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Cockenzie Village


Last Updated 13th April 2021


The little village of Cockenzie is situated next to Port Seton in East Lothian, Scotland. It still has the old harbour which dates back to the early 17th century and was built to accommodate the expansion of the saltpan industry and the fishing industry. The east coast of Scotland’s saltpan vibrant economy had existed since the 1200s by heating large metal pans containing sea water and set on elevated stone towers over fires lit by coal which was brought in from Fife; a region on the other side of the ‘Forth Estuary’. The women stoked the fires and the men carried the coal in hessian bags from large horse draw carts. The sea evaporated in the pans, and the salt left over, was collected to sell in the markets of Edinburgh.

An 2021 image (Fujifilm X100s compact camera) of today's Boat Shore at the back of the High Street in Cockenzie where prior to the old harbour, boats were pulled up on the shore to unload the catches. In the 1950s the villagers would build a huge bonfire against the rocks on the left of the picture and everyone would go down to the Boat Shore on the 5th November to celebrate Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot -


My grandfather owned a herring fishing boat in the early 1900s and would head out on long fishing trips to catch herring in an industry that had lasted for over a thousand years. Below is a picture of his boat which is now proudly hanging on a wall in my house. It is a digital copy of the picture in its frame, taken with a Fujifilm X100s compact camera -


The Firth of Forth Estuary is known for its violent storms and Cockenzie Harbour has been damaged several times in its history; the current construction was built in the 1830s. There was a ship building yard situated within the harbour area where fishing boats were built and launched, but today the yard and a larger yard which was situated near to Cockenzie House in the village have been demolished and replaced by new houses. There is a fish smoke house which is still standing on the east side of the harbour.

The 2016 left image (Nikon FM3a 35mm film camera) is part of the old boat yard in the harbour and in the right 2021 picture (Fujifilm X100s compact camera) the white houses that were recently built in its place -



A 2016 image (Nikon FM3a 35mm film camera) the old smoke house which is still there today and a 2021 image (Fujifilm X100s compact camera) of the new houses near Cockenzie House -



Today the old harbour is still used to anchor small boats. Below is a 2008 photo image converted to a painting style which shows the small boats and the power station, prior to it being demolished in 2015. It was originally captured using a Canon 5D MK 1 DSLR camera and a Canon 24-105L IS zoom lens: 24mm, ISO:100, Aperture f11, Shutter 1/60sec.

Please click on the image to open up a larger variant and again on the larger image to open it up further -


2021 images of the harbour after the power station was demolished, taken with a Fujifilm X100s compact camera -



There is an extensive collection of images relating to the power station (before it was demolished) nearer the bottom of the article.

Today the Cockenzie Harbour is home to many boats, especially the smaller and more manageable fishing boats which are often maintained by retired fishing men. Below is an a 2021 image captured with a Fujifilm X100s compact camera of a man painting the bottom of his fishing boat with anti-foul paint to stop barnacles clinging to it when it is put back in the harbour -




I remember as a small boy, in 1953, standing in the main street of Cockenzie and watching massive 'storm' waves towering above the houses at the harbour and the main harbour wall was breached whereby the stones crashed down on the boats at anchor. My grandfather's boat had the engine punched through the bottom and the wooden wreck was carried out into the Firth of Forth Estuary and was later found, further down the east coast at Eyemouth.

An image of the old harbour which was taken with a Nikon FM3a 35mm film camera in 2016 and shows the harbour wall that was breached in 1953 (now repaired) and the metal slip where the fishing boats were launched after they were built in the boat yard -


When I was four and free to roam, we played follow my leader, jumping over the gaps in the rocks at the sea between the huge waves coming in and out. Different times back then; I could not swim and my grandfather who was in his 70s and went fishing in his boat, could not swim either. He was out in his boat one day with my older cousin John, who was wearing a sou'wester, an yellow coloured oil skinned hat tied under his chin. My cousin fell overboard and my grandfather was lucky enough to hook the sou'wester with a boat hook before my cousin went under - a fortunate escape. I played on the rocks overlooking the sea at the back of the harbour and when the tide was out, we used long pieces of wire (from the boat yard) and pulled the huge crabs out from the holes inside the harbour walls. We set-up fires on the shore and cooked the crabs and also winkles in large tins from the boat yard and filled with boiling sea water. I only ever ate the meat from the legs and the claws; I would take the main shell back to my grandfather as he was the only one who knew what parts of the meat in the shell to eat.

