Prestoungrange Painted Ceiling
by GEORGE MURRAY, M.R. APTED AND IAN HODKINSON
The recorded history of Prestongrange begins in the I2th century when the lands
were granted to the monks of Newbattle by Robert de Quincy. At the time of the
Reformation they passed to Mark Ker, abbot and later commendator, who died in
1584, and thereafter to Mark Ker younger who was created Earl of Lothian in 1606
and died in 1609. At the latter’s death Prestongrange was sold to John Morison whose
heirs held the lands until 1746, to be succeeded by the Grant (later Grant Suttie)
family, who retained possession until 1958.
The existing house was built in the second half of the sixteenth century but may
incorporate earlier work. It was extended by Sir James Grant Suttie in 1830 and 1850.
A painted ceiling was discovered in the hall at Prestongrange in 1962 and has since
been moved to Napier College, Edinburgh. This ceiling is dated 1581 and is the
earliest dated ceiling known. There are also traces of a second painted ceiling in the
room to the east of the hall, and substantial remains of a painted mural, including the
monogram of Mark Ker, on the walls of one of the bedrooms on the floor above.
Our thanks are due to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, the Royal
Musselburgh Golf Club and the Corporation of Edinburgh for permission to record and
publish this account of Prestongrange and its painted decoration. The plans are based on
Playfair’s drawings in the library of Edinburgh University and Playfair’s letters are copied
from two letter books, one in the Scottish Record Office, the other in the possession of
Messrs Brodie, Cuthbertson and Watson. Plate la is reproduced by permission of the
University; the remainder are Crown Copyright and are reproduced by courtesy of the
Ministry of Public Building and Works. We are also indebted to the Ministry for a grant
towards the cost of publication.
The figures are from material surveyed, drawn and prepared by Mr T. Borthwick, Mr.
Robert L. Snowden, Mrs. Thea McDonald, and Mr. W, Norman Robertson.
PART I — HISTORY
by George Murray
The name, Prestongrange, appears to be associated with a grange of the monks of
Newbattle to whom these lands were granted by Robert de Quincy some time before
11891 . But some doubt is thrown upon this derivation or at least upon the late 12th
Century date of it by the fact that the Charter itself grants the “grange of Preston” to
the monks, suggesting that the name Prestongrange preceded the grant by Robert de
Quincy. The boundaries, as set forth in the charter, stretched from the Whytrig Burn
on the East, to the marches of the Abbot of Dunfermline’s lands of Inveresk and
Pinkie on the West. On the south side, ditches were dug to mark the boundary
between the monks’ lands and the De Quincy territory of Tranent. In addition, the
monks had the privilege of grazing 600 sheep and the oxen necessary to work their
land on the Tranent Common. They had, as well, six acres of Tranent meadow and
the right to 20 cartloads of peats and fuel for the grange.
Some years later, Seyer de Quincy, the son of Robert, confirmed his father’s
charter without alteration2 but, afterwards, increased the grant to include half of the
march on the Whytrig burn side and the rights to the coal and quarry workings within
their lands down to low-water mark on the sea boundary to the North3 .
According to the Rev. John Struthers, the parish minister of Prestonpans in the
middle of the 19th Century4 , “the lands belonging to the monastery of Newbattle were
early cultivated by the monks and a mansion and grange erected by them shortly after
the twelfth Century.” No evidence has been found to support this claim but it is
reasonable to suppose that buildings were erected by the monks about this time.
