Haddington | Leisure

Poldrate Centre | Cinema | Local History Centre | Organisations & clubs | Sport | Art

The cultural activities available within the parish have changed from the time when, in the earlier decades, there was a thriving amateur drama group and a cinema (both now no more) to the present time with people involved in a greater range of diverse ‘hobbies/culture’ activities. There are even fewer local discos/dances for the young or older people. New activities such as yoga and tai chi became available in the later decades. Some cultural groups, such as the folk group, started with just a few interested people.

Haddington, with its numerous and varied facilities – the large church, Corn Exchange and Town House – has been able to host many concerts over the years, while the Corn Exchange is also popular for craft fairs, jumble sales and exhibitions. The Town House, where the East Lothian Council meets, also provides accommodation for many meetings of various kinds.

The Lamp of Lothian Trust has helped to develop more facilities and promote cultural activities – in Haddington House (before it was let to the council), and in the Poldrate Art and Craft Centre and the adjacent Bridge Centre. The last two were restored by the Trust. Poldrate offers classes in artistic and practical subjects, while the group of cottages that became the Bridge Centre house a youth club and offer other activities for the members of the community. Opportunities for a wide range of activities were available through the Local Authority/Council over the decades and more recently from the Jewel and Esk College with a local venue at Alderston House.

Haddington Festival parade, 

Haddington Festival parade, 1971

There were eight to ten allotments of about ? of an acre each in the field behind Knowesly, West Road, belonging to the hospital. They were worked until the 1990s. The rent was about 20 to 30 shillings (£1 to £1.50) per year until the start of the Poll Tax and the uncertainty of the future of the hospital.

The New County Cinema – the only picture house in the town – closed in 1966, and the premises were then used for bingo. This too is long gone, and the building was demolished in 1990.

In 1975 a Local History Centre was established in Haddington library, with a collection of books, journal articles, documents and ephemera on people, places and events in East Lothian, and microfilm facilities for consulting the censuses, the old parish registers, Valuation Rolls and local newspapers of the past. Besides local people, many visitors from outwith East Lothian, some from overseas, find assistance here in the increasingly popular research into family history. A very successful Family History Fair was held in the Town House and Corn Exchange in 2000.

The Nungate Gala was started in 1945, and continued until 1964. It restarted in 1997, and continues in 2000. The Haddington Festival, begun in 1968, for a week in May, was extended to a fortnight in 2000 to celebrate the Millennium.

Organisations & Clubs

Charities | History Society | Haddington Remembered | Amenity Society | Friends of Amisfield | Twinning Association | Music | Drama

A wide variety of other clubs and societies (see Belief for those associated with the churches) hold meetings in Haddington – ranging from Round Table and an all-male Probus to gardening and bridge clubs. For older inhabitants the Haddington Lunch and Social Club provides pensioners with hot meals and a chat two days a week, with free transport for anyone who requires it; while Scout and Guide movements, and other organisations, cater for the young. The Freemasons have a continuing presence. The recreation club in Sidegate, which offered to male members billiards, draughts, table tennis, darts and so on, and had a reading room and a licensed bar, closed about 1991.

The University of the Third Age movement reached Haddington in 1999, with activities for the over-50s, not in full-time employment, ranging from arts, languages and history to computing, walking and gardening. The U3A is based at Alderston House.

A large number of charities have a base in Haddington. Several have opened shops to sell donated goods, and to an increasing extent in some, new goods also. Save The Children, established in East Lothian by the late countess of Wemyss, opened a small shop in Hardgate in August 1986, which continues to trade, staffed only by volunteers. Supporters throughout East Lothian hold a one-day autumn market in Haddington Corn Exchange, which raises as much as £10,000. A few doors away in Hardgate the Red Cross had for some years a shop and offices in the premises once occupied by a baker’s shop, bakery and tearoom, but the shop closed in the 1990s after the offices were transferred to Edinburgh. In the High Street there is a shop raising funds for Cancer Research, while in Market Street are the shops of Capability Scotland and the Sue Ryder Foundation. Other charitable work of various kinds is also carried out.

Haddington’s History Society, founded in 1991 (the first meeting was in February 1992), holds evening meetings at fortnightly intervals from September to May with speakers on a wide range of subjects. It publishes annual proceedings based on these, and on other research. A visit to a site of interest in the locality concludes the session.

