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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Reminiscences of the Nungate


NUNGATE, the suburb and Barony of Haddington, is a place of much historical and antiquarian interest connected with the churchmen and monks “of old.” These worthies had a peculiarly good taste and discernment for placing their abbeys, churches, and religious establishments in pleasant and fertile localities, where the best fruits of the earth could be easily raised, and where produce afforded them the means of good and dainty living. No doubt the Tyne afforded them many a dish of good trout, and the adjacent fertile lands plenty of good grain, which their granges, mills, and breweries around converted into the best of meal, flour, and ale. As the old saying has it—

The Monks of Melrose supped good kail On Fridays, when they fasted;

They never wanted beef or ale
As long as their neighbours’ lasted.

The numerous gardens and orchards in Nungate, which at present exist, were no doubt cultivated by the monks at a very old date, and in them are still found apple and pear trees of the finest old kinds, originally introduced by them. We cannot wonder, then, that they located themselves, so early as the twelfth century, on the fertile valley of the Tyne.

St Martin’s Church, or Chapel, and Nunnery, at the Eastgate-End of Nungate, is said to have been founded in 1178 by Ada, Queen of William I. of Scotland, in connection with the Abbey of Haddington. It was built and endowed for the residence and use of the nuns of the Abbey—a numerous body in these times. From them the Nungate derived its name. St Martin, or, as Sir Walter Scott writes it in his novel of Quintin Durward' "Sancte Martine,” was a well-known saint both at home and abroad. The Nunnery, or Chapel, was called after him. There is little architectural beauty about it, and it will not compare with the elegant and chaste work and proportions of the adjacent Collegiate Church of St Mary’s. Still it is an interesting specimen of the secondary religious establishments of those days. It is said to have been connected also with the Nunnery of Nunraw, to which an old road at one time existed across the Sprotlands, up by Stabstane Loan, Shuite-her-tae Mill, and the Hags Muir, to Morham Loanhead, on to the Garvald road—all now filled up. There was also a road at one time from St Martin’s by a bridge across the Tyne at the present north end of Amisfield Park wall, which led along Tyneside (the present foot road) to the Abbey of Haddington. St Martin’s Chapel seems to have been built of stones from Quarrypits, Seggarsdean, or from a quarry in Amisfield grounds.

After the Reformation, we find that Mr James Carmichael, formerly one of the teachers in the Grammar School of Haddington, was minister of St Martin’s from 1592 to 1602; after him, Mr George Grier, who appears to have had no successor, as the Parish Church served both congregations. The second minister of Haddington has always claimed the grass and pasturage. of St Martin s Churchyard as part of his glebe. The large burying-ground has always been used—several old tombstones still existing, while many more have been destroyed. In the time of the barracks, soldiers who died there were interred in the ground. Some years ago it was enclosed and put into decent order.

It has long been a “use and wont” custom for the Magistrates and Town Council of Haddington to elect a Nungate bailie to bear rule in the barony. In ancient times it was customary to proclaim his election, and that of the Haddington Magistracy, in the old church of St Martin’s, upon a consecrated stone at the east end. This ceremony, which has fallen into desuetude, was performed in Provost Thomas Pringle’s time, in 1819, and again in Provost Peter Dods’s reign, in 1821. The Magistrates and Council marched to the ground preceded by their officers in old livery, with halberts, a piper, a drummer, a large number of school-boys and others swelling the cavalcade. Mr Alexander Donaldson, town-clerk, proclaimed the election of John Winton (“the Earl”), Baron Bailie of Nungate, and ordered all due obedience to his authority. Loud cheers and “God save the King” ended the pageant The procession returned by the Bullet Loan and the Nungate Toll.

Many old houses, which are thought to have been connected with the Nunnery, stood at the Eastgate-End, and a large one at the top of Gimmers Mills walk. Most of them have been taken down and rebuilt, and others have become quite dilapidated. One venerable relic, however, yet remains, viz., the house belonging to James Farmer, with its extensive garden. In this house may still be seen fine painted rooms and roofs, with emblematic mouldings of Scripture history, &c., an art which prevailed from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.

Sir James Simpson, and other eminent archaeologists, some years ago visited this house, and were highly pleased and delighted to find in it so many fine specimens of antiquarian interest. The house had no doubt been the domicile of some of the dignitaries of the Romish Church.

