Archaeologists get digging to uncover Prestonpans' secrets

A MAJOR new archaeological investigation was announced today to give historians a better understanding of what happened at the Battle of Prestonpans.

The 60,000 Heritage Lottery Fund boost will also be used to train local guides, create markers and help pay for a major conference and arts festival.

The battle saw Bonnie Prince Charlie's army defeat the government forces in less than 15 minutes, giving them confidence for their march towards London six weeks later.

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Today the site lies almost unmarked, except for a memorial cairn, and one end is under housing.

Archaeologists hope residents will get involved with their work, expected to begin later this year, by carrying out metal detector surveys of their back gardens.

The dig will be led by Dr Tony Pollard, co-presenter of the BBC programme Two Men in a Trench.

He said: "I'm thrilled that we now have funding to find out more about what actually happened at the Battle of Prestonpans.

"Although the battle is well documented by participants and witnesses, there may still be some significant surprises to be unearthed.

"Our recent work at Culloden showed that some of the long-held beliefs about how that battle was fought were in fact wrong.

"With our state-of-the-art survey equipment, we hope to locate significant evidence that has, up to now, lain undetected, even in the developed and farmed landscape of Prestonpans."

The Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust, which will receive the funding announced today, was formed two years ago with the aim of ensuring the site was protected and interpreted.

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Last year, the trust unveiled plans for a 7.5 million visitor centre to be built in a dilapidated coal bing, which would include a pyramid-style roof, four grand entrances and a raised walkway across the battlefield.

It is estimated the centre would attract up to 70,000 visitors a year, and the trust hopes to have it completed by 2011.

Trustee Peter Mackenzie said: "The trustees and the whole community have worked hard to secure this funding.

"When I cast my mind back to September 2000, when I started an anniversary tour of the battle site, it seems incredible that a few years later we have such a robust structure behind us and so many volunteers helping the campaign along.

"We still have quite a way to go to get our visitor centre, but I am convinced there is a story to be told here that can inspire future generations, educate our youth and lead to economic regeneration for the local community."

Today's funding announcement coincided with the official launch of a new mobile information centre, dubbed the Battle Bus.

The former mobile library has been converted into a centre for distributing information on the battle and the trust's campaign, and is set to go on tour across East Lothian over the summer.