A STONE artwork in tribute to a community-minded organisation formed in Haddington more than 300 years ago has been unveiled outside a new housing scheme.

The Free Gardeners, a fraternal society, was founded in the town in 1676 and grew to have lodges all over the country, with more than 10,000 members in the Lothians alone.

Now talented artist James Winnett has unveiled an intricately carved standing stone, inspired by the organisation, at Moncrieff Walk at the western end of the town.

Mr Winnett said: “I became fascinated with the story of the Free Gardeners, their rich symbolism, regalia and the artefacts they left behind. 

“I wondered how a public artwork might make a tangible connection to these ideas, while referencing other links to local history and folklore.” 

The Glasgow-based artist carved the seven-foot sandstone block as part of a public art commission supported by Persimmon Homes through East Lothian Council’s Percent for Art scheme. 

The carvings on the stone include several Free Gardener symbols, such as the compass, set square and pruning knife, alongside depictions of the Tree of Life, ‘Jock in the Green’, the four rivers of the Garden of Eden, and Haddington’s emblematic goat climbing the Tree of Knowledge. 

There is also a reference to the former Mitsubishi factory – which stood on the site at Gateside before housing was built there – in the form of a beehive with three oak leaves above it, a nod to the origins of the Mitsubishi logo.

Mr Winnett, who estimated he spent 100 days carving the stone, added: “Halfway through the carving process, I turned the stone over and washed off the mud on the reverse face.

“It was only then that I realised the whole surface was covered in plant fossils from more than 300 million years ago, which made a fortuitous link with the gardening theme!”

The 36-year-old artist visited Haddington’s John Gray Centre to find out more about the organisation.

The Ancient Order of Free Gardeners, as they became known, bought a tenement in Haddington as their base, which became the Gardeners Arms pub.

They functioned like an early trade union or mutual aid society, supporting the poor while also holding floral exhibitions, tree planting ceremonies and colourful parades.

Mr Winnett helped put the stone in place earlier this year and told the Courier: “It is a mixture of emotion at the end, partly a relief to get it in in one piece. It is a tricky thing to install.

“It is a natural stone, it’s a funny shape, with flaws in the stone, and you have got a lot of preparation which goes into the foundations. It did not help we were doing it in some of the wettest weather.”