Gimmers Mills belonged to the monks of Haddington, who thirled their tenants to grind their com at their mills. It is recorded that Gimmers Mills and adjacent lands were gifted to a family of the name of Forrest, who were choristers in St Mary’s Church (the “Lamp of Lothian”), by the Bishop of St Andrews, in whose diocese the churches in Lothian were at that time placed. Gimmers Mills continued long in the Forrest family until 1795, when they were succeeded by Dr Alexander Maitland, their relative, who was of a branch of the Lauderdale family. We find that David Forrest, of Gimmers Mills, was provost of Haddington in 1710, 1714, and 1720, and Alexander Maitland in 1797. Dr George Forrest, of Gimmers Mills, was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of St Andrews in 1772, and died in 1795. He was the last Forrest of Gimmers Mills. The old respectable family of Maitland of Gimmers Mills is now represented by Mr Charles Maitland, brewer, Alloa. These mills were purchased by the late William Aitchison, baker, Haddington, in 1830, who was succeeded by his nephews, George and Alexander More, who made large additions and improvements, and added steam-power to the mills. George More was provost of Haddington from 1848 to 1854. A large flour and milling trade was always carried on at Gimmers Mills, which is now more extensively developed than ever by the enterprising and energetic owner, Mr Hogarth. The burying-piace of the Forrests was immediately behind where the pulpit in St Mary’s Church now stands* but was encroached on when the renovation of the church took place in 1812. The family were all interred there. The Maitland burying-place is at the east end of the Lauderdale aisle, and part of it is above the vault where the old Lauder-dales repose in their lead coffins. The row of large saugh trees along the east side of the Tyne was planted by Dr Alexander Maitland in 1798.

The Nungate Bridge was no doubt built about the same time as St Mary’s and St Martin’s churches were erected, and it is therefore now “ no chicken.” It has stood many a heavy and fierce spate, and well proved its good workmanship and materials. Now, however, from its narrowness and steep ascent on both ends, it is much out of date. As the great thoroughfare from the east and south part of East Lothian, a new bridge, long talked of, is much needed. 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 following war-cry used to be called out in days of yore at the commencement of a fray:—

Ye Nungate cuds, cock up your fuds,
An’ let the Haddington’s bye;
We’ll drive ye east wi’ bickering thuds,
Until ye’re tired and dune glad lye.

From the bridge there is a fine view of the grand old collegiate church of Haddington, which has many a time attracted the notice of artists, and formed the subject of fine pictures. The Haddington coat of arms was at one time carved on the wall on the south-east pier, but it is now obliterated.

Willie Burn, a real worthy man, kept a flour and meal shop in the Nungate near the bridge. He was long tacksman of the town’s old flour-mill. Modest and unassuming, he was a favourite among all who did business with him. He was in his way a kind of character. One day he was sitting on his doorstep reading the newspapers, when one of his acquaintances in passing asked him what were the news. “Naething particular,” he replied, “except twa billies fechting with ane anither ower in Portingell. They ca’ ane of them Donna Majewel, the aither Donna Pedero.” “ Donna Majewel ” stuck to him all his days after. On another occasion a gentleman in Haddington had got some seed potatoes from him, and meeting him on the bridge, said to him, “Mr Burn, I have just been over paying Mrs Burn what I was owing you.” Willie replied, “Mrs Burn! Whae’s she?” “Oh, your wife, you know.” “Oh, her! We never ca’ her onything but Tibbie ”

The Giffordgate, in Nungate, is celebrated as the birth-place of the great Scottish reformer, John Knox. The village of Gifford Hall, or Gifford, at one time claimed the honour, which was homologated by the elder Dr M'Crie in the first edition of his life of Knox. On further investigations, however, the younger Dr M'Crie has, in a note in the last edition, published in 1855, corrected his father’s mistake, and stated that Haddington was the real place of Knox’s birth. Our respected townsman, Mr John Richardson, writer, has very conclusively proved that John Knox was born in the Giffordgate of Nungate. His able paper on the subject was read before the Society of Antiquaries in January 1858, and completely exhausts the matter in dispute. There is an excellent woodcut of the house in which John Knox was born in the Bulwark of 1st June 1870.

Cossar’s Well, in the Giffordgate, has existed from time immemorial. It is a spring of the purest cool water, and was never known to be dry during the driest seasons. No doubt, Knox, from its nearness to the house of his birth, has often drunk out of this well, and, perhaps, often drew an inference from it, in reference to its pureness and vitality, to the pureness and vitality of the Gospel reformation doctrine which he preached. How it was called Cossar’s Well is unknown ; but as it was probably in existence during the time of the monks, it might have been called after some saint, perhaps “Saint Cossar!” We find numerous natural springs called after old saints, such as St Bernard’s, St Anthony’s, St Ronan’s, &c. The monks probably put minnows and trouts in it, as the boys long ago did and still do.

