Inveresk Musselburgh | Leisure

Cinema | Fisherrow Community Centre | Quayside Development | Organisations & clubs | Other sports | Fishermen’s Walk | Riding of the Marches | Amateur Musical Association | Art Club | Conservation Society | Design Awards | Horticultural Society

Like towns everywhere, Musselburgh had an enormous range of activities and entertainments to offer; a few are discussed below. Not all were organised events but were greatly enjoyed, as these reports of the Musselburgh New Year’s celebration in 1955 show!

On Sunday evening, I visited a party which had been going on since the last few hours of 1955. The revellers, about twelve of them, had shut themselves away from the world and were trying to outlast the drink. They had all konked out about 9am on New Year’s Day, but after a deep sleep had started in again and were going stronger than ever.

In the scullery, which was also the bar, I saw all that was left were three unopened bottles of orange squash, two of lime and one of lemonade, and a quarter-bottle of gin. My stomach chose lime, so I poured myself a stiff glass and went back to join the twelve.

They were playing Historical Partners, although our hostess had rechristened it Romance in Retrospect. Each drew out of a hat a name such as Napoleon or Cleopatra, and tried to find the person who had drawn Josephine or Mark Antony.

The result was a happy confusion, and I will draw the curtain of charity over the scene with Mephistopheles’ whispered proposal to Margaret: “Let’s mix our drinks!”.

And this account shows that nothing really changes over the years:

There were high jinks up Wimpey Town way on Hogmanay. Revellers staggering home in the bloodshot dawn saw more than pink elephants and yellow-blue lizards. Nearly all the waste food bins in Macbeth Moir Road had been cowped on the pavements and the empty bins were hanging on the bus stops. An upturned food bin in a garden in Delta View, and what looked like a pair of dungarees hanging from the swan-neck of a street lamp in Moir Crescent were other indications that a good time had been had by all.

Although less demonstrative than their neighbours of Wimpey, Musselburgh folk too let their hair down over Hogmanay. The streets were busy until well into the dawn, and anyone who was still sober after running the gauntlet of first footers from Levenhall to Magdalene could certainly swallow his liquor.

A friend of mine brought in the year in Market Street and set out for Ashgrove shortly after twelve. He arrived, ridiculously drunk at 5am, his bottle sorely diminished, and bemoaning the loss of his chunk of coal. When he sobered up, he told me he had been caught up in the High Street with a crowd of students who dragged him off to a party, and then insisted on carrying him home.

(both from Musselburgh News 6 January 1956)

There were a number of cinemas in town: the Central, on the Mall (built 1914-18) open from 1918-1961, when it was demolished; and the Regal on Dalrymple Loan – open pre-1961, then re-opened as the Playhouse in 1961. The Playhouse was demolished in the 1970s. Another cinema, the Arcadia, was opened as the Lotus Club ‘the newest dance hall in the town’ in September 1959. In May 1962 it opened as a jazz club but got poor support from ‘youngsters’, which may be why it re-emerged as a casino club in October the same year.

The Pavilion in the High Street closed in the 1960s; Di Rollo’s owned the Hayweights in Bridge Street from 1924-74, when it was sold to become Johnny’s Bingo Club; latterly it became the Hayweights Club.

The Brunton Theatre opened in 1971 and brought the only theatre to the town (see Economy).

[Post-war] there were two dance halls in Musselburgh but I didn’t go there except when I was 14-16 at dances run by the GTC (Girls Training Corps), of which I was a member from 14 to 17 and still have a close friend from those days, and other organisations such as the Army Cadets etc. I went to a Saturday afternoon dancing class in Edinburgh (Dickson’s Dancing Academy) to learn to dance, as I was keen to go to the Edinburgh Dance halls and met my future husband there. This and going to the pictures were the leisure pursuits of the time.

