The question of Haddington House was to dominate the Society’s thinking for many years.
Mrs (later Lady) Broun Lindsay put forward the idea of Haddington House as a museum as early as November 1942 and it was agreed that it was an excellent idea to be gone into at a more propitious time. Haddington House is an important 17th century house standing in a large garden in Haddington. It bears the initials of Alexander Maitland and Katherine Cunninghame and the date 1680, but the house is older than that. It has a wing c1800 with a fine Venetian window. It is the finest building of its period in Haddington.
On 15th November 1948 Mr Purves (the proprietor) indicated that he intended to sell Haddington House, and offered it for £1500, with three months to take up the offer to the Society. The Society considered the matter and wondered if the National Trust for Scotland would undertake upkeep if the Society purchased the property, and what support would be likely from the Town Council and the Ancient Monuments Commission. The Society hoped to use the House as a museum. The great question was whether could they raise the money. Considering the Society’s budget realistically, the answer had to be ‘no’. In December the Earl of Wemyss offered to put up the purchase price on behalf of Wemyss landed estates until the Society could raise the money. An appeal was launched and money trickled in. In 1951 the Society received a substantial legacy of £1000. However, on the other hand, in 1953 repairs costing £1340 were identified. In 1954, it was agreed that the necessary repairs should be undertaken and that the wider implications of this should be considered – that was that the National Trust for Scotland would require an endowment. There was also a problem of the sitting tenant, and the adjoining garden.
A special meeting in 1965 considered the whole problem, and it was agreed that to secure the property and its future, a large sum of money would be required. Various options were considered, such as the idea of a part-sale of the garden; a sale of the house under strict conditions to be controlled by the National Trust for Scotland; and the possible retention of the c 1800 wing by the Society. To make a sale possible, it would be necessary to acquire the house back from the Earl of Wemyss and to convey it to the National Trust for Scotland. In August 1965, Lord Wemyss made a proposal that the Society should buy back the property (from his estates) under a feu charter from the National Trust for Scotland, for £1500 of which the Society would pay £1000, and he would donate £500; however, it was noted that £32,897 was required for repairs. This arrangement was concluded at Martinmas 1965. This arrangement would use up almost the entire available fund. At this stage the tenant, Mr Faunt, died. Negotiations were concluded to sell 1.27 acres at the east end of the garden to the Haddington Cottage Society for Incapacitated People. In October 1966 an agreement was made by the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton to sell the House and part of the garden to Hamilton and Kinneil Estates for £4700 to form part of the Lamp of Lothian project. The sale was concluded early in 1967. Restoration was to be carried out by W Schomberg Scott and all plans were to be approved by the National Trust for Scotland, and the Society. This meant that while the salvation of Haddington House was achieved, the other aim of a museum was not and the Society had no base. In the meantime however, it retained a room by arrangement in Haddington House.
As part of a revised relationship with the Lamp of Lothian in 1982, Stephen Bunyan became a Trustee of the Lamp on the Society’s behalf. The Society continued to have a room in the House until the Lamp required to let part of the House in July 1992. To facilitate this the Society gave up their room but it was agreed they could hold council meetings, free of charge, elsewhere in the House. This arrangement came to an end when the Lamp leased the whole property to East Lothian Council in 1995.
In 1943 it was proposed to publish The History of Haddington; to make it viable, non-members were to be asked to subscribe one guinea for which they they would receive a volume. It was to cost £200 for 250 copies (the final figure was £233-16/-) to be printed in Edinburgh, as because of the war The Courier could not do it. East Lothian Library Service reprinted the book in 1986.
With the end of the war in sight, it was proposed that an excursion be made to the Battlefield of Prestonpans on 21st September 1945, being the 200th anniversary. It was agreed for Saturday 22nd to be led by W Forbes Gray. A second excursion was arranged to Newhailes.
In 1946 a letter was received from the Cromwell Society asking about erecting an obelisk, on the site of the battle of Dunbar . As it would not appear on the skyline, the Society made no observations. In due course, a memorial was erected on the site of the battle on the old A1 [at the present cement works] at the point that was described as ‘the essential agony of the Battle of Dunbar’ (OS Grid Reference 705 768), in time for the tri-centenary in 1950. The memorial was moved in 2000 to a position close to Broxmouth South Lodge, Dunbar.
In 1957 the Society agreed to have junior members. There have never many but a number of young people attend meetings with their parents. In 1958 there was an exhibition of Miss Nimmo Smith’s drawings of Haddington. They were shown again in Haddington House in 1971 when 1000 people saw them. She helped to pay to have them framed, and they now form an important part of the museum collection. George Angus was permitted to make a series of slides of them in 1992.
