Prestonpans | Economy

Tourism | Industry | Mining | Power | Coping with change | Agriculture & horticulture | Pottery


The only museum in the parish is the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum, with a cafe and a visitor centre. Open since 1982, the museum charts the development of local industries from the mining of coal, which first took place on this site in the 12th century, to brick and pipe making, pottery, salt and soap manufacture and brewing, all of which depended on the local coal industry. In his capacity as Coal Board Curator of mining relics in Scotland (and ex-manager of Prestongrange), David Spence did much to gather together many artefacts while looking after Prestongrange for East Lothian District Council. He was awarded the MBE for his work there.

After the closure of the pit in 1962/3, the property, which was managed by the National Coal Board, was left vacant. The nearby Morrison’s Haven harbour was filled in (though later partly excavated) and the workers’ houses demolished. At this date, there was little concept of industrial heritage.

Construction of Prestongrange museuem

Construction of Prestongrange Mining Museum (now Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum) which was opened in 1982. See the Cornish Beam Engine on the left.

From the early 1980s, the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum was affiliated with the Lady Victoria Colliery Museum in Midlothian, and together they formed the Scottish Mining Museum. However, Prestongrange was subsequently taken over and managed by the council. The story of the Prestongrange Colliery site exemplifies a radical change in social attitudes and work patterns through its conversion from a place of work into an archive museum of Scotland’s industrial past.

Visitors at Prestongrange, 1980s

Visitors at Prestongrange, 1980s

Although tourists do not generally stay in Prestonpans, day visitors come for the coastal walk, the historical sites (Battle of Prestonpans, Preston Tower, dovecots and so on) and to visit the Industrial Heritage Museum. The majority of visitors who make use of bed and breakfast accommodation use Prestonpans as a base to visit Edinburgh, since the city centre is only 15 minutes away by rail; these include professionals (scientists, business people, students) on relatively short visits to organisations in Edinburgh. Other visitors who stay in the parish include workers at Cockenzie Power Station, from the time of its construction in the 1960s to the present day.

The site at Drummohr offers camping and caravanning facilities. In 1945, Drummohr was a religious establishment, a monastery run by the Roman Catholic Passionist Fathers. In the early 1970s the property was sold and ultimately converted to its current use.

Tourism has not been of great importance to the Prestonpans economy to date; however, with the start of the mural paintings c2000 by the Baron Court, Prestonpans may yet become part of the tourist trail.


The densely populated town of Prestonpans has always needed retail goods and services (see Shops & Services), including the building and associated trades necessary to maintain properties. These types of industries remained important throughout the period.

Walter Muir of W.A. Muir & Sons – local builders & roofers – shares his memories:

I was born on 6th July 1938 at The Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital at Abbeyhill in Edinburgh. At that time, my family lived at 149 High Street in Prestonpans. My father had started the firm in 1936. The firm’s speciality was roofing, plastering and roughcasting with some general building work. We even swept chimneys. The firm closed down during the war years.

I left school at 16, one year beyond the leaving age of 15. I had been working with my father during school holidays and didn’t want to go back to school. My mother said the job was too dirty! My apprenticeship was a traditional five years – learning the trades and attending night school in Edinburgh studying for [the] City & Guilds certificate. In those days we had large double-handed barrows to transport ladders and material and work was confined to Prestonpans and Port Seton. We swept chimneys once a week and many a dispute there was on whose turn it would be.

I completed my apprenticeship and left home to do two years’ national service in the army, rejoining the firm in 1961. My brother left school and joined the firm that same year.

In the sixties and seventies there was a lot of work. Thanks to local and national house building programmes both the town and county council were putting up houses and the Scottish Special Housing were also building in Prestonpans.

The roof tiles used to be delivered to Prestonpans station. They were transferred to a hired lorry then unloaded on site. It was hard, heavy work. Now they are delivered to the site and unloaded by mechanical means.

By now the business had vans and the boundaries stretched to Edinburgh, the Lothians and occasionally to the Borders, but the bulk of the work was still local. Large businesses, like Prestonpans Co-op and Fowler’s Brewery, for example, had properties all over the town to be maintained. Like other commercial properties in the town, they have now been demolished or passed into private ownership. One of our major contracts was a five-year project involving the re-roofing of Prestongrange House, home of the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club, with traditional Scotch slates.

We moved from our workshop in the High Street, down behind the shops, to larger premises in Port Seton in 1981.

Since I started work as an apprentice, I’ve seen many changes. New methods of construction have created more specialisation in the building trade – modern internal walls for example, require no plastering, so we now concentrate more on roofing work – about 75% roofing and about 25% on other work. The council ‘right to buy’ policy has meant less maintaining council properties and more private work.

