In this essay:
The changes that have taken place in agriculture in the last 50 years have been more far reaching than those that took place in the previous 150 years – the years between the First and Third Statistical Accounts. At the end of World War II farms were still in the horse age with very few tractors in evidence. It was not until the 1950s with the introduction of the diesel Ferguson tractor with its range of rear-mounted hydraulically controlled equipment that led to the demise of working horses.
In 2000, there are 14 farms in the parish, varying in size from 90 to 280 hectares. They are Archerfield Home Farm, Chapel, Congalton Mains, Dirleton Castle Mains, Dirleton New Mains, East Fenton, Fenton Barns, Ferrygate, Highfield, Kingston, Newhouse, Queenstonbank, Saltcoats and West Fenton.
With the exception of Archerfield Home Farm and Saltcoats, these farms have been run by three generations of the same family during the last 50 years. The steading locations are shown on the Dirleton parish map. In 1945, there were two additional farms, Muirfield and Williamstone. The latter was owned by Miss Stella Moffat. When she retired in 1983, the farm was sold to her neighbours. James B Miller & Co., Ferrygate, bought the section north of the railway line; R Carswell & Son, Newhouse, bought the middle section, and, John McNair, Gilsland Caravan Park, bought the southern section.
Harry Patterson sold Muirfield farm to James Inglis in 1948. In 1978 he sold the fields to the south of the main road to John Stevenson & Son, Luffness Mains, in Aberlady parish. In 1987, after the Open Golf Championship, most of the land to the north of the main road was bought by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews, to reserve ground for car parking during future Open Golf Championships. A small portion, 2.5ha, was retained for development purposes and eventually sold to a property developer. Two of the farms straddle the parish boundary – Highfield, in North Berwick parish, and, Congalton Mains, farmed as one unit with the neighbouring farm of Prora, in Athelstaneford parish. All but one of these farms have been owner-occupied since the break-up of the Archerfield Estate in the early 1920s – the exception being Saltcoats farm which is part of the Luffness Estate, Aberlady.
The table Dirleton Parish Farm Census Summaries 1950-2000, at the end of this chapter, provides an outline of the changes that have taken place during the last 50 years. As farmers have been ‘metric’ since the 1980s, areas for the whole period are given in hectares (ha) – one hectare is approximately equal to 2.5 acres. The range of information shown in the Census returns by the Scottish Department of Agriculture has varied over the years. From the 1980s the data was computerised and information was not included if there were only one or two farms engaged in a particular farm activity within a parish. The farmers in the parish supplied the figures for 2000 for the Gullane & Dirleton History Society’s Snapshot 2000 project and record the position in 1999.
Most of the farms have had similar farming regimes. One farm, Castlemains farm, mirrors much that has taken place on the farms in the parish since 1945. However, in addition, six farms that developed some differing farm activities are featured.
A diary, kept by William James Simpson from 1913-51, tells us something about the farm at the end of world war two; his son James Simpson has provided information on subsequent changes, and, his grandson, Robert, provided information on farm activities at the end of the century. The crops grown, the stock and equipment kept, together with the workforce employed in 1950 and 1999 are shown below:
|Roots||20||–||Horses||8||–||(14 during world war two)|
|Protein Peas||–||10||Beef cattle||24||98||(½ wintered for a third party)|
|Oilseed rape||–||11||Sheep (hoggs)||246||60||wintered for a third party.|
Equipment in 1950. One Case model C tractor; one John Deere model AN tractor and a tractor-trailer. A Fowler FD3 crawler bought in 1947 was capable of working on heavy land in wet weather. Five horse and two double furrow tractor ploughs; 11 horse grubbers; one tractor cultivator and one toolbar. Two horse corn drills; two fertiliser distributors. Three mowers; three rakes; one turner; two hay sweeps and sprayer, all horse powered. Four horse and one tractor binders. One baler. Two horse and one tractor potato diggers. One hand and one powered potato sorters. One fixed thresher.