Margaret Urwin

Amongst the facilities on offer in the town were the following:

Pre-dating the Brunton complex, the main venue for large-scale events in the town was the Musselburgh Community Centre (opened 1949) also known as the Institute, and the Stoneyhill Community Centre. The Musselburgh Community Association ran it. The Inveresk Paper Company originally built this building at Stoneyhill; it was purchased by the town council in 1949 and leased to the association for the purpose of ‘providing educational, social and recreational facilities for people of 18 years and upwards, and the organisation is non-political and non-sectarian’.

Located to the west of the housing scheme, the building centre was (and is still) flanked by a playing ground and two double sized tennis courts ‘though in need of reconditioning’. The centre contained a large hall, with a seating capacity of 600, suitable for dances as well. Upstairs was a smaller hall (150 people seated) and a further four rooms, a canteen and ‘sprays’ [showers] in the gents.

It was used by Cruden’s Social Club in the 1960s for social events as well as for meetings of the arts & crafts club, the badminton club, camera club and for dressmaking classes. The association held shows in conjunction with the Arts Council of Great Britain and held lectures from the Edinburgh College of Agriculture.

(taken from The Municipal Tenants’ Handbook nd probably late 1960s, pp32,33)

Within the town there were a couple of dance venues – the Labour Hall, located above the shops near the police station and Stein’s, which is now the Baptist Church. The Fisherrow Community Education Centre opened in June 1977, occupying the annexe building of the former Fisherrow School. Over the years it has grown steadily and now occupies a section of the main school building (built in stages from 1876-1908) along with offices rented out to voluntary organisations by East Lothian Council, which owns the buildings. A quarter of the main building has been abandoned to storage since 1958, when it closed as a primary school, and use of this section now requires significant building upgrading.

The administration of the centre and the development of its programme of activities are undertaken by a voluntary management committee of 14 members, assisted by designated East Lothian Council staff.

A survey carried out in the week beginning 12 May 2003 showed that 1,183 people from 62 different groups used the facilities. These are categorised as follows:

East Lothian adult education classes; people with disabilities; health and fitness; care in the community; families and children; training and employment; young people; meeting space for groups; children’s parties; creative arts and crafts; dancing; recycling; martial arts.

Over the years, the buildings have fallen into a state of ill repair and are very expensive to run. In 1996, East Lothian Council threatened to close the centre, but strong public opinion led to a campaign to retain the buildings for community use. A grant from the Coalfields Regeneration Fund in 2001 was used to produce a feasibility study looking into the long-term viability of taking the buildings into community ownership and run them on a financially self-sustaining basis. Subsequently the council agreed to hand over the buildings on a 99-year lease as a peppercorn rent, provided funds could be found by the management committee to carry out the restoration work. The fund raising process started in September 2003.

In March 1990 the new sports centre was opened by Shadow Chancellor John Smith; the cost of £1.5million was funded jointly by the regional and district councils. It is located in Newbigging near Musselburgh Grammar School and was funded jointly by the Regional and District Councils at a cost of £1.5 million.

While it provided a much-needed addition to the burgh’s facilities in the swimming pool it also has a large range of other activities and facilities for clubs and the general public. These include – athletics, gymnastics, badminton, fencing, indoor football, judo, karate, trampolining, fitness equipment, a crèche and a café.

The construction of a leisure complex – the Quayside Development – was begun in 1991 on the site of the Musselburgh & Fisherrow Co-operative Society’s creamery and garage premises. The project cost was in the order of £3 million and was a ‘partnership venture’ involving the council. The site provides conference/functions facilities, a restaurant, swimming pool and fitness rooms. A terrace of flats called Mariner’s Quay was added later.

A casualty of this development was the Co-op’s ‘Eskdale Rooms‘ in North High Street near the Brunton Hall. The restaurant and functions rooms were closed in 1992.

In 1999 a new leisure complex was proposed for Newhailes Park by Alfred Alongi (owner of the Caprice Restaurant) to be used as a nightclub at weekends and for community use during the week. By 2003, this had manifested itself as a nightclub; called ‘Club Cube‘ it has three dance rooms and a karaoke room open at weekends.

