Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 00:06 UK

Hunt for lost battlefield mansion

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Musket balls from the battle have been found in gardens

Archaeologists hope to uncover remains of the "lost mansion" of a Jacobite sympathiser who had his wife kidnapped and sent into exile on a remote island.

James Erskine, Lord Grange, is believed to have hosted clandestine meetings of Jacobites at Preston House in the years before the 1745 rebellion.

He feared his estranged wife Rachel, Lady Grange, would reveal his secrets.

Dr Tony Pollard, of the University of Glasgow, will lead the excavations at Prestonpans in East Lothian next week.

Nothing remains above ground of the country mansion but period maps and a geophysical survey suggest sections are buried beneath the lawn of the town's community centre.

The house featured in the Battle of Prestonpans between Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army and government troops led by Sir John Cope, who were fighting the Young Pretender's challenge to the Hanoverian reign on the British throne.

She was a fairly vociferous woman who enjoyed a good time and was not well disposed to the Jacobites
Prof Tony Pollard

A number of Cope's soldiers died after becoming trapped against its walls.

The Jacobites were victorious in the battle fought on 21 September 1745.

It was one of the first conflicts of the second Jacobite rising, which ended in defeat at Culloden the following April.

Large areas of the Prestonpans battlefield have been built over but some people in the area have unearthed musket balls in their gardens.

Dr Pollard, of the university's Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, said it had appeared as if the house was wiped from history.

He said: "Literally across the road is Bankton House of Col Gardiner, a Hanoverian killed at the battle, which is still standing.

"It is now flats, but there is a memorial to Gardiner while it seems Preston House was erased from the face of the Earth."

Before its demolition, the house served as a hospital and orphanage in Victorian times.

Archaeologists and local volunteers will dig trenches in the hope of finding its foundations. An open day will be held at the end of the week.

The community project is being run under the auspices of Prestonpans Battlefield Trust.

Lord Grange is thought to have owned the house before the uprising in 1745 and hosted meetings during the 1730s.

His brother, John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, led the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

The earl, who owned Braemar Castle in Aberdeenshire, had voted for the 1707 Act of Union.

He had also been Secretary of State for Scotland until 1714 but rose up against the authorities.

The Earl of Mar gathered support from lands north of the River Tay, including the north east and Highlands.

'Naughty ladies'

Lord Grange was also sympathetic to the cause but encountered problems with his estranged wife.

Dr Pollard said: "She was a fairly vociferous woman who enjoyed a good time and was not well disposed to the Jacobites."

The lord had her kidnapped and she was first taken to North Uist before sailing to Hirta, the main island on the St Kilda archipelago, 41 miles off the Western Isles.

Erskine claimed she had died and even a funeral was held.

The lady remained in exile for almost 10 years living among the islands' fisher folk and guga hunters - men who scaled sea cliffs to catch gannets for food.

It is said she managed to get a letter to friends in Edinburgh but they were unable to rescue her.

Lady Grange spent the last years of her life on Skye.

Dr Samuel Johnson, who produced the original Dictionary Of The English Language 250 years ago, is said to have told St Kilda's landlord that he might make the islands profitable if he let it be known it was a place for "naughty ladies".

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