Certainly they continued to work the coal down the centuries and in 1531 were
making arrangements with their neighbours, the monks of Dunfermline in the lands of
Inveresk and Pinkie, for the draining of water from their pits.5 In 1526 they added to
the existing facilities of their estate the harbour later known as Acheson’s Haven or
Morrison’s Haven where they had authority to charge all the customary dues “as in the
port of Leith.”6
At the Reformation, Preston Grange, as part of the extensive lands of Newbattle,
passed into the hands of Mark Ker, Commendator of the Abbey, “a wyse honest
man.”7 Mark Ker was the second son of Sir Andrew Ker of Cessford and his wife,
Agnes, daughter of Robert, second Lord Crichton of Sanquhar. Sir Andrew fought at
Flodden under Lord Home and two years later was appointed warden of the Middle
Marches in spite of being “a young man without wisdom and substance.”8 By 1517
the same authority, an Englishman, concedes that he could find no fault in him
except that “he is some deal forgitfyll and rakles.”9 Probably it was his recklessness
that finished him: he was killed in a feud with Scott of Buccleuch in 1526. He was
succeeded in Cessford by his eldest son, Walter, who in 1552 avenged his father’s
death by heading an affray in the High Street of Edinburgh in which Sir Walter Scott
of Buccleuch was killed.
By this time, Mark, the second son of Sir Andrew, was Abbot of the Monastery
of Newbattle to which he had been appointed in 1547. 10 The “Preface” to the
Chartulary of Newbattle argues that the date of this appointment cannot be
accurately determined but agrees that it was before 1555. u Certainly from about 1555
and more especially after 1560 Mark Ker, Commendator of Newbattle, played a
busy and important part in the life of the nation.
The first mention of him at this time 12 records that he was involved along with the
laird of Coldingknowis in the “slaughter” of a French officer and in ‘ ‘hurting and
wounding (a corporal) in sundry parts of his body, and other Frenchmen; committit
at Newbottill in April last. Comperit Maister Mark Ker in the presence of the . .
Justice-deputis and desyrit to be replegit, as he that wes ane Kirkman, to his Juge
Ordinare.” A long dispute followed as to whether the Commendator came under the
jurisdiction of the diocese of St. Andrews or that of Glasgow. In the course of this
argument, Mark Ker “producit ane testimoniale of his ordour of Crownebonnet
berand that he wes scolare in the dyocy of Sanctandrois” and alleged further that “he
wes born within the said dyocy, in the castell of Edinburgh, and maid residence
continwalie within the samin dyocy, viz. within the place and toun of Newbottill or
Edinburgh.” In addition, he “demittit the Benefice of Massindew in Jedbrucht” and
consequently could claim that he had “na benefice within the dyocy of Glasgow.” So
Mark Ker escaped trial by Archbishop Beaton of Glasgow. Unfortunately no more is
heard of the case.
By 1560 Mark Ker’s name appears among the 49 signatories of the document
drawn up at Edinburgh on 27th April, 1560 . . . “Ane contract (The Last Band of
Leyth) of the Lords and Barons to defend the Liberty of The Evangell of Christ.”
“This contract and band came not only to the eiris, bot alssua to the sycht of the Queen
Dowager; quhairat sche stormit nott a little.” And little wonder that she stormed for,
with the help of an English army, these lords and barons “quhais namis ar underwrittin
haif promittit effectuallie (to) concur and joyne togidder . . . for expulsion of the said
strangeris (the French) oppressouris of oure libertie, furth of this realme, and recovery
of our ancient fredomis and liberteis.”13 Three months later, Mark Ker was present at
the Parliament of 1st August, 1560 which approved “the confessioun of faith professed
and believed be the protestants within the realm of Scotland, publischeit be thame in
parliament and by the estaitis thairof ratifeit and apprevit as hailsome and sound
doctrine groundit upoun the infallibill trewth of God’s word.”14 Of this meeting John
Knox15 writes bitterly that many lords both spiritual and temporal “contemptuouslie
did absent thame selffis; and yit the chief pillaris of the Papisticall Kirk gave their
presence, sick as the Bischoppis of Sanctandrois . . . the abbotis of Lendorse . . .
Newbottill . . . and dyverse otheris quham we observit not.”
