Sunday, 7 October 2018

Prestonpans Mural Trail. The Dark Ages. Witchcraft Uncovered.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Prestonpans has more going for it than just a seafront boardwalk so I thought it deserved a second post in its own right. Originally founded on fishing, coal, sea salt, soap and other industries... in the modern era  it had to find a way to reinvent itself. Like many post industrial towns and villages it went into a decades long decline since the 1960s-1980s and those traditional industries, mines and jobs dried up. Compared to some of the more upmarket neighbouring towns and villages it still retains something of a hard edge to it but that's never bothered me as I like character in a place and Prestonpans has plenty of that as well as many fine historic buildings.
The 15th century Preston Tower and Mercat Cross. This small round windowless cell was the town jail for many years. Space to walk around not an option so a good deterrent to behave. Period gardens surround this tower house and many other old buildings are scattered across this small town from every period giving visitors enough to look at on a day visit.
In recent years wild flower borders have appeared, aided by the extra hours of sunshine the East Coast has always enjoyed as it has half the rainfall of the west. As you can see from this sign Prestonpans is also well known as one of Scotland's first mural towns. I don't know the exact number as they are always adding new ones but it is a lot. This is just a small fraction I've included here.
Let's start with the John Muir tribute mural down by the seafront. He's enjoying a pint of local ale with the Gothenburg Public House and totem pole in the background. Obviously he was in America by this age.
And this is it here- just The Goth to locals. Built in the early 1900s and fabulously decorated inside with elaborately painted ceilings and walls it's well worth a visit. Prestonpans Mural Trail and Arts and Craft info in the pub.
I didn't realise quite how unique this pub chain was until, in the comments section, Russell pointed me in the direction of this link. Thanks R.C.

And directly across the road in the car park stands this oddity. The Prestoungrange/pans Totem Pole. A real one- from British Columbia.
Hope you can read this here. If not... in 2006 a 32 foot high pole was cut and carved with the assistance of Native American Cowichan individuals with the help of local artists and children, kick starting a Scottish arts and crafts, tapestry and mural splurge in the town that continues to this day.
It's also not too shabby in the late summer/autumn wild flower department.
When I visited here for the first time over a decade ago an excellent series of murals had been created along the sea wall but winter storms have washed them all away save this example. Most of the murals in town celebrate Prestonpans rich heritage. With a thousand year old pedigree it's one of the oldest areas in the UK to have used coal to heat houses- traced right back into prehistory long before the industrial age made 'black gold'  and coal mines popular. Even on beach walks in this district raw coal seams are visible on the surface strata running out to sea.
Dairy mural in the high street. A burn used to flow past here, now long buried underground.
A sea salt mural and soap production.
They also made bricks and earthenware pottery going by the examples on the totem pole. Totem Poles are all around us in modern day Britain. They advertise all the shops at the entrance to most retail parks.
This brown teapot was once a well known product of the area.
World mural off the high street. Prestonpans is twinned with Barga in Italy, hence the golden boot in this image.
A link to why its twinned with Barga here, The Vancouver island connection and other interesting local info.