Equipment in 1999. Five John Deere tractors and trailers; two four furrow Kverneland ploughs; one 3 metre graindrill; one 24 metre fertiliser sprayer; one John Deere 2254 combine; one small and one large baler and a grain drying plant.
When and why did all these changes come about? At Castlemains, combines arrived in the 1950s provided by contractors. Later most farmers bought their own self-propelled combines as well as installing grain-drying plants. By 1960 the day of the horse had come to an end. At that time there were two Ferguson Diesel tractors and three British Leyland tractors, which had been manufactured at British Leyland’s Bathgate plant. These were replaced through time with the latest John Deere models, which from the 1990s had four-wheel drive, air conditioning and radio cassette players.
Traditional farm buildings had to be adapted to cope with the new equipment. They were still used to fatten beef cattle that were fed with hay and roots. Hay making came to an end when making silage from grass became the norm from the 1950s. This meant that purpose built silage sheds and cattle courts had to be constructed – the one built at Castlemains farm could accommodate 100 cattle.
The 1950 Census indicates that there were 78 working horses in the parish, giving an average of five per farm. We have seen that Castlemains had eight at that time but had 14 during the war. This had been the situation on virtually all the farms in the parish. Another decade passed before the demise of the working horse. The most common working horses were the Clydesdales, but Percherons and Shires had also been used on some farms.
In 1973, Garth Morrison, joined the family farming partnership at West Fenton, after service in the Royal Navy. He found that alongside his father’s racehorse stable, livery facilities providing food and stable accommodation had been afforded to two local residents. Five years later seven horses were being looked after, reaching 17 by 1990. In that year a group of disabled riders and their helpers moved to West Fenton, where they formed the Muirfield Group of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). Garth Morrison’s wife, Gill, undertook the organisational aspects of work involved using the farm’s livery facilities. The availability of flat fields, formerly part of the wartime Drem airfield, repurchased in 1957, has proved most suitable for disabled riders. By 2000 the number of horses and ponies kept at livery had reached 40, with a dozen used by the disabled riders.
RDA sessions are held on three half days each week with 50 to 60 riders coming from as far as Dunbar and Edinburgh. There are around 45 voluntary helpers, including two instructors and a physiotherapist. Several fundraising events have been held each year since 1990, which, together with support from local businesses and friends, have enabled the group to provide their services without charge to the riders. As the riding arena is outdoors, sessions stop between Christmas and Easter. At the end of the century plans were put in train to provide an Indoor Riding Arena. A major fund raising campaign was instigated and it is hoped that, if successful in obtaining National Lottery funding, the indoor riding arena will have been built and brought in operation by 2002.
For many years horses and ponies have been seen on those farms where the farmer’s children are at an age to enjoy riding as a traditional rural activity. In the last 30 years, riding for leisure has also become a holiday activity. One example in the parish was the establishment of horse livery accommodation and facilities built in the 1980s, on the former Williamstone land purchased by John McNair, and used in conjunction with his Gilsland Caravan Park.
Another farm, Highfield, developed a different leisure horse activity. During the last 30 years Mrs Eileen Simpson has built up and developed a breeding stud of Connemara ponies. Using the farm facilities and a high quality nucleus of two stallions and six mares, she has achieved a high reputation for their progeny. Foals have been sold widely in Britain, with some exported to the USA, Australia and Germany.
After the war some farms, including Castlemains and Queenstonbank (see later), were fattening Aberdeen Angus crossed with Hereford bullocks shipped to Glasgow from the west of Ireland. Some of these animals, although being sold as stores, were often too fat. Some farmers kept their own herd of suckler cows rearing calves and fattening them as bullocks for eventual sale. With the decline in the Irish trade in the 1960s, an increasing number of store cattle were being bought at the autumn sales in Edinburgh, Lanark and Stirling, for winter fattening in the steadings. This released grazing land for more profitable cropping. Home produced crossbred cattle were to be seen in all beef herds until the 1960s. The importation of, usually, French breeds brought changes to the beef herds in the parish. Charolais, Limousin and Simmental crosses becoming the cattle seen most often from then and right up to the end of the century. The number of beef cattle kept during the period peaked at almost 2000 in 1970 falling to 1100 in 1999 when only half the farms fattened bullocks.