Levenhall Links were used for visiting fairs from the 1960s but by the mid-1990s residents’ complaints were increasing about the amount of disturbance these caused. As a result, from 2000, the number of fairs was limited to two a year and special events were to be held at Fisherrow Links. Plans were afoot to relocate the earth mounds to move the fair site further west, away from residents’ homes (East Lothian Courier 2000 September 29).

Organisations & clubs

Rugby | Football | Swimming | See also Revisiting the past

Royal Company of Archers parading along Musselburgh High Street

Royal Company of Archers parading along Musselburgh High Street

Apart from its historic links with golf (see Economy – Golf), Musselburgh has many other sporting interests. It is, of course, the venue for what is reputed to be the contest for the oldest sporting trophy in the world. Each year the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguard in Scotland, parade to the Links and shoot for the Musselburgh Silver Arrow. The oldest medal given for this event dates back to 1603.

Musselburgh has always had a very strong rugby tradition and in the post-war period the school sides and the Musselburgh Rugby Club sides played with many successes against topflight opposition, particularly Edinburgh and Borders clubs. In the early post-war era, matches (both school and club) were played on pitches at Shirehaugh with changing facilities at the school. In 1951, the club moved to Stoneyhill changing in the community centre. Club committee meetings, however, were conveniently held in the back room of Marshall’s High Street pub! The present clubhouse at Stoneyhill was built in 1970/71 and was formally opened in February 1971, by R. Wilson Shaw, President of the Scottish Rugby Union.

When rugby leagues were formed, the Musselburgh Rugby Club’s heyday came when they were promoted to the 1st Division for the season 1987/88. At that period one of the team, Donald McDonald, was regularly chosen to play for the district and played for Scotland in two internationals against Canada. When his playing days were over, Donald coached for Heriots FP but is currently back coaching Musselburgh.

The club’s spell in the top flight of rugby has not been sustained, unfortunately, and they have dropped a bit in current rankings, but are optimistic about regaining their old status.

Loretto School has also ranked high in public school rugby and although it does not have a former pupils’ club, many pupils and masters have played senior rugby and the school has produced a number of international players.

Another Musselburgh football connection is with Willie Ormond, one of the Hibs ‘famous five’ forward-line of the 1950s. He played for Scotland, and went on to become one of the international side’s most successful managers. He was also manager for a time of both Hearts and Hibs. His Musselburgh connection is that he married Margaret Fairnie of Fisherrow and they lived in the town. When his football career finished he bought the public house at the corner of South Street and North High Street, giving it his own name. In 1999 the pub changed hands and is now the ‘Hayweight’.

The Hearts club currently use part of the Pinkie playing field beside the primary school, as a training ground. The provisional master plan for the lagoons development includes a Sports Academy in which Hibs will be involved.

Musselburgh Swimming Club and indeed members of the public had to travel to Portobello for their recreation in the post-war period. Despite that the club competed very successfully. In 1995 the town had its own public pool at the newly opened Sports Centre in Newbigging near Musselburgh Grammar School and there is another private pool at the Quayside development near the harbour.

Other sports

Bowling is a very popular sport and is well catered for in the town with greens at New Street, Inveresk Road and off Station Road. It may surprise some people that Musselburgh has a cricket club, as this is perhaps not a sport of wide interest in Scotland. Nevertheless, the club has been in existence for a very long time playing in a nice setting on a pitch on the high ground of Lewisvale Park adjacent to Inveresk Village.

Clubs existed in Musselburgh in the post-war period for a number of other sports. For instance there was the Papermill Badminton Club, the ladies’ hockey club, the cycling club (still operating from the Tolbooth), judo club, water ski club, tennis at Lewisvale, etc.

Some of these have been lost in recent years but many are still active.

Many of the town’s employers supported social clubs for their workers. In the 1960s Cruden’s had golf, skittles and badminton clubs, the last using Campie school gym for their matches. Other clubs were associated with the Co-op society, the net mill, and the paper mill.