Near the seafront wall, in an old sandstone locked shelter, one of the most elaborate and probably often overlooked murals is found. The Robert Burns panels celebrating the poets life, stories and songs. You have to peer though the bars to see the images properly but that definitely adds to the atmosphere. Although Burns was Ayrshire through and through he did live in and visit Edinburgh when he was alive and his poems of witches, hobgoblins and strange characters would chime deeply here alright.
One thing you notice travelling around this east coast area- Edinburgh and Lothian- is its very dark past. Almost every village and town has its own tale of hunting and killing witches- mostly innocent women and children that for one reason or another were tortured- named several others- who were also then tortured ruthlessly, burned and twisted  to root out the devil and evil lurking within community's. This happened all across Scotland and Europe during the 16th, 17th and early 18th century, killing thousands of mainly women and children in Scotland alone- millions Europe wide in a great purge. It eventually died out but for some reason it lasted longest here, even after it was discredited in most other places.
The nearby town of North Berwick in the late 1500s.  200 women eventually suspected of witchcraft starting with the obvious weakest link in the chain, a young servant girl tortured and maimed to reveal her secrets. I've read more than a few of these accounts now and to modern eyes it seems less like magic and casting spells and more like a group of evil people bending the local population's tribal instincts to further their own ends, something that continues to the present day around the world in even the most civilized countries. Sometimes the victims only crime was to be outspoken, criticizing the rules of the day, the church, or the ruling classes.. or to be a loner with a black cat or peculiar reclusive habits... or to fall out with a neighbour over a trivial matter... or come from a different village into a new area... or just be unpopular... or get sexually abused by someone higher up the pecking order then conveniently silenced.... take your pick from one hundred different excuses.
And I found myself thinking... why this area rather than the remote and gloomy Highlands? This is after all the sunshine coast, wide skies, huge horizons- full of rich soils, large prosperous farms, productive fields, huge estates, castles and mine owners in an age when the land provided the most wealth in the country. Even today it looks a mainly upmarket region so you would think it would be more enlightened here than the savage north with its warring feudal clan system but apparently not. Maybe they had more to loose here with discontent so kept a tighter noose around the neck of the peasant classes... or manipulated them ruthlessly. At that time miners were close to slaves, destined to a life down the pits with no free will at all and sold to whoever bought the land as just essential tools required to make a profit, whether it be farming, mining or making products- each village tied to a landowner.
 The witch trial. Prestonpans.
According to the local info Prestonpans had its own trial of 81 witches who joined the long procession of others who were tortured, strangled and burned to death along with their cats and sometimes their children on this surprisingly savage coastline. Mostly women. Prestonpans apparently, for its modest size, was particularly good at finding witches and Satan in its midst- better than towns many times larger. Most of these unlucky souls were dragged off to Edinburgh to die within sight of the famous castle with crowds of spectators applauding  A bit like X Factor or various Celebrity Punishment type programmes today. Popular entertainment for the time. All sanctioned by Mary Queen of Scots who apparently signed the Scottish Witchcraft Act in the mid 1500s so no tears should be sniffed over her fate. No wonder it was called the forgotten holocaust. The Forgotten War. And a purge against women in the main. Makes you wonder why? Are they so evil, these creatures of the night? Remember the lesson of the apple after all... Since Lilith first walked the earth no war has lasted longer than the Battle of the Sexes.
A row of miners cottages typical of the period. Summerlee is still a district in modern Prestonpans. It's a popular name as it's also a former steelworks and industrial museum in Coatbridge near Glasgow.
The children of Summerlee. Spot any witches here yet? Even young children and babies can harbour the devil in them.
A tram approaching. It struck me that even today it is very easy for those in power to sway the masses through propaganda and deliberate untruths. History has taught us not a lot and it could be argued that social media and 'smart' technology has made us more stupid than ever. Increasingly self obsessed, an entire world chasing a dubious type of fame, and dis-connected. Easier to sway than ever with a populist message. Souls bought with a handful of trinkets. Think the equivalent of the Witchcraft Trials couldn't happen today? Look around- it's in full swing.

If I put a video on here I usually try and match it with the subject of the post. This is a perfect fit. I first heard this ahead of its time song many years ago and thought of it now as the words are so remarkable and well chosen. This popular Irish folk singer is still on the go, appearing in Glasgow and Edinburgh this winter and he should know the truth of the matter far better than me with his background and worldwide contacts. Picked this particular version as the lyrics are on it written down in full and well worth a look. An important song about a period that's been too long glossed over as its only very recently several memorials and pardons have been issued. Better late than never I suppose.

PS.... Enjoyed the recent series just ended called Back in Time for the Factory- about a group of South Wales workers in a recreated garment factory during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. All the Back In Time series like Back in Time for Dinner and Back in Time for the Weekend have been fascinating slices of recent social history, revealing many of the things folk of my age lived through but didn't necessarily connect- like the invention of fridge freezers and supermarkets allowing ordinary housewives the freedom to go out to work for the first time. Doh! I always wondered why I suddenly became a latchkey kid at 14 and came home every night to an empty house and a hungry dog.


Unknown said...

Hi guys....good to see you are still around! Impressed that you are happy to post tales of witches as we start the run in to All Hallows' Eve...I commend you for your bravery.

Prestonpans is a place I have never visited, in fact I would be sorely pressed to point to it on a map other than it is east(?) of Edinburgh somewhere. This leaves me somewhat embarrassed.

With you guys being from the west - did you not run the risk of being burnt at the stake for being that wee bit different? :)

Anabel Marsh said...

Excellent murals - once again, a place I don’t think I have ever been to. That song was very powerful, despite its gentle tone.

Carol said...

