ONE of the quayside turntables used to move waggons at Cockenzie Harbour for the world’s first railway was discovered at the 11th hour during an extraordinary community dig.

The Big Dig, organised by community organisation 1722 Waggonway Heritage Group, unearthed a wealth of treasures at Cockenzie Harbour, September 1-10.

The group aims to preserve and enhance the route and associated industries and environments of Scotland’s first railway, the 1722 Tranent- Cockenzie Waggonway.

More than 40 public diggers visited the Big Dig and were joined by schoolchildren and members of the community.

They uncovered the original Robert Stevenson-designed quayside at Cockenzie, which had lain covered by debris for around 70 years and was in remarkable condition; a salt pan building; two waggonway sidings with stone sleeper blocks; and the quayside turntable which would have diverted the waggons to the sidings and loading bays.

The turntable, which was thought to have been lost, was discovered on the final morning of the dig as the curved edge of the sunken turntable cavity was uncovered, followed by the discovery of the iron runner which aided the rotation of the turntable, deep within the cavity itself.

Smaller finds included two gun flints from flintlock pistols; a little horseshoe from a waggonway pony; a bronze salt scoop in the shape of a salt shovel; and an 18th century tea bowl.

The heritage group was set up by historian Ed Bethune along with locals Alan Braby and Gareth Jones.

They saw an opportunity to explore the harbour in detail during East Lothian Council’s archaeology fortnight and launched the community project.

The Big Dig also saw an exhibition of finds at Cockenzie House where Gareth Jones and volunteers set up a traditional salt pan.

Mr Bethune said: “The event has revitalised community interest in the waggonway and I firmly believe that this will be the catalyst for local people and groups in this part of East Lothian, from Tranent to Cockenzie & Port Seton, to develop our own heritage assets to celebrate our towns’ significant part in the nation’s industrial history.”

With plans underway for a forthcoming exhibition of all the discoveries there is already talk of a Big Dig 2018.

Gareth Jones said the chance to try to produce salt using traditional methods was a huge thrill.

He said: “We were able to build the pan using a grant from Port Seton Community Council, goodwill from several businesses, and lots of voluntary labour.

“We encountered the same problems as the early salt makers and tried to adopt the same techniques to solve them.

“The Big Dig was a fantastic experience for me because so many people came along and joined us.

“We were asked lots of great questions and so many of the younger visitors who attended with their schools actually came back to see us again, often bringing along their parents.”

The heritage group thanked its partners Cockenzie House & Gardens; The Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust; ELC Archaeology Service; East Lothian Council; Historic Environment Scotland; Cockenzie CARS; Cockenzie & Port Seton Community Council; Wessex Archaeology (Scotland); MacDuff Shipyards; Eyeball Brewing; Kentwood Brewing; Craft Hub Cockenzie; Cadell’s Cafe; Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society; The Friends of Cockenzie House & Gardens; BSafe Fire Extinguishers; Burning Question; Tim Porteus and all the volunteers.