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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Economy

Agriculture

Bothwell | Easter and Wester Broomhouse | Friarsdykes | Halls, Boonslie and Beltondod | Pathhead | Pleasants | Spott | Changing ways | Cattle | Sheep | Crops | Pest control

Spott has long been an agricultural parish, and this remains its main economic activity. In 1945 there were eight farms (of which three were run as a single unit), all mixed arable and stock, in the north of the parish and four farms, mainly sheep farms, stretching from the higher reaches of the Lammermuirs to the Whiteadder River in the south (see also Land Ownership). The farms of Friarsdykes, Bothwell and Beltondod were all located within Spott parish until 1983.

By 2000, ownership of the farms has changed; rented farms have all but disappeared. Most are worked by their owners, most of whom lived on the farm. In a few cases, the farm buildings have been sold off, and the land amalgamated with another farm.

Bothwell

William W. Elliot was the tenant of Bothwell until his death in 1951. The owner, Sir George Grant-Suttie of Balgone had died in 1947, and his heir, George Phillip Grant-Suttie, was a minor. Also in 1951, the majority of the Grant-Suttie estates were sold. Bothwell was bought by William Girvan; in 1958, it was sold to Jack Elliott of Rawburn (near Longformacus). When he died in 1997 he left the farm to his son John, who farmed it but never lived there. John Elliott sold it in 2000 to Professor Penny who also owns the neighbouring farms of Crickness, Craigs Winsheil and Harehead. St Agnes (on the B6355), which was the hunting lodge for the estate, was originally sold on with the farm but is now in separate private ownership. Three houses on the farm are occupied by farm employees and one is empty.

Easter and Wester Broomhouse

The Earl of Haddington owned Easter and Wester Broomhouse farms until 1980. The farms were run as one unit, and were tenanted by three generations of the Robertson family - Thomas and Louisa; Thomas Peter and firstly Mona then Elma; and Struan and his brother Michael. At Wester Broomhouse, the chimney of the threshing mill, which stood at the northeast corner of the steading, was demolished in the early 1960s. The steading buildings have been modernised to suit modern farming machinery and practices.

Although there were 40 years of the lease remaining, in 1980 the Earl of Haddington was forced to sell the farms to fund a divorce settlement; both were bought by Alex Taylor who also owns Eweford farm (Dunbar parish) that lies adjacent on the north side of the A1. He re-allocated the fields, retaining the fields immediately south of the A1 together with part of Oswald Dean, to add to Eweford. The cottages of both the Broomhouse farms, which had gradually been rented out as the number of farm workers declined, were sold off to private owners.

Alex Taylor sold the remainder of the fields together with the Wester Broomhouse farm buildings and farmhouse to Tom Dykes, who remains the owner and farmer in 2000.

At Easter Broomhouse, the grain drying barns and cattle courts were not suitable for modern machinery and they had fallen into disrepair; the farmhouse and steadings of Easter Broomhouse have been sold for development in 2000 so that, in effect, the farm of Easter Broomhouse has disappeared.

David Cockburn (b 1936), horseman, Easter Broomhouse Farm, 1951-58/9, interviewed by Joanna Cockburn.

Mr Cockburn worked at Easter Broomhouse farm during the 1950s. It was his first full-time job after leaving school at 15 years old. His father was grieve of the farm and lived in the Grieve's Cottage with his family. He thoroughly enjoyed his time working on the farm. He felt the farmworker's life was a very healthy one and that the workers had a lot of fun together. He started full-time work on the farm aged 15, although he had worked during his school holidays prior to this. He finished working at Easter Broomhouse farm during 1958/9 to work at a sawmill at Thurston. He cannot remember exactly why he left, but thought it may have been because of better pay offered there.

The working hours were generally 7am until 5pm, however you had to get up about 5am to feed your horses. Mr Cockburn recollected that a man who lived in the farm cottages used to ‘knock up' the workers at 5am so that they would not sleep in. He also recalled that workers had to take their own harrows home to be polished in their spare time. During the harvest they could work all night to get the work finished in dry weather.

Mr Cockburn received two weeks' holiday a year, with only New Year's Day as a public holiday. There were no bonuses, however there was overtime available.

