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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (P)
The Baron of Prestoungrange

Gordon PrestoungrangeGordon Prestoungrange, Scottish Baron of Prestoungrange as the new millennium dawns, is of a decidedly 21st-century mould. Unlike many of his fourteen feudal predecessors, he has neither pledged military service to his Sovereign beyond two years as a Flying Officer in the Royal Air Force, nor does he enjoy any especial privileges beyond the baronial foreshore he owns on the Firth of Forth. But then, unlike many before him, Gordon's interest in his baronial lands and title has little to do with privilege, but much to do with an affection for things Scottish and, specifically, for an area of East Lothian with a colourful history where he has maternal family roots.

For Gordon his barony re-affirms a distinct sense of identity, while it underpins his very personal vision of the further regeneration of an economically disadvantaged community through a combination of enthusiasm, hard work and creativity – characteristics notable in Scotland through the ages. The community in question is that of Prestonpans which is next door to the "Honest Toun of Musselburgh" where his maternal grandparents lived at the turn of the last century.

The Park Family - Albert, William, Archibald, Lilian and SarahGordon's grandfather, James Park, worked at that time as a miner in Prestongrange Colliery. After the First World War, as the Depression took hold, he left Scotland, moving south as far as London to find work with his wife Sarah and their four children, an only daughter, Lilian Audrey, and three sons, Albert, William and Archibald (all pictured below). Lilian Audrey settled in England, married Stanley Clifford Wills and never returned home to the country she often spoke so fondly of from her early life on the east coast of Scotland. In later life she emigrated to Canada (see picture below) with her daughter Lesley Anne and son Bryan Clifford.

Gordon's mother - Lillian AudreyGordon was born and bred in London and Worthing, and never visited Scotland as a child. From his mother he gained an impression of the Scots as a resilient, self-confident nation with a distinct identity. He was attracted by the fact that throughout history they had consistently taken advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves and had been extraordinarily successful and influential in many areas of endeavour in countries around the world.

When he eventually visited Scotland for the first time, Gordon was not disappointed. It was Christmas 1957 and he was en route home from RAF Officer Training School at Jurby, Isle of Man. Years later, when pondering what to do after retirement, the opportunity arose for him to gain access to the old feudal titles and baronial lands of Prestoungrange. He did not hesitate.

Scottish barons retained their jurisdiction and powers much longer than barons in England. And in their time they played a major role in restraining the absolute powers of the Sovereign and participating over many centuries in the Scottish parliament.

The fireshore at Morrison's Haven to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh"Today, of course," explains Gordon, "the role of a Scottish baron is almost solely titular. The linkage between land and title has now been separated by Act of the newly devolved Parliament. There are no powers over the locality and the remaining estate ownership listed on the Register of Sasines for Prestoungrange (the archaic spelling – today the form Prestongrange is more commonly used) now mainly consists of the foreshore at Morrison's Haven and Cuthill Rocks. Much of it is under water at high Spring tide."


Prestoungrange yesterday and today

There is a surprising amount of historical information on the barony and on the mixed fortunes of Prestoungrange and its owners, and the area's history is well recounted in a series of booklets Gordon is publishing at The name Prestoungrange derives from "Prestoun", meaning Priests' town and "Grange" denoting a farm. The earliest owners derived their wealth from the local wool, farming and coal mining industries.

Robert de Quincy, the first recorded owner, was descended from Norman knights. In the twelfth century he was an important member of the court circle of the Scottish King William I (The Lion). Gordon relates that "de Quincy subsequently granted Prestoungrange to Cistercian monks from Newbattle Abbey and the Order remained there for four hundred years. The monks introduced salt panning, hence the town's early name of Saltpreston, now Prestonpans. In the early 16th-century, they built a nearby harbour, Newhaven, which was successively renamed Acheson's and then Morrison's Haven. This was the first important step in the development of the area as a significant, international manufacturing and trading station on the Forth.

"The monks' main goal in building the early harbour was to facilitate exports of coal, salt and hides and also to provide a safe haven for local fishermen. Prestoungrange is reputed to have been Scotland's first coal mining area.

"At the Reformation, the 'Commendator', or administrator of the Cistercian estate at Prestoungrange, Mark Ker, took possession of the properties which were subsequently granted by the King as the Barony of Newbattle, which included the lands of Prestoungrange. During Ker's tenure, a distinctively suggestive painted ceiling was incorporated at the baronial home, Prestoungrange House, which may, according to some contemporary theories, have been connected to 16th-century practices of witchcraft. The ceiling was only discovered – to some consternation – during renovation work in 1950 and has since been relocated to Merchiston Tower at Napier University in Edinburgh.

"After the Ker family, who became the Earls of Lothian, several other distinguished families held the lands and titles including William Morison, Lord Prestoungrange, the Countess of Hyndford and many generations of Grant Sutties. They all aided the development of a range of secondary industries such as chemicals and soap, glass, bricks and tiles, and pottery. The earliest sea-borne trade from the port was with England, Holland and Sweden and this then expanded to include the Baltic States, Germany, France, and Norway. The harbour also brought in valuable additional revenue in the form of dues.

"Robert Ker, the second Earl of Lothian, appears to have sold the estates because of heavy debts. In 1624 he committed suicide, beset by further debt – a not uncommon problem among the nobility over the centuries. Prestoungrange House was then acquired by the Morison family, in whose hands it remained for almost 150 years until debt – this time gambling was the cause – forced its sale to William Grant in 1745 for the very substantial sum of £Scottish 160,000.

Morrison's Haven harbour"Prior to this William Morison had further developed the harbour, renaming it as he did so. Trade was flourishing and, by the late 17th-century century, as much as ten per cent of all Scotland's trade with foreign ships passed through this port, and local fishermen had moved on from their traditional catches to providing lobsters and, particularly, oysters for Europe's nobility. Morrison's Haven was also renowned for widespread smuggling and there were rumours of secret passages to the beach from certain old houses in Prestonpans."

