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Prestonpans and Vicinity

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CHAPTER XXIII.

NORTH FIELD HOUSE.
Northfield House—The Builder—Defaced Inscriptions—Curious Old Close—Ancient Dovecot—The Original Church supposed to have been here—The Dower House, or Barracks—Original Occupants—French Invasion—Curious Inscriptions—Preston Lodge—Colonel Cameron and his Staghounds—Mr Hume and his Lions—Present Proprietor, Mr George Moncur, one of the firm of His Majesty's Hothouse Builders—Athelstane Lodge and Lord Cullen, etc. —Market Gardeners: Messrs Wright, Wilson, Crichton, and Gillies.
THIS beautiful antique wayside dwelling-place is situated on the south side of the road towards the west end of Preston village. Year after year it is flooded with visitors, sightseers, and no end of artists sit down to make copies of the curious old building.
The house was built in the year 1611, as the figures over what is termed the new doorway plainly indicate. Over this doorway too, beautifully carved on the lintel, are the arms and initials of Joseph Marjoribanks of that ilk, and his wife M—— Simpson, together with this Scriptural quotation— " EXCEP THE LORD BVLD INVAINE BVLDS MAN. " This Joseph Marjoribanks was brother-in-law to Sir John Hamilton of Preston.
Sir John Hamilton was brother to Sir George of Preston, and succeeded him in the title and estate of Preston in 1617; and this same Sir John it was who obtained from James VI. charters erecting Preston and Prestongrange, severally, into burghs of barony, with the usual privileges pertaining thereto.
In 1746 Mr A. Nesbit, surgeon, Edinburgh, along with several other properties at Preston, purchased Northfield, and he afterwards sold it to James Syme, slater, Edinburgh. It was for a great number of years occupied by his son, the late Captain Syme, R. N.
In 1890 Mr James M'Neill, Wishaw, became proprietor of Northfield House and estate. Having a practical knowledge of coal and iron mining, he immediately began to open up his mineral fields thereon. He afterwards let them on lease, and the minerals are at the present time being successfully worked by the Northfield Coal Company.
How many centuries have elapsed since coal was first excavated here would be difficult to determine, and as there are no records extant relating to the matter it may never be discovered. In visiting the gloomy caverns shortly after their reopening by the proprietor, we were struck by the very original system of excavation which had been adopted here during the early ages. The "long wall" system being but a recent innovation, here the " stoop and room " system had been in full swing. The stoops were some 4 feet in thickness only, and about 40 yards in length. In working downhill, where the ancient excavators had the water to contend with, they adopted the usual remedy in those days—the " dam and lave " system; but in such a fashion, until seen here, we had never before heard tell of. Instead of making a "clay dam" to keep back the water after "laving" it out from the wall-face, they resorted to the more laborious system of leaving on a few inches of the "ground coal, " and cutting out again behind it, leaving on a few inches more the next time, and so on, until they ran themselves out altogether. These ancient " dams " may yet be seen in Northfield Colliery.
A curious old close or entrance forms the boundary of Northfield estate to the east of the mansion-house. This is known as " Katie Herrin's Close, " from the fact that a very old woman of that name lived and died there. Her house was pulled down many years ago, the stones going to pile up the walls in the neighbourhood; but there was a brewery of very large dimensions in this close many years before Katie Herrin's time. It also has vanished and gone, and the only piece of antiquity which remains entire on this very antiquated spot is a curious old conical-shaped dovecot at the extreme south end of it.
There is nothing strange in finding an old dovecot in the neighbourhood of an old mansion-house; it is customary all East Lothian over. Northfield House is dated 1611, but this dovecote is evidently a couple of centuries older than the
mansion-house.
The pigeon, whether as an article of diet or commerce, seems always to have been a favourite with the monks in the early ages; and so we find, wherever an old monastic building
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