John B. Halliday (1943) Stenton, late 1940s-1950s

How far back can you remember? What are your earliest memories of childhood? Stopping to think about this, my earliest recollections are all centred around family activities.

Sunday walks are a very early memory. Around Stenton there were many popular walks that children were taken on by parents, grandparents and aunts. Round the stiles, round the Crook, round the lake, along the lake to the dam, round the Windings through Whittingehame estate or just to the end of the wood were Sunday regulars, the length depending on the weather or season. Another possibility was into Biel estate where we could visit the icehouse, the lead statue of a cow or, in the gardens of the house, the lead man sculpture. All walks with my schoolteacher aunt were educational as well! At that time, round the lake was not by the forest trail which is where the present day walk is, in fact it was not really round the lake at all, but up to Woodend by the Deuchrie road then along the north side of the lake to Pressmennan and back down the Loan to the village.

We were fortunate in having a car, which my father used for work, and we took my grandmother on regular weekend visits to Kirkcaldy or on a Sunday visit to Dirleton for tea. A visit to Kirkcaldy meant a long journey via the ferry at Queensferry and it was a great thrill as a young boy to park the car in one of the ferries beside the great engine, which you could see in operation. Dirleton meant an afternoon visit to the Castle before tea.

School holidays when you are young seem to be endless and mine were split between having my cousin to stay with us for half the time and then the rest was spent with him in the Borders. It was a great expedition to set off the 70 or so miles to Newcastleton with sandwiches and thermos flasks of tea. Grandma kept the peace between my cousin, my sister and myself in the back seat. My uncle drove the Ford Prefect while my aunt was in the front with a spaniel dog at her feet! The journey was worth it and the next few weeks would be spent in roaming around the hills and fishing in the nearby river. We were summoned at meal times by a whistle blowing to call us off the hill. My father was once sent to take care of us when we were fishing but my cousin and I ended up having to go home early when my father slipped and fell in! There was no electricity in that house but many evenings were spent in the late summer playing cards by the light of a tilley lamp.

Early holidays in Kirkcaldy were very informative for me, as I slept with my mother’s aunt’s lodger in the bed in the kitchen/living room. I often fought off sleep as Jimmy, dressed in nightshirt and sleeping hat, regaled me with tales about the building of the Forth bridge and how to send messages by telegraph. Iddy-umpty, iddy-umpty, iddy-umpty was how he described it! The Beveridge Park boating pond was a magnet for me because as well as the rowing boats there were motorboats. We would queue for ages for our allotted time to go round and round in circles in a small enclosure at the edge of the lake. Later my cousin and I were allowed to go by train to Kirkcaldy on our own and we spent a marvellous week playing pontoon and going to the pictures.

Early school life conjures up memories of the “wee room” where Primaries one, two and three were taught. Slates were used for writing and in common with all boys I preferred a bit of spit and sleeve for cleaning purposes rather than the little boxes with a damp cloth that the girls used.

As we boys became bigger, the one passion in our lives was football. During good weather every school break was used to play football. Teams were picked on a Monday morning and kept for the week. Before school and “leavie” (mid-morning break) games were played in the playground but at lunchtime we played on the village green until the bell sounded. If it was your turn to be in goals and you were at the bottom of the green then you were last along to the school and were more than likely to get the belt for being late! After school the boys from the village would play amongst themselves either shooting or three and in, (once you had scored three goals you became the goalie), as there were hardly enough to make sides.

Later still we used to arrange matches against the boys from the approved school at Whittingehame. These events were organised by the boys themselves as there was no schoolteacher to do this. We had to persuade some willing village person to act as referee when we managed to organise a game for ourselves in the village.

Being football mad it was quite an event to be taken to a big game. I can clearly remember my first big match at Starks Park in Kirkcaldy where Raith Rovers were playing St. Mirren. Perhaps not a big game by today’s standards but I sat on the wall at the back of the terracing to watch Raith Rovers win 3-2 and was even more excited to get back to Lorne Street and hear the result being read out on the wireless. I cannot remember the exact date but it would be around 1952 or so.

An even bigger thrill was to be taken to Easter Road to see my heroes play. Lawrie Reilly was an idol as far as young boys were concerned and I was very disappointed on my first visit to find that he was injured and a centre forward by the name of Darcy was playing. I had already seen him playing for Armadale Thistle at Dunbar in a junior game. Hibs must have missed my hero because they went down 2-1 to Stirling Albion as I watched from a front seat in the north stand.

Floodlights were gradually being introduced to football at that time and with my father regularly visiting Edinburgh on a Saturday, to purchase supplies (mainly ironmongery) for his joiner’s business, we went to either Easter Road or Tynecastle. On one occasion when we went to Tynecastle we were told that there were to be “highlights at halftime”. Clyde must not have been used to them because Hearts beat them 6-0. After these games my father and I would return to the High Street to collect the female side of the family as they were swept out at the side door of Patrick Thomson’s department store at closing time.

