Catherine Walker Acton (nee Foggo 1957) – East Barns, Dunbar, 1960s-1973

I was born in 1957 at the Vert Hospital in Haddington and brought up at Barneyhill, East Barns, Dunbar. I am the youngest of a family of three two daughters and a son.

East Barns was a busy farm at that time, supporting a small community of its own. There was a primary school which served the children from East Barns and other farms and settlements in the immediate area, a ‘smiddy’, cottages dotted around, a ‘square’ of cottages at the main steading and East Barns farm house. There was also a row of cottages and outbuildings at the adjoining Barneyhill which had a ‘big house’ of its own, but was part of the farm as a whole. The farm was one of two owned by the Hope family, East Barns being run by Sir James Hope and the nearby Oxwellmains run by his brother, Robert.

My father worked as a tractorman, one of between 15/20 full time workers who lived in tied cottages on the farm. Other workers from the Dunbar area were brought out every morning by lorry, including a squad of women workers, the numbers of which would vary depending on the crops and the work available, although there was always a core of regulars.

My great grandfather had worked at East Barns, receiving a long-service medal, and my grandfather also worked there as foreman, although he sadly died as a result of an accident involving agricultural machinery many years before I was born.

My earliest memories are of the sun shining through the living room window, hearing the logs crackling in the fire, the tick of the grandfather clock and waiting for the ‘Flying Scotsman’ to pass by, as we lived very close to the railway line. For a long time I thought every train that passed was the ‘Flying Scotsman’!

The row of cottages in which we lived had no electricity, although most of the other buildings and cottages had this luxury. Heating was restricted to the living room where the coal fire was a source of heat and light. The living room had gaslight, powered from a gas cylinder housed in the kitchen. The cooker was also powered in this way. Other sources of light (and heat) were Tilley lamps and paraffin lamps, one for each room. Both bedrooms also had a good torch so that if anyone needed to go to the toilet, thankfully situated inside, through the night there was no fiddling with matches. We were all good at seeing in the dark anyway. I remember the procedure if we all returned to the house in darkness mum made her way through to the living room, climbed on a chair and pulled a chord at the mantle in the centre of the ceiling. By this time dad had turned the cylinder on and was through with the matches ready at hand for mum to put to the light. It was a very faint orange light to begin with, but it soon picked up to put out a yellow tinged light which was more than adequate to read by, and excellent in comparison to Tilley or paraffin lamps because it was central. Tilley light was very good, but it sent out a lot of shadow and you needed to be nearby to read clearly. It did however send out a very gentle humming sound which I found comforting.

Reading was a popular pastime, as was the wireless. ‘Listen With Mother’ was a favourite time when I sat on mum’s knee to hear the story, then listened while mum read that day’s Rupert the Bear extract from the Daily Express as I tried to peer to see the accompanying picture. We were all encouraged to read and the weekly comics were eagerly awaited.

I never quite understood the name ‘wireless’ because when the back was removed it had in fact many wires of various colours. It was run by an accumulator battery that required to be topped up with acid on a regular basis. By the time I was old enough to be considered capable of handling the accumulator, the wireless had been replaced by radios that ran on dry batteries and I always felt I had been denied the opportunity to carry out a grown up task.

The area was well served with mobile vans: baker, butcher, grocer, ironmonger and coal lorries were frequent. Less often, but regularly there were visits from a cobbler and a draper’s van. The vanmen, because they were invariably driven by men, were all known by their first names and knew their customers’ likes and dislikes. Most people did all their weekly shopping from the vans, but once a week into Dunbar was common.

I was transported into the town by various means of transport over the years pram (which was solid and carried me for over two years, with my big brother at my feet), go-­cart, on a seat on the back of mum’s bike, bus and car. I don’t remember ever walking all the way into the town because I would be too young, but people did.

The bus service was frequent and very important as few people had a car then. It was unusual for a woman to drive at that time, although this was beginning to change, with girls taking an interest in driving lessons.