The weaving and heckling trades were carried on in the Nungate at one time to some extent, but they are now extinct. There were families of the name of Lourie, Aitchison, Eager, Neillans, Hewits, Kirks, &c., connected with this trade in the barony.

The Nungate bailie, accompanied by the town-clerk, his colleagues, and town officers, held a court, when occasion required, in a public-house, to settle disputes and “ redd ” quarrels. Before commencing proceedings, and after the court was fenced, each party had to table 2s. 6d. or other sums for expenses. Both parties were frequently found wrong, and fined accordingly. A “jollification ” ended the proceedings, and was paid out of the fines.

There were a number of curious characters in the Nungate long ago. Old John Wilson (“Hickory”), a staunch Tory voter in his day, was a cartwright, and had the reputation of making the best and most durable cart-wheels in the country, of Humbie or Coalston oak.

A row of houses at the south-east end of the bridge was long his property. James Hogarth had long a brewery in the Nungate, which was afterwards converted into a distillery by James Cumming, and after him, at different intervals, by Mr John Brodie and Mr George Dunlop. James sometimes was said to have made a little “sma’-still aqua.” He was once found out, and brought before Justice Wilkie, and other magistrates, by the Excise. James Robertson of Garvald (“Old Bannety”) was an unwilling witness in the case, and on being interrogated as to what he saw, did not answer very plainly. The Justice cautioned him that he was upon oath. James replied that the Justice had told him that before. All that the Excise got out of him was that he saw something like a still, and that it was working “ gey bonnie,” but he could not swear to it. It has been recorded of James Hogarth that he once made a brewing of beer, and forgot to put the malt into the mash tun. Some of his neighbours having heard of it, asked him what kind of drink he made. He replied that the drink was good enough, but he missed the draff for the swine. Sandie Howden, and his father before him, long carried on another brewery in the Nungate, afterwards taken up by Mr John Walker, but now given up.

A large building at the toll was built for and carried on as a steam flour-mill by Mr William Wilkie and others. It was believed to have been the first mill worked by steam in the country. A famous millwright in his day, Richard Catleuch, long occupied the premises below the steam mill, next the Tyne. His work was well known in almost every farm-steading in the county, and is still to be met with. A good story is told of a decent woman, who kept a public-house near Cossar’s well in the Giffordgate. She sold whisky, baps, and yill. A worthy Haddington baker went over with a cronie or two to get his “nick-stick” cleared off. In ordering a gill of whisky to be brought in .for the guid of the house, he said—"Now, Mistress, see and dinna gie us ony watered whisky.” "Oh, no, sir, I never water my whisky- I just sell it as I get it from Linton still.” On her, however, pouring out the gill from her big bottle, a small minnow made its appearance. On this most positive evidence of being convicted of mixing water with her stronger drink, she exclaimed—“ Oh, sir, I think I am getting baith blind and stupid. Til make any amends to you for my mistake.” She consented to be fined a gill, to which “Lettie” and “Benjie” had no objections.

An old Seringapatam veteran, of the name of William Sutherland, lived long in the Nungate. The school-boys used to call him “Old Seringie,” and “Willie Tittie.” He was a little man, and he used to say that Tippoo Sahib’s bullets flew over him. A great favourite with the schoolboys, he delighted to relate his adventures at the taking of Seringapatam in 1799, when Tippoo was killed. He was in the same regiment as John Lourie, of Hardgate Street. At pension time, when Willie got fou, he got very excited, and went through military exercises with his stick, crying out, “Gold and glory, my boys!” He was a great divert on these occasions.

Robert Mather, whose by-name was the “Lang Skate o’ Gala Water,” was a curious character in his day in the Nungate. He was a flesher and dealer in calves. A farmer in the neighbourhood had bought a calf from him, which died the day after he got it home. The farmer came to him and wanted the money back. Robert replied, “Oh, friend, bargain’s—bargain,” which came to be a by-word, and is still kept up by old people to this day in like cases, viz.—“Like Robert Mather's calf, bargain’s—bargain.” A painter had painted a sign for him with a calf on it, which was so unlike any of the species that a wag wrote across it—“This is Robert Mather’s calf.” His shop was at the east end of the bridge.

Nungate used long ago to be inhabited by a number of respectable families, many of them old farm-servants; but now it is in a great part an Irish colony, and very unlike the Nungate of former days.


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