As young boys in the village we used to ride on the dustcart on a Saturday morning. The garage proprietor in the village owned an old small lorry and this was used to collect the dustbins from the side of the road at Roodwell Cottages. The bins were all transported to the quarry at the other end of the village and were emptied there before being returned to the front of each house. Rats were in abundance at the quarry and all sorts of objects were hurled at them when we were there.

In my early years there was a licensed grocer’s shop and a baker’s shop in the village. Other provisions were supplied by travelling shops. One greengrocer who visited the village had his wares displayed on a slope on either side of the back of a lorry. This vehicle returned home up Guildy, a steep hill outside the village, but was very slow going up the hill. It was possible to run up the hill beside the lorry and get items from the display. A very dangerous practice when you look back!

When we were allowed out on dark winters’ nights we played hide and seek or kick the can, if we were not knocking at someone’s door then taking to the fields. Wintertime seemed to have more snow than we get now and I can remember some extensive slides along footpaths or the road that were for ‘tackits’ only. Rubber soles were not allowed as they made the slide sticky. Sledging was either down the loan, in the field at the back of the hall or during the day in the bull field at Ruchlaw Mains.

A major event in our young lives was the building of new houses at Roodwell. While this was going on we had great fun after the workmen went home, as a construction site was a novelty for country boys.

My father kept hens and on Sunday mornings I would go with him to let the hens out and feed them. As I grew older one of my regular jobs was to clean out the hen house and I was also trusted to feed them and shut them in at night. The corn was kept in an old shed with a sliding door and I remember the bats that used to hang from the roof inside. I suppose there were bats elsewhere but I can distinctly remember them in this shed.

The washing also used to be taken from our house in Roodwell to my granny’s washhouse at the joiner’s workshop where it was put through the mangle. I had to turn the handle for my mother as the sheets etc. went through the mangle as well as helping with the big brown case the clothes were carried in.

Bread was collected from the bakers and milk came from the dairy in the village. How many times can a little boy swing a pitcher of milk over his head without spilling any? I don’t know the answer to that but I can say with certainty that you will only spill the milk once and never again, although you will still swing the pitcher.

My mother was church organist at this time and one of my duties was to go up to the manse on a Saturday afternoon to collect the praise list for the Sunday service so that my mum could practise the hymns. Needless to say the list was never ready when I arrived to collect it and I recall sitting in the minister’s study while he decided what hymns would match his sermon. He was maybe even writing his sermon to match the hymns for all I knew! The more pleasurable part was to go to the church with my mum while she practised, as I enjoyed her playing, and also her quick run through of the voluntaries she would be playing on Sunday. It was around then that the church acquired a praise board, the one that is still used, and I would put up the numbers for the hymns while my mum was playing.

The time and place of the Sunday school varied. Sometimes it was held in the church before the Sunday service. Then it was a great innovation when we were allowed after the children’s address to go upstairs to the room behind the laird’s gallery to continue. I also have memories of attending Sunday school in the manse and seeing the lovely toys that were there. I suppose it all depended on who was taking the Sunday school at any particular time.

At a later stage bible class we attended on a Sunday afternoon, again in the room upstairs behind the laird’s gallery.

Saturday shopping in Dunbar was a much-dreaded occupation. All the weeks’ groceries were collected and I used to spend hours sitting in the car on Dunbar High Street while my mother and grandmother would go from shop to shop collecting supplies. The only bright spot was the last shop to be visited. This was Miss MacKay’s sweet shop and it seemed to make it all worthwhile. Quite a few of the women who shopped in Dunbar used the bus and this was a shop where a lot of them waited until it was time for the bus to return to the village.

As we got older bikes began to be important and continued from that time to be an extension of yourself. We would ride round the village but also have races to the end of the wood. The bigger boys were always held in awe, as they would cycle along the parapet of the bridge at the foot of the burn road. We put great effort into salvaging old frames and other bike parts from the quarry to build our own scramble bikes to use in the wood but I cannot recall ever having much success at this. The scrambling idea came from attending the motor cycle trials which at that time started and finished at Lucknow and were eagerly anticipated each time they came.

Once into the big room, school education started in earnest – and seemed to consist of getting the belt at least three times a day. Spelling was never my strong point and four or more wrong from the spelling list resulted in the belt. Talking in class would bring the second belt of the day and there was usually a third for either eating, looking at the clock or some other minor infringement of the rules.