Meanwhile, in his more private life, Mark Ker had apparently acted with some
ruthlessness in evicting four of his tenants and was summoned before the Privy
Council to answer their charges.16 He was ordered to pay “ilkane of thame yeirlie in
tyme cuming . . . the soum of tuentie pundis for thair sustentation, leving and
furnessing.” Five years later, in November 1567, he was again before the Privy
Council to answer the complaint of James Giffert younger of Sherefhall that he had
been dispossessed of “the eist and west mylnis of Newbottill with the mylne landis,
multures, suckin, and thair pertinentis” which he and his predecessors had held “thir
mony yeris begane” for “Mark now commendature of Newbottill, on his maner, hes
gevin and set in fewferme to his spouse and bairnis . . . the said mylnis ower the heid
of the said James . . . without ony just caus or occasioun.” The decision of “my Lord
Regent and the Lords of Secrete Counsall” is not recorded. 17
In spite of these events, Mark Ker continued among those who directed the
nation’s affairs. He was regularly present at meetings both of the Parlia ment and of
the Privy Council of which he became a member in 1569 as well as an
Extraordinary Lord of Session. He was a man of wide experience who had, in
1563, been one of those charged with administering the Act of Oblivion18 and, in 1567
a member of ‘ ‘Ane commissioun . . . to consider sic articklis as is committit to
thame and to report the samin again in the nixt Parliament.”19 He was present, too, at
the Privy Council which decided to hold “justice aires ower all this realme” so that
“justice mycht be execute upon (offenders) for thair demerits in exempill of utheris.”20
He was at the council which met at Kelso to consider various matters relative to the
peace of the Borders,21 and at the meeting on I5th April 1569 which “concludit that
James, Duke of Chestellarault salbe committit to ward within the castell of Edinburgh
in default of fulfilling of his part of the pacification of Glasgow.”22
In the years of the “troubles” that followed the battles of Carberry Hill and
Langside, Mark Ker played a significant though not a major part in national politics.
When the Pacification of Perth, in February 1572, made a serious effort to remove “the
publict troubles and civile weare within this realme sa lang continewing thairin,”23
Robert, Lord Boyd, Sir John Bellenden of Auchnowle and “Mark, Commendatare of
Newbottill” were appointed commissioners to try “all attempts against the abstinence
besowth the watter of Tay.”24 Throughout the regency of Morton (1572-1578) the
Commendator was in frequent attendance at meetings of the Privy Council and, on the
fall of Morton, continued as one of the extraordinary council appointed to carry on the
government in the King’s name,25 and, when Morton had seized Stirling Castle, Mark
Ker was one of the four delegates sent to arrange terms of reconciliation between
Morton and his enemies, Athole, Glamis, Argyle and Montrose.26 In April 1580 Mark
Ker was among those appointed to hear trial of the “haill quarrellis, deidlie feidis and
caussis debaitabill” between “his Hienes subjectis of the surnames of G
Forbes” and a year later was one of the six privy councillors appointed to hear the
application for full pardon and restoration of Sir James Balfour of Pittendreich
(“Blasphemous Balfour” according to Knox) who had been implicated in the murder
of Darnley. 28
When the Lennox-Arran administration replaced that of Morton in December
1580, Mark Ker continued his attendance at the meetings of the Privy Council with
great punctuality up to November 1581 and constantly enough afterwards 29 but the
Ruthven Raid in August 1582, for a time, put an end to his attendances for he was a
loyal supporter of Lennox and did not approve of the Earl of Cowrie’s government.