In 1976 it was decided to continue the former practice of having a dinner, with a speaker. This still happens and is the conclusion of the annual programme. By December that year, the Local History Centre was opened. The Society’s library was transferred to the LHC, and the collection of artefacts, which had been stored at Colstoun, were displayed in Haddington House.
In 1977, Stephen Bunyan, Rennie Weatherhead, Sam Macmillan and pupils from Dunbar Grammar School carried out a project to record and move the remnants of the Meikle Mill at Beltondod for the Country Life Section of the Museum of Antiquities (the mill was the subject of an article in theTransactions by Norman Cartwright (Vol XI 1968)). In 1978 Lady Scicluna bequeathed the mounted copy of Forrest’s map of Haddingtonshire. In 1979 the monument to John Rennie with its bronze by Alexander Carrick and a baluster of Waterloo Bridge was moved to a site in the wall at Phantassie, East Linton and the Society was granted a 999-year lease of the site.
In 1982, Norman Cartwright retired as secretary after ten years, and was replaced in September that year by Stephen Bunyan, who had become a member of council in 1978. In 1983 Norman Cartwright was made a second Vice President. In 1984 the Friends of North Berwick Museum was set up, and the Society had two representatives on the committee; Sue Jenkinson, the first East Lothian Museum’s Officer, was a member of council until her tragic death in 1994. In 1987 the Society was registered as a charity.
On 3rd January 1987 Dunbar Parish Church was destroyed by fire and later in the year the Society published a special volume Dunbar Parish Church: a Tribute to the Past – Hope for the Future. It contained a series of essays, including ‘The Dunbar Monument in its Historical Setting’ by Gordon Donaldson, Historiographer Royal; ‘George Home, Earl of Dunbar’, and ‘Dunbar Parish Church’ both by Stephen Bunyan.
In 1988 Norman Cartwright having resigned, Professor Rosalind Mitchison was made a Vice President and was joined in 1989 by Sir Hew Hamilton Dalyrymple Bt., who had become a member of council in 1981. In 1990 Sir David Ogilvy retired and was replaced by Professor Rosalind Mitchison. The Society had been represented on The John Muir Park Management Committee from 1980 and on the committee, set up in 1990 after the East Lothian District Council acquired Traprain Law, in 1987. After the formation of the New East Lothian Council these committees were reconstituted as Advisory Groups in 1997. The Society is represented on both and also on that for Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve. The President chairs the group for Traprain Law, and is a member of the John Muir Group; Mr John Hunt represents the Society on the Aberlady Group. The Society is not at present represented on the Friends of North Berwick Museum Committee.
During the last decade, council has expressed concern over the future of and proposals for various buildings notably Archerfield, Herdmanston Doocot, Amisfield Temple and related buildings. It has registered satisfaction over the restoration of Newhailes, Bankton House, Broxmouth South Lodge, Balgone and Ballencrieff. It was supportive of the purchase of the John Muir Birthplace and of the intention to develop it.
On 9th December 1998, the museum collection was handed over to East Lothian Museum Service; the collection included the portrait of Archibald Skirving, presented to the Society in 1981 by Mrs Leila Hoskins. The portrait was displayed in the Skirving exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery in 1999, and Stephen Lloyd, who set up the exhibition, gave a lecture on Skirving to the Society in 2002.
At the AGM in 1997, the idea of a Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian was considered and it was agreed to hold a meeting with representatives of the other local history and amenity societies. The meeting was held and was supportive. Lottery funding was sought and granted in 1999 and that project is well underway.
In 1999 Professor Rosalind Mitchison retired and Stephen Bunyan was elected as President.
The Vice Presidents are The Earl of Wemyss and March and Sir Hew Hamilton Dalrymple Bt. The Secretary is Allison Cosgrove.
The Transactions are arguably the Society’s most important contribution to East Lothian. Over the whole period of its history except for the war years it has maintained publication of these highly regarded volumes of articles about East Lothian. 24 volumes have been published. At first they were published by a sub-committee on which W Forbes Gray and J H Jamieson played key roles. Mr Robert Waterston was the first appointed editor in 1953. Mr Basil Skinner, Mr Edward J Cowan, Professor R Mitchison and Mr D Moody followed him. The Society also published The East Lothian Bibliography, East Lothian Biographies, A Brief History of Haddington, a booklet, The Ancient Fraternity of Free Gardeners of East Lothian, Dunbar Parish Church, an Index to Volumes 1-XIII and an Index to Volumes XIV-XXI.