We would spend endless hours rambling around the village and in the summer months the burn was dammed at the foot of Guildy to create the “dookin’ pool”. A great deal of time was spent on the dam and I think we derived more pleasure from the construction of the dam than we ever got from actually swimming. There was great excitement when the water would reach the top of the dam and spill over rather than leak through the wall, which was more often the case. One trick we learned from playing near water was that when you got your feet wet you could take off your socks, beat them against a stone to dry them and put them back on. Mothers must be very clever because they always knew when you had done this. Was it something to do with the holes which kept appearing in your socks? Swimming was not common among children in the village and I remember being sent to Dunbar for swimming lessons in the old outdoor swimming pool. The memory I have is of frostbite!

Bowling in the summer was a great pastime for all ages and the year you were twelve was a landmark as you were then old enough to join the bowling club. Competition was fierce among the younger members but as you passed through the club nearly everyone had a turn at being boys champion and getting your name on the medal as well as the 2/6 that was the prize involved. This was not the only competition played for when I was in the boys’ section. Stenton’s last hope, or Willie Hope to give him his proper name, would sit at his house door in the summer sun making doormats from ends of binder twine which he would get at the farms. One of these was given to the bowling club to be played for by the boys and it was as much an honour to win one of Willie Hope’s mats, as it was to win the boys’ medal.

Long summer evenings were spent improving our bowling skills and when the game was over I can remember sitting quietly in a corner of the clubhouse as darkness gathered outside. At that time there was no light in the clubhouse and all that was visible was the glow from pipe bowls as the men pretended not to notice us as they enjoyed a grown up discussion on the affairs of the day. As youngsters we were enthralled.

One story that sticks in my mind was when a stink bomb had been acquired and was placed in the narrow doorway to the clubhouse on hat night. Eventually someone stood on it and the ensuing stench was overpowering. Surprise, surprise there were no boys in the clubhouse at the time – we were all at a safe distance. The consensus of opinion from within was that it was not human! The upshot was that no boys were allowed to play in the hat night.

Each year on the day of the flower show the bowling club held a points tournament when bowlers from all around came to play for individual prizes. Each rink was set up with a form of target and the score for each bowl played was marked on a card. The card was then taken to the opposite end of the next rink and as boys we were paid 2/6 for the job of running, taking the card from one rink to the next, or marking. The day ended with perhaps as many as 30 prizes arranged along the edge of the green in front of the clubhouse as the winners came forward to choose their prize by the light of a hurricane lamp.

Once you were old enough you got your big bike. It took me quite a long time to save up enough to pay half of the cost, my mother meeting the other half. Perhaps this was as a form of payment for delivering the typing she did at home for “that man” as one of my aunts used to call him. This was a local businessman for whom my mother did typing. Can you imagine today cycling off with a satchel of typed documents to deliver to someone who might or might not be at home? If there was no one around the completed work was left in a shed and any fresh manuscripts were collected from the same location. There were no paper rounds or anything like that in the village to provide pocket money. Summer work was around in the form of pulling yellow weeds from the turnips or jobs like that on the farms. Pulling wild cherries or crab apples and selling these around the doors in the village could supplement earnings.

When we were older again McFarlane’s market garden in East Linton provided summer work. Mainly this would be pulling berries on piecework or sometimes at the weekend we would be asked to pull vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower or peas for the Monday market in Edinburgh.

Winter work came along in the form of beating for shoots on the estates round the village. Whittingehame and Biel had pheasant shoots and Clint had moor shooting. On a Saturday morning we would be collected in a trailer from the village and taken to the first drive. Here you would plough through the undergrowth driving the game towards the guns. This could be on the level or more often than not on a slope alongside one of the burns in the area. Woodcock had a habit of flying back over your heads and a common shout was “woodcock over!”. When you heard this you went down flat, as some of the guns patrolling behind the beaters for this eventuality were not the best of shots and pellets were often rattling around your ears.

Our family always had pets and all the time I was growing up our dog was a black cocker spaniel. The older dog, Judy, which was the first I remember, died when I was quite young. After that we got Mitzi and she was a faithful companion to me. It was one of my duties to walk her, so every morning I would take her down the wood to the bridge over the burn. When I came home from school she would get a longer walk and accompany me when I collected branches for logs or whatever other chores I set about. We also had a black and white cat called Mickey who was a kitten from one of my granny’s cats and saved for someone else. They never came to collect him and he came to us as our Sooty had gone missing. Drowning kittens was another job I sometimes undertook but we wont go into that in too much detail.

Guddling and fishing were very popular pastimes during the summer months. In the warmer weather three or four of us would strip to a pair of shorts and gym shoes and set off down the Stenton Burn and guddle for trout as far as Bielmill where the Stenton Burn met the Biel Burn. Then we would head off upstream. The Stenton Burn did not yield much until we were down as far as the bridge where the Crook crossed the burn then you might catch an occasional one you could keep. The Biel Burn had bigger trout and the catch was much better. We would work upstream past Bielgrange, the sawmill at the Crook, Lintmill and Nash’s Lodge until we left the burn to climb up the field, emerging at the top of the back hedges. A session like this would yield up to about 20 trout of a good size for eating. A day like this could be cut short if anyone felt an eel under a stone and everyone was put off. There was a particular pool near Bielmill that always seemed to have a lot of eels in it and we always gave this a wide berth.