Brunton’s Wire Mill had its own football team – the Bruntonians – that played in the Junior League; there was also an active Wiremill Social Club (established 1910), running from the old Bruntsfield Golf Club clubhouse, purchased for the club by the company.

Musselburgh’s Royal British Legion was founded in 1927, moving to new premises in the High Street near Pinkie Pillars in 1954 opened in June 1958, and 300 members and their guests attended the opening. It closed in 1981.

For many years the Fisherrow Fishermen’s Association organised the annual Fishermen’s Walk each September, an event which is one of Musselburgh’s long held traditions; this longevity has not meant that the tradition has at times been in danger of disappearing altogether and no Walk was held between 1956-67. In 1968 the Walk was revived to mark 100 years. Robert Fairnie MBE BEM, Alexander Craig and port missionary Hector Ronald headed the team behind the revival. They re-formed the committee of twelve women and twelve men (initially no married couple could serve together, but this changed in later years). It was once more an annual event until 1993. Changing the day of the Walk from Friday to Saturday in 1990 boosted the numbers. The last Walk took place in 1997, its decline due to restrictions on processions, such as the need for more stewards, and a lack of dedicated people to organise and help on the day. The problem was rarely financial;

A joke among the Old Guard was that your reward for the day was a Cadbury’s Curly Wurly (if any were left over). How we enjoyed our chocolate sliders (wafers) after helping with the races. We watched with interest as a girlfriend would put her shawl as a blindfold round her boyfriend’s eyes and lead him in the shawl race. Of course, some mums were co-opted with sons.

Jane Fairnie

Starting in 1868, the Fishermen’s Walk (from the Fishermen’s Coast Mission on New Street to Pinkie House) took place at a time when the fishermen came home between the end of the summer fishing and the start of the herring season.

The celebrations were a big event in a coastal town and it seems it was quite normal for some 800 folk to participate.

In the early days, men wore their best suits, navy blue jersey and cloth cap. 1968 saw only the older men like this and it was then that the navy jersey and dark trousers came in. The patterns on the jerseys were varied and intricate – Fisherrow had its own pattern.

Ladies wore patterned shawls, shirgoons (short gowns/blouses). Red or yellow or blue and white striped petticoats (skirts) underneath a black or navy pin-striped brat (apron). Some ladies would have one petticoat straight and one kilted up.

Jane Fairnie

As the fishing industry declined, the walk became more of a memorial, with participants dressing in traditional fishing garb, much of it passed down in their families.

Many of the older women suffer from arthritis as a result of carrying loads of more than a hundredweight of fish on their backs in their younger days. Several of them walk on artificial hip joints. (East Lothian Courier 1984 September 14).


In the run up to ‘the day’ clothes were prepared. The Store (Co-op) had a run on black shoes and white and navy socks. Children would practice walking up and down Caird’s Row, with arms linked. The soup and stew would be ready for a quick dinner o the day. Flags would be put up from the Coast Mission to the harbour the week before. In the days when the boats came home to Fisherrow they would sail into the harbour with their pennants flying.

The procession left from the Mission and returned there where a short act of worship would end the day. On the arrival of the procession at Pinkie House a bouquet and buttonhole were presented to the headmaster by a boy and girl, usually the children of a fisherman.

Jane Fairnie

The procession was preceded by a band, sometimes several: these have included the Newtongrange Silver Band, and Band of the Royal Marines, Rosyth. In 1984 and 1985 it was the Regimental Band of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch ‘who set off at such a pace the walkers had to almost run and they had to mark time at one point to let the folk catch up’.

The local Musselburgh & Fisherrow Trades Band was generally involved, as were many pipe bands – including those of Scottish Gas, Woolmet, Haddington, and the Boys’ Brigade. Once even an Australian band, here for the Tattoo, participated.

