Athelstaneford | Homes

Homes | Standards of living | Utilities | Shops & Services

Almost all the remaining 18th and 19th century cottages and houses had been substantially refurbished and upgraded since the mid-1970s, some before. New ‘Goxhill’ pantiles from East Yorkshire lay along the roofs maintaining the look of tradition, smart but with an evenness and regularity that indicated that they were not the originals. Some of the work was necessary modernisation but there was a steady move upmarket, which more than hinted at a gentrification, the placing of former modest workers’ cottages in a high price bracket.

The economic effect of the national housing market had more than rippled into Athelstaneford. The renovated older properties, whether small cottages or larger houses like the former manse, attracted prices which no doubt reflected the East Lothian and Scottish demand but which were unimaginable 20 or 30 years before. The housing developed by the county council in Glebe Crescent and Saltire Gardens brought modern homes in the years after the war, some for local people who had been occupying and waiting in former RAF huts at Needless and Athelstaneford Mains after the hundreds of air force personnel departed in 1945-6. Further to the dozen or so cottages built in the thirties along the Main Street that Downie Thomson mentions, Glebe Crescent, mainly built under the 1946 Housing Act, had eight houses by 1951 and all 40 houses by 1954. A further ten houses, also by the county council, were completed in Saltire Gardens by 1971.

Cottages at Needless, Athelstaneford.

Cottages at Needless, Athelstaneford.

But the economics had changed. The ‘right to buy’ was introduced for house tenants in 1980, and around half the former council housing stock was bought by former tenants. This allowed many long-term residents to stay on with security. Yet when these houses themselves began to fall vacant, they were sold on the open market and purchasers moved in from anywhere, often at substantial prices, unless a local connection allowed a local deal to be struck. 15 houses were opened by the East Lothian Housing Association at Mansefield in 1996, an attempt by public landlords both to avoid the tenants’ right to buy legislation and to provide affordable housing for rent, but local people may not finally benefit and tenants can be allocated to these houses from elsewhere in East Lothian and beyond.

In Drem, the Drem farm steading was converted into homes with new houses tacked on behind. A highly visible development of some 20 new dwellings was begun in 2000.

Athelstaneford still retained a sense of place: however, with the pressure on housing prices moving upmarket and the lack of local affordable housing, the sense of a balanced community may be in future danger.

Standards of living – some recollections of homes in the parish

As a teenager, and on into early adulthood, Mrs Moncrieff lived with her parents (then in their 60s) in Athelstaneford.

Between c1945-55 we had a holiday cottage in Athelstaneford. During the war my mother and I stayed while my father came at weekends. After 1945 we continued to do this until 1951, then came to live there. The cottage was modernised c1959-61.

There were two/three rooms and a cellar: a living room, a scullery (WC off it), bedroom (off the living room, which was portioned off latterly to make two rooms). There was one window in the living room, one in the bedroom (door with glass top half after division into two areas), one in the WC, and none in the scullery which opened straight off the front (only) door. We used paraffin lamps (Aladdin).

The walls were plaster over original ‘bullet’ stone walls, and they bulged in places. Gloss paint (often green or cream) was used on the top half, a dado (paper frieze), and wallpaper (often a leafy pattern) on the bottom half. The low plaster ceiling was gloss painted (white or cream).

The scullery/kitchen was long and narrow, immediately opening from the front door. There was no door except for the WC at the end. It had a wooden worktop, draining board, and a stone sink with cupboards below (curtained); there was a large larder with shelves, an air vent, and curtained at front end. Linoleum flooring. [We cooked on] A paraffin cooker, with an oven and two burners, each heating a hob. The WC had a small window, opening on ratchet, and a door from the scullery. The toilet had linoleum flooring, and a small rug.