The farm was a fascinating place to grow up. Although we were forbidden to play around the main farm steading because of the dangers involved, we had more or less a free run of the rest of the area. The piggery, the drying greens, the ‘Coo Park’ (the cow’s field) were all available for play. I loved to ‘walk the wa’s’ and there were extensive lengths of walls to walk! This helped to develop a good sense of balance. I also loved to race up and down the corrugated iron roofs of what I think may have been kennels. The roofs were old and rusty and ran back to back in a V-shape pattern, but made a great noise and you could get up a good speed if you kept going for long enough. Very occasionally I went to play in the middens, a source of many delights such as an old kettle or pan, a pair of stiletto shoes or a handbag. I was one of the youngest girls around at the time and only got to play there if my big sister was around and would let me join in because I was dared to go near the middens. There was vermin around but numerous cats kept them down and it was quite rare to see a rat, although we never blinked an eye if we did.

Children of all ages would get together in the evenings to play rounders, kick the can, Tommies and Gerries (referring to world war two) or some other group game. I always seemed to be the ‘wee yin’, but I gave everything a go, not to be left out.

The war was seldom mentioned directly, but I was aware that something major had taken place as references were made about the effects on people’s lives e.g. how much more readily available certain items were, or how someone was not the same since they came back from the war.

I remember vividly the two gas masks that hung in the cupboard at the foot of the stairs, among dungarees and other work clothes. The masks had big round eyes, a reflective snout and a rubbery smell. I was frightened when the door was opened because I imagined that the masks and clothes were going to take on a ghostly embodiment and chase me. This did not stop me from always being around when the door was opened, just in case.

East Barns School, 1962. Back row, l to r: Mrs Elizabeth Jaffrey, Norman Cockburn, Karl Woppat, Alister Tear, Evelyn Lugton, Unknown, Violet Tear, Isobel Mulhern, John Mulhern, Maria Solanina, Mr Gerry Wright. Middle row, l to r: Unknown, Asia Zestrevitoshka, Rosa Woppet, William Gutenschwager, Unknown, John Solanina, Catherine Foggo, Unknown, Elizabeth Fairbairn, Maisie Smith, Fiona Mulhern, Unknown, Angela McDonald, Ann Mulhern, Jean Smith. Seated at front, l to r: Iain Gillies, Unknown, Steven Ritchie, Robert Woppat, John Foggo, Graeme Gillies, Jimmy Smith, Colin Ainslie, Alister Lugton, Nicholas Wright.

East Barns School, 1962. Back row, l to r: Mrs Elizabeth Jaffrey, Norman Cockburn, Karl Woppat,
AlisterTear, Evelyn Lugton, Unknown, Violet Tear, Isobel Mulhern, John Mulhern, Maria Solanina,
Mr Gerry Wright. Middle row, l to r: Unknown, Asia Zestrevitoshka, Rosa Woppet,
William Gutenschwager, Unknown, John Solanina, Catherine Foggo, Unknown, Elizabeth Fairbairn,
Maisie Smith, Fiona Mulhern, Unknown, Angela McDonald, Ann Mulhern, Jean Smith.
Seated at front, l to r: Iain Gillies, Unknown, Steven Ritchie, Robert Woppat, John Foggo,
Graeme Gillies, Jimmy Smith, Colin Ainslie, Alister Lugton, Nicholas Wright.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the place before I was old enough to go to school. There was little traffic and little perceived danger from strangers, of which there were few and who stuck out a mile in a small community such as this. There were the occasional tramps, some of who were regular seasonal visitors and were missed if they failed to turn up. We were taught to be wary, but respectful of tramps who were generally treated kindly, although there were a few people who would avoid giving them assistance. They would stop for a cup of tea and a meal in return for chopping some kindling, or would simply have a ‘piece and jam’, usually around the doorstep, before moving on with an additional item of clothing that someone had spare. There was one man, who seemed very, very old to me, but probably wasn’t. He passed by about once a year, I think, and would acquire an old coat from someone ‘along the doors’, only he would never take off the one he was wearing. He just added one on top of another. Nobody knew how many coats he wore. He was quite small and round looking, and you would have thought him to be dumpy, but he may have been skin and bone if he peeled off the layers of coats. These displaced men were very much a part of life that I gave little thought to as a child. Now when I think about the tramps I feel very sad.