The Honestas Jazz Band, complete with Brolly Man and Dolly caused quite a stir one year. The committee had a few reservations as to how this last would be received by the more senior members of the community. However, the fears were unfounded, and it was seen that some of the not so young ladies could show the Dolly a thing or two when it came to dancing, both in the park and on the way home.

Jane Fairnie

In the past the first part of the procession, which was made up by the men, was led by the youngest man in Fisherrow to go to sea that year – carrying a model boat up high (unlike during the Port Seton ‘Box Meeting‘, the Musselburgh box was not carried on the Walk). Latterly the boat was carried by the Honest Lad, since the youngest fisherman was not always available.

The boat had been damaged and so was not carried on the last Walk in 1997. Mrs McNamara and a member of her family carried two dolls – a boy (made 4 September 1987) and a girl (made 1 September 1989) made by Mrs Kay McNamara – mounted on poles. This revived a practice, which had disappeared a number of years previously. A retired fishermen was invited to lead the procession. One of them was John Fairnie, past Walk president, who led the Walk 1993-97 wearing the Cross Keys sash, which was the badge of office of the main keyholder. Other office bearers and skippers also wore sashes with key and other symbols. The Walk President on the day wore the Association Medal, which was presented in 1794 by the King. Four men carried the Association Banner, which was supported by two poles and two ropes, and in a high wind this was no mean feat! The Lady Hope Banner (know as the Ladies’ Banner) was carried by teenage boys and four girls. In the past the ribbons were carried by ladies. This banner has a black background and exquisite blue, silver and gold embroidery. The lady members of the Clark family looked after the ribbons and would tie the blue ands gold ribbons onto the banner either the night before, or on the Walk morning.

It was an honour to be chosen to carry the banners; for one young man chosen in 1993, Robert Fairnie, that became very special since his grandfather (also Robert) was photographed with Lady Hope and other committee members at the presentation of the banner in 1934.

Jane Fairnie

All Walk regalia are now housed in North Esk Parish Church since the closure of the Coast Mission. The whole event was rounded off by a dance – latterly held at the Brunton Hall, previously at the Stoneyhill Community Centre.

The Riding of the Marches is first mentioned in documents of 1682, but the ceremony is thought to be even earlier. It arose in the aftermath of the Reformation, when landowners were inclined to attempt to take in the citizens’ free land, as well as that of the churches. The riding reinforced the rights to the land belonging to the citizens of the burgh. Over time it changed into a holiday celebration. The Riding of the Marches was held in 1935, 1956, 1974 (when the celebrations were brought forward from 1977 to allow the event to take place before Musselburgh Burgh Council disappeared with local government reorganisation), and 1995.

Royal Scots parade for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, during Riding of the Marches, 1956

Royal Scots parade for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, during Riding of the Marches, 1956

Rehearsing for the pageant at Riding of the Marches, 1956

Rehearsing for the pageant at Riding of the Marches, 1956

The Honest Toun’s Association emerged from the success of the 1935 Riding of the Marches, when there was a feeling in the town that it would be appropriate to celebrate the history of the town each year rather than every 21 years at the Riding of the Marches.

A small group of interested and influential townspeople submitted a proposal to the town council for an annual festival based on a model similar to the Border Common Ridings, in that there would be an Honest Lad, Lass and attendants elected by public ballot, there would be a ride-out and social events and the burgh flag would be carried round the town. The town council agreed to the proposal with the proviso that the celebrations should in no way detract from the historic Riding of the Marches.

Honest Lad (David Howie) and Lass (May White) leaving church after HTA Kirking Ceremony, 1947

Honest Lad (David Howie) and Lass (May White) leaving church after HTA Kirking Ceremony, 1947

From these beginnings the Musselburgh Festival has developed into a truly community festival with a programme of events covering a full week at the end of July each year. The essentials of the original concept have been retained but successive executive committees of the Honest Toun’s Association have felt that they could weave around these essentials and provide popular entertainments for all ages.