A fishing trip was generally after rain to somewhere on the Biel Burn that had a good pool. There were several of these but one of our favourites and most easily accessible was just above the bridge at Nash’s Lodge. A full day on a Saturday would see us take off on our bikes to Lucknow just above Deuchrie where we would fill a jar with worms from the dung heap and then continue on foot over the Lammermuir Hills to the Yadley Water. This was a very narrow stream, practically grown over in places so that the banks met. Fishing downstream until we came to a particular watergate we would then cross back over the hill to the Mossy Water and fish upstream. This again was a similar stream although a bit larger and we would fish on until it was time to take the track back to Lucknow to collect our bikes. A good catch could be gleaned on a day like this.

There was a bus service that ran from Haddington to Dunbar via Garvald and Stenton but this was very limited and ran only on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at odd times. This was a facility that was in greater demand during the long winter months than in the milder weather when everyone used his or her bicycle. From my memory the Saturday times suited the football in the afternoon and the pictures at night, the last bus not leaving Dunbar until everyone who was at the pictures had returned to the bus with their fish supper.

In the better weather we used to cycle to Dunbar and a visit to the pictures on a Saturday night meant leaving your bike at Stark’s garage. A charge of 3d was made for this service but at least you knew your bike would be safe and you did not have to remove lights or pump or any of the other fittings. You always carried at least a puncture repair outfit – just in case!

There was a great incentive therefore, to learn to drive and most youngsters who had access to a vehicle were well on the road to their driving test by the time they were 17. I used to go off with my father on a Saturday morning when he would visit his joiner’s shop in Innerwick and I would drive on the way back. Our Morris Minor used to be garaged overnight at the end of the wood shed and before setting off to school I would reverse the car out making a right angled right turn, go out the gate half left then half right before reversing straight back to the front of the house. In the evening I would perform the operation in reverse to put the car away overnight. Needless to say after doing this for months I had very little problem with clutch control or steering but I did fail my first attempt at the driving test through over confidence!

There was a scout troop in the village and although as boys most of us joined, it seemed that one of the biggest problems was to get leaders. Cold winter evenings were spent in the Institute, where the scouts met in common with a lot of the village organisations. The evening was spent attempting to breathe in the smoke which escaped from the stove used to heat the place. It was either that or freeze because there was so much smoke inside that the door had to be left open. Summer evenings were much more pleasant when we would practise our outdoor skills building fires, bridges and the like. There were hardly enough of us to make more than one patrol but this did not stop us taking part in the county competitions which were held at Smeaton. I must admit though that Stenton did not appear very high on the honours list at the end of the weekend. The food however was very enjoyable, cooked over the campfire, usually by me.

As a youngster growing up in the country, life was enjoyed in accordance with the seasons and what was happening on the farms. Lambing time in the spring meant sleepless nights, not from the lambs being born, but from the endless bleating that went on when the lambs were separated from their mothers. When the hay was cut and dried in the early summer and the stacks were pulled on to the carts to be taken in to the farm steading we would sit on the back as the horse slowly pulled its load to the farm. Harvest time meant going round the fields as the binders came near to finishing them. As the rabbits made a run for cover when the last of the standing corn was cut we would chase them with sticks. Not with a great deal of success as I recall but we would end up getting chased in turn for making a mess of the stooks in the fields which had been so carefully built. When all the sheaves had been built into stacks the mill would come round and again there would be great interest as the threshing took place in the stackyard in the village.

Growing up in the country is certainly different from growing up in a town or city but no doubt for boys the end result is the same – you just can’t help getting into trouble!

On leaving school I went to work in the west of Scotland with Colvilles the steel makers and qualified in mechanical engineering before returning to work in East Lothian for a brief spell. After a short stay in Derbyshire I volunteered to work in West Africa and spent a few years installing new and reconditioned plant before returning to Scotland to settle over in Fife.

The call of Stenton was too much for the family and eventually we designed and built our own house in the village and returned to my roots in 1986. As life in all small villages dictates, all responsible citizens become involved in the various activities of the community and I have followed in my father’s footsteps in taking an active part in several organisations. Most of these roles have now been handed over to the next generation of willing volunteers.

Gardening and bowls take up most of my leisure time and although now no longer part of the committee I still play regularly for the village club. I have also had the honour of being elected by the Bowling Clubs in East Lothian to represent them on the Council of the Scottish Bowling Association.

I now look on with amusement as the youngsters of today go about the same mischief as we did when we were young.