The Haddington Remembered Group meet weekly on Thursday mornings for coffee and a talk.

It all began on 11 April 1991; before a name was decided on about nine interested people met in Haddington House, under the auspices of the Bridge Community Centre, led by the then community worker, Joy Clark. This had followed a very successful local history week run by the library service.

Our project then was to record oral memories by older Haddington residents, and perhaps publish some of them. The Church of Christ invited the group to meet in their upstairs room (weekly) it being more suitable. From then the Haddington Remembered Group just kept on growing. The result of our work was the first publication ‘Memories’ on 24 May 1991.

Our next project was the collecting of material for a future publication about Haddington – history, description, walks and so on – this resulted in the publication of ‘Haddington: Royal Burgh, A History and Guide’ – in 1997, jointly with Haddington’s History Society, and work was also going on collecting reminiscences about the West Mill. ‘Weaving the Story’ was published in 2000 – most likely our final effort!!

Pat Moncrieff (secretary)

Note: by their 10th Anniversary in 2001, the group had 50+ members. The group collected many of the reminiscences for the Haddington parish contribution to the statistical account.

The St Andrew Society of East Lothian, founded by the late Nigel Tranter in 1966, also organises winter meetings and summer outings.

The East Lothian Members’ Centre of the National Trust for Scotland arranges winter meetings in Haddington and summer visits to places of interest.

HADAS – the Haddington and District Amenity Society – is concerned with preserving interesting and historic buildings in the area, and also with planning matters such as the siting and style of new buildings.

Temple at Amisfield

Temple at Amisfield

The Friends of Amisfield was formed in 1999 to promote the acquisition, preservation, repair, restoration or maintenance for the benefit of the public of land and buildings of particular beauty or architectural or historical interest in Amisfield Park and the surrounding area. The mansion house was demolished in 1928, and the park, bought by Haddington Town Council from the earl of Wemyss in 1969, contains both the course of Haddington Golf Club and the town’s sewage works. The lodges at the West Gate are privately occupied, and the right of way through the park leads across the golf course to the clubhouse, beyond which lay the ruined stables and, among trees, the summerhouse or temple, and the eight-acre walled garden. The lodges at the East Gate were demolished many years ago.

Since the twinning was agreed in 1965, the main purpose of the Haddington/Aubigny Twinning Association has been to promote close and cordial relations between the peoples of Haddington and Aubigny-sur-Nere in the Cher region of France, to arrange and assist with exchange visits, to encourage cultural relations of all kinds and to promote social and other activities. Recently, a court for the game of petanque (boules) has been constructed in Lady Kitty’s Garden.

In the early part of the period, shopping was not the dominant leisure activity it later became

To the 1960s, most of the Christmas presents came from Woolworths – the 6d store. Other typical presents included reconditioned bicycles; handmade dolls’ houses – the furnishings were very often sewn by the young recipients; knitted and sewn dolls, soft toys, and accompanying clothes.

A day’s shopping in town always ended with high teas in Patrick Thomsons, Crawfords or Jenners. Up to the 1970s the farmers’ wives would meet in the North British Hotel, Princes Street, every [week] for coffee. The husbands would go to Gorgie Market. There was very often a sweet addition to the hotel catering [ie something brought from home].

Mrs Taylor, Rea Crowe, Mary Callaghan, Haddington Remembered Group

Haddington enjoys a wide variety of concerts, including a winter season in the Town House organised by the Music Club, and a summer season in St Mary’s church put on by the Lamp of Lothian Trust. The Haddington Fiddles – a group of musicians formed about 1980 – play at community and charitable events. There was a Pipe Band in Haddington from 1945-52, then a Boys’ Brigade Pipe Band for a few years from 1958. The present Haddington Pipe Band dates back to the early 1980s, and performs at many events. The installation of bells at St Mary’s has added a new musical opportunity, and attracts bell-ringers from other parts of the country also.

In addition to church choirs, the Hadley Court Singers – taking their name from the house in Sidegate where they initially rehearsed in 1977 – draw singers from all over the county, to give exciting and entertaining concerts.

The Garleton Singers also have members from a wide area, and celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2000, when the choir numbered 60.