After the war, ewes and lambs were traditionally fattened in the winter by letting them feed on Italian Ryegrass sown after early potatoes, followed by root crops, and, where available, sugar beets tops. Breeds such as Suffolk and Cheviot, or Oxford Down and Border Leicester crosses were bought at markets as far distant as St Boswells and Lairg. In wet winters it was necessary to move them into the steading, which resulted in higher labour costs. By the 1960s the growing of root crops for feeding cattle substantially declined. This is confirmed in the census returns. The market demand also changed at this time with the meat trade requiring smaller, leaner lambs. However, some farms fattened some hundreds of lambs right through to the late 1970s – Tom Elder and later his son, Graham, at Chapel, continuing up to the end of the century. However in the latter part of the century there has been an increase in French sheep breeds such as Texel and Bleu D’Maine crosses with fewer British breeds.
In the 1990s only three or four farms were fattening lambs, which in the case of Castlemains and Ferrygate, the lambs were wintered for hill farm friends. During this period Ferrygate have fattened lambs – Suffolk and Greyface or Scotch Mule crosses – on the residue of the broccoli crop. For much of the last 50 years a substantial proportion of the sheep on the farms would have belonged to dealers who paid the farmers to look after them – ‘a bed and breakfast’ arrangement. Lambs have always been fattened for the meat trade in the parish. The wool-clip element of keeping sheep was not economic and in addition the necessity, until the 1990s, for sheep to have a winter dip was another chore. With sheep dipping not now compulsory, sheep scab is more prevalent. An earlier disease, pulpy kidney, was brought under control through inoculation, by the 1960s.
The most consistent feature of farming in the parish has been the growing of cereal crops and potatoes. Every farm has grown barley during the last 50 years and nearly all of them have grown wheat and potatoes as well. There have been changes along the way. In 1945 everyone was growing oats as well. There was steady decline in the use of oats for feeding stock – horses had disappeared by 1960. Oats could be combined, but with difficulty due to the long straw and lateness. A number of factors made the growing of wheat and barley worthwhile. The climate and soils had proved themselves suitable from the time of the First Statistical Account in the 1790s. The wartime push to increase yields continued throughout the last 50 years with new varieties of both wheat and barley being developed to provide higher yields and shorter straw. Long straw had suited the horse era making it easier to form stooks and build stacks. Wheat straw was also needed for thatching stacks. Combine harvesters changed that. There has been as continuing and expanding use of artificial fertilisers and chemical weed control throughout the period. The latter saw the emergence of specialised firms, such as Crop Chemicals Ltd located at the Fenton Barns industrial village, who advise on the type and minimum amount of pesticides and fertilisers which should be applied to the growing crops. Most farmers carry out spraying but, in the case of tall crops such as oilseed rape, contractors are used.
In 1945, varieties of barley grown included Spratt Archer, Ymer, and Plumage Archer. The varieties that superseded them included Golden Promise and Midas by 1975, and, such varieties as Chariot, Regina, Optic and Prisma in the last decade of the century. Similarly for wheat Danish Drott/Als, Red Cavalier and Diamond II in 1945, were succeeded by Capelle Deprez by 1975, and later by Riband, Consort and Abbott. In the last 20/30 years new strains of both barley and wheat have been developed for particular uses. Locally barley has been used for malting, whilst wheat is used for bread and biscuit milling and distilling, with the latter taking the place of imported maize. Yields have also increased substantially. In 1950 barley yields were of the order of 4-6 tonnes per hectare, steadily increasing to around 7-8 tonnes per hectare in the 1990s. Similarly for wheat, where post-war yields of 4-6 tonnes per hectare rose to 10 tonnes per hectare in the 1990s. All cereals produce a great deal of straw. Large round bales replaced the rectangular smaller bales of the early part of the period. Whilst a great deal of straw is used for bedding, a considerable quantity is sold to farmers in the west of Scotland where grassland farming is more usual. However during the last few years with ever increasing freight costs farmers have been using large square bales that permit larger quantities of straw to be carried on lorries.
