Prestonpans, the smallest parish in East Lothian at 600ha (1483 acres), is situated between Musselburgh and Cockenzie, on the Firth of Forth. The small separate villages, including Cuthill, Preston and Morrison’s Haven, had long ago merged with Prestonpans town. In 1945, Prestonpans was an industrial community in the process of assimilating a large increase in its population, which had occurred during the previous half of the century with the expansion of local collieries. The coastal strip was marred by industrial waste, and Morrison’s Haven – the 16th century harbour near Prestongrange pit – lay derelict. The parish was, at this time, largely a self-sufficient rural and industrial community, relying almost completely on its numerous farms, market gardens and the local industry, especially mining, for employment. Although many people were housed in council properties built in the 1930s, many others still occupied homes owned by those who provided employment. Private homes were few in number, were large and imposing and were either manses attached to local churches or occupied by owners or managers of local industry. By 2000, the nature of the parish was largely urban, the town of Prestonpans having spread over much of it, overwhelming some of the best farmland in the county in the process. There were justified concerns that the town would be ‘consumed’ by Musselburgh, in the county planners’ rather undignified rush to permit mass housing expansion in the county.
Prestonpans shoreline is mainly rocky outcrops interspersed with shingle; it is littered with relics of the town’s industrial past, especially from the potteries, the brickwork and the brewery. Much of the original shore road, now a mixture of old and new housing, lies behind the High Street, where the main shopping and administrative facilities for the town are located. Although a few old buildings of character, such as Boat Stone House, still exist on the High Street, very little remains of pre-20th century structures. However, some buildings have been created within and around former industrial properties and incorporate some aspect of these older buildings, in particular the walls. The houses on the High Street now reflect a range of styles from various decades.
Between the wars, the original town was spreading upward from the shore, through lands previously used for farming or market gardening, absorbing other communities on the way, most particularly Preston Village, which was designated a conservation area in 1969. The area of Preston Village includes a number of National Trust for Scotland properties and other buildings of architectural or historical significance. The housing style of different parts of the town reflects the perceived needs of the population at the time: semi-detached one or two-storey properties with large gardens; low level housing within a communal courtyard setting and, occasionally, gap sites filled with three or four storey flats. Most of this housing was council built, although there is currently one large privately built estate on East Loan. Industrial premises are now mainly limited to the Mid Road Estate beside the railway station at the upper end of the town. The eastern end of the town is dominated by the bulk of the coal-fired Cockenzie Power Station, built in 1968.