I retired in 1998 but my brother is still running the business. There are always roofs to be made watertight.

The town grew up on the back of its numerous traditional heavy and manufacturing industries, which employed large numbers of people.

Advert for Buchanan and Sons

Advert for Daniel Buchanan & Sons, Prestonpans, manufacturers of oilskins, buoys and floats. The firm relocated to Prestonpans after a fire destroyed their workshop in Cockenzie. (A&J Gordon)

In 1945, Prestonpans was home to brickmaking; clay (pipes); coal mining (see below); and the manufacture of oilskin, salt, and soap, as well as food and drink production, in the shape of brewing and baking. Many of the industrial premises were located within the town itself, including the soapworks and the former saltworks site. The saltworks are commemorated within the walls of the new building – Aldhammer House – that replaced them.


Saltworks at 162-168 High Street, Prestonpans

By 2000, most of the heavy industries had gone, and light industry had increased in importance; Mid-Road Industrial Estate offered purpose-built units. This type of industry included: agricultural products; carpentry; oilcloth; ornament manufacture; food and drink production (Ford’s bakery) and telecommunications. Many of these ‘new’ industries have a web presence, which has implications for changes in location of businesses (ie they can reach a wide clientele from a small town).

Aldhammer House

Aldhammer House, Prestonpans, which houses the area offices of East Lothian Council.

Just one example of an industry that declined is Fowler’s Brewery; Andrew Ralton summarises its story:

In 1945, Fowler’s brewery constituted a major employer in Prestonpans. By 1956, Fowler’s had developed new equipment for production, facilities such as showers for staff and cars for their travellers and added to their existing tied public houses and hotels by constructing a roadhouse, the ‘Johnnie Cope’, at Hawthorn Road in Prestonpans.

However, the latter half of the 1950s saw problems due to increased production and distribution costs and a slump in the sales of bottled beer. By 1960, Fowler’s had been taken over by Northern Breweries Ltd. The resulting conglomerate decided on the closure of the brewery, transferring much of its equipment and a number of employees to other breweries outside East Lothian. Production finally ceased on the site in May 1962. The maltings, on the site presently occupied by the Safeway Foodstore on the High Street, continued to be used until 1964, but with a much-reduced workforce and the transfer of associated buildings and workforce to international instead of local ownership. The voluntary winding up of Fowler’s Company was officially concluded 14 October 1969.

The brewery buildings were initially converted to use by small businesses, until their conversion in the 1990s to a private housing development. The maltings were also demolished and the office premises, also on the High Street, taken over by another organisation.

Closure of the brewery occurred almost simultaneously with the closure of Prestonpans’ two large collieries, which resulted in a radical reduction in industrial employment within Prestonpans.


The major industrial sites within the parish in 1945 were the two pits, one at either end of the town, along the shoreline. These were Prestongrange Mine and Brickworks, and the Links Pit, which occupied the open area between Prestonpans and Cockenzie as well as part of the land now occupied by Cockenzie Power Station.

Prestonlinks colliery 1964

Prestonlinks colliery at time of closure in 1964

In 1945, Prestongrange was a functioning colliery, along with associated railway and engineering works, coal bings, a brickwork, kilns and miners’ housing at Morison’s Haven. After closure in 1962/3, there was some effort by the National Coal Board to retain the site for industry. In 1972 Aviamac took over the former pithead baths building. But this did not maintain itself long term at this site. The Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum now occupies the site. Residents now use much of the Links Pit site as a recreational area, beside Cockenzie Power Station.

Aviamac from the foreshore

Aviamac factory viewed from seashore

Aviamac at former brewery site

Aviamac factory at former brewery site, Prestonpans. The nearer building, once the brewery offices, was still in use in 2000 by Coeval Products Ltd.


Cockenzie Power Station was designed by Edinburgh architects Robert Matthews and Johnston Marshall (RMJM) and is operated by Scottish Power, an Anglo-American utility group based in Glasgow, with a turnover of £3.2 billion. This 1200 MW coal-fired power station, which comprises four separate generating units, has been operational since 1967.

Originally coal was obtained directly from the deep mines of the neighbouring Lothian coalfield, but subsequently coal has been conveyed by rail from open cast mines in the Lothians, Fife, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire.

Keith Anderson summarises the technical details:

Cockenzie, a coal fired power station built in the early to mid 1960s, has an output of 1,200 megawatt (4×300 megawatt turbo?generators), of which 48 megawatts are used to maintain its own ancillary plants, when on maximum load, replacing five less efficient power stations in other locations, one of which was Portobello.

