HOPES that a derelict school near Wallyford might be transformed into a visitor centre for the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh have been dashed.

The Crookston School site, which was for sale on the open market, has been bought by David Blues, 42, who established Baileyfield Garage in Portobello in 1999.

He plans to develop the ruined building to suit his needs as an operating centre for his 24-hour breakdown service and also intends to rebuild the former janitor’s cottage for use by 24-hour security staff.

Mr Blues said: “I started Baileyfield Garage on Baileyfield Road in Portobello in 1999. We already operate a garage on Market Street, Musselburgh, as well as Fishwives Causeway in Portobello.

“Our vehicle storage facility is also on Market Street. However, due to our continued growth, we require a larger site. We feel the Crookston School site has great potential and was also in an excellent location in order for us to be able to reach stranded motorists in and around East Lothian, Edinburgh and surrounding areas.”

A trust had been formed to progress the battle visitor centre project on the 1.071-acre site near the A1, which was once used as a haulage depot and was latterly owned by Lanarkshire-based Anderson Group Ltd.

Even though the Salters Road site went up for sale, hopes remained that it might still be secured as a visitor attraction for the battle, which took place between Wallyford, Musselburgh and Dalkeith on September 10, 1547.

Described as the largest and bloodiest conflict ever fought on Scottish soil, it was the last pitched battle fought between Scotland and England before the Union of Crowns. The outcome was a devastating defeat for the Scots.

The visitor centre project, which began several years ago, was backed by Inveresk Village Society, the Old Musselburgh Club and Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group, which commemorates the battle, known as ‘Bloody Saturday’, each year on its anniversary

Musselburgh Museum and Heritage Group had also thrown its weight behind the initiative.

Ian Irving, from Inveresk, a member of the visitor centre’s steering group, said: “I am pleased that someone has taken an interest in the development of the old Crookston School site, which originally had very attractive buildings thereon, and I’m sure many locals have fond memories from their attendance there and will watch with interest as to the plans for it.

“It is well known that our group had hoped to produce an educational centre again by building a first-class historic centre in connection with the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh because it overlooked the battlefield.

“Like many others, I believed that the old school site would have been perfect for a historic centre and a viable investment. The planning authorities have a very difficult and important decision to make.”

National significance

Barry Turner, a committee member on Musselburgh Conservation Society, said: “Given its location, the society had supported the establishment on the site of a battlefield heritage centre which would have local and national significance.

“However, it is unlikely to raise an objection in principle to its use for an activity similar to its previous use given that existing use rights are presumably still extant.

“It is hoped that the existing buildings can be rebuilt to preserve some of the character of the old Crookston School and avoid a development which might not relate well to the green belt setting.”

Speaking personally, Dr Andrew Coulson, of the Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group, said: “I’m glad that the buildings will be restored to a useful existence, particularly if what remains useful from the former school buildings is retained in whatever is put in their place.

“Of course, this development also means that we shall have to look elsewhere for a suitable site for the proposed battlefield centre.

“But, who knows, we might find as good a site elsewhere, perhaps even better.”

Alister Hadden, chairman of Wallyford Community Council and a former pupil at Crookston School, said: “Of course it is good to see the former Crookston School being developed and brought back to life, as well as the janitor’s house rebuilt for use by its new owners, rather than remaining in the sad state it is at present – all burnt out and mostly destroyed by fire in 2015.

“It was once a fine building as a rural school and important to serve the communities of Wallyford, Smeaton and Deantown, as it had a lovely history attached to it from its opening in 1902 until it was closed in 1958, and then taken over as a haulage contractor’s yard.

“It was a place of education for many, some of who are still fondly remembered within the village of Wallyford, such as Billy Wilson, who was Crookston School’s football team captain in 1951-1952 and went on to play professionally as goalkeeper for Hibernian, Berwick Rangers and Cowdenbeath.

“Many pupils went on to work in the coal mines and as tradesmen in the building and construction industry.”