Ruth Fyfe from the John Gray Centre takes a look back at Haddington's history. . .

An exhibition of the history of Haddington opened its doors at the John Gray Centre last week in the town as it celebrates 700 years since King Robert The Bruce awarded it a Royal Charter.

The collection looks at seven centuries of life in the town and was officially opened by Provost John McMillan who brought along a portrait of his grandfather, who shared his name and joined the army in 1918 as one of many underage young men keen to defend their country.

Mr McMillan said he hoped the exhibition would encourage people to explore their own family history and look into their ancestry.

The Bruce Charter, which is the oldest document held in the John Gray archives, is not on display during the exhibition because it has to be kept in conservation conditions, but people can view it during the archive's opening hours.

Some of the less ancient items were on display at the Haddington Show at the weekend when archivists from the centre set up a stall in the crafts tent.

There they displayed some old images from shows gone by and a book of the show's records from 1820.

Interestingly some of the family names in the nearly 200-year-old records were still well know in the communities.

Exploring themes such as royalty, religion, health, education, wartime and crime and punishment, the exhibition aims to bring stories from the archives to life.

Haddington was one of the most important towns in medieval Scotland, and even had a royal palace, the birthplace of King Alexander II.

One of the items on display is a sick note from Mary Queen of Scots – the Queen asks the burgh to excuse Philip Gibson from military service because he was too corpulent to ride his horse!

Other characters featured include Agnes Blaik and Elizabeth Golight, two ladies of ill repute who were accused of entertaining dragoons. Both were convicted – Elizabeth Golight in particular was named a ‘vicious strumpet’ by the court. They were sentenced to stand at the market cross with a paper announcing their crime attached to their clothes, and thereafter they were to be drummed out of the town.

In medieval Haddington crime certainly did not pay and punishments were harsh. Criminals could be sentenced to death and the burgh account books include costs for building the gallows and the purchase of ropes for executions.

Gallows Green (where Bellevue House stands) gets its name from being the place the gallows were situated, and there is evidence that hangings also took place from the Nungate bridge.

Punishments for lesser crimes were harsh and cruel – those caught stealing could be sentenced to a whipping by the hangman, banished from the burgh, branded with the town key, or have an ear nailed to the pillory post!

While much of the exhibition concentrates on the medieval period more modern topics including the Glasgow Overspill are featured.

In 1958 Haddington signed the first Overspill Agreement in Scotland with Glasgow which was bursting at the seams with a post war housing crisis while other parts of the country were sparse. Haddington Town Council agreed to provide 250 houses for Glasgow families, increasing the town's population by 20 per cent.

which would result in a 20% increase in population. The original Overspill Agreement is on display in the exhibition.

This exhibition offers a glimpse into the lives of the townspeople of the past, and tries to demonstrate the central role Haddington played in events of national significance. Seven Centuries of Haddington is on display until the end of September and is well worth a visit.