There was little or no provision for health and safety on the farm. There were quite a few accidents, and Mr Cockburn himself was nearly seriously injured when he was harrowing a field and got out of the tractor to remove a stone.

Mr Cockburn recalled having great fun while working on the farm. Many farmworkers in the parish would attend village dances, sometimes more than once a week. A popular pastime among the workers was to go up to Ossie Dean (Oswald's Dean) and to play football during the summer evenings. He recalled large games, involving dozens of people. Mr Cockburn and his family were quite close to their employers (the Robertson Family), as he and his 4 brothers were in a similar age group to the farmer's two sons. They all grew up together, and became like brothers. During the farmer's sons' school holidays, they would work on the farm alongside Mr Cockburn and his brothers.

One time of year he looked forward to was ‘tattie time' when squads of workers came from Tranent. The workers had great fun when they came. Mr Cockburn recalled Jimmy Hope (a local farmer) taking a bus of farmworkers to hear Billy Graham's Crusade in Edinburgh.

To supplement the family's income, Mr Cockburn recalled that his father would go rabbit-catching with ferrets on a Friday night, and would sell these rabbits. He remembered him putting the rabbits in a motorbike sidecar and driving them to the station for them to be picked up at the station in Edinburgh.

Friarsdykes

This farm is said to have gained its name for being home to banished, ill-behaved and refractory monks and friars of Melrose. Containing some good arable lands, Friarsdykes was noted to be very pleasant place in summer, but in a severe winter when blocked with snow for weeks, could be dreary and secluded.

The farm, which in 1945 was part of the Claverhills of Crichness estate, was to be home for three generations of Allen and Hardie families after it came up for sale in 1932. It was bought by the estate shepherd, Robert Allen and his wife Helen Rae. In 1933, Robert died, and his daughter, Isobel and her husband John Hardie moved into Friarsdykes, living with Helen until her death in 1960. Isobel and John's two children, Jim (see below) and Helen were both born on the farm; Jim worked there with his parents until in 1967, when they sold Friarsdykes and moved to Swanfield farm, Reston.

In 1967, Major Baillie of Crichness bought Friarsdykes. He sold Crichness lands to the Forestry Commission, but after the Department of Agriculture refused permission for forestation on Friarsdykes, it was sold again to William Dunlop of Elmscleugh. The farmhouse and nine acres were sold separately, and remain privately owned.

James Hardie (born 1930), grew up at, and then worked Friarsdykes farm until 1967. He was interviewed by Diana Hardy at Reston 4 July 2001.

James (Jim) born in 1930 and Helen (1937), were both born on the farm - probably with a district nurse in attendance. Helen went to Cranshaws Primary School then to Dunbar Secondary. During the latter time, she boarded at Halls farm and on leaving school went into service with Mrs Jeffrey at Halls until marrying. She now lives in Haddington.

Jim did all his schooling at Cranshaws, leaving when he was 14. He and his sister walked two and a half miles to Crichness farm where they were collected by car to be driven the next two and a half miles to school. They left home at 7.30 every morning, returning at about 5pm. The weather had to be really severe to stop them going, either pouring rain or heavy snow or, of course, when they were snowed in.

The family were mostly self-sufficient. They had pigs and hens and they always had two or three house cows, which gave them milk and from which Isobel made butter. The cows were milked every morning and any milk not used by the evening was fed to the pigs or discarded. They grew their own vegetables and shot game and rabbit for the pot. A van from Duns, driven first by Mr Veitch then Mr Baillie, came to Crichness once a week.

Cockburn Mill would cart feed for the Friarsdykes animals and after that closed, SAI from Edinburgh left supplies at Halls farm, which the Hardies would collect by cart, or later sometimes by Land Rover. Visitors to the farm were few, but included the Turners who lived at nearby Beltondod farm on the other side of Mossy Burn. For a spell in the forties, a Mr Harbison, whose daughter had a boarding house in Dunbar, occasionally walked up from Dunbar. He would have a cup of tea and then walk back to Dunbar carrying a basket full of eggs.

For any medical needs, Dr Anderson would come from Dunbar, and a vet from Duns would come and see to the animals. An Irishman also came for several successive years to help bring in the hay.