The living room

This had one window, with a net curtain part way, and a wooden rail holding two cotton (summer) or velvet (winter) curtains. There was a drop leaf mahogany table – covered with chenille or oilcloth. Furnishings were four dining chairs, a horsehair (one ended) sofa, two armchairs (with wooden arms), a mahogany sideboard with long upper drawer, chest of drawers (mahogany), stool, radio and a bookcase (oak). Flooring was linoleum on a concrete floor, Axminster rugs, and a half-moon wool type fireside rug. A Sofono fire had a tiled fireplace and surround, with brass coal box and tongs. The full-length (built-in) cupboard held books, papers. The few ornaments included a crystal bowl with fruit; two large china dogs; a Chinese vase, and a large green vase with a red flower.


These had originally been one, opening off the living room. A partition of wood divided it into two smaller rooms, and the rear one had a door (partly glass) opening onto yard. The rear part had a double bed, chair, small table, a large built-in cupboard, and a chest of drawers. There was linoleum on the wooden floor, and a rug. The front part had a window to the front, a single bed, rug, a chest of drawers (small), and a small harmonium. There was a large framed sepia print of Victorian family scene in the bedroom. We used feather mattresses, eiderdowns (satin), and candlewick bedspreads.

The outhouse (known as the cellar) was one of the three cottages purchased in the 1920s but which was not made habitable. It had a floor of beaten earth, with flagstones; the walls were of original large stones, whitewashed. There were shelves fitted to hold boxes of tools of all kinds (nails, electrical wire, switches, shoe last and shoe repairing tools, joiner’s tools, gardening tools etc).

Water was collected from a tap at the wall. There was a wooden ‘stall’ for supplies of coal, wood, and storage for 5 gallon drums of pink or blue paraffin which was delivered alternate weeks by Robertson, Dunbar. The large boiler at an open fireplace provided hot water for washing (clothes and baths); we had two large zinc bathtubs, and a freestanding mangle (wringer) with wooden rollers and large handle. Fuel used was a mix of wood blocks (off cuts of oak wood from an Edinburgh Cooperage), and coal – delivered by the ton (by Dobson).

The post-war (date not known) change to electricity meant an electric (one bar) fire then stood in the fireplace, and lights came on at flick of a switch!

Personal hygiene

Twice daily washes were provided by heating water in the kettle, and used in a basin. For the weekly bath, the water was heated in the boiler, and the zinc baths were used. Soap used was either scented (Lux) or carbolic (Lifebuoy).

Pat Moncrieff

Compton Lodge, 1954

This was a tied house, and my husband was a lorry driver for Bailey of Haddington.

There was a big garden at the back and a drive down to the big house at the front

You went in the front door, turned to the left into a small bathroom; straight in from the front door was the big bedroom, you then turned right into the living room. There was a little bedroom off the living room. And then out of the living room into the back kitchen – a teeny wee back kitchen, but there was also a big larder, a big walk-in larder. No back door. There was no electric – we used a Tilley lamp.

In the living room were a dining room table, four chairs, a settee and two armchairs, and a sideboard. On top of the sideboard was a radio – battery. In the sideboard, some food kept in the sideboard. There was a big range fire – a black range with a tank to the side – for cooking. In the bedroom were a double bed, single wardrobe and a double wardrobe.

I think the house was all white, with lino on the floor.

Jenny Gray

Gilmerton Lodge, 1954-57

By this point Mrs Gray had a new baby

This house was quite nice; it had 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, a little front porch, front and back doors and a wee tiny kitchen; I cooked on a wee electric cooker, which was on a meter, fed with shillings.

Jenny Gray


Because of the proximity of the airfield, Athelstaneford benefited early on from ‘modern’ sewage and electricity supplies. By the end of the period the sewage works were at capacity, limiting, perhaps temporarily, more development.

A gas pumping station is located near the old airfield. A national gas pipeline came through the parish in 1981, taking North Sea gas at immense pressure from Peterhead down to England. Too strong though, for the village, which still has no gas supply.

Shops & Services

While the supermarkets of North Berwick and Haddington and Edinburgh dominated the shopping patterns, a few local services continued. Tait’s butcher van from Haddington and the Co-op grocery van stopped in the 1980s but vans with fresh fish and with vegetables still ‘tooted’ their way round the village and the council mobile library stopped weekly. Drem post office remained open, with Mrs May Fairbairn in charge. The signal box and resident railway workers there were long gone.