Every year the east coast was inundated with shoals of mackerel who were in such great numbers they were often washed up on the black coal beach between Cockenzie and Prestonpans. We would get out our fishing rods with multiple spinners on the line and cast them out from the top of the rocks to hook the mackerel. My grandfather warned me never to eat them as he regarded them as dirty fish who ate the human excrement that came out of the sewage pipe at a section of the rocks. These were the days when human sewage was not contained and treated. We never swam there, which for me was not a problem, as I finally learned to swim at 19 years old.

We made toy boats down at the rocks using a flat piece of wood with a nail in the top with a piece of paper for a sail and an old hacksaw blade from the boat yard hammered into the bottom to form a long angled keel. We sailed them in the large sea pools caught between the rocks and when we were heading home, we put them into the harbour and watched them sailing away. Like all kids, we searched the sea pools for small crabs, small fish, eels and shrimp; just to watch them swimming around - none were harmed.

A couple of 2021 images (Fujifilm X100s compact camera) of the rocks, near the old harbour, where we played and a 2021 image (Fujifilm X100s compact camera) of the old harbour pier where we used to go when the tide was out (on the right side) to catch crabs hiding in the holes in the pier -




During the early 1950s, I guess I lived a feral existence; I was an only child and while my parents went to work I stayed with my grand parents during the day. At the age of four, I was out of the house and either down at the harbour with my pals or we played in the local farm, especially in the barn with the cats who slept there during the day. Many a time my Grandmother told me to take a kitten back to the farm because I was not keeping it. We had a gang dog, Prince, who belonged to my grandfather and he was as feral as me; we went everywhere together. He was a huge collie and would fight with any male dog who came near us. I remember when I was about eight years old and when I arrived home from school to my Grandmother's house, I asked where Prince was? She said, "aye, he was old, so he was taken away by a man in a van and he would be gassed in the back of the van by the time they got up to the top of the road." It was my first taste of grief, I missed my pal.

Prince was a bit of a devil, he slipped into the yard behind the shop on the front street and killing two chickens, he proceeded to attempt to carry them off across the main road and up the lane to my grandfather's house. He was chased by the owner who managed to get his chickens back, albeit they were dead. The image below is the yard with its very unusual building -


An image of Prince and me as a baby with my mum and my grandfather making lobster creels. The image of me was shot with a 127mm film camera and the one of my grandfather with a Zenit E 35mm film camera -



The highlight of my younger years at primary school was the annual summer holiday Gala when the villagers decorated their houses with bunting, coloured flags and stood outside to watch the Gala Queen being paraded through the village from the Pond Hall (the village hall at the outdoor swimming pond where dances were held) to the local park where everyone sat down to picnic. Some of the kids from school were dressed as sailors and the others as pirates. We all went out into the Firth of Forth Estuary in fishing boats and had mock battles before the pirate chief was captured and paraded at the Pond Hall. I was a sailor in the Gala, second from the left. The image was taken at the time by a professional photographer and I scanned my copy to digital -


I remember my first day at school and watching one of my pals crying his eyes out at being left by his mother. When he played down the rocks with the gang, he never missed his mum but I guess school was a bit like going to prison? I wore my 'Davy Crockett' raccoon fur hat with its long tail. An image of my old primary school which now houses various businesses -


An 1970s image (Zenit 35mm film camera) of the Gala Pipe Band passing my grandfathers house, he is on the left sitting on the window ledge -


My young cousins (mostly girls) were great swimmers and they used to climb up the crane (see image below) and jump into the harbour at high tide. Back then, you could see through the deep clear water and watch all the fish swimming below. The fishing community of Cockenzie were hardy folk; I remember my mother's old aunt, who had her thumb almost torn off by her horse which pulled on a rope halter she was holding. She ran to the local doctor with her hand wrapped in her apron and instructed him to sew the thumb back on as she had to get on with her work that day.