Until the Hardies left in 1967, little changed on the farm. Water was piped from a nearby spring, Tilly lamps provided light, and cooking was done on a range until the fifties when they acquired Calor gas for light and cooking. Although electricity passes across the farmland carried on huge pylons, Friarsdykes was never connected to it and they were still using a horse to work on the farm, never owning a tractor.

The family never took holidays except for a day out at the Highland, or local, agricultural shows. For entertainment, they had a radio, Isobel knitted and sewed, and Jim did fretwork. The weather in winter could be dreich with a lot of wind and they were often snowed in. But it was nothing new and the family accepted it as part of life in the Lammermuirs. Little shelter was ever provided at Friarsdykes in the form of trees with only one strip or two of about three acres of trees, mainly old Scots Pine, being planted for protection, although Robert Allen (Jim's grandfather) had planted many trees for the Claverhills at nearby Elmscleugh farm, most of which still stand, and there are spruce and Scots Pine at Beltondod farm.

In the way of wildlife around the farm, there were a lot of grouse and some partridge and, at one time, a lot of blackcock that used to eat the grain off the stooks. There were also swallows, skylarks, and lapwings, although the numbers of these declined as an increase in black hooded crows stole the lapwings' eggs. There were also kestrels, owls and woodpeckers as well as brown and mountain hares and lots of adders.

The Hardies used to keep about twelve score of ewes and 50 hogs. Their lambs would be driven down to Crichness and loaded onto a lorry for Reston Market. On the farm, they grew an acre of oats, half an acre of potatoes, turnips and kale (forage rape) for the sheep. They would grow five acres of hay (foagage), which was harvested with a horse reaper, turned first by hand and then by the horse-drawn wuffler. The stalks were arranged by hand into kyles (small ricks) before being combined into larger ricks, put onto a hay boogie and finally made into stooks and left in the field until required. No wonder they had extra help some years! Jim also grew half an acre of strawberries and sold the runners.

Halls, Boonslie and Beltondod

In 1945, the farm now known as Halls is listed as Halls and Halldown but both the name and the farmstead of Halldown have vanished. Owned by Brooke at Biel estate, from 1935 Halls was rented by Robin Jeffrey. In 1947, he bought Boonslie farm, which had been owned by the Duke of Roxburghe and leased to George Macgregor of Wester Meikle Pinkerton. In 1951 he also purchased Beltondod, formerly owned by Major James Hay of Belton, from the trustees of the late tenant, John Turner. Boonslie and Beltondod are both hill farms lying in the Lammermuirs south of Halls.

Farming and life in the Lammermuir Hills in the 1950s

In 1943, May married George Tait of Choicelee and moved to a farm at Millknowe in Stenton parish. They lived there until 1953 when they moved back to Berwickshire.

Two letters were sent to George Tait from Louisa Turner at Beltondod in Spott parish dated 1950, concerned with the giving up of the tenancy of the farm - involving the valuation, the taking of furniture to the Halls farm by tractor, the concern about the cow, being ‘ill-pleased’ at letting George Tait pay too much for a calf, no new tenant, corn chests etc. It must have struck George as special to keep these letters.

Beltondod
3rd October 1950

Mr Tait

Dear Sir

The weeks are passing quickly and it will soon be time for us going away. Will you kindly let me know if you will be able to take the cow in November? I don't want a big price for her, but I do want a good home. I did not think Mr Jeffrey would need her, but to make sure I asked him, and he said he did not need her.

She has done well this summer, and is a real pet of a beast. I would be very vexed to see her going away to a sale.

Our valuation is fixed for 2nd November - a month on Thursday - with Messrs John Swan and Sons (Mr Simpson) auctioneers, Haddington as sole arbiter. That date suits Mr Jeffrey best, and it suits us best too, to get it over before we dismantle the house altogether. Mr Jeffrey is taking the furniture to Halls by tractor and we will get Paterson from there. It is a long round-a-bout road to get to a place to which we have often walked. There is nobody coming in here when we leave. I think Mr Jeffrey would have liked if John Hardie could have taken the under end in with Friarsdykes, but he isn't able to do it meantime. Mr Jeffrey is not needing any corn chests, and Willie Anderson liked the last one John got three years ago, but perhaps he did not think it would be dear. It was £10.10/3 when new, but it may be valued at less than that on the valuation day. If he still wishes it we will ask Mr Simpson to value it, and if he does not now wish it, George Dickson was asking about it. I hope the black calf has done well, but I have been ill pleased at myself ever since for letting you pay £14 for it. It should just have been £13 and a very good price. Last year's calf was £13.10/- at Haddington but sale expenses and transport made it £13. I made up my mind to put it right when I wrote to you about the cow. So please accept the enclosed £1 note and many thanks to you.

