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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian


Utilities | Shops & Services

Until the 1970s almost all development in the burgh was in the provision of public housing. Thereafter it was mostly private developers that took on vacant sites. In the 1960s there was some conflict between the town council and the county council, as the county council held the power in the landward part of Inveresk parish. As the squeeze on Musselburgh's available land tightened, negotiation between the two was essential but not easy. The following brief overview gives an idea of the sort of problems faced by the town council during the immediate post war period.

As elsewhere in the Lothians, Musselburgh's post war development of public housing was often temporary, due to shortages of materials and labour. For example, in 1946, while 47 permanent houses were built at Linkfield, there were 102 prefabs as well as 13 aluminium houses at Stoneybank. Work began on the first of the 100 houses at the new Pinkie Mains west site, and a further 45 aluminium houses were still to be delivered to Stoneybank. In 1947 there were prefabs at Monktonhall Place, Stoneybank. Even so, in 1950 almost 1600 people remained homeless. By 1955 new house building in the burgh all but ceased and rents were increased.

Felton Green Lane,
 pictured early 1950s

Felton Green Lane, Newbigging, pictured early 1950s

However, there remained problems: in 1959 the housing committee was appalled at slum conditions in Rothesay Place and in October that year the burgh was reported to be 'rife with TB, a disease associated with poor living conditions - and lung cancer'. At the same time the amount of housing debt was increasing at an alarming rate.

March 1960 saw the town council order that the 'owners of 60 houses in Rothesay Place should install individual water closets for each family among their tenants'. By May concern over TB led to mass radiography sessions being arranged and residents were encouraged to attend.

In February 1961 the Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA) decided to let students from the School of Architecture at Edinburgh University design their new development of 30 houses at Pinkie Braes. By April clearance schemes were in place for Newbigging and Rothesay Place and the council announced its plans for big building projects.

Wonder Street,
 early 1950s. The Musselburgh Arms can be seen in the distance on the right.

Wonder Street, early 1950s. The Musselburgh Arms can be seen in the distance on the right.

From 1962 the Town Council intended to build 100 houses a year for the next three years 'in an attempt to find a solution to the slum clearance problem'. The council borrowed £170,000 to spend on housing and as well as new schemes - like Delta Drive - existing houses (such as those at Lochend Road) were to be upgraded.

The Musselburgh wash-house was an ongoing issue - 'if more use was not made of the facilities the council might have to consider whether it was justified to continue its operation', while at the same time there were claims that children were being sent to school 'dirty and verminous'. By January 1963, the public wash-house was to stay open as a 'social service', and the following year it was completely upgraded.

Walk any morning along South Street…and you will find outside the public wash-house there the oddest assortment of vehicles in the town. They are not motors, bikes or carts; just plain prams and barrows, old and battle scarred. If you wait a while you will see housewives with clothes-laden baskets; they dump them into the prams and barrows and march triumphantly down the road. Inside, amid steam and gurgling water, they talk of everything under the sun - except washing. Musselburgh housewives are proud of their steamie; they will tell any stranger that it is the finest in the country.

Musselburgh News 2001 March 23, from issue 50 years before - 1951

1963 saw developments at Newbigging, Edenhall, Felton Green and Beach Lane and in 1964 it was announced that the 160 prefabs remaining in the Stoneybank area were to go. Residents were to be rehoused in the new houses in Rothesay Place.

The following year an old problem - subsidence - reappeared in Mitchell Street (where floors sloped by 3") and by 1966 it was estimated that 1000 houses were needed in the next five years to clear the backlog of slum clearance. The town was running short of land for expansion but the town and the county councils had problems agreeing on this - in 1966 the latter offered land at Stoneyhill but the former disagreed. The town council also unsuccessfully applied to the county council for permission to build houses at Inveresk as part of the extension to the Edenhall scheme, where 260 houses were completed in October 1967. Even as late as 1972 slum clearance remained an issue, with new houses built at Eskside West and James Street to replace slums.

In 1974 local authority changes introduced Musselburgh to the care of East Lothian District Council: the town council was no more. In 1975 the pre war houses at Stoneybank Gardens, together with 50 in Felton Green and 184 in Kilwinning and Mansfield Avenue, were to be modernised. Ex Inveresk paper mill employees' houses were to be modernised when the cash was available. 36 sheltered houses for the elderly were proposed for Inveresk Road. Other improvements sought were for Fisherrow (1976).