An image of the crane in Cockenzie Harbour, taken with a Zenit-E 35mm film camera in the early 1970s -


Fish and chips were a firm favourite with folks living in Cockenzie and back in the early 1950s my mum would take me to the local fish and chip shop in Cockenzie High Street, down near the sea. Today, it is long gone, as is the owner, who was a gracious and kind man, especially to the old folks in the village. This is an image of where the chip shop once stood, it took up the lower part of the building, which is now a house with a blue door -


My old man drove a lorry and during the winter when there was snow on the country roads, he would tow me behind it on a wooden sledge that he made. I even got to drive the lorry by sitting between his legs; I steered it and he worked the controls. During the primary school holidays, I used to help him load the lorry with hot bricks from the kilns at the Prestonpans brickyard and afterwards, we would go to the canteen for rolls and tea.

The Prestongrange brickyard today is a museum which you can visit and I have included some images captured with a Sony A57 SLT camera -





The image below (Early 1950s) was taken with a 127mm film camera, it is my grandfathers boat 'The Margaret' named after my grandmother with the family onboard (sadly almost all of them have passed away) and the background is where the power station was eventually built -



Some 35mm 'Black and White' film images shot with a Nikon FM3a 35mm film camera back in 2016 after the power station chimneys were demolished and before the new houses were build at the harbour -






A couple of Nikon FM3a 35mm film images, shot with Kodak Ektar colour film of Cockenzie Harbour and Port Seton Harbour -




The main role of Cockenzie Harbour to house fishing boats was later taken over by the 'New Harbour', in Port Seton. Some images of Port Seton Harbour taken with a Panasonic G6 camera -











In the 1950s, Cockenzie House was privately owned and it housed a vegetable and fruit patch in the gardens. There were apple trees, strawberries and the old outhouses where the timber was stored was like a magnet to the gang. We would climb over the back wall which today does not look much, but when you are a small kid, its like a huge rockface. Standing on shoulders to get a grip and then together pulling up the last man standing was the usual procedure. The wall is overgrown these days but it is still standing in the lane behind the house -


I went back to Cockenzie in April 2021 to take some photos of the village with my Fujifilm X100s 'Digital' compact camera which has a fixed 23mm f2 lens with a 35mm field of view. The image below is one of the main green in the centre of the village which shows the war memorial and behind it, Cockenzie House -


The original old part of Cockenzie were the terraced houses of Lorimer Place (East and West). The 4 images below show the east front at the main green, the west front and views from the bottom and top of the centre lane between the terraces. When I was a small boy, there were no cars and no garages in the centre lane and you could see over the top of all the rows of 4 feet high walls in the gardens that separated the house plots.

We used to play 'kick the can' a form of hide and seek. Can you imagine the noise that the adults had to put up with, especially from the girls who screeched and shouted when being caught out, hiding in some person's garden. I am sure that many a night the wireless was drowned out (no TV in those days) -




Images of Cockenzie Village captured with my Fujifilm X100s compact camera -














The Power Station at Cockenzie was built in 1967 and was demolished in 2015. Back in 1957, I was with my friends playing 'Cowboys and Indians' on the sand dunes on the west side of the old harbour between Cockenzie and Prestonpans when some men in a lorry arrived towing a huge contraption which looked like a hollow metal pyramid, there was a tube hanging down in the middle of it. I asked them, "what is that for Mister?" The man smiled and replied, "we are drilling down to find out what the bedrock is like; they are planning to build here." That was the start of the Cockenzie Power Station build, and it rose out of the sand dunes to dominate, not only Cockenzie and Port Seton, but it could be seen from all over East Lothian and even from Arthur's Seat, the massive volcanic outcrop, in Edinburgh.

Some digital images shot with various digital cameras prior to the power station being demolished. The 6th image down on the left provides a view over East Lothian to the power station and shot from the Pentland Hills.

Please click on the images below to reveal a larger variant and some larger variants can be clicked again to make them even larger -













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The Sick Kids



Richard Lawrence
United Kingdom


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