Athelstaneford | Economy
By the end of the period, the parish was able to make a small contribution to the tourist industry:
The Flag Heritage Centre is located behind the church, in the Hepburn doo’cot (dated 1583) that was restored in 1996 by the Scottish Flag Trust. This is a memorial to the legend of the Saltire being seen in the skies of Athelstaneford in a 9th century skirmish, and thereafter becoming adopted as the national flag of Scotland. The late novelist and writer Nigel Tranter of Aberlady was one of the moving forces in the creation of this small but unique public attraction, part of both tradition and the modern cult of leisure and tourism.
The Saltire Memorial was built in 1965 in the southeast corner of the churchyard; this carved battle scene was restored in 1993.
With the number of people employed in agriculture shrunk to penny numbers, part-timers or contractors, in addition to the job implications, former farm worker cottages lie empty at farms like Kilduff or Athelstaneford Mains or may have non-agricultural lets. The tenanted government agricultural smallholdings at Drem Newmains changed radically. The Conservative government also extending the right to buy to them in the 1980s bringing a virtual end to the statutory small tenant working a few acres and creating in many cases merely owner-occupied houses.
There was a riding school in the Drem Newmains former holdings and a garden centre, that indicator of lifestyle, at Merryhatton.
East Fortune hospital had provided local employment from its re-opening after the war in April 1949 to its closure in 1997 although in its latter years declining and providing only geriatric care which finally moved to Haddington. In 1963, from matron to pupil nurses, there were 42 nursing staff plus nine part-time with 27 auxiliaries plus 43 part-time auxiliaries. The following year there were some 300 beds, of which TB numbered only 25 compared with the 338 at the end of 1949, but with other chest cases, convalescents and a small general medical section. The principal occupancy was geriatric and chronic sick and what were then described as ‘mental defectives’, 45 children and 80 male adults.
Post-1997, the site lay derelict waiting its planning fate possibly as housing or even the ‘East Fortune new town’ if the constraints of the sewage system could be removed.
Although East Fortune was the great haven for tubercular patients, with its row upon row of beds under verandas, thus mimicking the cure of Swiss patients, it was so much more. Less well known was the great diversity of roles, interests and talents used by patients, staff and friends of East Fortune who helped to create a community to be proud of. Such was the diversity of this great little community that it was able to have its own magazine; ‘Fortune’ contributions were encouraged from everyone.
The post office sign was a green painted wooden slat, which I saw a few years ago lying on the ground, I wish now that I had picked up this piece of history.
The radio network broadcast each day, news, requests for patients and staff. Dr Murray, the Consultant, was a frequent contributor to the network, offering words of encouragement to everyone.
The regular bus service from all over the county ensured that patients were able to enjoy the support of their relatives. The children were involved in brownies, guiding and scout groups. Both staff and patients were adept at producing their own drama groups – including pantomimes, skits, karaoke and comedies.
With the advent of new drug therapy and improved health structures, many vacant beds arose. These were quickly filled with elderly patients from the acute areas – thus many blocked beds were available for emergency use. Parallel to this was the need to house children with learning difficulties (due to the proposed closure of Gogarburn and similar establishments). It is to the credit of all staff that these two groups of patients were successfully absorbed into East Fortune. Indeed many children arrived very young and grew up in East Fortune.
I worked in East Fortune during the last 5 years before its final closure, and heard many confidential experiences of how wonderful this community was. Sadly nature has caused an immeasurable overgrowth. The once lively gardens are now home to foxes, rabbits and pheasants.
It needs to become a community again. What a gem for a hospital site. Who knows!
Nita Fraser, nurse 1992-97
With the hospital gone and agriculture mechanised there was little other immediate employment. People did travel to employment in the North Berwick and Haddington areas and there was some local self-employment in small business and in gardening and house services but Edinburgh was a main employment centre.
THIS ACCOUNT OF ATHELSTANEFORD PARISH WAS WRITTEN BY MALCOLM DUNCAN. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION WAS PROVIDED BY THE FOLLOWING:
- Ronnie Grieve
- Irene Pow
- Dorothie Reilly
- Watson Thomson
- The Rev Dr Kenneth Walker
Thanks are due to the following for sharing their recollections
- Nita Fraser
- Jenny Gray
- Pat Moncrieff