BURNFOOT HOUSE, CARRIDEN, BO’NESS
At Carriden there are many features of interest to encourage visitors to a relatively little known stretch of Forth shore. There is a landing at the site of an historic wartime boat builder with the biggest slipway on the Forth west of Port Edgar, now a busy yacht yard.
The Carriden churches have seafaring connections, the grave of Admiral Sir James Hope KCB (1) and links with the Bo’ness Sea Box Society (1), a seafarers’ charity. The churches, along with the nearby Bridgeness Tower (1), are useful sea marks.
Colonel James Gardiner (1) was a brave soldier who saw much action home and abroad and from mid life was a devout Christian. He served the Crown and was more widely known in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. His birthplace, Burnfoot House, is just a hundred yards from the beach and the Prestonpans battlefield where he died is only half a mile from the shore.
One can anchor off the Carriden Boatyard Ltd., formerly Thompson and Balfour, a builder of the wooden submarine chaser the Fairmile Type B motor launch (2). Their large slipway, winding house, two sheds and concrete filled riveted iron boilers on the shore remain. The slip reaches close to the low water mark but its foot is rather broken up. For most visitors, coming up the river on the flood and going back on the ebb makes convenient use of the better preserved upper portion.
Alternatively, by arrangement, pick up a mooring or berth alongside the wooden jetty (dries) at the adjacent yard. The jetty is usable but the walkway to it has some rot so tread carefully, placing feet over the main timbers, not the unsupported slats. The landing is a ten minute walk from Burnfoot house. To the west are the remains of staithes where coal from local pits was loaded.
With an eye on the tide, the quickest way to find the house is to walk along the boatyard track until it joins the metalled road leading to the sewage treatment works. Turning left onto the road one follows the stone wall of the estate. Where the road turns left a steel farm gate with pedestrian access at the side opens onto a gravel track. After a few hundred yards, on the right, a high voltage power line on poles begins and where the wires cross the track, looking over to the right, the ruins can be seen.
Alternatively follow the shore until the power lines are visible and then find the track. This route is longer and less pleasant, taking one round the perimeter of the sewage treatment works. However the Crookies bay has views of the Forth and is fringed with woodland. The foreshore as far as the point holds interest for those pursuing the Bo’ness potteries, being strewn with sherds and kiln furniture, the tripods and elephant’s feet used to separate the wares during glazing and fragments of saggar, the pottery boxes in which the production was fired.
Miles of the Bo’ness waterfront was reclaimed with spoil from local mines and ash from the pottery kilns and salt pans. This loose material readily erodes, revealing industrial archaeology and fossils from the mines. For years after the war the Forth was a huge naval scrap yard, traces of which still remain such as the WWI MTB plating on the shore at Grangepans. Shoreline erosion at Burnfoot recently revealed a solid lump of rust, recognisable as a broom handle Mauser pistol. This probably originated from one of the many German ships or U Boats moored locally awaiting the breakers at nearby W&P McLelland, Grangepans (3,4).
Burnfoot house is set back from the track above the Crookies beach to the west of the burn and surrounded by woodland. It is a picturesque roofless ruin to be kept clear of in a wind, plants thriving on the lime in the mortar, their roots accelerating the process of decay. Crumbling walls, with dressed stone framing doors and windows, peep through the trees. The spring is the best time to visit. In late summer it is very overgrown.
There are Bo’ness people who remember the house’s last inhabitants, the Grants, and their kindness, always ready to boil a kettle for picnickers on Crookies beach in the days before package holidays. They left in 1953. Fragments of timber door and window frames, lath and plaster in doorways still remain.
The ground rises steeply behind the house and a soft sandstone outcrop is the probable source of the building material. I scrambled up to examine it. Whilst there are no obvious tool marks, the face is undercut in a fashion suggestive of quarrying. At the top of the slope a six foot stone field boundary wall shows that building stone was readily available. A much more extensive quarry face is probably now overgrown.
Continuing east past Burnfoot, under the trees, there is a gateway in the estate wall. On the estate side a few yards to the west a memorial tablet is set in the wall. Now vandalised almost to the point of illegibility, in the early 1980s it was still impressive, the lettering having been inlaid with lead which is now all missing.
This memorial reads:
TO THE MEMORY OF
COLONEL JAMES GARDINER
BORN HERE JANUARY 10 1687
MORTALLY WOUNDED AT THE
BATTLE OF PRESTONPANS
SEPTEMBER 21 1745
A BRAVE SOLDIER
AND A DEVOUT CHRISTIAN
I HAVE FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT
I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH
(The following two lines illegible.)
