Battle of Prestonpans Jacobite Heritage Museum


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Prestonpans Town Hall

Architect or lead designer:

[Peter Whitecross 1897] Restoration Design by Dr Arran Johnston

Local Authority Area:

East Lothian

Nominating Body:

Battle of Prestonpans [1745] Heritage Trust

Project Description

The key to the project was transforming the Town Hall interiors into a warm and welcoming space, suitable for use as a museum but also preserving a degree of flexibility to accommodate a wide range of events and activities. Since its construction in 1896-7, the building had been modestly extended on its western side, creating a small function bar, disabled access corridor, and toilet area. The former Provost’s Parlour had been turned into a locker room, and the Victorian ceilings were covered by suspended tile ceilings which had themselves become water-damaged through roof leaks over the years. All woodwork in the building had been painted dark brown; the walls and furnishings were dingy with age.

The renovation began with the burgh arms over the main doorway, restored by a local mason. Interior work, undertaken directly by trustees and volunteers, took inspiration from the description of the building from 1897 which reported green and white colours for woodwork and a warm terracotta colour for the main hall walls. Hardboard sheets were removed, revealing the original wooden dado, and a blocked window re-opened. This transformed the appeal of the main hall, which retains a sense of openness and light even though the repaired suspended ceiling was retained for its acoustic value. The former provost’s ceremonial chair was recovered from the local library and returned to the Town Hall stage, and a small display was installed to explain the building’s history. A new artwork was commissioned by an artist with connections to the building, recording the stories submitted to our memories project, and two vintage spotlights were retained in the decoration to recall the building’s time as a concert and party venue.

The former bar was converted into a reception and shop space, making the former accessible entrance ramp into the main entry point for visitors. To link with the town’s murals trail, a local artist painted a mural in the entrance corridor to welcome guests. Once refurbished, the main hall was converted to use as a museum featuring a large hand-built diorama of the 1745 battlefield, moveable display walls, exhibition cases and costumed mannequins. All the main displays are moveable, allowing the gallery to serve as a flexible event space. It has since been used for talks, conferences, immersive living history evenings, public consultations, and school workshops. Fittingly, the Town Hall is again home to the monthly meetings of our own local Community Council.

The suspended ceiling in the former Parlour room was removed, returning the room to its original height and exposing once more the Victorian cornices, whilst the old built-in lockers were removed and a picture rail added. To celebrate the coincidence of Queen Victoria’s 1897 Jubilee with Queen Elizabeth II’s in 2022, the room is now known as the Jubilee Room and functions as an attractive supporting exhibition gallery and meeting space.

Thanks to this project, Prestonpans Town Hall once again has a role to play in the community, of which the whole team behind it are extremely proud.

Supporting Statement

The Category C listed Town Hall was built for Prestonpans at the height of its industrial prosperity in the late 19th century, occupying a prime position on the High Street close to the civic square. Designed and built by local craftsmen, the Town Hall symbolised a powerful civic pride – as recognised by Richard Haldane MP at the opening ceremony in 1897. Within the next century, however, the town lost the diverse industries which had supported its community for so long, and no longer enjoyed its own provost and burgh council.

In recent times much work has been done within the community to reinvigorate its sense of pride and self-esteem, and to ensure the survival of a distinct community spirit rather than simply a commuter suburb for Edinburgh. Key to this process have been arts festivals, murals trails, the creation of two renowned tapestry projects, and increased interpretation of the town’s famous 1745 battlefield.

Prestonpans Town Hall, however, had fallen behind. Since the 1970s, after the loss of the burgh council for which it was built, the hall became a focus for community events, public meetings, music concerts and social occasions. But this role was largely supplanted by new purpose-built community facilities elsewhere in town, leaving the Town Hall under-used and suffering from under-investment. The local authority considered the building surplus to requirements, but despite efforts by the community council to propose alternative uses, no future could be secured for the building.

The Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust is a local charity dedicated to promoting and interpreting the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s famous victory in 1745, and the wider heritage of the community where the battle was fought. The Trust has long been campaigning to create a visitor attraction telling this story, and in 2021 it leased the Town Hall from East Lothian Council. The proposal was that the Trust would seek the resources to refurbish the building and build a team of volunteers to operate the hall as a museum. This would bring the Town Hall back to life, restoring it to its place as a source of pride for the community, and making its facilities available once again for the use of the Community Council and local heritage groups.

Prestonpans Town Hall re-opened as the Battle of Prestonpans Museum on 1 May 2022. A few months later, the original opening ceremony was recreated in full Victorian style to mark the building’s 125th anniversary, for which commemorative medals were struck and a community memories project undertaken. Thousands of visitors have now crossed the threshold, including school children on formal education visits, and rotating sections of the Prestonpans Tapestry and Scottish Diaspora Tapestry can be displayed. A programme of temporary exhibitions and special events ensures the Town Hall is now a place of learning and inspiration, welcoming to all audiences and, we hope, with a bright future ahead of it. It is, once again, a place we can be proud of.