The Haddington Drama Club, founded in 1931, had as its first producer Miss Sybil Atwell of the Edinburgh School of Dramatic Art. She set high standards, and audiences enjoyed frothy comedy, musical revues, pantomime and serious drama over the years. Creative writing by club members was encouraged. In 1976 the club changed its name to Lothian Players, reflecting a determination to reach a wider audience throughout the newly formed region.

In 1982 the Theatre of Youth was set up, under the direction of Pat Buchanan. This talented group was invited to appear in the Edinburgh Festival, where they performed for many years. Lothian Players followed their young group to the festival, and obtained a Fringe First Award in 1987 for France to Fotheringhay by Douglas Currie, one of their members. The Theatre of Youth disbanded on the retiral of Pat Buchanan, but many of its members made careers in theatre, television or cinema. Owing to the lack of interest and the burgeoning costs of producing plays, Lothian Players closed their curtains for the last time on 3 April 2000.


Aubigny Centre | Golf | Bowling | Curling | Shooting & angling | Riding

Sports facilities are provided at the Aubigny Centre, constructed in 1991 around the indoor swimming pool which had been built in 1974. It provides the facilities of a sauna and steam room, dance studio, bodyworks gym and a large sports hall. A squash court was built nearby. Playing fields in Neilson Park, and between Mill Wynd and the river, as well as the schools’ facilities, provide for football, rugby, hockey and cricket. There are tennis courts in Neilson Park. Haddington Rugby Club, founded in 1911, had some very successful seasons in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and the advent of league rugby in 1973 allowed the club to be judged on merit, when it shot up the ranks. Several of its players throughout these decades were selected to play for Scotland. Less successful in the 1990s, there are now signs of recovery.

The Haddington Golf Club regained its Amisfield Course in 1951. The Goatfield Golf Club, which has no course of its own, began informally after the war playing at Gifford on early closing day, Thursday afternoon, and soon on a more formal basis played at various courses through the summer. Both clubs flourish in 2000.

A bowling club founded in Haddington in 1709 is reputed to be the oldest in Scotland. The old green is by the Nungate Bridge, but the new green is situated at Wemyss Place.

Curling has had a long history in East Lothian, and in Haddington parish there was at one time a club at Stevenson as well as in Haddington, with outdoor ponds designed to take advantage of any freezing weather. In the milder climate more usual in recent years, curlers, both male and female, normally play at the Edinburgh Ice Rink. There, in 1965, the Haddington rink of four farmers took second place in the World Curling Championship.

Shooting and angling have long been popular, particularly with country-dwellers, but the opportunities within the parish were limited, and latterly only one gamekeeper is now employed. The shadow activity of poaching probably has just as long a history – it was certainly a popular sport in the 19th century!

Policing poaching at Sandy’s Mill, mid 1960s

One Saturday afternoon the bobby was busy decorating the bedroom of his village police station house, and was in the process of hanging wallpaper when he received a telephone call informing him that a gamekeeper had been shot by poachers. The bobby had to immediately leave the pre-pasted wallpaper and race on his motorcycle to the area where the gamekeeper had been shot.

On arrival he discovered that the gamekeeper had sustained slight shotgun pellet wounds to his head, which were not very serious. Eventually two local poachers were traced and arrested. They were found in possession of a shotgun and two dead pheasants, which were taken as evidence. The poachers were eventually convicted of the crime. As a result of the attack on the gamekeeper several pellets had lodged in his head but were found to be non-serious and were left there.

Joe Rowan

Riding, although East Lothian offers less scope than some areas do, has a long history, and continues to be popular in the countryside, especially with the young. The Pony Club was started in the county in the early 1950s, admitting children from the age of four years, although they had to be ten to attend camps. One-day events, show jumping and cross-country are organised. The annual Haddington Agricultural Show also provides opportunities for competition among riders.

During the winter in the earlier decades of the period, private dances were widely enjoyed among the farming community, either in a hotel, or in the host/hostess’s home. Parents were always present on these occasions, and ‘bringing your own bottle’ would have been considered an insult to their hospitality.

The Young Farmers Club flourished in the earlier part of the period, but is not now very popular.

The East Lothian Messenger, a talking newspaper for the blind, was launched on 10 January 1993. Produced regularly by volunteers, it is very popular.

