View of Tranent from Blaeu's Atlas, 1654.
Tranent from Blaeu's Atlas c.1654.
© National Library of Scotland
Drawing of Tranent Church, 18th century.
Drawing of Tranent Church, 18th century.
Details Tranent Tower, 2004.
Details from Tranent Tower, 2004.
The Seton Collection © 2005
Tranent Church, from the grounds, 2004.
Tranent Church, from the grounds, 2004.
The Seton Collection © 2005

A History of Tranent

Tranents ancient name, Travernant, means ` the hamlet on the vale' -from the Cymric tref, 'a homestead or village, ' and nant, ` a valley.'  The ancient parish comprehended -all Prestonpans (till 1595), and considerable parts of Pencaitland and Gladsmuir; but did not comprise the barony or ancient parish of Seton, which was annexed to it in 1580. 

In 1145, Tranent Parish Church was established by a charter from the Archdeacon, Thor, Son of Swan in 1150. The Church therefore came under the jurisdiction of Holyrood Abbey. The grant was confirmed by Richard, Bishop of St. Andrew and later by Seier de Quincy. The parsonage remained with the Abbey and although a vicarage settlement took place in 1251, the church was frequently served by canons from Holyrood. The building has been described as above the average style of country edifices and consisted of three oblong buildings, a vaulted stone covered roof, interior archways and a square tower rising from the centre.

The old parish church has sections of a pre-Reformation church (c. late 15th-century) and also in Church Street are the remains of the 16th-century Tranent Tower, which was built on the remains of a much earlier tower dated from the de Quincy's time.  The old church of Tranent dates from about 1145 was confirmed by Thorald, the son of Swan, to the canons of Holyroodhouse, built, it is said, by the Picts about the middle of the 11th century, and demolished in 1797.

Some features of the previous building still remain, including the priest’s door and the lower courses of pre-Reformation walling. There are also two buttresses and the ruined mortuary aisle of the Cadells of Cockenzie, which projects from the north wall and features a window, with circled heads, dating from the sixteenth century.

The present Church with a square tower, opened in 1801 was built by John Simpson, mason and has many distinguishing features, including round headed windows and battlements, and pyramidal corners on the upper floor. The interior was completely recast in 1953, when a stained glass venetian west window was added. The churchyard features a good collection of unusual monuments, including David Seton's Doocot dated 1587.  The churchyard has been much improved within the last few years, and commands a view of the Firth of Forth, unsurpassed for beauty and variety.

The coal which exists here has been worked for upwards of six centuries. Some time between 1210 and 1219, Seier de Quincy granted a coal pit at Preston to the monks of Newbattle, the earliest notice of coal mining in Scotland, and in 1547 the inhabitants of the town took refuge in the coalpits a few days before the battle of Pinkie.
Tranent had been a Barony of the de Quincy's, of the Earls of Winchester, but who forfeited the lands during the wars of independence.  The lands of and Barony of Tranent were then awarded to the Seton's, who had already had an interest through the marriage with a de Quincy daughter and heiress, Jonet, or Janet de Quincy.

Dating the Tower is difficult as title deeds extend back five to six hundred years and more. It is likely that the tower was built around the same time as Fa'side Castle and indeed many features indicate that both had the same builder. There is, allegedly, a subterranean passage connecting the two buildings.  The Tower is said to have been the only property within the Barony of Tranent which held it's feu-charter directly of the Crown.  The "rental mail" being traditionally a snowball in mid-summer, and a rose in mid-winter, annually.  The feu-collector was to proceed to the top of the tower to recieve this, though how the snowball was produced we are not told.  However it may be that the many underground coal workings might have served as an ice-box to store a suitable consignment of snow.