The site, extending to 93ha, has a historic association with coal, railways and also a local battle. The power station is built on an area of 24ha, part of which was reclaimed from the sea to the north of the main coast road. Underground cables connect to a major switching substation and a conveyor system supplies coal from a wagon discharge facility and storage area. Close to the foreshore pipes connect to the ash settling lagoons, near Musselburgh.

Maintaining supply requires massive quantities of stock and an ability to keep it in transition. EACH DAY some 12,000 tons of coal, creating almost 90,000 tons of steam at a supply and reheat temperature of 560°C, 650,000 gallons of treated make?up water for boilers, 720 million gallons of treated sea water for cooling in condensers and up to 2?3,000 tons of ash product.


Above are the main movements, but many other functions and supply loops are required, all of which are important in maintaining the electrical output. Those systems may be substantial and in most cases have standby back?up.

FEED PUMPS have to maintain water supply to the boiler at maximum operating pressure, normally supplied by a separate steam turbine and as backup two x 60% electric auxiliary pumps, all requiring their own ancillary pumps to maintain gland scaling and cooling purposes within their own loop.

COAL, once supplied to each of the four units, is fed into six bunkers each of 600 tons capacity, individual feeders then supply measured quantities (up to 40 tons/hr) dependent on demand, to a milling plant where it is ground to face powder consistency prior to mixing with pressurised air and being blown into the boiler furnace.

AIR is provided to the boiler through massive ducts, a controlled supply and furnace balance maintained by two forced draught fans in the suction duct and two induced draught fans in the duct system at the chimney base. Balance is essential to allow the fuel time for complete combustion within the boiler furnace, so only flue gases flow through the outlet ducts, excess temperature being removed by integral boiler heaters.

STEAM is generated within the boiler and superheated to levels indicated above prior to passing two sets of stop valves and associated pipe work at a pressure of 162 bar (atmospheres) to control valves and the high pressure turbine exhausting to the boiler for reheating, before returning via control valves to an intermediate pressure turbine, and then exhausting via pipe work to twin inline low pressure turbines and associated condenser.

WATER, in the form of condensed steam, is pumped through pipe work and various coolers and low pressure heaters until on reaching a de?aerator (a direct contact heater which removes air impurities from the water), now pressurised, the water returns to the feed pump suction and starts a new cycle via high pressure heaters to the boiler. Note: the steam turbine feed pump and all heaters use bled steam from the main turbine to improve cycle efficiency.

ALTERNATORS, coupled to the main turbine rotors, which when synchronised to the national grid system revolve at 3,000 rpm, absorbing the turbine output of 402,000 horsepower and converting it to 300 megawatts of electrical power per unit, an operation, which although very efficient, creates considerable heat which is controlled in two ways, the stator (non?moving) has treated water circulated through its electrical coils, the rotor (coupled to turbine) is cooled by hydrogen gas circulated by an integral fan, both systems having separate non?contact coolers. The hydrogen cooling the rotor requires scaling with oil controlled by a specialised unit which removes gas impurities in the oil and varies the scaling pressure and system oil levels within defined limits by two x 100% pumps, plus a 100% emergency battery backup pump, and a final automatic back-up supply from the main turbine oil system, such is the importance of maintenance of that oil seal.

GENERATOR TRANSFORMERS complete the connection from generator to the grid system (Musselburgh locals will remember these massive transformers by the building of ‘the penny brig’ to transport them across the river Esk, the existing road bridge being unable to take the load).

OPERATIONS Consider: an inline turbo?alternator, with both low pressure cylinders fixed, high and intermediate pressure cylinders and their associated bearings able to slide on their bedplates; a combined turbo?alternator rotor 150 feet long, weighing 170 tons; operating at temperatures varying between ambient and 566°C; able to expand from the bearing between the high and intermediate cylinder; revolving at 3000 rpm, with both high temperature cylinder expansion tolerances of ?20 to 150 mils. (?2 to +6 thou. in inches); the rotor towards the alternator when fully expanded longer by approximately 3 centimetres (or more than an inch); and with the last stage, low pressure rotor blade tips (11.25 feet in overall diameter), relative to its cylinder, moving faster than Concorde at full speed.

It must also be taken into account the heating of all the heavily flanged cylinder inner and outer casings with their own internal warming facilities and associated expansions. Fully heat soaked is no great problem, however starting from cold, hot, part cooled or during shutdown operations requires experience in several different techniques and is normally carried out manually under close and careful supervision.


Statistics indicate that the station’s units have completed approximately 10,000 start-up/shutdown cycles to date.


