North Berwick c1930
So Summer is here. Technically. What more could anyone want. Sea, Sand, Seagulls. So North Berwick, East Lothian is obviously the ideal location for anyone seeking a summer break. This was definitely the case back in the 1930s.
Long before the term ‘staycation’ was coined, the normal idea of a holiday in the UK was to find somewhere with a beach that wasn’t where you normally lived. Then on to the charabanc for a few days of peace and quiet away from the urban thrum, this was a generation or so before the whole week of sangria on the Costa Del Sol concept had even been considered. Such was the demand on accommodation in the town of North Berwick that the Town Council that they appealed to the Department of Health for Scotland so that the ‘overcrowding standards’ laid down in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1935 could be temporarily relaxed to cope with the ‘seasonal influx of holiday visitors’.
East Lothian Council Archives hold a range of applications from householders from 1937 applying for the right to take in additional people for the summer. The applications provide an amazing level of detail into the households of the people who wish to take advantage of the scheme. However any tenant who had been located to North Berwick under the ‘Slum Clearance’ arrangements was prevented from participating as the ‘prohibition is absolute’ in their cases. So ‘staycationers’ could be assured of only the best sublet accommodation during their visit to North Berwick.
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.
The Musselburgh and Fisherrow Rifle Volunteers were formed at a meeting held at Musselburgh Town Hall on 14 November 1860. 31 men volunteered to serve at this meeting and this rose to 75 over the following fortnight.
Much of the early minutes are given over to basic organisation of the Corps – electing a Chair and Commander for example. While this seems to have been fairly straightforward, the volunteers seem to have got their rifles in a knot about their uniform. Various styles were modelled and debated by the members of the Corps. Meetings about uniforms were among the longest and most well attended and the choice of uniform became so much of an issue that a uniform subcommittee was created. Who knew soldiers were so fashion conscious?
Weekly parades were held, although these became monthly in the winter and the Corps soon created their own brass band. This became so popular that it broke away from the rifle volunteers and became the Musselburgh and Fisherrow Trades Prize Band.
Much of the remaining minutes are given over to rifle competitions that were regularly held by the Corps. An annual shooting competition took place at the rifle range on the beach in September or October. Between fashion, music and competitions it’s a wonder the volunteers got anything done at all!
The minute book is a mine of information. As well as giving information about the set up and members of the Volunteer Corps, it also provides a social history of Musselburgh, describing events, people and places.
You can read a sample of the uniform saga for yourself in the pages below or contact East Lothian Archives for further information
His reward for all was 1/3d a day!
Material in the local archives of Edinburgh and the Lothians also tell us about local people who travelled abroad, and brought home their experiences of new and foreign lands. One such example is an account of John Penn’s life and military career, a document from the late Victorian period which was recently donated to East Lothian Archives. Penn was a career soldier who fought in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and retired to Dunbar where he wrote his memoir, which he gave to a friend, Alexander Kirk Mackie. His father, also named John Penn, was a Farrier Major of the 14th Light Dragoons, and was killed by a kick from a horse, leaving Penn an orphan at just eight. He joined the cavalry as soon as he was able to and first saw action in Afghanistan (1839-42), and the first Sikh War in India (1845-46). During the Battle of Moodkee he engaged a Sikh soldier, probably an artilleryman since Penn suffered a blow to the head from “sponge staff or rammer”. Dazed, he wandered off and was found lying on the field the next day.
John Penn, 'Hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade'
After seeing more action in India, Penn’s regiment returned to Britain where he immediately volunteered for service with the 17th Lancers to fight in the Crimea in 1854. At the Battle of Balaclava, during the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, Penn showed further bravery when his horse was wounded behind the Russian guns. He killed a Russian officer, took his sword and used it to fight to safety, saving two fellow Lancers from being taken prisoner on the way. After the Fall of Sebastopol in 1855, he was invalided home, apparently due to sunstroke, where he was brought to the notice of Queen Victoria when she inspected the troops recently returned from the Crimea at Chatham. He received eleven decorations for gallantry, and is reported in 1886 in the Haddington Courier as attending the Balaclava Banquet in London every year. This remarkable account of a brave soldier, who so readily fought for Britain and the Empire in many notable campaigns is one of the stars of the archive collections at East Lothian archives. You can see the handwritten account of John Penn’s life below, or click here to read the transcript.
Farley's Café friendship or autograph book
The Farley’s cafe Friendship is an autograph book held at East Lothian archives, which was signed by soldiers who were stationed near Haddington. The vast majority of signatures are from the First World War, from soldiers in the Highland Light Infantry, though some other regiments are occasionally mentioned, and there are some colour drawings dated 1940. There are many amusing anecdotes, sketches and jokes as well as just signatures, some about the war and the trenches, and others about fun, friendship, women and drinking.
The book is a rare example of a non-official record relating to war. Most of the official war records relating to the First World War were destroyed during a fire in the blitz in the Second World War, known as the ‘burnt records’. The remaining records, held at the National Archives at Kew, are very partial and frequently damaged. The autograph book is especially valuable in light of this, as for people interested in the First World War, or searching for an ancestor who fought in the war, there are very few and sometimes no records at all to document the First World War as experienced by ordinary troops. Pages from the autograph book can be seen in the gallery below.
Portobello Baths, Edinburgh City Archives
Your Local Council Archives
The records of the City of Edinburgh, East, Mid and West Lothian Archives are yours to explore and uncover. Your local council archives hold the records of families, individuals, businesses and organisations. These personal and public records are kept because of their historical value. They are a rich heritage resource and offer unrivalled insight into our history.
Every Record Tells a Story
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