Just a few
miles to the east of Edinburgh at the mouth of the Esk on the Firth
of Forth in the East Lothian area of South Scotland is Musselburgh.
Its original name was Eskmouth, but in 1018 it is mentioned as a
burgh (a title which gives towns extra rights). Since the Firth of
Forth is a large mussel fishing area it is fairly logical to figure
out where the modern name Musselburgh originated. In addition to
fishing Musselburgh also supported the woolen industry and coal
mines in its early history.
The area was settled by 80 AD
by the Romans and still contains a bridge built by them, rebuilt in
the 13th and 16th centuries and used by
pedestrians to cross the Esk. It is mentioned in 1018 as I wrote
earlier and referred to as a burgh. In 1201 nobility from all over
Scotland gathered here to pledge their allegiance to William the
Lion’s son, Alexander. In the 14th century it earned its
nickname ‘The Honest Toun’ when the Regent of Scotland was gravely
ill and tended by the town’s people until his death. When the town
was offered a reward for their charity they would not accept it
since they felt it had been their duty to care for the man. There
is now a yearly celebration and an Honest Lass and Honest Lad are
Musselburgh became involved in
Henry VIII’s “rough wooing” brought about when he attempted to rule
Scotland through his son Edward’s betrothal and eventual marriage to
the infant Queen Mary. Though this was agreed to in the Treaty of
Greenwich, the Scottish parliament turned it down since they wished
for her to marry Francis II, the Dauphin of France (which she
eventually did). This so angered Henry that he attacked Scotland
on several fronts to change the parliament’s mind, hence the term
‘rough wooing’. In 1547, even though Henry had died the Duke of
Somerset continued with this campaign and encountered the Scottish
troops headed by the Earl of Arran who was positioned at the River
Esk near Musselburgh. Misjudgements on the Earl’s part assisted in
the defeat and loss of many of the 30,000 Scots under his command.
Mary, in the meantime, was already in France.
In more recent years it has
become a resort area with a 9 hole golf course designed by James
Baird and a very popular horse racing track surrounding the golf
course. There is actually a bridge crossing the Esk that is opened
only on racing days to facilitate traffic coming to and from the
race track. On other than race days it is closed and barricaded. I
would imagine golfing on race days could get a little hectic and
noisy, or for that matter racing horses around an area where golf
balls are flying about a little risky. Rumor has it that in the
early days some onlookers would ‘participate’ in golf games by
moving or kicking balls about the course to benefit players they had
bet on. Musselburgh’s golf course is considered the world’s oldest
and its race track Scotland’s oldest. It also has one of Scotland’s
oldest grammar schools, which is very near the golf course. Many
of the places and streets are named after one of its famous “sons’,
Sir Keith Elphinstone, who invented the car speedometer.
Like many cities and districts
Musselburgh has its own tartan, which was created in 1958.
Musselburgh today could be
likened to our ‘bedroom communities’ in that it is near enough to
Edinburgh to provide a fairly easy commute and to benefit from its
economics, and yet far enough away to avoid the busy city life.
With its resort atmosphere it provides an excellent place to live
and raise a family.