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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Belief

The white building of the Church of Scotland, St Bothan’s sits prominently at the junction of the Haddington and the Duns road, surrounded by its churchyard.

The majority of parish residents are members of the Church of Scotland, but with the influx of new home owners there are a few who attend the Episcopal church or the RC chapel in Haddington.

There was a United Free Church (St Andrews) in Duns Road next to the former manse, which closed in the 1930s, and was sold in 1935. Circa 1960-62, the church was converted into two houses, St Andrew’s Cottage and Kirkbrae, and St Andrew’s Manse was sold. The St Bothan’s manse (now Tweeddale House) in Haddington Road was sold in the 1970s and a new manse was built in Tweeddale Avenue.

Humbie and Yester churches were linked in 1977 and Bolton and Saltoun parishes linked with Yester in 1979. There is a session clerk and 20 elders. The joint parishes’ minister is based at the manse in Yester, and services are rotated around the four parishes and sometimes joint services are held. There is a weekly service on Sundays 11.30–12.15pm and communion three times a year. Young people attended bible classes for about six weeks before being accepted into the Church of Scotland on confirmation.

The Gifford branch of the Royal British Legion participates in the Remembrance Day service. Special events have included a Flower Festival to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the church bell (1492).

Ministers
1920-59 John Cumming
1960-73 George D. Monro
1973-77 Vacant
1973 Yester linked with Humbie
1977-84 Allan Scott
1979 Yester and Humbie linked with Bolton and Saltoun
1985-97 John Wilson (an excellent piper)
1999-date Donald Pirie

I attended Yester parish church, a large T-shaped church built in 1708 with cream coloured walls, a high ceiling with two galleries and a laird’s loft gallery for the Marquis of Tweeddale. The carved oak pulpit is thought to have been brought from the old church of Bothans at Yester House. The organist, Mrs Betty Hogg, served for over 40 years. I remember sitting on the hard pews and scratching our initials with our pennies which were collected in red velvet bags. Special services included harvest festival, remembrance service with British Legion parade, guides, brownies, scouts and cubs. I went to bible class before joining the Church of Scotland.

The church was very cold during the war so we tried to sit close to the hot pipes. The walls used to stream with condensation. Sunday school was in the parish church and in later years in the village hall. We used to get a little card decorated with flowers and memorise the text for the following week. I remember during a service in wartime, a reserve navy officer was called out and we wondered what had happened and if the Germans had started the invasion. There was a choir of about ten people and we met for choir practice one evening during the week.

I was married in church in December 1945 and my first child was baptised there in 1947. Personally, the horrors of the war, the loss of dear friends in the services and the revelations of the likes of Buchenwald and Belsen severely dented my faith and I only attend church now for weddings and funerals. Church attendance was described as diminishing by the then minister in 1953 and the congregation is smaller now than it was then.

Yester Church was restored in 1966 and 1970, and the spire and weathervane received attention in 1989. The mature trees around the church were felled in 1972. In 1953, a commemorative Coronation tree was planted outside the church by the Brownies.

Groups associated with the church have included Sunday school and the Churchwomen’s Guild and, in the past, a Young Mothers’ Group and a Youth Club.

To the late 1960s, births were registered in the parish, as were marriages and deaths. The registrar for many years was Robert MacNaughtan; he was a member of the staff of Baillie & Gifford who were lawyers for Yester Estate of which he was factor. Registration later moved to County Buildings, Haddington.

On engagements

The length of engagement depended on circumstances - the war meant short engagements - but usually couples took a year or two to save up towards setting up a home. It was customary for the young man to ask the girl’s father for permission but now it is not so formal.

On marriage and weddings

In 1945 it was more usual to be married in church. If at a registry office, there was perhaps a reason for a quiet wedding, either cost-wise or because a baby was on the way. Post-war weddings have been held in a marquee attached to one of the hotels (more so the reception). One wedding was held at the old chapel at Yester House. Most church weddings had the bride in a long white dress with one or more bridesmaids. The groom wore a suit or highland dress.

It is still customary to have a ‘scatter’ or ‘poor-oot’ for the children who gather to watch. We used to chant ‘poor–oot, poor-oot’, and if there was no money forthcoming we shouted ‘hard-up, hard-up’. Occasionally, the bride would have a fishing creel placed over her shoulders and the groom had to cut the string, probably to signify that he was cutting her connection with her family. Also the bride might be presented with a ‘potty’ full of salt with a little doll in it, probably signifying hope of a family. This was not always well received!

Receptions varied from tea and sandwiches just post-war when rationing was still in force to later years when full scale dinners and dancing were the order of the day’.

And on death

In 1945 there were not the number of nursing homes that exist in 2000. Elderly people died at home, or if they had been very ill, in hospital. The body would be laid out sometimes by a neighbour or the local undertaker and kept in the front room, if available, till the funeral, usually two to three days later, otherwise the funeral parlour in Haddington or Tranent. The Co-op provided this service also. Nowadays it is not so usual to keep the body at home.

The joiner in the village provided coffins and undertook the funeral arrangements. Some families opted for cremation, which the undertaker arranged at one of the Edinburgh crematoriums. Interments of bodies or ashes were arranged in Gifford churchyard, which is now almost full. A new churchyard will soon be required, possibly in part of the Common Fields.

People still feel it appropriate to wear dark clothes as a sign of respect. Houses and shops used to lower their blinds when a funeral passed. Anyone on the street used to stop and the men would take of their hats. Women did not usually go to the funerals in 1945; even the widow would stay at home with friends while the men attended. The minister would give an account of the life of the person who had died and give words of comfort to the family.

Undertaking services are still offered by the Co-operative Society Funeral Services, based in Tranent.

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