I caused a stir when I was about four years old when I walked under a Clydesdale horse which had a reputation as being a bit of a wild beast. I was small for my age and he was huge. I remember looking up at his belly and through his huge legs as he turned to see what was under him and I wondered why everybody was shouting at us. I didn’t for one minute think he would hurt me, and he didn’t! This was late afternoon and the horses were returning to the stables after a days work in the field, so it was more likely to be the horse’s exhaustion that kept me safe rather than the affinity I always imagined I had with the animals!

Along with the tractors, caterpillars and other mechanical implements, there was still several pair of working horses. I loved to see them making their way back at night. I rarely saw them in the morning because they set off early. The terms ‘yokin’ time’ and ‘lousin’ time’ (loosening of the harnessing) prevailed long after the horses were no longer working, which would be in the early 1960s.

I was allowed to follow the horses up to the stables sometimes and I was thrilled to watch them make their way into their own stalls I thought this was so clever. The cows did the same thing when they went for milking. Each cow had a name and knew her stall, where she waited her turn for milking.

In the early 1960s a large area of highly productive farmland to the west was sold to Portland Cement who wished to quarry the limestone. This meant that fewer workers were needed to work the remaining ground. Many of the men moved to employment with ‘Portland’s and there was a gradual shift of families away from the farm.

The need to move was hastened by the severity of blasting that took place at the quarry. The warning siren would sound, followed some minutes later by a huge blast which shook the houses and their contents. This was followed by an all clear siren. The point was finally reached where by it was no longer safe to be at home during the blasting because there was a risk from flying debris.

Occupants were asked to leave their homes for the duration of the blasting. A mini bus came to collect those closest to the quarry and they enjoyed a short run down to Barns Ness or somewhere local and back after the all-clear.

One by one families packed up and moved, some to other farm cottages at a safer distance away, some to Dunbar or surrounding area.

I was eight years old when we moved to another tied house at Sloebiggin on the Broxmouth estate (owned by Robert Hope). We moved on Christmas Eve and I remember watching an enthralling cartoon version of “A Christmas Carol” and later that night “King Kong”. We had TV and electric light and our life style would never be the same again!

The coal fire remained, however. Mum kept two fires going all winter, one during the summer months in order to heat the water.

My sister was in her final year at Dunbar Grammar School. My brother and me continued our education at East Barns School. This involved a lengthy walk over part of Dunbar Golf Course, up the White Sands road then along part of the A1 to the school. We did this in all weathers and lost few days to illness. We were ‘chummed’ part way by mum, who made sure we had a good breakfast. By this time the school roll was dwindling but there was still around 30 children attending. There were two teachers to cover the seven classes, with two main classrooms. The gym hall was multi purpose and served as a medical centre on the occasions when the district nurse called to carry out immunisation and regular health checks. This included a check for wax in the ears and the obligatory hunt for nits. I’m not aware of any ever being found! Twice a year the school dentist visited with his caravan.

Girls and boys were taught together and we always played together, although there was a girl’s playground and a boy’s playground. Every morning we lined up for the teacher to check that we had clean hands and a clean handkerchief

My record of good behaviour at East Barns School was blighted by my receiving the belt on only one occasion. I had been running along the bench in the girl’s cloakroom!

The school closed in February 1969 and the few pupils who remained at East Barns School were transported daily by taxi to be taught at Innerwick Primary School, newly built, bright and large with new equipment and much larger classes, but no replacement for East Barns.

Portland Cement continued to expand, and to my disgust, when I was 16 years old my parents took the decision to move into Dunbar, having been allocated a county council house. This was a huge change for all of us and none of the benefits that were listed to help me accept the move could make me feel any better. I loved the country and the space we enjoyed.

Modernisation and technology have moved us on in many aspects of our life. However, I don’t feel that I was deprived of anything in my childhood, rather that I enjoyed freedom and experiences quite different to many of my peers and certainly to following generations’.

I work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant, mostly in a hospital setting, but also in the community. My work involves enabling people to obtain and maintain well-being in order to function at a level that is acceptable to them.