In 1980 the right-to-buy legislation offered tenants the right to purchase their council homes; E.L.D.C. was reluctant to implement this but had to abide by the legislation. The following year the construction industry moved into recession. Nevertheless, in December 1982 detailed plans for an £8 million facelift for Fisherrow were announced. Unfortunately, by 1985 E.L.D.C. was facing a £600,000 gap between what it planned for housing expenditure and what it had available.

The following year house building was proceeding at Mucklets Road South, Riverside Court, Monktonhall farmstead and at three sites in Stoneyhill - one big enough for 586 houses. There was an expected building rate of 50 houses per year until 2000. Improvements to existing stock continued; for example in 1987 the council purchased the British Coal houses in the town, and in the 1990s the Pinkie Braes scheme was upgraded.

A few private housing developments had been completed earlier - for example, in December 1961, local firm Crudens completed the first of 85 houses at Newhailes. Government changes to legislation in December 1988 saw virtually the end of public house building by the council in the burgh. Privately-funded schemes dominated the remainder of the period but the impact of this radical switch from public to private was soon apparent in housing shortages.

The Lothian Structure Plan rather chillingly acknowledged that

The area's accessibility to Edinburgh…has confirmed its location within the wider Edinburgh housing market area. (LSP (1998) section 1.6, p178)

The same plan allocated land for housing development on brownfield sites in the burgh, including the Brunton's wireworks site and land at Millhill. The Green Belt designation of land at Monktonhall Terrace and at Pinkie Mains was rescinded.

In January 1998 East Lothian Council announced it was to work (across the county) in partnership with private builders and developers - who owned or who had options on almost all the available land in the county - via a new Housing Partnership Development Company.

By this time, pressures on the county for housing developments were mounting with almost bewildering speed, Musselburgh not excepted. In February 1999 there were concerns that private house builders were 'laying siege to the county' pressuring for more building land, while the houses being thrown up were not catering for the local population: 'the need was for affordable houses for those who lived and worked in the county, not commuters'.

The resentment against the town being swallowed up in Edinburgh's sprawl had been in evidence since a petition was raised against Scottish Office proposals in November 1992 that Musselburgh be added to Edinburgh (and East Lothian to Midlothian); both proposals were turned down by East Lothian District Council in 1994. The resounding 'no' was unsurprising as the official town guide in the 1970s declared in its introduction:

For a start let us be perfectly clear that Musselburgh is a community, an entity, a burgh in its own right; separate, distinctive, in no way an appendage of Edinburgh. Close proximity to Scotland's capital does not inhibit Musselburgh nor its people. There is no looking over the shoulder, no sense of awe, no inferiority towards the big neighbour.

The mushrooming of massed housing estates in the burgh and the surrounding parish during the rest of the 1990s did little to reassure residents that their town's identity would endure for much longer.

(Information extracted from the annual summaries of the Musselburgh News, East Lothian Courier).


[See also Inveresk - excluding Musselburgh]

It seems that Musselburgh's sewage processing was on a par with that of other towns in the area, that is rather minimal. In June 1965 concern was raised that the limitations of the existing infrastructure - including sewage treatment - were restricting industrial expansion.

In 1971 two sewage works were proposed for the town at Fisherrow and at Levenhall. Instead of these, however, Musselburgh was incorporated into the new scheme whereby sewage is pumped to a central treatment plant at Seafield. The town has a pumping station at the mouth of the Esk and another near the Magdalene burn. As a result the foreshore and coastal waters at the town are very much cleaner.

The stone gasometer-house (gas works) was located to the seaward side of the racecourse, at Balcarres Road; built in 1831, its use was discontinued in 1966 and the site was cleared in 1970. Natural gas came to the area in 1976.

In 1963 it was reported that Lowe's Radio in the High Street had relay equipment switched on to bring piped TV to Musselburgh.

Two radio masts serving mobile phone services were erected on the roof of the Brunton Hall in July 1999.

In 1990 wheelie bins were introduced to Musselburgh.

Shops & Services

In a town the size of Musselburgh it is inevitable that change is continual and ongoing. The burgh had access to a range of shops and services throughout the period. The following lists give an indication of the pre-war shops that were located along the High Street, Bridge Street and North High Street - Musselburgh's main shopping streets then. The street numbers are also given and the types of businesses. They reveal that all the services and shops that a small town could want were indeed available.

Hayweights, Musselburgh, c1960

Hayweights, Musselburgh, c1960

High Street

Bridge Street

North High Street, looking towards Brunton Hall, 1976

North High Street, looking towards Brunton Hall, 1976

North High Street

By 2000 the following key changes were in evidence, with approximate dates:

Shops demolished:

High Street

Bridge Street

North High Street

Shops reinstated:

High Street

New shops:

High Street

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