MUSSELBURGH - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"MUSSELBURGH, a post and market town, parliamentary burgh, burgh of regality, and bathing-place, in the parish of Inveresk, county Edinburgh, Scotland, 2½ miles E.S.E. of Portobello, 4 N.E. of Dalkeith, and 5½ E. by S. of Edinburgh. It is a station on the Edinburgh, Portobello, Musselburgh, and Eskbank branch of the North British railway. It stands on the right bank and near the mouth of the river Esk, in a fertile spot, about 3 furlongs S. of the Frith of Forth, from which it is divided by the sandy downs called Musselburgh Links.

The boundaries of the burgh include the considerable town of Fisherrow, lying along the opposite bank of the river; the large village of Newbigging, extending southward from Middleburgh; the villages of North Esk, Westpans, and Levenhall, near the mouth of the Ravenshaugh burn; and the salt-works near Magdalene Bridge. Its ancient name was Eskmouth, or Eske-muthe, under which it is mentioned by Simeon of Durham so early as the 7th century; but this name was subsequently exchanged for Musselburgh, (as is believed) from a mussel bank near the mouth of the Esk.

In 1201 the barons of Scotland assembled here to swear fealty to the infant son of William the Lion, afterwards Alexander II. In the reign of David I. it was granted to the abbey of Dunfermline, and remained part of the abbey lands till the Reformation, when it was given by James VI. to Lord Thirlestane, ancestor of the earls and dukes of Lauderdale, from whom it came in 1709 to the Duke of Buccleuch.

Musselburgh was "a burgh whan Edin' was nane", having been first chartered by David I. in 1340. It was subsequently erected into a royal burgh under the great seal in 1632; but the privilege being questioned by the citizens of Edinburgh, it did not obtain the right of representation in parliament till the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, when it was united, with Portobello, to Leith. It now differs from a royal burgh in nothing but the name, and under the late Municipal Act is governed by a provost, 3 bailies, 7 councillors, and a treasurer.

The town council and borough magistrates also act as commissioners of police and harbourmasters. The Edinburgh county police also have a station in the town, and the magistrates hold a court for recovery of small debts and adjudication of minor criminal causes. The burgh revenue is about £1,645, including the produce of the town lands, which were formerly more extensive than at present, a considerable portion having been long ago sold. The site of the town, though only a few feet above the sea-level, is remarkably dry and healthy.

The stream of the Esk, here crossed by four bridges, flows through the burgh; and to the N. of it are the Links, cutting off the view of the Frith of Forth; while on the S. the slopes of Inveresk bound the horizon. The town contains several good streets, as High-street, running eastward from the new bridge, and on the line of the Edinburgh and Berwick road; Mill-hill-street, running north-eastward from the end of the timber bridge to the links and the road to Newbigging; besides several cross streets, and various lanes and alleys. The houses are well and somewhat regularly built, and many of them are detached.

The principal public buildings are the tolbooth, built in 1590 of materials taken from the ruined chapel of Loretto, and subsequently repaired. It is surmounted by a spire of still earlier date, and contains a clock of 1496. It is said to have been the first building erected in Scotland for secular purposes out of the materials of an ecclesiastical edifice; and for this sacrilege the citizens of Musselburgh were annually excommunicated at Rome during two centuries.

Adjoining the tolbooth is the townhall, a more recent structure, containing the council and assembly rooms; also a church, five chapels, masonic lodge, grammar school, lunatic asylum, and sailors' society founded in 1669. There are also a public library, commercial bank, gas-works, breweries, and corn-mills; and at the W. end of the High-street is a monument to Dr. Moir, the eminent physician, and author of the papers signed "Delta" in Blackwood's Magazine. The monument consists of a statue 812 feet high, sculptured by Ritchie, on a pedestal 20 feet high.

Other objects of interest are the stone bridge of five elliptical arches connecting Musselburgh and Fisherrow, erected in 1807 from a design by Sir John Rennie; and the very ancient bridge farther up the stream, with a drawbridge in the middle, supposed to have been originally constructed by the Romans, being on the direct line between the Prætorium at Inveresk and the harbour of Fisherrow, and connected with the remains of an ancient causeway.

There are traces of a Roman station at Fisherrow, and of a camp at Sheriffhall; but the principal object of attraction in the town is the vault of the hermitage of Loretto, once the most renowned in Scotland for miraculous cures. All that now remains of this once considerable building, which was regarded with superstitious veneration, is a vault or cell 12 feet by 10, covered by a circular wooded mount, and having in the roof a strong iron bar with an oaken pulley attached.

Near that part of the Links where Huntley met the Covenanters in 1638, and where Cromwell encamped with his army for several months in 1650, is now the line of the Edinburgh racecourse; and here, too, is played the annual match of the Musselburgh Golf Club, established in 1774. J. Burnet, the eminent engraver, and Alexander and John Ritchie, the sculptors, were born here. Market day is Friday. A fair is held on the second Tuesday in October."

"FISHERROW, a small fishing town and subport to Leith, in the parish of Inveresk, county Edinburgh, Scotland, opposite Musselburgh, in which borough it is included. It is seated on the left hank of the river Esk, at its embouchure into the Forth. It is a flourishing little place, containing many good buildings. It has a harbour, and light visible 5 miles off. The fishing trade is the great staple of the place, in which the women take an active part."

"NEWBIGGING, a suburb of Musselburgh, in the parish of Inveresk, county Edinburgh, adjoining Musselburgh."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]

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