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The History of Haddington

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The Royal Burgh of Haddington is rich with historical heritage, and stands today as an almost perfect example of the typical Georgian county town. Haddington's rise to prosperity owed much to its perfect geographic location on a bend of the River Tyne , near the border with England. The sea and the port of Aberlady were only six miles away and Edinburgh , the capital lay a day’s walk to the west. The surrounding lands were rich and fertile and agriculture thrived there. Haddington was granted the Royal Charter in the early 12th century. It housed a royal residence that is said to have been the birthplace of Alexander II of Scotland and even William the Lion. The site of the former royal seat is now home to the council buildings in Court Street. In its early days the burgh consisted of a triangle marked out by the present-day High Street, Market Street and Hardgate. During the 16th century an additional street, middle row, was built and now make up the north side of High Street and the south side of Market Street. The early buildings have long vanished but the basic street pattern of that original settlement remains. Haddington managed to continue to grow despite its border town position, which meant it was often a focal point for trouble between the constantly warring England and Scotland. King John visited in 1216 and was one of the first, although by no means the the last, to take a sword to the town’s inhabitants.

In the early 15th century Haddington was the fourth largest town in Scotland behind Aberdeen , Dundee , and Edinburgh boasting a larger population. Back then Glasgow , Scotland’s modern powerhouse, was a mere fishing village compared to Haddington. Despite the town’s experiences it remained ill prepared for attack and a line of kings and aggressors, right up until the reign of Henry VIII , brought complete destruction to the town on at least seven occasions. Haddington garrisoned a large number of English troops after the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. They were involved the protracted siege of 1548-49, the longest in Scotland's history, as the garrison was attacked by the twin forces of France and Scotland positioned in encampments at Lennoxlove and Clerkington. Eventually English reinforcements marched from Berwick upon Tweed , in September 1547, to break the siege and the Scots and French vanished.

Haddington and the surrounding district was home to monasteries, nunneries and religious orders for many centuries. Of the three oldest buildings left standing today, two of them, St. Mary's and the ruined chapel of St. Martin's in the Nungate, have ecclesiastical origins. Haddinton’s long line of history has many dates and events of interest along it, the parliament that sanctioned Mary Queen of Scots first marriage was held there. The bowling green at the Sands is claimed as the oldest in Scotland and the Wemyss Place bowling club was formed an incredible six years before the First Jacobite Rebellion .

The Town House, originally built in 1748 to a plan by William Adam, sits at the centre of the town. Nearby is the County Courthouse established in 1833 and the Corn Exchange built in 1854. Other notable buildings include the Jane Welsh Carlyle House , and Mitchell's Close. The magnificent St Mary's Collegiate Church had been half in ruins for over 400 years until it was finally comprehensively restored in 1970. Haddington House, the oldest private dwelling place in the burgh, was saved from demolition and sits near St Mary's Pleasance Gardens . This is a distinctive period park and it’s walls were built by Napoleonic prisoners of war. No longer one of Scotland’s principle urban developments, Haddington has grown gently instead into a small border town with a population of less than 9,000.

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