Yours sincerely

Louisa Turner


Beltondod

6th November 1950

Dear Mr Tait

I have been a while in writing after the valuation. I was feeling wearied at the weekend. Mr Simpson and Mr Calder (I think he is Mr Simpson's nephew) came about 10 minutes to 11 o'clock and left at 1.30. So they reached their car as rain began to drizzle. Mr Jeffrey came with them and stayed all afternoon drawing out sheep, which he took to Hall on Friday.

169 went away, leaving only the very best. I never knew that the want of sight of a sheep and the want of a bleat made such a great difference to a place but it is desolate without a living animal within sight or sound and tends to make one feel lonely. It will be a wee while yet or [before?] we know what prices have been. I asked Mr Simpson to value the cow, and two corn chests separate to which he did. The cow was valued at £35. He said it was a long time or [before?] she calved again. The newest corn chest was £6 for Murray, Deuchrie and the one for Willie Anderson was £7. Mr Simpson said it was made of far better wood than the new one.

I think the cow should get home next week when it is a good day and the burn not too big, as we have not much hay in the barn and what is in the stackyard is not ours now. Perhaps you will send over the tractor before the cow goes, and I will send her Dairy Cubes with it. I hope Mrs Tait and you will like her after she gets settled down. She has never been driven out and in just led with her halter ever since she was a calf. She may shift her feet a little when letting down her milk or drawing up the cud, but there's no ill in it. It is only to ease herself. I just give the inside of her leg a bit clap. I would expect her to give milk at the least to end of January.

I have written a lot about the cow but she has been such a friendly beast and kind. One gets attached to them.

With kind regards.

Yours sincerely

Louisa Turner

Robin Jeffrey subsequently bought Halls in 1951 when the Brooke family was forced to sell off some of Biel estate to pay death duties. Robin Jeffrey married Elizabeth Simpson in 1940 and, following his death in 1963 she took over the running of the farm with the increasing help of her son Hamish. In 1975, Mrs Jeffrey moved to East Linton. In 2000, Halls, Boonslie and Beltondod are still owned and farmed by the Jeffrey family.

Pathhead

Pathhead was previously owned by Biel estate, and was sold by Brooke to raise funds in 1951. The tenant since 1938, Alexander Thomson, bought the farm; his son Giles was brought up there and attended Spott Primary School. Giles remembers the two teachers Mrs Miller and Miss Drafton. He recalls that the farm was a very busy place with many vans bringing things to sell, insurance agents calling and all the farm merchants and suppliers visiting. He worked for and then with his father, taking over when Alexander retired in 1984 and moved with his wife to East Linton (where she still lives). Mr Thomson senior died in 1991. Giles retired and sold the farm in 2000, and he and his wife moved to Ayton in Berwickshire. In October 2000 the farm was purchased by James Walker, who lives there with his wife and family.

Pleasants

Pleasants was formerly the farm of Bourhouse estate; part of the farmhouse is very old, and Pleasants has one of the few remaining unaltered farm buildings in the parish. Legend has it that the name of the farm derives from the fact that the house was where guests from Bourhouse took their pleasure and that there was a tunnel leading from one to the other. In the 1960s, Jimmy Miller, then ploughman at Wester Broomhouse, remembers a slab being brought up with the plough revealing a large ‘cundy' [tunnel]. A boy went a short way in both directions but was stopped for safety reasons, by Mr Henderson, the farmer. Could this be the ‘secret passage’? One of the fields has an old Celtic name Hurkletillane, which means ‘well on a hill’.

Brigadier Grainger Stewart owned Bourhouse and Pleasants farm from 1939-46. Robert Hope of Barneyhill and his wife owned the estate from 1946 on, separating the farm from Bourhouse almost immediately, and selling the latter. The tenant at Pleasants was John M Nelson, and he allowed both house and garden to become somewhat run down.

