The churchyard at Tranent played an important part in the events of the Battle of Prestonpans. The cemetery enclosure and the steep-sided heugh beside it were occupied by a party of Camerons on the afternoon of 20th September 1745, and it is from there that they opened fire on General Cope’s civilian scout Walter Grosset as he ventured up the waggonway. In retaliation, Cope fired his cannons. Several clansmen were wounded and the position evacuated. These were the first casualties of the battle.
After the main Jacobite army had repositioned to the east of Tranent, the churchyard was used as a corral for the Jacobite horses, including the Prince’s horse and the mounts of the 36-strong cavalry wing of the army, Strathallan’s Perthshire Horse. At the end of the battle the following morning, the officers’ horses were taken down the waggonway onto the battlefield so that they could swiftly mount up and regain control of their men during the pursuit.
Following the battle, the mortally wounded Colonel James Gardiner was carried to the manse adjacent to the churchyard (right) upon a cart. Gardiner lived at Bankton House, which falls into Tranent parish, meaning he would have been a regular visitor to the church. He died inside the manse later that morning, and was buried near the south-west corner of the church.
At the end of the 18th century the old medieval church was in a poor state and a new church was built on its site. Nevertheless, fragments of the original church can still be found, such as the filled in medieval window, the old buttresses, and stonework around the foundations. There are many interesting gravestones in the yard, some of considerable age. There is even one to a gentleman born in 1746 with the middle name “Cumberland”: there’s no doubt who this family had supported in the Rising!