In 1945, every farm grew potatoes, taking up 375 ha of land. There was a steady fall in land allocated to potato growing until about 1970, when the acreage had fallen to 100 ha. There was then an increase with an average of 240 ha up to the 1990s.
After the war, farmers still used Irish migrant workers to gather the crop at harvest time. In 1951, one of the contractors, Maxwell, arrived at Castlemains farm on 10 July only to find the potatoes were not ready. They returned on 19 July, staying until 2 August. The varieties grown were Majestic and King Edwards. From the 1960s Majestic, Redskin, Epicure and Maris Piper were the varieties grown at Castlemains. The last two varieties have been grown in the parish right through to the end of the century.
New markets for potatoes came into existence in the 1950s. The first was for crisps, and in the 1960s, chips. Farmers found themselves growing new varieties, such as, Maris Bard, Nadine, Lady Rosetta and Record. Potatoes grown for the crisp manufacturers usually went to Golden Wonder at Bathgate in West Lothian. East Fenton found, on occasion, that when they delivered their potatoes to Golden Wonder they were rejected because the sugar content that was too high. Often when the same load was presented the next day it was accepted.
The 1960s also saw the introduction of artificial irrigation systems. Water was obtained from a variety of sources – from watercourses directly or via reservoirs, boreholes and wells, using a various types of pumps, even from a windmill as at West Fenton. Later there was move to using sprinkler systems followed by rain-guns.
New varieties were introduced to satisfy the chip processor. These included Pentland varieties and later, Wilja. From the 1960s, most farmers found it preferable to co-operate with a commercial potato growing/buying organisation. This change had taken place at Archerfield and West Fenton in 1968. At that time most of the farmers supplied all the equipment for use by the potato buying organisation, which supplied the seed potatoes and arranged for the harvesting of the crop to suit their customers requirements. From the 1980s some of the farmers wishing to grow potatoes as part of their crop rotation cycle, let the ground allocated for potato growing to a growing/ buying organisation that would provide all the workers and equipment. One of these organisations, John Stevenson & Son, Luffness Mains, Aberlady, was also linked to a vegetable buying organisation, Shieldness Products Ltd of Bo’ness, West Lothian, from 1969. A contributory factor for this change was the arrival of larger potato planting and harvesting equipment that made it uneconomic for farmers to buy such equipment.
The requirements by supermarkets that they be supplied with large quantities of potatoes with a ‘clear skin finish‘, and, the precise requirements set down by processors as to sugar and starch levels, meant that the growing/buying groups soon found which varieties performed the best on which farms. These conditions and controls form an essential element of Farm Assurance Schemes introduced during the last decade. Farmers still growing their own potato crops have often had to provide, at high cost, temperature and humidity controlled stores for their potatoes, so that they are in peak condition when they receive purchase orders. Potato yields increased during the last 50 years. In 1950, typical maincrop potatoes yields would be 20/25 tonnes per hectare; today 40/50 tonnes per hectare. This increase in yields has also seen, for some farmers, an increase in eelworm infestation, due to over cropping, necessitating the resting of the fields affected for some years. Those farmers growing early potatoes were the least affected as the crop was lifted before the eelworm reduced the crop by too much. Some varieties, such as Maris Piper, were resistant to some degree to eelworm infestation.
