Lothians: South-east of Prestonpans, on minor road north of B1361 west of junction with A198, near Northfield House and Hamilton House, at Preston Tower.
NTS NT 393742 OS: 66 EH39 9NT
OPEN: Gardens open all year, daily dawn to dusk – tower: the tower may be viewed from the exterior.
Standing in fine gardens but a somewhat grim edifice, Preston Tower is a strong 15th-century L-plan tower of four storeys, although it may possibly incorporate work from the 14th century. Two further storeys were added in the 17th century, when an extension was also built. The corbelled-out parapet has open rounds at each of the corners. Outbuildings and the courtyard have gone.
‘Preston’ is marked on Blaeu’s map of The Lothians, and then on Adair’s map of East Lothian. Preston House, depicted as a two-storey edifice in a walled park, is marked on a map drawn following the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745, although the tower is not marked.
The basement is vaulted, and near the entrance, which still has an iron yett, is a pit-prison. The entrance to the vaulted hall, on the first floor, could only be reached by an external stair. The hall has a large fireplace, and a mural chamber. A turnpike stair climbs to the upper floors, within the thickness of the walls, while another turnpike stair, in the re-entrant angle at parapet level, gave access to the ruinous 17th-century addition.
There is an old lectern doocot [NT 390742], with 985 nesting boxes and dating from the 17th or 18th century.
Preston is said to have been a property of the Homes, but is recorded as being held by the Setons in the 13th century before passing to the Liddles. It went by marriage at the end of the 14th century to the Hamiltons of Rossavon, Fingalton and Preston, who probably built the tower. Preston was torched in 1544 by the Earl of Hertford, and then in October 1650 by Cromwell’s forces, when all the family papers were burnt.
In 1661 an act in favour of Sir Thomas Hamilton of Preston mentions the tower, fortalice and manor place of Preston. After being restored, the building was accidentally burnt again in 1663, then apparently abandoned for nearby Preston House [NT 392740]. This house had also been burned in 1650, and was completely demolished in the 1930s. Preston House is marked on a map of the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745, although few others, when shown as a two-storey house of five bays. This may not be accurate as Bankton House is shown in the same style. Oddly, Preston Tower is not shown on the map. There may be a confusion between Preston Tower and Preston House…
One of the family was Robert Hamilton, who was a noted Covenanter and prominent in the battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Brig. The family were made baronets of Nova Scotia in 1673, forfeited in 1684, but recovered the property in the 19th century. The property was owned by the Erskines in 1745, and many government troops attacked by the Jacobites at the nearby battle of Prestonpans came to grief against the boundary wall of Preston House.
The tower was consolidated in 1936, purchased by The National Trust for Scotland in 1969, and is under the guardianship of the local council. It was repaired in 2004-5. The line of the
Stirling-Hamiltons of Preston, baronets, continues, but they now live in King’s Lynn in Norfolk in England.
The tower is reputed to have a ‘Green Lady’.
Preston Mercat Cross [NT 391740] is the only mercat (or market) cross on its original site. The round vaulted and windowless ground floor served as a prison, and a stair lead up to the roof, out of which the cross shaft rises and is surmounted by a painted unicorn of Scotland and the roof is enclosed by a parapet. The monument dates from 1617 or earlier, when the Hamilton of Preston were given leave to hold weekly markets and an annual fair at the beginning of October, known as St Jeremond's (Jerome's) Fair in a writ of 1661. At the time the village of Preston was more important than Prestonpans, but over time this changed and the cross stands by the roadside in a grassy area by modern housing. Proclomations would have been read from the cross.
Preston Church, now known as Prestongrange Church (although with no connection to Prestongrange House) was built to replace a church burnt down by the English in 1544. The present building incorporates a tower dating from 1595 with other fragments, but mostly dates from 1774 with alterations in the 1890s. The church was built by the Minister John Davidson on lands given to him by the Hamiltons of Preston.
In the burial ground are many old carved memorials, and some of those killed at the Battle of Prestonpans are buried here. The church is used by the parish, and the name comes from when it was amalgamated with the Grange Church.
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