Many new elements have been introduced in recent years and the Musselburgh Festival is now one of the highlights of the summer, attracting huge support from both townspeople and visitors alike. To this day, there is no festival during a Riding of the Marches year.

The Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association (MAMA) started as the Co-operative Musical Association in 1950, with its first show A Country Girl performed the next April at Stoneyhill Community Centre. From 1958 the venue was Pinkie Primary School and from 1971 the Brunton Theatre (Musselburgh News 2001 April 13). By the mid 1960s the company was well established and has continued to produce an annual show every spring in the newly refurbished Brunton Theatre, sometimes with the addition of local schoolchildren and students from the Morag Alexander School of Dancing.

The Musselburgh Art Club was founded in the early 1970s, and has become a very popular activity with premises at 47c Bridge Street. They hold annual exhibitions of a high standard that were formerly held in their own premises and in the Brunton Hall before the theatre and restaurant refurbishment. The exhibitions are now held in the Old Town Hall.

The Musselburgh Conservation Society was inaugurated at a public meeting on 18 September 1986. Its founder chairman was Mr John B. Hall and its first patron was Sir Hew Hamilton Dalrymple, Bt., Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian. Since 1992 the society has given

Annual Design Awards to new developments in the burgh

Photographs of each year’s new developments are displayed at the AGM of the society, at which members vote for the development they consider most worthy to receive the award.

Those responsible for the development are later presented with the Annual Design Award by the chairman and committee members of the society at a mutually arranged ceremony.

The award consists of a circular metal plaque, stating the year it was presented, with the words Musselburgh Conservation Society Design Award. It is intended to be permanently displayed on part of the development concerned.

Annual Design Awards – 1992-2001

  • 1992 Esk Mills restoration
  • 1993 Lemonade factory flats conversion
  • 1994 No awards presented
  • 1995 Queen’s Stand, Musselburgh racecourse
  • 1996 Kesley’s bookshop, High Street
  • 1997 Brunton Theatre, restaurant and bar
  • 1998 Old Cottages, Kilwinning Place
  • 1999 Lewisvale Park
  • 2000 War Memorial
  • 2001 Links Pavilion, Musselburgh racecourse

Millennium Design Awards

These consisted of two rectangular brass plaques on wooden mounts, again intended to be permanently displayed, one being presented to East Lothian Council and one to Loretto School for improvements over the years to the built and natural environment of Musselburgh.

The formation of the Musselburgh Horticultural Society certainly pre-dates 1877 but the actual date it began is uncertain. Except for 1914-18 and 1939-47 periods, the society has run since then, although it looked in 1987 as if there was so little support for it that closure was the only option. Nonetheless, it survived. It held its annual shows firstly in Inveresk church hall, Dalrymple Loan, amongst other locations, and from the 1960s in the Brunton Hall. In 2000 the society had 87 members.

In its early years Musselburgh Horticultural Society provided the means for competition between the gardeners of the large houses in the vicinity of Musselburgh. These were the homes of the Hopes, Elphinstones, Wauchopes and Dalrymples. The patrons of the society were these very people, as well as some local dignitaries residing at Inveresk who had large gardens and gardeners to maintain them. The show was, in effect, a trades’ exhibition at which were exhibited the garden produce and floral displays which graced these persons’ tables. Prizes won at the show enhanced reputations of the professional gardeners and the minutes record their movement to other positions, one, in fact, emigrating to a post in Canada.

These ‘practical’ gardeners, as they described themselves, were the ‘action men’ of the society and, apart from being the main exhibitors, served on the committee and acted as office-bearers. The posts of president and vice-president were given to the gentry from the big houses and they presided on the day of the show.

Committee meetings, however, were controlled by a chairman, elected by the committee, although in the years immediately preceding the first world war the chair was usually held by a vice-president, Major Meldrum, the agent for the National Bank of Scotland and an insurance company, and also a member of the school board and the local gas board.