Art in Haddington (see also Miscellany)

East Lothian as a whole experienced a golden age of artistic activity from about 1870-1940 and the repercussions of this period have had an effect to the present day. In common with other areas in the district, the countryside around Haddington continues to present an attractive prospect for painters and this has, in turn, encouraged galleries, framers and art workshops to become established in the town.

The Lamp of Lothian Trust provides art and craft classes at Poldrate Mill. The trust was originally based at Haddington House, where a number of exhibitions of paintings by both local and important artists were presented. Classes in painting, stained glass design and art appreciation have taken place at Alderston House since 1998.

Mrs Taylor, Rea Crowe and Mary Callaghan of the Haddington Remembered Group recall leisure activities of the past

In the 1940s we did not have a lot of free time, but leisurely pursuits were important, and there was no TV then. Activities included listening to the radio, going to whist drives (at a cost of 2/6 – 12.5 pence), and a weekly visit to the cinema cost just 4d before 4pm, and dances – which cost a shilling (5 pence). The harvest dances – kirns – were popular, and we would travel by bike, pony, on foot, or by private bus all over the county to get to these.

These and other dances were under the firm control of the local committee – of whichever organisation was running the dance. Any trouble was in the form of fisty cuffs, and this the local police dealt with.

Other activities included walking, tennis, hockey, rugby, football and golf. The operatic society, the drama group, WRI, WVS, church guilds, the East Lothian orchestra and fiddlers’ groups. Children had Brownies, Guides and Rangers.

The swinging sixties saw the rise of rock & roll, and groups formed locally. Teddy boys were around. Dances at the Corn Exchange were often big band, or sequence and ballroom dancing. Balls were held in the County Buildings. Various variety acts visited – one was Jimmy Shand. Local broadcasting bandleaders included Bobby Colgan, Jimmy Johnston.

From the 1970s, folk groups began in local pubs like the Tyneside Tavern. The Clyde Valley Stompers – Peter Kerr were memorable. The Haddington Festival began about then too.

From 1980-90, discos took off; “the young people attending discos are becoming younger and younger”. Many of the original leisure activities are still readily available.

And on holidays

In the 1940s, the shops took a holiday on the last Thursday of the month. In general, people had a week’s holiday, the Edinburgh Trades. There was also the Potato Week in October. Other holidays were on New Year’s Day and Victoria Day.

Holidays were generally taken in Britain, and rooms could be taken in private houses ‘catering on request’, especially in the 1940s. Other types of holiday accommodation included caravans, tents – with cooking on primus stoves. Hiking and youth hostelling were popular, and also days trips, and school trips.

Holidays were very much enjoyed – there were not too many – and any private time was precious. There was a wide choice of activities on offer. As children we were able to make up our own games – very often we would be accompanied by a friend or two.

After 1950, the Continent became more accessible, and motor transport became available. Travel by bus and train continued ‘a pity Haddington lost their train service’. You would visit your friend’s house to watch their TV, then later there were TVs in most homes.

One other leisure ‘activity’ that has come to light was pirate radio:

So far as I know, there’s only been one pirate in the county. This was during 1984-85 or thereabouts, but the equipment could only be broadcast on short wave! It did go on air for a few months, one broadcast a week. It used pre-recorded tapes, a transmitter the size of a suitcase and an aerial – it was put up outside Haddington, where a TV mast is near the Stevenson area.

It was a typical attempt of the time – music-based – playing the tunes you wouldn’t get to hear on the radio of the time (at least outwith the likes of John Peel etc). The concept was of ‘free radio, no playlists, no music corporation types hypes’ etc etc. The name was ‘Radio Clash’ (of course!). The equipment was only geared for short wave – it was from a radio ham who had much the same ideology but was much more into communicating with folk than broadcasting – this was just before the CB radio craze. The broadcasts were picked up over Europe – there was a box office contact address – but by radio ham types more interested in telling the frequency and strength of signal; some liked the sounds, some objected to it (which was surprising and disappointing). It could also be picked up locally, but only if you knew the frequency and had good reception – at Fa’side Castle for instance (still a ruin then). Because of this drawback, it wasn’t advertised as [were] English pirates – graffiti about the frequency on walls, flyposters, leaflets etc. It tailed off due to this and the sort of feedback – radio hams – weren’t the intended audience.

David Sydeserff