When the Earl of Murray, the Regent of Scotland, died in Musselburgh in 1332, the next Regent offered to reward the local residents for the care that they’d given to his predecessor. The townsfolk declined the reward, claiming that they were only doing their duty, eliciting the comment that they were ‘a set of honest men’ – resulting in Musselburgh’s epithet ‘The Honest Toun’.
It’s an old toun too; the Romans built fortifications close to the River Esk, on an area that was probably populated more than two thousand years ago, presumably to keep the East Lothian councillors at bay.
The dispute between members of the Lothian Racing Syndicate and East Lothian Council, the parties which came together to manage the racecourse, has recently entered a brief ceasefire – which could yet turn into a more prolonged peace. The BHA was sufficiently satisfied, by the progress of recent talks about governance, that they have allowed the racecourse a temporary licence to stage racing this week. Crucially though, the licence has not been extended any further – presumably because the peace treaty is yet to be fully ratified.
It isn’t the first time the Honest Toun has been at the centre of a fierce battle. In 1018, Malcolm II forcibly secured the area as part of Scotland, when the resulting treaty referred to the town of Muskilburgh.
And then in 1547, the town became the scene of the last major confrontation between English and Scottish forces – the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. The battle is widely considered to be the first ‘modern’ battle – involving the coordination of different forces, including naval bombardment to assist land forces and local-authority propaganda to whitewash the atrocities (I might have made up the last bit).
In case you’re wondering who won, the Scots gained a small amount of compensation at Murrayfield in February this year.
We’re all hoping that the Battle of Pinkie Racecourse can be resolved very soon, because a day at Musselburgh races offers a plethora of opportunities for fun and delectation. First, of course, there is the racecourse itself: it’s a five star visitor attraction and the facilities are perpetually spruced to ensure that all five stars are maintained. The ‘honest’ members of the racecourse team provide a great welcome and each one deserves a star-shaped medal for putting up with the insulting attitude of their local councillors. Like the renowned ‘honest men’ of the toun, they are unwavering in their duty to both the racecourse and its customers.
Second (although this is possibly something to do before racing): everyone should take a short walk down the cherry-tree lined pavements, towards the high-street, whereupon they’ll discover Luca’s Ice Cream shop and cafe. I haven’t actually tried every singly flavour (yet), but my favourite is the Snickers ice-cream, which goes really well with bubble-gum sorbet.
Thirdly (and this is something to do after the races): walk down the same cherry-lined pavements, but to the opposite side of the road, and order a takeaway from Jaz’s Fish Bar. One portion of chicken pakora & chips, with an additional portion of chips, is enough to feed a family of four for a week.
And if the councillors of East Lothian aren’t able to allay the concerns of the BHA, in relation to the governance of Musselburgh Racecourse, the good people of Musselburgh may be forced to do what the Romans did before them – abandon their idyllic location on the banks of the River Esk (ice-cream parlours and all), before retreating to Hadrian’s Wall near Hexham, where this weekend’s selection is General Mahler in the 6.05pm on Saturday.