In 1949, Pleasants was purchased by William and Kay Henderson. Mrs Henderson took on the task of sorting out the garden, which had at one time been laid out in formal beds with box edging. Unfortunately, the box was well overgrown; it was removed and a lovely informal garden planted in its place. The Hendersons retired in 1987 and moved to Tyninghame. The farm was then bought by Gordon Tweedie, who added to it by purchasing three fields from the adjoining farm of Little Spott. In 2000, Pleasants is still farmed by Mr Tweedie

Mr and Mrs William Henderson farmed at the Pleasants from 1949-89; they were interviewed by Diana Hardy at Tyninghame on 23 May 2001.

There was no electricity at the farm until 1953. They used Tilly lamps that had to be trimmed every morning and tended to smell. They did however give off quite a bit of heat, which was most welcome in a cold house. They had a Rayburn, which ran on coke purchased from Foggo at Dunbar Station, which heated the hot water for the kitchen and bathroom. There was also a cooker, bought at a farm sale, which ran on Calor gas. Water came from a well near Pitcox (which now supplies ‘Findlay's Water'). It was a most irregular supply especially in summer when it was used to excess by tourists on the coast and the supply to Pleasants dwindled. In 1951 this was rectified when a connection was made to the reservoir on Wester Broomhouse (now the filter station).

The three Henderson children, along with the children of the farm workers, would walk across the glen by the right of way to Spott school. In inclement weather, Mrs Henderson would bundle the whole lot into the car and drive them round by the country lanes. Mrs Henderson has a vivid memory of the un-metalled road to the farmhouse with the water ‘bouncing down it' when there was heavy rain.

On ‘Farmer's Day’ Mr Henderson would go to the Royal Highland Show and on the following day, he hired a bus to take everyone else on the farm to the show, with lunch included, while he stayed at home and looked after things.

Spott

Spott House is a 17th century house on a long-established site. During the war, it was used as a convalescence hospital for Polish soldiers. In 1945, as for some years during the war, there was a market garden in the grounds of Spott House run by Stuart & Company.

Originally there were three farms on the Spott estate: Spott Home Farm, Doon farm and Big Spott (formerly Hillend) farm. In 1947, Sir James Hope purchased the estate from James Sprott, and ran the farms as one. It was during his ownership that mechanisation was introduced, including the use of the steam tractor to plough Doon Hill and other steep fields. On 28 November 1958, Sir James sold the entire estate and went to live on East Barns farm which he also owned and where he had lived during the war. It is said that East Barns had previously been part of the Spott estate but had been lost in a game of cards.

Mr John Lawrie, who already owned a dairy farm in Kinross, bought the estate. He was married to Mary Daisy McAdam and they had one son, Gilmour, and three daughters, Constance, Eileen and Dorothy. According to his daughter Constance, Mr Lawrie rose at 3.30 every the morning. He often set out at 5.30am, sometimes accompanied by his daughter Eileen, to start off the work in Kinross before returning to Spott - and this was long before the opening of the Forth Road Bridge! He has been described locally as ‘a farmer to his fingertips'. He was forward thinking and his aim was always to leave the land in better condition than it was when he purchased it.

Mrs Lawrie died in 1980, and Mr Lawrie decided to retire; he returned to Kinross then came back to live in Innerwick, dying there in 1989. Gilmour Lawrie, who had worked with his father, took over Spott farm in 1982. In 2000, he resolved to sell the estate and move with his family to Australia; the completion of the sale was not until 2001.

Ian Sands, interviewed by Joanna Cockburn on his working life as a horseman then foreman at Spott Home Farm, 1951- present.

Mr Sands started work when he was 15 years old, and was employed as a horseman. He had previously worked on the farm during the school holidays. He did his national service for two years starting in 1954, and returned to the farm after this was over.

He enjoyed working on the farm, although it was hard work. He found his then employer, Mr Jimmy Hope, to be fair, and conditions to be good. He was happy in his work too when the farm changed hands, and was bought by Mr Jock Lawrie in 1958.