The TWIN CHIMNEYS are each 149 metres tall (489 feet). They disperse the flue gases from two of the station’s four boilers through a system of ducts and electrostatic precipitators, which removes the fly ash prior to discharge to the atmosphere. The fly ash is mixed with washings from the boiler course ash pit and as slurry is pumped to the settling lagoons at Musselburgh. Rough ash is removed by road transport.

COAL STORAGE, with a capacity of 900,000 tons (approximately six weeks’ supply) is available as an integral part of coal plant wagon discharge area from both rail and road transport. Normally, following sampling, the coal is transferred directly via a system of conveyors, being weighed and removing tramp materials in the process, to the station bunkers (total capacity approximately 14,000 tons). However during light demand it is diverted to the storage area and then reclaimed as required.

FUEL OIL STORAGE, 4,000 tons (reduced from 9,500 tons), fuel oil firing through integral coal/oil burners is used for stabilising the furnace during start-up, shutdown, low output operation and if necessary as an alternative fuel.

THE JETTY, 150 metres off shore is the seawater intake connected by twin tunnels to land shafts, screening bays and six individual circulating water pumps, to a ring main culvert system which supplies cooling water to the main turbine condensers and all ancillary system coolers, returning via a ring main outlet culvert to the Firth of Forth at the outfall weir.

SURFACE WATER SYSTEM is an essential and critical operational facility, since the site area is constructed with a basement below sea level.

ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION is a complex and essential part of all activity on site as every pump, fan, heater, conveyor, distribution boards and valves of all sizes are fed or operated electrically. Dependent on function and appropriate load these can be fed from a variety of different supply boards ranging at high voltage of 11kv, and 3.3kv, intermediate voltage 415v to low voltage at 240v and 110v. Certain emergency back?up lower voltage supplies may be fed from a battery distribution system. Emergency diesel generators operate automatically on failure of normal station supply for the maintenance of essential plant and distribution boards.

Many other ancillary systems exist within the site, all equally important and necessary to the ongoing ability of safe plant operation and emergency back?up, such as fire systems together with everyday requirements of a normal living community providing continuous, round the clock operation.

Coping with Change

The collapse of coal mining and the closure of Fowler’s Brewery in Prestonpans in the first half of the 1960s were potentially cataclysmic events in terms of the future of Prestonpans. Furthermore, the proposal in 1952 to supply 100 new homes for miners, together with the building of pithead bath facilities at Prestongrange mine, along with the proposal to supply the new power station with coal from the Lothian minefields, thereby ensuring full employment, demonstrate that the rationalisation by closure of mines was unforeseen in the 1940s and therefore not anticipated by the workers.

It is to the credit of local residents that the parish has not, since then, deteriorated in the way that many other mining villages have done and that the town remains a dynamic and vigorous community. The workforce has successfully converted from a mainly manual workforce to other sources of employment, moving outwith the parish to take advantage of employment opportunities.

In recent years, increased access to information technology has meant that in Prestonpans, as elsewhere, the physical location of a business no longer limits access to customers and, though only to a limited extent at present, the necessity to look beyond the parish to find work has diminished. Many of the current businesses listed above have varying levels of presence on the Internet and promote their businesses over a very wide area.

Agriculture & horticulture

In the Haddingtonshire Yearbook of 1945, the following farms were listed; many of these were market gardens: Preston Farm, East Loan (D.W. Lowe & Sons Ltd.); Upper and Middle Shotts (W. Wright); Northfield Farm (McNeil & Co.); Wiggriehill and Dunbar Butts (J. Rennie); Nethershot Farm (D.W. Lowe & Sons Ltd.); Dolphingstone (J.B. Miller); Goshen (J.H. Scarlett).

By 2000, Dolphingstone was the only remaining farmland, and almost all the top-quality agricultural land of Prestonpans parish had been sacrificed to housing.

While homes are essential for people, one wonders at the wisdom of using the best land in Scotland for such a purpose. Once built on, it cannot be redeemed. Today we find it hard to understand the wisdom of the Beeching cuts to the rail network; perhaps future generations will likewise wonder why we were so short-sighted as to use up all our best food-producing land for homes.


Production of pottery, both industrial and decorative, has long-term historic associations with Prestonpans. Production on an industrial scale ceased before the war and subsequent pottery manufacture has been an individual craft, often producing specially commissioned items. Pyper’s Wynd Pottery (Dorothy Clyde) was established in 1972, and ceased operation 1993-94, on the retirement of the proprietor. There is at present a possibility of a future revival of the old handcrafted pottery production, which may be based at the museum.