Indeed, when the Ruthven Raid government ordered Lennox to leave the country, the
Commendator was one of those who supported him in a desperate but unsuccessful
attempt “to seaze upon the palace of Halyrudhous and the toun of Edinburgh
unawars.”30 Yet, two months earlier, when the Gowrie government was attempting to
widen its basis of support, Mark Ker was invited to join the Privy Council again and
was in regular attendance after October 1582. 31 On the other hand, when the Gowrie
administration fell (July 1583) Mark Ker must have found considerable pleasure in his
attendance at the Privy Council held in Holyrood on 7th December, 1583, which
declared that the Ruthven Raid was “a crime of lesemajesty” and ordered the
justification of it (19 October 1582) “to be deleted from the books of the Council.”32
Such were the activities of the man who was the owner of Preston Grange in 1581,
the date of the painted ceiling recently discovered there. His wife, Lady Helen Leslie,
second daughter of George, fourth Earl of Rothes, bore him four sons and a daughter,
of whom the eldest, Mark, succeeded both as Commendator and as privy councillor
when his father died in August, 1584. 33
The new owner of Preston Grange was already well known in both court and
government circles before his father’s death. In 1580 he is listed as “Mr Mark Ker of
Prestongrange” among thirty people appointed “to attend on the king’s person”34 and in
the same year Parliament ratified to him the grant of the office of Commendator of
Newbattle with all the “fructis, proffitis and emoluments thairof during his lyftyme”35
in succession to his father who retained a liferent. A further act of I58436 “for
annulling of the successorijs of prelacijs purchast of his Hienes in the troublous tymis
bypast of his young aige” provided that “Mr Mark Ker . . . mr. of his hienes requeistis .
. . sail not be comprehendit under this present act.” His possession of Preston Grange
with all its arable lands, the mill and the mill lands, and the port of Acheson’s Haven
was confirmed by the king in 158737 and the grant ratified in 159138 when the lands of
Preston Grange along with many other lands belonging to the Commendator were
erected into the barony of Preston Grange and incorporated in the one lordship of
Newbattle. In 1606 Mark Ker was created Earl of Lothian39 and died in 1609, the
victim, it is said of witchcraft exercised by his wife, Margaret Maxwell, daughter of
The origin of this tale of the first Earl of Lothian’s death by witchcraft is the
account given by Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, which is quoted in full at a later stage in
this study. 40 This is a most remarkable story rendered the more apt in this context by
the apparent connection between it and the symbolism of the ceiling which the first
Mark Ker had commissioned for his house at Preston Grange.
When Robert Ker, the second Earl of Lothian, succeeded to his father’s estates, he
apparently sold Prestongrange in the year of his father’s death to one John Morison, a
merchant of Edinburgh who was treasurer of the city in 1588 and three times a bailie.41
No confirmation of the reputed date of purchase (1609) has been found. This John
Morison married Katherine Preston, daughter of John Preston, Lord President of the
Court of Session, and became the ancestor of a succession of Morisons who owned
Prestongrange down to 1746. Yet, as early as 1644 they were selling 64 acres of their
lands to John Joyce, a merchant burgess of Edinburgh42 and in 1647 part of the
Dolphingstoun lands was disposed of to David Wilkie and his son Archibald 43 who
held them until 1654 when “the Protector grants to Capt. Benjamin Bryssie, merchant
in Leith . . . the lands and barony of Dolphingstoun, sometime called Cowthrople, with
the tower, manorplace, coalheughs etc, thereof.”44
The most notable of the Morisons of Prestongrange were Alexander, the
son, and William, the great-grandson of the original John who bought the
estate. Alexander was appointed a lord of session in 1626 and took the title of
Lord Prestongrange. The following year, he was elected Rector of the University of
Edinburgh and had the reputation of great learning. 45 William the
great-grandson of John, succeeded his father in the lands of Prestongrange in
1684 and sat for Haddingtonshire and later, Peeblesshire for nearly 25 years
prior to the Union of Parliaments. He was one of the commissioners for the
Treaty of Union and continued to represent Peeblesshire in the British Parlia ment
almost continuously until 1715. 46
“Jupiter” Carlyle in his Autobiography (p.5) reports that William Morison “was
elected Member of Parliament for East Lothian in the first parliament of Great Britain,
although the celebrated Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun was the other candidate. But
Government took part with Morison, and Fletcher had only nine votes. Morison had
been very rich, but had suffered himself to be stripped by the famous gambler of these
times, Colonel Charteris, whom I once saw with him in church, when I was five or six
years of age; and being fully impressed with the popular opinion that he was a
wizard, who had a fascinating power, I never once took my eyes off him during the
whole service, believing that I should be a dead man the moment I did. . . . This
simple gentleman’s estate (Morison’s) soon went under sequestration for the payment
of his debts. He was so imaginary and credulous as to believe that close by his creek
of Morison’s Haven was the place where St. John wrote the Apocalypse, because
some old vaults had been discovered in d
igging a mill-race for a mill that went by
sea-water. This had probably been put into his head by the annual meeting of the
oldest lodge of operative masons in Scotland at that place on St. John’s Day.”