He was described in the minutes as ‘our worthy chairman’ and was congratulated for his ‘well thought of ideas’. He was responsible for promoting the society’s first annual dinner at Mrs. Woolley’s Hotel (The Musselburgh Arms).

It must be remembered that at this time there were not many people who had homes with gardens. Most people lived in tenements and their contribution to the show consisted of their window boxes. The Fair Day Association, with a view to creating some colour for visitors attending the races, offered prizes amounting to two guineas for the best window box displays.

What is surprising was that winners had to bring the boxes to the show in order to receive their prizes. This practice discontinued as entries tapered off and the quality deteriorated.

However, another class of exhibitor was emerging. The housing developments at the turn of the century enlarged the ‘cottager class’. These people were encouraged to compete by growing ‘flower plots’ and the plots were judged just like our town gardens scheme today but as this class of competitor increased, they exhibited at the show so much that by 1909 it was agreed, after a great deal of discussion, that the committee should be re-organised and comprise eight practical gardeners and seven amateur gardeners.

It may be of interest to know who the 1909 committee were – Mr Grey, Preston Lodge; Mr McArdie, Inveresk Gate; Mr Thomson, Drummohr; Mr Kidd, Carberry Tower; Mr Bryce, Newhailes; and Messers Armstrong, Matthews and Wright, addresses not stated. The amateurs were Messers Ferguson, Sandilands, Leggat, McGregor, Hawley and Mr Gemmell, county councillor, of Braehead, Inveresk.

The show remained open until 7pm, after which, for an admission charge of three pence [3d], a concert was organised and ‘many talented artists performed’. No doubt local talent.

An extract from the Musselburgh News confirms that the 1893 show was held at the old grammar school. By 1906 it had moved to a tent in Pinkie grounds, owned by the Hopes. In 1910 it moved to Inveresk Church Hall.

The newspaper records the following entries for 1908: 50 pods of broad beans; six heavy potatoes; 24 pods of peas; six carrots; six spikes of gladiola; twelve cactus dahlias; twelve carnations of picotees; twelve pansies. There was also an entry for German greens – were these Winnistadt?

The shows towards the end of the first decade added jams, scones, honeycombs, etc. to the handicrafts of the industrial section.

This level of entries was maintained until 1956, as confirmed by the schedule of that year, but in more recent times the entries for each class have been reduced in number. Some classes have disappeared.

The year 1893 had a class for peaches and melons, and Councillor Tomlinson, as an added attraction for that year’s show, exhibited 34 varieties of potato.

Prize money in these years averaged £35 but there were no trophies as we know them today. Prizes were donated for specific classes and if the patron died the class and its prize were deleted from the schedule unless someone else could be persuaded to donate the prize.

Some prizes were donated by firms such as Tillie & White of Edinburgh. They gave a ‘fine barometer’ for the best exhibitor and three cash prizes totalling £1.3.6d. Suttons of Reading gave £1 provided the winning entries were grown from their seed.

Baptie the grocer gave 10/- provided he got an advertisement! Dobbies of Rothesay awarded a silver medal for the best exhibit and for many years the Dalrymple family gave a silver medal for the best sweet peas.

Trophies did not come on the scene until the 1950s, although there is a mention in the minutes of a trophy being held by a Mrs. Little but not much is said about this other than a later reference to a trophy ‘being renovated’ and named the Coronation Cup for the 1953 Show. Was this Mrs Little’s trophy?

In 1951 there was a determined effort to encourage patrons to donate trophies. The big houses were approached but the outcome was disappointing – the old gardens no longer existed in their former glory and no doubt interest in horticultural shows died out in these quarters. On 22 August 1952 Mr Borthwick, a professional gardener, presented the Challenge Shield to the society.

By 1956, in addition to the Borthwick Shield, the following trophies had been received: the Cruden Trophy, the Coronation Trophy and the Riding of the Marches Trophy. Medals from the Dalrymple family for sweet peas and from the magazines Amateur Garden and Woman’s Own were also awarded for vegetables and industrial exhibits respectively.