Hours

In the 1950s, generally throughout the year, the working day started at 5.45am, when the horsemen would rise to feed their horses. They started work at 6.45am, and would work the morning with a break for breakfast. They usually finished at about 5pm, although during the harvest they would work longer. They worked Monday to Saturday dinnertime. During the winter they would start slightly later.

As the 1950s came to a close, the working day got slightly shorter, as tractors replaced horses.

Holidays

During the 1950s the only day's holiday was New Year's Day. In the 1960s paid holidays were introduced, as was sick leave, which had up until then not existed.

Wages

When he started work in the early fifties, Mr Sands earned between £3 and £4 a week. This contrasted with his wage of 21 shillings a week when he did his national service. He received an annual pay rise. Bonuses were not introduced on the farm until the 1980s. Once a year, his employer would take the workforce to the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh as a summer day trip.

1950s & 1960s

When Mr Sands was single and still living at home, his wage was a good one. However when he got married, moved into a farm cottage (which was tied) and had children, it was not easy to get by on his wage alone.

Health & Safety 1950s-1980s

During the 1950s and 1960s, there was little if any provision for health and safety. Injuries were fairly common on the farm, and could occasionally be quite serious. Mr Sands' own mother fell off a trailer in the course of her work and was badly injured. She was in hospital and off work for some time, yet received no compensation or sick pay during this time. Health and safety provision improved as the 1960s went on, with trade unions campaigning for improvement in conditions.

Workers at the farm generally stayed for a good many years, so promotion could be a little slow and often depended on retirement. However Mr Sands progressed from horseman to foreman in the course of his employment at the farm.

During the ‘tattie season’, Irish labour was used on the farm. There were generally very good relations between the two sets of workers. Generally there was a busy social side on the farm, with workers going to local dances often once or twice a week, and socialising with other farms' workers.

Mr Sands was a member of a trades union in the 1950s, but gave up his membership in the 1960s. Part of the reason for this was that the farmworkers' union was not a strong one, and it waned in popularity into the 1960s.

Changing ways

Between 1945-51, horses still had a role to play in farming. Horses owned in the parish were: Pleasance, two and a half pair; Spott Home Farm, four and a half pair; Big Spott, seven pair; Pathhead, five pair; Wester Broomhouse, one pair. Easter Broomhouse also used horses during the 1950s.

It was the responsibility of each ploughman to look after his own pair. Before he started work at 6am he would feed and groom his horses and would feed and water them again on finishing work at 5pm. From the early 1950s tractors were introduced and the horses were no longer needed; nor were the men who cared for them. On Spott farm, the last field was ploughed with horses in 1953 and, until 1967 a working horse was still employed on Friarsdykes farm. In the 1980s, Oswald Dean was let out for grazing trotting horses and in 2000, the only horses kept are for riding.

Cattle

Until the early 1950s, most farms kept at least one ‘house’ cow (Pleasance had three) to provide milk for the people who lived there. This practice died out partly due to the lack of someone to milk the cow and partly because of new health and safety regulations. The exception was Friarsdykes where two or three cows were kept for this purpose until 1967. During this era most farms had cattle, and every farm had at least one cattleman. Over time, the number of farms keeping cattle declined, as did the number of cattle kept.

From 1992-95, Spott farm had a herd of between 800-900 cattle; they were all sold six months before the sale of beef over 30 months old was prohibited due to the BSE crisis. There were no BSE infected cattle in the parish (see also Agriculture by Fiona Dobson, county volume). In 2000, Spott farm has cattle grazing in summer on Spott Dodd and in Spott Glen. Pleasants rent out their part of the glen for grazing. Halls and Pathhead have herds on their lands. There is now only one cattleman employed full-time in the parish.

Sheep

Until the late 1960s all the farms, with the possible exception of Easter Broomhouse, kept sheep; the hill flocks were large, while the arable farms tended to have less than 100. Gradually the arable farms got rid of their sheep, and in 2000 there is now only one shepherd employed full time in the parish.

In the early days Cheviots or Blackface were kept but the majority now are cross-bred. Until the 1960s turnips were largely used for winter feed but turnips were very labour intensive although becoming less so as mechanisation took over. It was the custom to cut hay twice then the put the sheep on the new grass ‘put the hoggs to the foag'. Winterfeed is now hay, bruised oats or bought-in feed. There were no sheep in the parish infected with foot and mouth disease during the outbreak in 1967.