A modern memorial tablet of white marble inlaid with lead on the south of the tower of Carriden old church reads:
TO THE MEMORY OF
COLONEL JAMES GARDINER
BORN AT BURNFOOT JAN Y 10 TH 1687
MORTALLY WOUNDED AT THE
BATTLE OF PRESTONPANS
SEP T 21 ST 1745 AND INTERRED AT
TRANENT. A BRAVE SOLDIER
AND A DEVOUT CHRISTIAN.
I HAVE FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT
I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH TIM. IV. 2
BURNFOOT HOUSE LAST
OCCUPIED IN 1953
IS NOW IN RUINS
Thankfully “Life of the Honourable Col. James Gardiner” by Philip Doddridge (5,6) has been printed in a great many impressions including paperbacks still in print so one has a readily available excellent source of the detail of his life, not at the mercy of wanton destruction. Early printings are entitled “Some remarkable Passages in the Life of…….. The first edition was published concurrently by James Buckland and James Waugh and G Hamilton and Balfour in 1747, only 21 months after the battle. The book was based on Colonel Gardiner’s private papers which were ransacked by the Jacobites in his residence Bankton House (7) at Tranent, subsequently salvaged, and other primary sources.
Time permitting, the lovely old Carriden church ruin is worth visiting to see the Gardiner memorial and the graves of Admiral Hope fenced with anchor chain and industrialist Dr James Roebuck (1), financier of James Watt when working at Kinneil (1) House Bo’ness. There is a large interpretation board at Roebuck’s grave. Elegant lancet windows in the south wall of the church are on the verge of collapse.
At the battle of Ramilles in 1706, at the age of nineteen, Colonel Gardiner was shot through the mouth with a musket ball which exited from the side of his neck. Despite two cold nights in the open and challenged by inappropriate medical care he survived; the cold perhaps helping stem the loss of blood. This experience did not deter him from gallantry in the field. Heavily outnumbered at Prestonpans, he held his ground encouraging his dragoons as many deserted.
Gardiner was cut down from his horse by a Highlander with a scythe on a long pole. He received the mortal wound from a broad sword or Lochaber axe on the back of the head whilst lying on the ground, having already taken two pistol bullets and other sword cuts. The man responsible for the last blow was executed a year later. The thorn tree where he was mortally wounded has long gone. A three sided column marks the area, now a children’s swing park. It has beautiful decoration on two sides and inscription on the third, map reference NT 400743. It is relatively new, having been placed by the Local Authority.
Gardner was stripped to the waist and robbed of his boots by the rebels who left him on the battlefield. At great personal risk his man servant disguised as a miller and using the Meadow mill cart carried the Colonel from the battlefield to the manse at Tranent. This is a measure of the esteem in which he was held by those who knew him, given that the area was still full of Jacobite troops. Colonel Gardiner died a few hours later in an upstairs bedroom, still part of the manse, built in 1736.
The Jacobite successes of Prestonpans and later Falkirk in 1746 go some way to explaining the Hanoverian blood lust at Culloden and vengeance in its aftermath. For the Government Prestonpans was a military disaster. The day was won by the element of surprise, the ferocity and speed of the attack. Jacobite casualties were thirty killed, the Government side lost ten times that number. Falkirk was another heavy defeat for the Government with similar casualties. Burnfoot House, in its secluded corner of Bo’ness, is linked to these events that shaped the future of Scotland.
In his youth Gardiner was a rake who in 1719, whilst waiting for an assignation with a married woman, had a religious conversion after a vision. Much was made of his conversion by the church, in part accounting for the huge number of different printings of The Life.
The Colonel was a convenient hero for the Government, not having been stained by the genocidal behaviour of its own troops in the aftermath of Culloden, its treatment of prisoners in the transports to London, the prison hulks off Tilbury and transportation of some unfortunates to the colonies to work on the plantations (8). In the propaganda stakes it was doubly convenient that Gardiner had been butchered on the ground by a Jacobite when already suffering from multiple wounds.
Colonel Gardiner was buried in Tranent Parish Church . The following account is from the present minister, a former professional surveyor and knowledgeable historian.
The story of the Colonel’s grave is shrouded in local folklore. It is thought he was buried in a vault which is said to have existed at the west end of the church. There was supposedly a quite elaborate monument incorporating an arch. However the church was totally rebuilt in the 1790s on the site of the old church, covering the area of the vault. Gardiner was re-buried on the south face at the west end. The former west end door (still traceable) let in the prevailing wind and sometime in the early 1800s was moved to its present site on the south face, more or less where Colonel Gardiner had been re-buried. The monument does not seem to have been re-erected, but one story claims that the wedge shaped stone block which holds the restraining hook for the side gate of the graveyard, and which bears the date 1745, was from the structure. The best guess is that Colonel Gardiner lies under the doorstep of the present west entrance door on the south face (9).