There were only two occasions when the society ceased to function. The first was during the 1914-18 war, at the onset of which a notice appeared in the Musselburgh News cancelling the show. It is not clear how this happened but it could be that patrons and gardeners from the big houses were called to the colours because of their military connections with the Territorial Army.

The minute book in our possession for that period unfortunately ends in March 1914 and there are no further records until 1929 when a joint show with the Allotment Association was held in Inveresk Church Hall.

Prior to that date the Allotment Association, which had been formed in 1917, had been holding shows but on a much smaller scale, exhibiting vegetables and a small number of industrial classes. We are fortunate that Mr Guthrie has possession of a programme and schedule of the 1923 show, which, like others, was organised to raise funds for the Dalrymple Loan Hospice and the Musselburgh Ambulance Wagon.

The society does not appear to have got going again until 1930, at least in respect of organising shows. The first show solely planned by the society was held in 1930. It was advertised in the press; billposter men walked along the High Street and the Trades Band played outside the hall in Dalrymple Loan. Inside the hall the public were additionally entertained by the new fangled ‘radio music’, which was that heard on the wireless sets and presumably played on a radiogram.

Funds were raised, as they had been in earlier times, by collecting books. These were organised on an area basis, two members responsible for an area. In the 1950s there was a ‘free Gift Scheme’ and 1000 books, each containing five tickets, were purchased from the Hogarth Press of Portobello and I should imagine that gifts were donated by members as they do at present for the Tombola; the gradual slide to gambling as a means of raising funds.

The shows of the 1930s continued at this level of activity until 1939, when that year’s show was held just in time, because the war broke out the following week. With the war the society went into suspense until 1947, apart from an occasion when its funds were used to assist the Red Cross.

The 1950s were probably the halcyon years for the society, although there is no evidence to suggest that active members ever exceeded 20 or so. For example, in 1949 the committee consisted of seven office-bearers and 19 committee members but only 14 turned up at the AGM.

Nevertheless, those who were active did much to further the ambitions of the society. The 1950 Show attracted 62 exhibitors and 662 entries.

Festival of Britain year 1951 saw co-operation between the Town Council and the society in the inauguration of the town’s ‘Garden Competition’, when it was decided that prizes would be awarded on the basis of 50 points for cleanliness, 30 for layout and 20 for produce. The 1952 Show attracted 65 exhibitors and 715 entries; 1953, Coronation Year, 87 exhibitors and 726 entries and 1956, the year of a Riding of the Marches, 81 exhibitors and 627 entries.

Great plans had been made for 1956, the Riding of the Marches. Initially a three- or four-day show in a tent was suggested but in the end it was agreed that a two-day show would be sufficient. Mr Romanis, a member for 30 years until his death in 1960, was the President and Mr Sivess, who did much to revive the society following the second world war years, was show steward.

Not everything was crowned with success. In 1955 the society organised a bulb show and this was followed by lectures but to quote the minutes: ‘These did not meet with the anticipated success’.

Also about that time, ie 1953, saw the revival of the ‘Visiting Committee’. The purpose of this committee, which had been suggested in the early 1900s but not taken up, was to inspect the gardens of competitors whenever there was some doubt about whether the exhibits had actually been grown by the exhibitor or not. It would be interesting to know how people reacted to a visit!

Much searching through old copies of the Musselburgh News for information about the Society’s origins has not been able to take us back earlier than 1893 because no earlier copies of the newspaper now exist. However, the minutes record Mr Young of Tranent saying in 1910 that he had a schedule in his hand dated 1878 and Mr Blair, secretary in 1893, had been a member for 16 years, and this would take us back to 1877.

We know that the Royal Caledonian Society started in 1808, Broughton’s was started in 1853 and Penicuik in 1842, so Musselburgh, with its horticultural background, should go back to at least these times but at present we lack the evidence.

(extracted by permission from Musselburgh News 1987 December 11).