East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists’ Society: a brief history

Stephen A Bunyan

The Society was founded on 10th May 1924. The declared aims then, were essentially the same as they are today. To study the antiquities of the area, to collect material of interest, to publish relevant articles, to go on appropriate excursions, to have lectures and to stimulate general interest in the history of East Lothian. The subscription was 5/- p.a., which in real terms was probably more than the current £10.

The founders were largely gentry: Major J A Baird of Lennoxlove; Lt Col P N H Grant of Biel; Sir A Buchan-Hepburn of Smeaton and Sir J Dobbie of Edinburgh. The first Hon. President was The Rt. Hon The Earl of Balfour (the former prime minister), the president was Major J A Baird and the council included Sir H Dalrymple, Lt Col Grant, H Mortimer Batten Esq. and The Revd. Marshall B Lang.

By 1925 the Society had 146 members. The Earl of Balfour died in 1930 and his position was left vacant, but his sister Miss Alice B Balfour was made Hon Vice President. She was made Hon President in 1936 but died later in that year. Lt Col J P Hamilton-Grant became President in 1934. In 1937, The Rev Marshall Lang became President and held that office until 1944, when Gilbert Ogilvy succeeded him. Gilbert Ogilvy was succeeded in 1948 by Col C de W Crookshank. He in turn was succeeded in 1949 by Lady Edith Broun Lindsay with the Earl of Wemyss (who had become a member of council in 1946) as Vice President – an office that he still holds in 2000. Sir David Ogilvy Bt. succeeded Lady Broun Lindsay in 1979.

The Society visited the site of the Battle of Prestonpans in 1924 and again in 1929. On the first visit, they noted that the ancient thorn tree, beside which Colonel Gardiner was wounded, where soldiers of both armies were buried and which had survived beyond normal expectation, was now dead. After the second visit the idea of a memorial was raised. The idea was taken up by the Society for the Preservation of Rural Scotland. The Society made a generous contribution and the cairn was erected in 1932. In 1966, the Society expressed concern about the state of the monument to Colonel Gardiner at Prestonpans, when one of the lions had fallen over. The Society made another visit to the battlefield in 1988.

In 1935, the idea of a Bird Sanctuary at Aberlady was discussed. The East Lothian Bibliography was published in 1936. Membership had been limited in 1929 to 350, but in 1937, Marshall Lang’s proposal for unlimited membership was accepted. The question of coaches for excursions seemed to be an issue of difficulty almost from the beginning. It still was in 2000. Cars did not have such a widespread ownership in earlier years, but members preferred to use them. The natural history collection given by Miss Balfour was stored in County Buildings; the question of storage and security of bequests was to be an ongoing problem. The Society’s books were housed in the gallery at Newton Port, Haddington in 1940.

At the outbreak of the second war, it decided to restrict the Society’s activities, but it accepted the proposal from W Forbes Gray that he, together with H Jamieson, should produce the volume of East Lothian Biographies, which remains very useful (250 were produced), and that the Society should make two excursions that year to Traprain Law and to Herdmanston which were almost on a bus route. The second of these was cancelled because of the threat of invasion.