Prestonpans Town Hall, built by public subscription 126 years ago, is set for a vibrant future as local group, The Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust is taking on a five year lease.
The Trust, a registered charity promoting the Battle of Prestonpans and its associated heritage for the benefit of both local and visiting audiences and the communities surrounding the battlefield, will take over the lease of the hall this spring. The hall, which was built in 1897 and has always been used as a community building, is currently mothballed and not in use due to the recent COVID restrictions.
The Trust’s plans for the hall include combined use as a museum, exhibition and activity hub, with events intending to help support footfall on Prestonpans High Street. The hall will be refurbished and its facilities improved.
The Trust’s activities at the Town Hall will also support their work towards developing a permanent visitor attraction in the Prestonpans area. The Trust has, with the support of East Lothian Council, entered into an agreement with Hargreaves [Blindwells] Limited to develop a high quality Living History Centre and museum at Blindwells which is scheduled to open in 2027.
Dr Gordon Prestoungrange Joint Chair of The Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust said:
“The Trust has an excellent track record of delivering informative and engaging events, exhibitions and education programmes, and we look forward to using this to bring Prestonpans Town Hall back to life. We have demonstrated our ability to care for and enhance community assets through our battlefield interpretation initiatives, including the restoration of Bankton Doocot, the Colonel Gardiner Monument, and the Viewpoint Pyramid. Our programme of activity and restoration at the Town Hall will leave the legacy of an improved space and strengthened community engagement.
“The Town Hall will become a hub for our ongoing activity, creating exciting new volunteering and skills-building opportunities. We look forward to welcoming school groups, hosting talks, workshops and events - including Gaelic language activities – and showcasing some of our collection. Whilst the Trust’s focus is the famous battle of 1745, we also plan to interpret the history of the Town Hall itself, and are committed to working with other heritage groups to ensure the facility serves as a valuable link to the wider historical story of Prestonpans. We look forward to the Community Council being able to meet again in the refurbished Hall, just as the town’s council did until 1975. All this will provide increased momentum as we work towards our living history centre at Blindwells.”
Sharon Saunders, Head of Communities, East Lothian Council, said:
“Generations of people have attended events and used facilities at Prestonpans Town Hall, a much-loved local building. We are keen to build on the role the town hall has played over many years by giving the community the opportunity to take on an enhanced role in its running, which has the potential to maximise its use for the benefit of folk in the area. This is a great example of partnership working and empowering local communities. It’s an exciting time for the community and we wish the Heritage Trust every success in taking these plans forward. Together with the Trust we are in the process of finalising legal documentation with a view towards the Trust taking over the operations and management of the hall in May.”
The Town Hall will be manned by volunteers and managed by the Trust’s sessional staff, with the existing spaces of the hall made fit for purpose in a sympathetic and sensitive manner.
The main hall will be used for an exhibition about the people and places connected to the Battle, and for sections of the Prestonpans Tapestry and Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. A model of the battlefield will be refurbished for display and a dedicated children’s “camp” will allow youngsters to try on replica 18th century clothing and explore specially created resources. A community corner will provide space for small temporary displays and the promotion of other heritage projects or activities in the area. The stage area will be retained and enhanced for talks and performances.
The former ante-chamber will be transformed into an attractive meeting room, which will also operate as an education room for school groups and workshop events. With enhanced technical facilities and wi-fi capacity, the meeting room will also provide a broadcast space for digital presentations, building on the popularity of the Trust’s online programming during lockdown.
The Battle of Prestonpans was the first major battle of the last Jacobite Rising. The battle took place on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to King James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) achieved a dramatic victory over the Redcoat army loyal to the Hanoverian king, George II, which was led by Sir John Cope. The battle took place in fields between Prestonpans, Tranent, Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and despite their ultimate defeat the following year, the battle left an important cultural legacy.
The Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust works to mark this historical legacy through interpretation of the battlefield site, including signage in English and Gaelic. In recent years the Trust has installed new monuments to the fallen, commissioned major tapestries, opened a micro-museum, and developed on-site and digital interpretation for the battlefield, whilst touring its exhibitions around the world. The Trust is working towards the launch of a world class living history centre on the battlefield site as a way of institutionalising this activity. The Trust’s events to mark the 275th anniversary in 2020 are now re-scheduled to take place in 2021 with a major re-enactment of the battle set to be the climax of the programme.
When opening the Town Hall in August 1897, then local MP Robert Haldane QC spoke about the importance of the Battle of Prestonpans before continuing:
"What is a Town Hall? It is a place in which the common spirit of those thrown together by a great common bond makes itself manifest. They could not keep such a spirit alive without some building in which that spirit might be manifest, and at last they have got it in this Hall, which is worthy of you as a Burgh.... It is now the Town Hall of Prestonpans and is open to us all. My wish and hope is that you might make a use of it worthy of the exertions which have called it into existence".
To find out more about The Trust or to register your interest as a volunteer, visit https://prestonpans275.org.