and the collection is one of personal legal papers relating to work they undertook.
The story of the firm itself is an interesting one and is closely tied with North Berwick. It started out as Lyle and Wallace. Both Robert Lyle and Andrew Wallace were Town Clerks of North Berwick as well as solicitors and indeed for sometime the solicitors office and the town clerk’s office were one and the same place. When Lyle passed away Wallace asked his nephew John W Menzies to become his partner therby given the firm its modern name. Wallace was a popular character in the town and a plaque was erected as a memorial to him on top of North Berwick Law (pictured)
The collection runs to some 70 boxes and includes the stores of hundreds of people. In the collection we have the papers of Mrs Scott Elliott, a very wealthy local lady who owned a considerable chunk of Easter Road in Edinburgh. She set up a trust and left large amounts of money, furs and jewels to her family.
There are also the records of Helen Whitelaw a local lady who left a considerable donation to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on her death. You can hold this ladys life in your hands as we have her birth, marriage and death certificates and her wedding and engagement rings.
The collection also includes a fair amount of scandal – a divorce case from the 1890s involving nasty diseases, adultery and alcoholism that probably would be too far fetched for Eastenders is just an example.
Some of the papers include an inventory of people’s possessions, bank books, certificates, insurance and pension documents – papers that give a great insight into these people’s lives.
This collection is only one of the hundreds that we hold. I wonder how many lives we have in our archive?
EL 34 – East Lothian Bank
Banks in crisis and economic woes are stories that appear all too often today. However this is nothing new. The turn of the 19th century saw a significant expansion in the number of Scottish banks – 16 founded between 1797 & 1815. East Lothian Bank, founded in Dunbar in 1810, was just one of them.
The banks directors, mostly local tenant farmers, appointed a cashier to manage the day to day running of the bank. William Borthwick was a young man (likely around 21 years old when appointed) with only minimal banking experience. Minute books of the Bank indicate that the in the early years at least the directors were more than satisfied with Borthwick’s management.
The bank issued its own notes and these reflected the County’s strong ties with agriculture and fishing. The £5 note above depicts images of agricultural produce and Dunbar harbour. Note too the dodgy spelling of ‘Lothian’ around the wheat!
The Bank quickly flourished and soon further staff were employed and branches opened in Haddington and Selkirk. They also had various agents in London, Belfast and Edinburgh conducting business on behalf of the Bank.
However, due to recession and the mistakes and mismanagement of some of its untrained staff, the bank soon foundered. By 1816 only the Haddington branch remained.
The final nail in the coffin was to come six years later in 1822 when William Borthwick ran off to America with a large number of the banks bills resulting in the closure of the bank. Borthwick was later arrested in Savannah but released and history is unclear as to whether he ever stood trial for his crime.
A large collection of previously unknown letters relating to the bank has been recently transferred to the archives. Perhaps the answer to the mystery lies among them?
East Lothian has a long history. A significant part of that history was been to do with farming. What some people don’t realise is that farming relies on a well balanced ecosystem and what is even less commonly appreciated is the role of the humble insect within that ecosystem.
Within East Lothian Archive and Local History Collections we have a variety of resources that can help people gain insights into historical, and more recent, investigations into these often neglected areas of study. In 1805 a book was published which was taken from the papers of ‘The Late Robert Sommerville, Esq. Surgeon of Haddington’ entitled ‘Agriculture of East Lothian‘ which included a section on ‘Livestock’. This concluded with the following remarks on Bees:
“These insects seem not to be so numerous in the county, as at some former periods, and perhaps, even in proportion to their numbers, yield less honey. … Honey, however, is not a necessary of life, and if, by the extension of tillage and destruction of weeds, we can raise more corn and feed a greater number of cattle and sheep, we shall not have reason to lament the decrease of bees.”
Mr Sommerville was obviously not a fan of bees, and seems to be unaware of their vital role in our ecosystem. At the other end of the spectrum, both temporally and in attitude, we have Magnus Sinclair who, in 2005, undertook a survey of the types of beetle that could be found at John Muir Park. A copy of the findings of this study are held within East Lothian Archive as EL119.
So over 200 years the interest in the natural world within East Lothian remains, even if the attitudes change. And there are windows into this world to be found in the Council Archive and Local History Collections.
Abejita – Bee image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Another interesting item found while preparing for our move – a criminal register for Haddington from 1894-1901.
As well as giving us an insight into crimes and criminals in the town, the amount of information given in the volume makes it a fantastic resource for family and social history.
The volume gives the name of the criminal and offence committed as you would expect but then also goes on to give their address, occupation, height, detailed physical description, age, place of birth, details of their education, references to previous convictions, and name of the arresting officer – a wealth of information indeed!
In the remarks column it can sometimes tell us if further action was taken. For example Euphemia Mowbray a homeless Hawker from Englandwas allowed away without punishmnet if she promised to leave the town within half an hour.
In some cases it is possible to trace the lives of some entrants over a few years Agnes Robertson for example is first arrested for theft in November 1896. Her occupation is given as an outworker and she resides at Sunnyside. She is arrested another 8 times over the next 5 years for various offences. The entries tell us that she lost her job and her home – possibly as a result of her crimes. Interestingly though she is recorded as being 43 in 1896, 61 in 1899 and 57 in 1901 – perhaps her years as a vagrant had taken their toll on her once ‘fresh’ complexion!