In 1982 Tom Dykes introduced a small flock of Border Leicesters in Wester Broomhouse. In 1988, when the shepherd on Spott farm died, the sheep were all sold and the farm has had none since.

Since 1992, only the hill farms have continued with sheep (Pathhead 400 and Halls 1450), except for the special flock at Wester Broomhouse although sometimes fields or the dean are rented out for grazing.

Crops

The main crops grown in the parish have always been spring barley, wheat, hay, and potatoes with oats and turnips in early years. It was customary to have a seven- or five-year rotation but this has largely died out. Sugar beet was grown until the late 1950s: it was carted to either Dunbar station or the sidings at North Belton, from whence it was carried by train to Cupar and the British Sugar refinery. Some farms grew mangolds for winterfeed. This was a form of sugar beet, similar to turnips but requiring the shaws only partly removed or they ‘bled’. They were buried in a pit, covered with straw, and later fed to the cattle. In 1970, oil seed rape was introduced, and in 1980 winter wheat was first tried. It is still grown at Halls and Pathhead as they find the early sowing advantageous; Spott and Broomhouse have discontinued its use. Peas were tried at Spott but not continued as they proved difficult to manage ‘they were like ball bearings’.

Diana Hardy collated the recollections of a number of farmers and their families from her interviews with them:

It is rural employment in which the parish has seen most change. Until 1951 turnips were a particularly labour intensive crop. They were hand sown then ‘sing-eld’ (singled) then shawed (topped and tailed), lifted into carts and removed for storage to be kept for winter feed. Women, who protected their heads and faces from the wind and weather by wearing ‘uglies’ or scarves, usually carried out this work. A turnip field could be up to 60 acres.

Corn was cut and tied into sheaves. It was then arranged in stooks (stood on end in bundles in the field) to ripen. When dry, they were taken to the stack yard and laid in iron frame, and kept there until there was time to thresh them. A steam engine (mill) with the threshing machine used to travel around the farms to do this or the farmer might carry out this task himself. The corn was then bagged and the stalks went through the ‘buncher’ with its wire bailer and stored in sheds until needed for the animals.

Hay was cut and turned until dry. It was then made into haystacks, which could be anything up to eight feet high. Haystacks were a feature of the countryside as were scarecrows. Until the 1970s, scarecrows were to be seen in many fields but with the decline in the numbers of orramen and ploughmen employed, there was no longer time to make them. In the late 1960s another means of scaring birds was a length of hemp strung with ‘bangers’ an oil drum was places over the top and when the hemp was lit a succession of loud bangs were very effective at frightening off the birds from the crop. Nowadays a gas gun using Calor gas is used or a metal reflecting windmill.

Pay and conditions were a matter of individual negotiation. Wages could be as high as £5 a week. Accommodation was free, either a two- or three-roomed cottage (no matter the numbers living there) or a one-roomed bothy. By the early 1950s there was still no electricity but there was running water and usually a toilet tacked on behind the kitchen. In addition people were allowed to keep a pig or two and a few hens. They all grew vegetables and were given milk, from the house cows, and 16 bags of potatoes (or the cash equivalent). The house went with the job and as people moved frequently from farm to farm they also had to move home. In 1948 the Orlits (council housing) were built in Spott village; one reason for this being to provide more permanent housing (especially for retired farmworkers).

In 2000 Halls employs a cattleman, a shepherd, and two tractormen. Spott has re-employed one man. The other farms are worked by the farmer alone or (Pathhead) with his son.

Pest control: rabbit trapping

Rabbit trapping was a competitive business, with trappers surveying a farm's potential, putting in a tender based on anticipated profits, and then the highest bidder winning the trapping rights for a year. A range of methods was used: pin snares in grass or moorland; fence snares; gin and fen traps set in the mouths of burrows; ferrets with nets over bolt holes; cymag gas; and shooting, using either a 410 and 12 gauge shotgun and dogs.

From the Haddingtonshire Courier, spring 1951

The rabbit population was reported as being very high, and demand great because of the reduced meat ration (rationing was still in force, and seems to have been tighter than before); during the ‘wild’ winter of 1949/50, demand was so low that

... trappers could not earn wages, breeding went on practically unhindered by the weather, with the result that the population rose rapidly last spring and summer. Farmers had to protect their crops by gassing the rabbits, and by surrounding complete fields with netting... The present demand and the high prices for rabbit meat and skins are enabling trappers to press forward in a concentrated effort to reduce numbers to a safe limit.