William Morison died in 1739 and was succeeded by his son Alexander who sold
Prestongrange in 1746 to an Edinburgh advocate, William Grant, 2nd son of Sir
Francis Grant, Lord Cullen who had been created a baronet of Nova Scotia in 1705.
In the same year as he purchased Prestongrange, Grant was appointed Lord
Advocate, a position which he held until his promotion to the bench in 1754 when he
took, like his Morison predecessor, the title of Lord Prestongrange. As Lord
Advocate in 1746 he was intimately involved in the trials of the Jacobites and carried
out his duties with a justice and impartiality that greatly enhanced his reputation. He
prosecuted at the trial of Archibald Stewart, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, whose
behaviour had aroused much suspicion when the Prince’s army was marching on
Edinburgh before the Battle of Prestonpans.
Lord Prestongrange died at Bath in 1764 and was buried in Prestonpans Church.
He left three daughters all of whom were married some years before their father’s
death. The eldest, Janet, married the 4th Earl of Hyndford in 1749. Agnes, the
second daughter, married Sir George Suttie of Balgone in 1757, the year after her
younger sister, Jane, became the wife of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President
of the Court of Session. John Carmichael of Castlecraig, 4th Earl of Hyndford, was
served heir to his father-in-law in July 1767. 47 He died in 1787 and his wife, the
Dowager Countess of Hyndford, continued to live in Prestongrange until her death in
1818 when her heir was her nephew Sir James Suttie of Balgone, the son of her
sister Agnes48 . Sir James Suttie, w assumed the name of Grant Suttie, inherited
from his aunt along with the estate “all the carriages and carriage horses, . . . the
whole stocking of cattle and sheep, implements of husbandry, horses, crops on the
grounds in my natural possession, and in the barnyard, all the furniture in the house of
Prestongrange belonging to me, wine in the cellars and provisions of every kind that
shall be in the house.”49 The will of Janet Grant, Countess of Hyndford, also directs
her executor “to deliver to the heir who shall succeed me in the estate of
Prestongrange . . . the whole vouchers of the improvements made by my husband and
What these improvements were is not revealed, but fairly soon Sir James
Grant Suttie set about a major reconstruction of the mansion house which now
bears above its front door the date 1830, the arms of the family and the motto
“Nothing hazard nothing have.” From 1830 to 1958 Prestongrange remained
in the possession of the Grant-Suttie family, but from 1922 onwards it was
leased to Royal Musselburgh Golf Club who use the mansion house as their
clubhouse and claim that it is the most impressive one in Scotland. The course
itself was opened in 1924.
The last stage in the story of Prestongrange, so far, was reached in 1958 when the
Coal Industrial Social Welfare Organisation bought the estate. Royal Musselburgh
Golf Club continues to use both the course and the clubhouse.
1. Registrum S. Marie de Neubotle. Bannatyne* Club (1849), item 64.
2. ibid., item 65.
3. ibid., item 66.
4. National Library of Scotland, Struthers MS., 2121.
5. Bannatyne Club. op. cit. preface) xxvi.
6. Reg. Mag. Sig. Vol. Ill, item 351.
7. Calendar of .Scottish Papers, Vol. I, (1547-63), item 983).
8. Letters and Papers. Foreign and Domestic —Henry VIII Vox. II, Pt. 1, item 799.
9. ibid., Vol. II, Pt. 2. item 3393.