The church yard has some interesting memorials including early table gravestones and certainly the wedge shaped block is the right shape for an archway. It may have been the keystone. From the present west entrance door in the south face of the church the window in the manse of the room where the colonel died is visible. It is the first upstairs sash window from the west.
There is a large memorial to Colonel Gardiner to the north of his residence Bankton House, just south east of Prestonpans station. This is an obelisk on a raised platform with lions at each corner. It was erected by public subscription in 1853, 108 years after his death. The probable reason for more than a century delay in erecting a memorial is that it took the run away successes of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly and Stevenson’s Kidnapped to awaken public interest (10). Gardiner was after all on the Government side and defeated. Whilst numerically the opposing forces were similar, the Government had massed ranks of cavalry and some artillery. The Highlanders had none, yet were able to rout their enemy. One can imagine where popular sympathy lay.
Bankton House , finished in yellow ochre, now converted to flats, gives a good impression of its former appearance being a sympathetic restoration of a roofless ruin.A more contemporary view is the engraving on the electricscotland website (11). The pavilions to the east and west are still standing and have been restored to match.
According to folklore Bankton was known as “The Holy Stook” as the monks travelling between Newbattle and Haddington used to stop and rest here. At one time the house was used as a bothy by Irish tattie howkers (potato pickers) until it was burnt down in the 1960s (12). The Happy Trails information leaflet, 2007 issue (12), has several details at variance with Doddridge, saying that Gardiner was carried home and died in the woodshed, contrary to the generally accepted story.
At the Prestonpans battlefield a pit byng (slag heap) has been reshaped into a grassy pyramid to provide a view over the battlefield and surrounding area, including the important Riggonhead defile which helped shield the approach of the Highlanders. On it flies Bonnie Prince Charlie’s battle standard. In the car park is a temporary visitor centre staffed by volunteers. A £7 million replacement is intended. Please see the Prestonpans Heritage trust website (13) for details. An excellent leaflet “Guide to the Site of the Battle of Prestonpans” published by the Prestoungrange Arts Festival Society, is available locally and on their website (14).
Commemorative events in 2007 the 262 nd anniversary of the battle included a spectacular re-enactment in the grounds of Bankton House and a stirring biography of Colonel Gardiner delivered in commanding tones by the powerful voice of the Reverend Robert Simpson, Minister of Prestoungrange church, who played the part of the Colonel. The biographical address and battlefield tour commentary were recorded by the BBC and it is hoped they will become available. These events were so impressive future commemorations will be something to look out for.
Visiting by sea is an option in southerly winds with settled weather. The Heckles rock is to be avoided but the reef running out to it offers better than nothing shelter from the east. There are various possible landings along the shore, the boat club and Cockenzie harbour but arrangements need to be made to leave a dinghy unattended. Morrison’s Haven, marked on some yachtsman’s charts to the west of Prestonpans, was filled in by the Coal Board some thirty years earlier. It was one of the major sea ports in Scotland for centuries but is now grassed over. Parts of the harbour walls have been excavated by archaeologists.
1. Bo’ness Who’s Who, Colonel James Gardiner, including a picture of him
2. Thomson and Balfour and the Fairmile Type B motor launch http://www.ww2ships.com/britain/gb-sc-001-b.shtml
3. The Forth at War, William F. Hendrie, 2002, Birlinn, ISBN 1 84158 183 6. Figure 146, Pages 182-183, aerial photograph of W&P McLelland, Bridgeness shipbreaking
4. Target : Falkirk, Falkirk District in the Second World War, John Walker, 2001, Falkirk Council Library Services, ISBN : 0906586 925. Page 64, Surrendered U Boats awaiting the cutting torch at Bridgeness.
5. Some remarkable passages in the Life of Col. James Gardiner, Who was Slain at the Battle of Preston-Pans, September 21, 1745, P. Doddridge, D.D., London, printed for James Buckland and James Waugh, second edition1748. (First edition 1747). Early editions include a frontispiece engraved portrait.
Later impressions entitled, “Life of the Honourable Col. James Gardiner”. Various in-print paperbacks, University of Michigan Library, Kessinger Publishing Co., Lightning Source Incorporated etc.
6. Full text free book http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Life-of-Col-James-Gardiner.html
7. Gazetteer for Scotland – with picture of the façade of Bankton House
8. Prince Charlie’s Pilot, Barron, 1913, Robert Caruthers and Sons, Inverness.
9. The Reverend TM Hogg BD, Minister Tranent Parish Church, personal communication, to whom many thanks are due for his time freely given.
10. A battlefield tour commentary by Councillor Peter McKenzie, marking the occasion of the 262 nd anniversary, September 2007.
11. Engraving of Bankton House
12. Happy Trails in Prestonpans, a leaflet produced by East Lothian Council.
13. Prestonpans Heritage Trust
14. Prestoungrange Arts Festival Society