Musselburgh (surveyed in 1893)


Musselburgh lies on either side of the mouth of the River Esk, where it enters the Firth of Forth, directly to the east of Edinburgh. It is now in East Lothian but at the time of the survey it was in Edinburgh-shire.

The name Musselburgh means 'Mussel town'. It is derived from the Old English words musle meaning 'mussel' and burh meaning 'town'. The Old English name reflects the Anglian settlement of large areas of Lothian in the seventh and eighth centuries AD.

The burgh includes Musselburgh itself, as well as Fisherrow on the west side of the Esk and Newbigging to the south. Inveresk, further south, gave its name to the parish and contained the parish church. The town was a burgh of barony from 1315-28 and it became a burgh of regality in 1562. Musselburgh attempted to become a royal burgh in 1632, but this was stopped by Edinburgh burgesses because they wanted to control trade in the area. There is a traditional rhyme, "Musselburgh was a burgh when Edinburgh was nane / And Musselburgh will be a burgh when Edinburgh has gane".

The battle of Pinkie had taken place by the town in 1547, when the Duke of Somerset had marched to Scotland to capture Mary Queen of Scots as a bride for the nine year old king Edward VI of England, in order to join the crowns. The plan failed when Mary was sent to safety in France.

Town Planning

In its layout, Musselburgh originally consisted of several separate communities. Fisherrow to the west of the Esk was built around three streets, which radiated out from the Edinburgh road and lay roughly parallel to the shore. To the east of the river, Musselburgh proper had two main streets extending from the river crossings to the shore, with properties on either side. Newbigging, to the south, had a main street parallel to Musselburgh High Street. By the end of the nineteenth century the different parts of the town had grown together and the focus appeared to have shifted to the five bridges over the river. The railway lay to the south of the town.


The main building of interest in the burgh was Pinkie House. This was a sixteenth century towerhouse with later additions added in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is now a boarding house for Loretto School.

Trade and Industry

A number of different industries, such as pottery and the weaving of wool and cotton had flourished in Musselburgh but had declined prior to the end of the nineteenth century. Fishing was still important and there was a netting industry to supply it (sheet iv.II.7).

The chief export from the port was coal, with coastal trade in a variety of items.

Market gardening to supply the inhabitants of Edinburgh with fruit and vegetables was an important part of the economy. An old variety of winter-hardy leek is called Musselburgh after the town.


There were several collieries on the outskirts of the town.

Religious life

Before the Reformation there had been a chapel called Our Lady of Loretto, which had been a place of pilgrimage. In 1530, James V of Scotland had walked there barefoot from Stirling. The structure had been demolished during the Reformation and the stonework was used to build the Tolbooth, or town jail.

The survey shows three established churches, two United Presbyterian churches, a Free church, a Congregational chapel and a Roman Catholic chapel.


There were a number of schools in the town in the late nineteenth century, of which the best-known was probably Loretto.

Culture and Society

One of the attractions of the town during this period was the racecourse, which had been built on the shore in 1816 (sheet iv.7.24). The golf course was well established on the links and the club had been formed in 1760. A football ground had also been added to the attractions of the shore (iv.7.23).