The Tower is an L-shaped building, measuring no more than 25 by 36 feet, with a square stair-tower projecting southwards from the west-end.  The walls are of local brown rubble, and rise to three storeys, with the stair-tower reaching a storey higher.  This upper-storey is slightly built out on corbelling and while originally a watch-tower, was converted at a later date into a Doocot.  The original crow-stepped gables have crumbled into ruin, leaving few traces of their shape, and the original stair-towers' height, later cut-down to lean-to roof of the watch-tower, has completely collapsed and no longer exists.
In it's original design, the Tower would have had a small crenellated parapet, but this has long since been removed when the upper storey was altered.  The basement, however, is still original with it's two vaulted inter-connecting chambers, and the Hall above has had it's large fireplace built up.
The old Tower was used on many occasions as a barracks, with the battles of Pinkie and Prestonpans being more or less on the doorstep, and with the main road into Scotland from England and the Seton's Castle or Palace being a prominent feature beside the town, military service was a constant part of the Tower's life.  In fact, such was the importance of the town, that the fortifications of small castles surrounds the area:  Seton Palace, Falside, Windygoul St. Germains, Olivestob and others added security for the main road.
The tower and it's lands were acquired by lease from the Earl of Winton in the 17th century from the family of Vallance, who later was able to purchase the Tower and retained ownership until the 19th century, until 1890 when Charles Stirling of Kirkintilloch took over as proprietor.  Stirling therefore was under the impression that he could excavate coal on the property until Laird Cadell, who's family had purchased the Baronies of Tranent and Cockenzie from the York Buildings Company, interdicted.
Queen Mary Stuart was once in Tranent, and the famed Colonel Gardiner was borne to the manse from the field of Prestonpans. After his death at the battle of Prestonpans, he was buried at the W end of the old church, but no tombstone now marks his grave, which is included within the present church.  The 'Massacre of Tranent', followed the 1797 Militia Act requiring local military recruiting quotas; the miners resisted and a number were shot dead. Subsidence from mining has created noticeable hollows in the ground, and the remains of a large colliery are found at Fleets, south of Tranent.

The Tranent Public School opened on 8th March 1877. Designed by Mr. Starforth an Architect of Glasgow and built by David Bryson, this stone Elizabethan edifice cost £6,500 and came complete with clock tower and spire. It was built to accommodate 557 pupils and by 1884 there were 419 in regular attendance. Teaching of classes in English, Writing, Arithmetic and Geography was overseen firstly by Mr. James Stewart, Headmaster and lastly by Mr. R.M. Greaves. The Public School retained its secondary status until 1954; thereafter it offered primary education until 1958 when fire devastated the building and marked the beginning of the end of teaching at the Public School.

The fire caused £30,000 worth of damage and gutted the seven rooms of the top storey which made up the Science Department. All books, desks, tables and other furniture were destroyed. When the fire bell sounded at noon 390 pupils and their teachers left in an orderly fashion, believing the evacuation to be a drill. By the time Fire Units from Tranent, Musselburgh and Leith arrived most of the damage was done. Eventually after extinguishing the fire the Firefighters benefitted from a meal service organised by nurses and local helpers. Although there were no fatalities the fire meant no school until the ground floor rooms were temporarily repaired. Classes were thereafter scattered through the Gym, Clinic, Medical Block, Infant School and Ross High. Tranent Public School was not rebuilt but was replaced by a new Primary School situated to the east of Tranent in Sanderson's Wynd which opened on 29th April 1964.

The Tranent Massacre Commemorative Statue stands in Civic Square, just in front of the Library. It depicts Jackie Crookston who was part of a mob which marched through the streets of Tranent in August 1797 to protest at the government's decision to introduce compulsory military service in Scotland. A total of twelve people, including Joan ("Jackie") Crookston, were killed in the ensuing riot by soldiers who were called in to restore order. Shortly after it was unveiled in September 1995, the statue had to be removed to have the figure of a boy added to it, as it had become unstable. The statue as seen here was put back in June 1996.  The sculptor was David Annand of Fife.

Tranent today is a town and a parish of NW Haddingtonshire.  The buildings along this street consist partly of villas and partly of shops, and have a neat and elegant appearance. There are other streets branching off, but the buildings in these are not equal to those in the main street. It is fair, however, to add that all over the town there is much improvement as compared with what it was 30 or 40 years ago, there are various businesses, tourism and market town with a modern Civic Centre and Square (1969). The headquarters of Inveresk Research, a controversial drug-testing and biotechnology company which lies on the site of the former Fleets Colliery to the south, provides significant employment.

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