For many years the town’s coast was too polluted to be of much benefit to wildlife; in the 1960s poisoned mussels were ‘a menace’ and in September 1965 the level of pollution in the river Esk was causing concern. In 1988 it was planned that the river Esk islands and banks be cleaned up, using Manpower Services Commission labour.
By 2000 Musselburgh’s coastline was part of a larger Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its biological and geological interest. The SSSI has a number of different environments, some of which are man-made – such as the mussel beds and the artificial sea walls. There are also mud flats and areas of both sand and rock. Scoter, eider and bar-tailed godwit are species found here that are of national importance.
As well as pollution via the river Esk, alterations to the coastal habitat along the Forth during the 1960s impacted on the birdlife at Musselburgh. From 1964-66 a series of four lagoons – to accommodate waste fly ash from the Cockenzie power station development – were built, behind a concrete sea wall, adding 248 acres of reclaimed land to the links. By 1971 the east lagoon was full and the roost moved from shifting shingle and rocks to a large flat expanse of mud, sheltered on all sides by steep embankments; pre-1966 estimates were of 800 birds over winter. This increased to an average of 7000.
The population of golden plovers – rarely seen here pre-1966, as they are very sensitive to human disturbance – roosted on the lagoons during the construction phase (1964-66) and again during 1972/3 (Furness, R.W. 1973).
In 1983 waste topsoil from the building of the Tranent by-pass was added to the site; in 1985 the lagoons were the location of a shooting range for the rifle shooting events at the Commonwealth Games (it was demolished the following year). By 1989 a series of higher-level lagoons had been constructed to accommodate more fly ash and by the end of the period the lagoons formed a valuable high tide roost. In 1994 the council established a series of wader scrapes and these have been successful in further encouraging birds to the site. Managed by a countryside ranger (co-funded by East Lothian Council and Scottish Power), the site is an educational facility, offering three hides (accessible to all ages and abilities) and by 2000, interpretation boards and leaflets. Birds to look out for include oystercatchers, redshanks and turnstones and more rare species such as western sandpiper, Bonaparte’s gull, royal tern and marsh sandpiper.
Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction
By 2000 the original herring-bone plan and fishing town character of Musselburgh and Fisherrow had largely disappeared. Many vernacular buildings were demolished, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, to make way for large-scale, rather institutional, public housing, mostly in the form of flats. Some traditional fishing cottages remain but often damaged by unsympathetic door and window alterations. One still intact is the cottage in New Street with exterior steps to the first floor. Some turret staircases, pends, vennels and wynds have survived.
The designation of a conservation area and the formation of the Musselburgh Conservation Society, which presents annual design awards for good developments, are welcome.
The replacement of the Hayweights clock and nearby shops by the massive Brunton Hall in the 1960s was very unpopular and left the old town hall with an uncertain future. A model of the Hayweights clock was displayed in the Brunton Hall, a commemorative plaque marking its position was let into the pavement and the clock faces were transferred to the tower of Stuart’s Net Mills. The canopy was eventually restored as a shelter, complete with smaller clock faces, near the Roman Bridge but received a mixed reception.
The demise of Brunton’s Wireworks, Stuart’s Net Mills and the Inveresk Paper Mill led to the creation of new industrial estates and the conservation of Stuart’s Net Mills, apart from the office dome and roof.
Other losses include: four cinemas – one now the Hayweights Club; various dance halls; the old railway station; old Burgh Primary School; Inveresk Paper Mill chimney; tannery in Millhill; and tenements in Market Street (built of scrap stone from Edinburgh and called Scrappy Castle); Rothesay Place; Bellfield; and Brunton’s Wireworks.
Distinctive reinstatements include: the unused High Kirk (the old Free Church, which was on the Buildings at Risk Bulletin 1991) as a Dolls’ Museum accommodating Antonio Alongi’s collection of 300 dolls; the drinking fountain as a second world war memorial and very popular; various Loretto School buildings; a launderette as Kesley’s bookshop (to 2002); the old Co-operative Society and Ladywell Brewery as housing; the lemonade factory and parsonage as housing; Pinkie House as a Loretto School boarding house; and the French Ambassador’s House, Millhill Cottage and Kilwinning Place Cottages as housing.
Distinctive new developments include: St Ninian’s Church; four river Esk bridges; the library; the fire station; Royal British Legion Club; Brunton Hall and Theatre; Esk Medical Centre; sports centre; Queen’s Stand (opened 3 July 1995) and Links Pavilion at the racecourse; the Burgh, Pinkie St Peter’s and Stoneyhill Primary Schools (this last outstanding); Musselburgh Grammar School extension; Loretto School buildings – particularly the chapel, dining hall and Trafalgar Lodge extensions, theatre conversion, communication and resource centre; new Co-operative Society; High Street and Newbigging corner blocks; Bank of Scotland; Cancer Research; Mackay’s and Halifax blocks; Tesco supermarket; Alex Mitchell & Sons block; Quayside Conference Centre; job centre; and some housing in Musselburgh.
The main losses as regards the designed landscape are outwith the town perimeter, apart from the loss of parts of Pinkie and Stoneyhill estates.
Distinctive new developments include: the lagoons; Levenhall Links; Brunstane Burn Walkway; river Esk banks; John Muir Coastal Trail; Promenade Millennium Garden; and the projected Seafront Sculpture Garden.