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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Old Burghal Possessions


THE burgh of Haddington at one time, and from an old date, possessed a large portion of the Gladsmuir lands, with the wood, coals, and other minerals thereon and therein. They were granted to the burgh by David I., and confirmed by a royal charter of James VI.; and again by the Parliament of Charles I. The lands comprehended Clay Barns, the Teuchit Muir (now Nairns’s Mains), as far west as Hodges, Gladshot, Barberfield, Liberty Hall, Coalburn, Heathery Hall, &c. The Loanings, or Ranfeglans Acres, ran along the post-road from Smail’s Pond to Spring Gardens entry, or Common Loan. Up ' to one hundred and fifty years ago or more, the Gladsmuir lands were all muir, and were held as a commonty for the burgesses of Haddington. In process of time it was feued out in parcels at nominal rents to different people, who, after enclosing and improving them, were allowed to keep them. A great part of them fell either by purchase or encroachment into the hands of Mr Buchan of Letham, the proprietor of Clerkington, and others. The last portion of the lands, viz., Liberty Hall, with a row of houses, and fifteen acres of good land at Samuelston Loanhead, were sold and passed out of the town’s hands in 1836, to help to pay off debt incurred by the coal speculation of 1826. Provost Dickson, in 1750 and 1758, is said to have managed the Gladsmuir lands much to his own advantage. A large stone, called the Haddington stone, stands a little to the west of Letham Mains (formerly called Rotten Rawl stackyard, and still marks the boundary of the Haddington lands. The Haddington carters long ago were wont to turn out their horses on Sundays and holidays to graze on the Gladsmuir commonty.

The Loanings were exchanged with Governor Hous-toun of Clerkington for M'Call’s Park, late Mr Dods’s nursery, and now occupied by Knox’s Memorial Buildings, acre for acre, which was a good bargain for the town. The tradesfolk of Haddington long ago did not scruple, when they wanted wood, to go out to Gladsmuir and cut down trees, which they called Gladsmuir mahogany. Coal was tried to be got more than three hundred years ago, viz., in 1531, when it was ordained by the Council u That ale the laif of the common gude was to be wared on the wynning of a coal-pit at Gladsmuir, and to nae other use, and if need be the town to be taxed for mair money.” It would appear that the wynning was not successful, for we find that in 1675 borings were made at Rotten Raw (Letham Mains), and again in 1748, 1757, and 1793, by a coal company. Coal was found at Clay Barns, twenty inches to three feet thick. The last attempt to get coal was in 1826. The seam was found to be only eighteen inches thick, and on account of its thinness had to be abandoned, after costing the town £1800 for boring operations, and the building of a row of colliers’ houses at Liberty Hall, which were sold with the land to Mr Ainslie of Elvings-ton. This was the end of the town’s Gladsmuir property. A Gladsmuir Bailie was yearly appointed by the Council to look after the property, which custom is still kept up by the Town Council.

During the time the military lay in Haddington Barracks, reviews and mock battles often took place between the regulars and the volunteers on the Teuchit Muir—between two and three thousand men being frequently mustered on these field-day occasions.

Haddington, although an inland town and five miles from the sea, possessed also by royal charter from David I. the anchorage and port of Aberlady, with right of road forty feet wide from the West Port to the haven. The port, or haven, was described in the old charter to be at the mouth, and in the “Bassome” of the Peffer Water. A large house, called the Haddington House, was attached to it. During the occupation of Haddington successively by the English and French in 1540 and 1550, the haven of Aberlady was a place of some consequence, as troops and implements and material of war were landed there for the defence or assault of Haddington. Forts were erected by the English at Aberlady and Luffness to protect the haven, and were demolished when peace came in 1551. A quiet trade in smuggling contraband spirits, &c., was done at the port long ago, and up to the end of the last, and beginning of the present century; and no doubt many an anker of brandy and gin, or rundlet of claret, during the intimacy and intercourse between France and Scotland, has in this way found its way into the cellars of merchants and burgesses of Haddington. The port was never one of much consequence. Small vessels only could come in and be delivered when the tide was back. Two small sloops, the Perseverance (Captain Leonard Thomson), and the Eliza (Captain Sadler), for long went to Leith, and returned with manure for the farmers. The tanners of Haddington used to import bark, and the merchants guano, linseed cake, &c. The opening of the North British Railway knocked the trade completely up. The shore dues were generally let at £2 or £3 per year. The burgh possessing only a servitude of road over the sands to the point or mouth of Peffer, was of a little value, and the port was sold to the Earl of Wemyss ini 1845.

The old Scotch burgh custom of “Riding the Marches” was long kept up by the Magistrates and Council of Haddington. The perambulation of the marches of the Gladsmuir lands, and to the port of Aberlady, was a great event in its day. The last riding may have been about 1820. The Provost, Magistrates, Council, and burgesses, on horseback and in chaises, with the town’s officers, went first to Gladsmuir, and perambulated the marches, and knocked down all encroachment of palings, &c.; and afterwards went to Aberlady, and rode round a large rock, called the “King’s Kist,” at the mouth of Peffer. They afterwards baited their horses, and dined at John Tait’s Inn, at the expense of the town. Cockle pies were always a standing dish at the dinner. A supper in John Lamb’s Inn, in Kilpair Street, ended the day’s “ploy.” The present wide road from Haddington to Aberlady still remains as evidence of the forty feet road which the burgh had right to. In some places where it was narrower, the old burgesses used to dismount, and tear down part of the wall or fence, and before witnesses proclaim their right to the full breadth of forty feet.

Thirty years ago a trade was carried on by women and boys bringing cockles, whelks, and mussels from Peffer Sands to Haddington for sale. “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, O!” was often called in Haddington streets. This trade is now defunct.


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