William Grant has been characterised as "an archetypal Scottish Whig", a lawyer, supporter of the established Church, the Union and the Hanoverian crown. He was also a Member of Parliament from 1747 to 1754. By virtue of that office he played a significant role in attending to matters in the aftermath of Bonnie Prince Charlie's ill-fated attempt to reclaim the throne for the Stuarts. Grant had the reputation locally for being rather mean, although this might be unfair as he was known to be supportive of the local development of industry and it was he who established the manufacture of pottery. Exports of Prestonpans "brownware" went to Europe, North America and the West Indies.

On Grant's death his eldest daughter, the Countess of Hyndford, inherited Prestoungrange, there being no sons. She took the keenest interest in the farming activities undertaken there and in her neighbouring baronies, especially Dolphinstoun which is now held by Gordon's youngest son Julian. On her death, it passed to her nephew Sir James Grant-Suttie and his descendants.

Initially, this family's ownership was marked by increasing wealth and expansion of the estate, reflecting the key importance of coal to the Industrial Revolution. However, in the late 19th-century, family circumstances led to the estate being managed by outside advisors which, combined with a drop in revenue from coal, led to a decline in the family's fortunes. While the baronial house remained in the Grant-Suttie's ownership until 1956, for many years from 1909 it stood empty. Ironically, the proximity of the collieries, which had for so long contributed to its owners' prosperity, had become a liability making it unattractive to potential lessees.

Prestongrange HouseIn 1924 the property was finally let to the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club (RMGC) which was seeking to move from its existing site next to the Musselburgh Race Course. Some thirty years later the house was put up for sale but the RMGC was unable to raise sufficient funds to purchase it. The Coal Industry and Social Welfare Organisation came to the rescue, buying the house and grounds on behalf of the Musselburgh Miners' Charitable Society and enabling the RMGC, almost half of whose members were from the mining community, to remain there as a golfing sub-section of the society – a mutually beneficial partnership that continues to this day.

Prestoungrange BrickworksThe fortunes of the surrounding area have, however, continued their decline. Gordon explains that "the harbour at Morrison's Haven was badly silted up by the outbreak of the Second World War, and was filled in with rubble and ash in the mid-1950s, trade having been diverted to road and rail in the 1930s. The coal mine closed in the early 1960s and the brickworks ceased operation in the mid-1970s. Other traditional local industries such as pottery and brewing have disappeared and the local community has for too long now suffered the consequent unemployment – such a transformation from its vibrant past."

A vision of the future

Gordon Prestoungrange has a vision of what the latter day role of a local baron might well be. Since 1998 he has sought to work together with the community in a programme of activities that can advance regeneration by encouraging pride in the past, promoting small industry and, most particularly, stimulating local tourism.

The Prestoungrange Heritage Museum, established on the site of the old colliery, is already very active in this respect. The museum provides a graphic illustrated history of the area's thriving past through the remaining brickworks, Cornish beam engine, mining steam and diesel engines and their wagons, the old mining museum exhibitions and colliery bathhouses. Greatly impressed by its work, Gordon and his son Julian have re-established their Baron Courts of Prestoungrange and Dolphinstoun as a non-profit organisation committed to furthering the museum's aims and the espoused baronial vision. Gordon's own background and ongoing interests in academic publishing and management education have meant he was ideally placed to contribute.

A programme of activities and selection of brochures and online publications has been launched to heighten awareness of local history, industry and traditional skills. A Scottish artist, Janice McNab was commissioned to produce a series of paintings. Small-scale manufacture of pottery is being re-launched to make limited edition reproductions together with a wholly fresh 21st Century Prestoungrange Collection through a web-publicised competition amongst local potters.

Local people are also being invited to volunteer to join in the painting of a selection of murals depicting their community that further tells the history and achievements of past generations. And, most recently, the feasibility of again brewing some of the famous old John Fowler's Prestonpans beers from a micro-brewery is being studied.

Some Surprises Too

Gordon also has some surprises to offer locally. He intends to convene in the area some of the other initiatives in which he is involved outwith his barony. In Summer 2001 a marquee went up at the Heritage Museum for a week with a spare six days available to local societies. Its presence was required to stage the launch of Burke's Landed Gentry: The Kingdom in Scotland, of which he is Publishing Adviser. The BBC, Scottish TV and myriad journalists came to the museum to report the event, the first time that title has appeared for 32 years.

Cockenzie CentreThe title also brings with it its own links to The Scottish Tartans Society's Hall of Records, of which Gordon is The Keeper. Similar heritage activities are expected to join the new centre being created at the 1865 Cockenzie Old School on Edinburgh Road. And in 2002/ 2003 international meetings of The Global Association for Arts Tourism and International Management Centres are anticipated also.

Gordon knows from overwhelming evidence around the world that if local people can join together in such initiatives, the area can only benefit economically. He describes his contribution as "democratic cyber-feudalism - not absentee landlordism" and "as deeply satisfying as it is fun". However viewed, his role looks like a potentially winning combination of the best of traditional "baronial values" with a new spirit of democratic entrepreneurship, and one which he hopes local people will feel able to accept, enjoy and exploit.

[Dr Gordon Prestoungrange, Baron of Prestoungrange, is Publishing Adviser to the new 19th edition of Burke's Landed Gentry, which will move on from its first Volume, The Kingdom in Scotland published in August 2001, to a further six volumes on England, Wales and Ireland by 2005, and to Burke's Peerage Baronetage and Knightage, appearing next in 2003.]

Our thanks to Burkes Landed Gentry for this story

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