You're spot on about the 'reasoning' behind the 'witchcraft trials' - never had anything to do with witchcraft at all! I'd definitely have been accused and tortured back them as I'm an individual and live alone - that's all it took.

Fascinating about that totem pole - didn't know about that...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Ken,
Glad to see you're still active in the blogging world. I'll add you to my side bar of bloggers I follow. If you can get a bus to Edinburgh the number 26 bus from York Place and the Number 124 on Princes Street takes you to the east coast seaside towns. They are brilliant to explore. More coming soon.
I don't go out with Alex much nowadays- he's strictly a hill man whereas I like a range of different outdoor activities.
Best Wishes,

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
I've been a fan of Christy Moore since the late 1970s, one of the best folk singers in Ireland, especially the early traditional story songs like Spancill Hill and Rambling Robin off his second solo LP Prosperous, both of which are sublime and poignant, musically and lyrically. When I started broadening my musical tastes by listening to library LPs I soon got through the limited rock and pop offerings then discovered folk recordings which are often raw, powerful, brutal and amazing. Such vivid songs of life, love and grievances through the ages.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Either that or you'd end up a saint- Joan of Arc was stubborn, independent, and carved her own path despite protests.
Yes, it's an odd thing to see in a Scottish coastal town.

Rosemary said...

Many moons ago I visited Barga, the Tuscan hilltop town in Italy. It is a lovely little town, and how nice to know that it is linked with Prestonpans.
There are murals and there are murals, but I like the way that these have been done, and record the history of the town and the area. Were they done by local people?

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
I had to look up that info on the local blog. I've added a link in the post for that as I found it very interesting. Apparently its not just a picked at random twin town as Italian folk from Barga settled in this district many years ago, local children have been out to it along with swapped visits from local musicians, artists, town leaders and tapestry weavers so they have strong links. Same with Vancouver Island and a town there which refused to die after the saw mills shut down so it reinvented itself as a murals and artists community that it is now well known for ... inspiring Prestonpans to do the same since 2000. There are dozens of murals in all different styles and colour range and I only picked a handful to put on, basically to tell a story- others done by local children, Lothian artists,local talented people and invited guests.

Ian Johnston said...

Great stuff again Bob - some of the murals are really fine work. Another spot I've yet to visit and it seems there's plenty of interest and history

Kay G. said...

Lots of things to think about from your post, you know I love to know about history so I will look up what you have told us about here.
Also, I like the photos of the mural and the wildflowers. And John Muir, one of my heroes, of course.

russell campbell said...

Re the Goth pub, above link gives a history of the Gothenburg system. Apologies if you knew all this already. There is still a Goth in Fallin, a former mining village near Stirling.
In the north of England they tried another method to discourage excessive drinking - Temperance bars/inns. The Cross Keys, near Sedbergh, is a temperance inn still in existence. It is the starting point of a great walk up the Calf in the Howgills.
Just away to pour myself a beer!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian,
yes, the east coast towns in that area have a long history and a very different look to them thanks to centuries of trade with Europe, often easier then to reach than traveling inland around Scotland.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Another John Muir post coming up about the man himself and his childhood in Dunbar. I was surprised to find he had much in common with the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Russell,
I'd looked up reviews for the pub which were largely favorable and viewed the interior murals online but didn't know the full history of the Gothenburg link or why it was mainly mining towns they sprang up in. Very interesting. It can't still hold to the principle of making it an unpleasant place to drink in as it looks very nice inside with good meal reviews and they seem to serve a range of local ales, beers, and spirits.

Andy said...

So much interest in most towns if you scratch beneath the surface as you do. Couldn't agree more with those comments about Social Media and how it creates a platform for manipulative people and groups to manipulate others. "Its on the Internet, it must be true". We live in dangerous times

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
You only have to look at Yahoo News comments section where the more extreme views dominate and anyone more moderate with a reasoned opinion is shouted down or ridiculed
leaving you with a general trend towards mob rule mentality and radical viewpoints generally which can't be good for society with the collapse/sidelining of traditional sources of information like newspapers or TV. Everything's now fake news, or a conspiracy theory, or cannot be trusted if it's coming from mainstream media and proper investigative old school journalism which is dying out rapidly anyway.
Sometimes you can get smothered by simply having too much information and choices at your fingertips and most folk haven't the time or inclination to check if something online is genuine or not so it becomes accepted fact before the truth eventually arrives to correct it.