10. Burke’s Peerage —(103rd Edition 1963) —p. 1510.
11. Bannatyne Club, op. cit., preface xxvii.
12. Robert Pitcairn “Criminal Trials in Scotland” — Vol. I. pp. 377-378.
13. John Knox, “Works” Vol. II, pp. 61-64, Bannatyne Club.
14. Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, Vol. II. pp. 525-526.
15. John Knox, op. cit., pp. 87-88.
16. Register of the Privy Council of Scotland—Vol. 1, (1545-69)—p. 228.
17. ibid., p. 590.
18. Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland. Vol. II, p. 536.
19. ibid., Vol. Ill, p. 30.
20. Register of the Privy Council of Scotland—Vol. 1, (1545-69)—p. 599.
21. ibid., p. 650.
22. ibid., p. 654.
23. ibid., Vol. II, (1569-78), p. 193.
24. ibid., p. 195.
25. ibid., Vol. Ill (1578-85) p. 4(n). David Moysie “Memoirs of the Affairs of Scotland”— Bannatyne Club
26. ibid., p. 19. ” 27. Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Vol. Ill — pp. 279-280.
28. ibid., p. 403.
29. ibid., p. xxxvii.
30. ibid., pp. 533-534(n).
31. ibid., p. xlviii .
32. ibid., p. 614.
33. Scots Peerage, p. 33.
34. Calendar of Scottish Papers, Vol. V (1574-81), item 615.
35. Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, Vol. Ill, p. 276.
36. ibid., p. 347.
37. Rag. M’ag. Sig., Vol. V, item 1307,
38. ibid., item 1941.
39. Burke’s Peerage—(103rd Edition. 1963)—p. 1510.
40. See below p. 121.
41. Nisbet “Heraldic Plates” — edited by Ross and Grant (1892) pp. 135-137.
42. Reg. Mag. Sig., Vol. IX, item 1566,
43. ibid., item 1861.
44. ibid., Vol., X, item 319.
45. “East Lothian Biographies”—East Lothan Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society,
“Transactions” – p.99.
46. Nisbet, op. cit., pp. 135-137.
47. Services of Heirs, Vol. II.
48. ibid., Vol. III.
49. Commissariot, Register of Edinburgh, 1818.
LIST OF PLATES
Specimen page. Page from the school exercise hook from Prestonpans.
Portrait of Mark Kerr Senior, attributed to Thomas Key.
By courtesy of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
III. Prestongrange. a. Playfair’s drawing of the smith front showing proposed alterations of 1850. b.
The south front today.
IV. Prestongrange. a. The north front showing the additions of 1832 (left) and 1850 (right), b.
Playfair’s scheme for the interim’ decoration of the hall (1832) after removal of the plasterwork to
reveal the painted ceiling above.
Anthropomorphic Grotesques; figure of mummer on right.
Robin Goodfellow. Woodcut: 17th Century.
Details from the Ceiling: Fertility Symbol.
VII. Details from the Ceiling.
LIST OF FIGURES
Fig 1. Plans of Prestongrange showing (a and b) proposed additions of 1830 —
ground first and second floors — and:
Fig 2. (c and d) of 1850 (ground floor only).
Fig 3. The Prestongrange ceiling before its removal to Merchiston Castle.
Fig 4. The Prestongrange ceiling after its removal to Merchiston Castle.
Fig 5. The Prestongrange ceiling: cross section of the unusual joint between beams and
bridle. The holes at a. and b. are drilled slightly off centre to pull the joint up tight
when the pin is hammered in.
Fig 6. The Prestongrange ceiling: secondary stencilled beam patterns.
Fig 7. The Prestongrange ceiling: diagram of a portion of the original beam pattern
carried out in orange and white alternately, with black lining and a grey central
Fig 8. Prestongrange: mural decoration (a), (b).
Figure 3 – Page 1 of 2
Figure 3 – Page 2 of 2
Figure 4 – Page 1 of 2
Figure 4 – Page 2 of 2