Jimmy Sives, who still lives in the family home at Burnhead, recalls his father's work in the parish and beyond (J.A. Sives born 1913, retired 1978)

My father started working in the 1930s as a trapper for James McLean of Morham, who was contracted to kill the rabbits at Halls farm (and many other farms in the area). By the late 1930s, father had become self-employed, and took on the Halls farm contract for himself, transporting himself firstly on an old butcher's bike, and later an elderly Vauxhall van, when he won contracts for other farms (Pathhead, Deuchrie, Stoneypath, Yarrow, Ruchlaw West Mains, Thurston Mains, Aikengal and Lumsden) in the area. He employed several men to trap these areas for him as most of his time was taken up transporting rabbits to Dunbar railway station and moving trappers and equipment to different areas; he even had a team working in Sutherland.

The trapping season lasted from late August (after harvest) until the end of March. After this, the young rabbits proved almost impossible to trap and had no commercial value; in summer, there were too many mackie flees [bluebottles] about, even though the rabbits were transported in fly-proof hampers (father's was a big wooden box, ventilated with perforated zinc, and about 4' long, by 2' by 2'). For the rest of the year, trappers took whatever work was available - fencing, draining, dyking, bracken cutting and mole catching.

...father used gin traps, wire fence snares and pin snares. The pin snares had a peg like a tent peg, some string and wire, and he had a special [gadget] to twist the 5 strands of brass wire together: the ash peg was knocked into the ground with the string, and the hazel star pin (9" long with a sharp point and a slit) held the wire and the loop of the snare open; the string stopped the rabbit escaping after it was caught, and the hazel pegs were dispensable. The snares were set in groups of 5, across runs, which are rabbit-made well-trodden pathways through the grass, used to access fresh pasture and to provide the rabbits with a quick escape route back to the burrow.

... three men could set about 900 snares a day, and the average kill would be about 400 rabbits. The snares were set during the day, and the trappers had to go round at first light, or the foxes, buzzards, wild cats, gulls and crows got them. They were gutted, paired up through the tendon on the back legs ... the foot of one into the tendon of the other, looped over a broom-like pole into the hamper. The rabbits were taken to Dunbar [railway] station by van, and then sent off to markets in Edinburgh and Leeds.

In 1953/54, the introduction of the myxomatosis virus nearly wiped out the rabbit population, and trapping on a commercial scale was finished. However, a small number of rabbits recovered from the virus, and gradually (by the 1960s) the numbers again began to rise, much to farmers' concern. As a result, the Rabbit Clearance Society was formed, who charged a small fee per acre to enable them to employ, and equip, a full-time trapper. My father applied for one of the jobs on offer, and found himself solely responsible for some 20,000 acres, on farms from Oxwellmains [Dunbar] west to Ormiston Hall.

From the Haddingtonshire Courier, 16 March 1951

Under the auspices of the Scottish Landowners' Federation, East Lothian Area of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland and the Agricultural Executive Committee for the Lothians, a local rabbit destruction committee has been set up...

Mole trapping

By the 1960s and 1970s, moles were (and still are) another serious problem, and the Rabbit Clearance Society took on a contract to control mole numbers by the use of poisoned bait. On commercial farmland molehills damaged the silage machines. The killing started in February, using strychnine crystals (under license): father kept his locked away in a cashbox, in little bottles. He followed the plough along the fields, and gathered worms [for bait] from the trench; he put them in an old bean tin, sprinkled on the strychnine and stirred. Then, if he came upon a mole run or molehill, he would poke carefully into the hill until he found the hole, and push in the worm. Worryingly, Strychnine kills many times over through the food chain.

Jimmy Sives

J.A. Sives (b1913, retired 1978) also had a smallholding in the 1950s and 1960s.

My father ran a 7-8 acre smallholding at Burnhead, Spott: we generally had two cows and a calf, six to seven sheep (Suffolk, Cheviot and Blackface) and a small field of hay.

Jimmy Sives

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