Town’s history is done by the book

Margaret and Gerald Urwin have their sights on another book. Picture: contributed
Margaret and Gerald Urwin have their sights on another book. Picture: contributed
Have your say

A FORMER college lecturer spent a year transcribing council records written in old Scots for a new book on the history of Haddington.

Gerald Urwin first started researching for A Phoenix Once More when he moved to the town from Edinburgh in 1995.

A member of Haddington History Society, Gerald, 78, found the area rich in history but was disappointed there did not seem to be any books on the famous siege.

He started researching the subject and spent hours at his local library, where he uncovered its past.

He said: “I didn’t really know anything about Haddington when we moved here, apart from that John Knox was apparently born here. The history of Haddington was a revelation to me.

“When I started doing my research I found to my horror there was no siege book available. I thought I’d write one and I’ve been adding to it over the years.

“The local library said they had some old council records that were in old Scots and they wanted to bring them into English.

“It was quite difficult as some of the old Scots words had me baffled. I had to come into Edinburgh sometimes and use the old dictionaries in the central library on George IV Bridge.

“It was quite a job as there were other records in French and Latin. It took me about a year to get that done and they formed the basis of the book.”

The book concentrates on the period 1550-1700, featuring the War of the Rough Wooing – one of the last Anglo-Scottish wars. It details the sieges of Haddington and how life changed in the town after it was rebuilt.

Gerald, who was a business management lecturer at Falkirk College before he retired, said Haddington had a vital role in Scots history.

He said: “Haddington was one of the original royal boroughs. It was quite an important town back then. It was about the fourth-biggest town in the time I have written about, which is quite hard to imagine now

“The book also talks about what was happening across Scotland at the time to give it context.”

Gerald has also written two other books, A Feat of Arms and Within These Walls, published in 2006.

His new book is published by Tyne & Esk Writers – an umbrella for literary groups across East Lothian and has received positive reviews.

Now Gerald is contemplating writing another instalment, with the tireless support of wife Margaret, to incorporate the last 300 years.

He added: “I have had good reports from those that had have a look at it. I have taken it right up to the act of union in 1707. I suppose the logical thing to do after that is look at the next 300 years. I do enjoy it but it’s whether I have the time to do it.”

A launch will be held at the John Gray Centre in Haddington on Monday.