In 1950 over half the land was used for growing potatoes was used for growing early potatoes. Ten years later this had fallen to one third. This proportion stabilised and continued from the late 1970s. The decline in growing early potatoes was due to increased competition from other parts of the UK where bigger yields were possible at an earlier date and the increase in the importation of early potatoes. By the end of the century no early potatoes were being grown in the parish.
A small acreage was devoted to the growing of seed potatoes for a period of 20 years from the 1970s. Their growing and marketing needs more attention to detail, with the mandatory inspection of the growing crop and the careful grading to suit differing markets. The growing of seed potatoes was substantial activity at East Fenton. Pentland varieties plus Romano for Nickersons’ varieties were grown for the seed trade in England. Within the last decade the commercial growing of seed potatoes in East Lothian has ceased, with the main growing areas now lying to the north of the Forth/Clyde valley.
Old crops, new crops and horticultural crops
Another crop that has disappeared from farms is sugar beet. Growing sugar beet had increased during the war because it was not possible to import sugar cane. It was another labour intensive crop, from hand thinning and weeding of the young plants through to harvesting. The harvested crop had to be sent to the sugar beet processing factory at Cupar in Fife. Virtually all the farmers sent their sugar beet by rail using the local stations at the North Berwick, Dirleton or Drem stations. Occasionally some loads of sugar beet went by road to Cupar – East Fenton was one farm that did this. The factory closed in 1972. This crop had been grown by many of the farmers in the parish. The area devoted to growing sugar beet varied from 25ha to 80ha between 1950 and 1970.
In the 1970s new crops appeared. These were oilseed rape and peas. The growing of oilseed rape, with its yellow flowers and pungent smell in springtime, was started in a small way just before the United Kingdom’s (UK) entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Initially 14ha were grown. This acreage it has now risen to around 70ha. Varieties such as Inca, Commanche and Synergy yield between 2.5 to 4 tonnes per hectare with the ‘oil’ used for the manufacture of margarine and cooking oil.
The growing of peas started in 1972, initially for the UK food trade – canning or freezing. ‘Birds Eye’ boasted that the freshly harvested peas only took two hours from farm to completion of the freezing process. This was possible because of the availability of mechanical vining machines. This development in the parish was due to the pioneering work of the ELBA Growers, later Scotfresh Ltd. (see below under Ferrygate). Farms which grew peas for the ELBA Growers included East Fenton, Fenton Barns, West Fenton (plus carrots) and Ferrygate (plus cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and leeks). During the last five years all the farmers have changed to the growing of protein peas for animal feed manufacturers. The varieties of protein peas grown include Consort and Elan with yields around 4 tonnes per hectare. There were 70ha of peas in 1980, 45ha in 1990 rising to 84ha in 1999, grown on four farms.
Self-contained Congalton Gardens grew a variety of horticultural crops during the early part of the period and, later, concentrating on their wholesale business. In recent years they have only grown leeks. A similar separate horticultural enterprise was a 1.25ha organic vegetable growing enterprise established by James B Miller, alongside his then home in Abbotsford Road, North Berwick – this is in Dirleton parish. This was an extremely early example of growing vegetables organically. Vegetables grown between 1948-60 were sold in Edinburgh as Ferrygate Produce. He was one of the earliest members of the Soil Association founded in 1946.
Cabbages, sprouts and cauliflowers have been grown for the last 50 years, and carrots most of that time, but by only a few farmers. Leeks and broccoli started to be grown about 1980. Changing market conditions meant that there were fluctuations in the area devoted to these crops. Cabbages with 32ha and carrots with 15ha, both peaked in the 1960s, whereas cauliflowers reached 38ha in 1970. In the early part of the period farmers grew their own crops selling them at the Edinburgh wholesale markets. Increasingly from the 1960s farmers let their land to wholesaler/ contractors who carried out the whole cycle from planting to harvest.
This farm, over the years, has shown some variations from a typical farm in the parish. Information about this farm at the end of April 1947 appears in an article in Farming News. Statistical information for 1947 is given below alongside that for 1999, with the figures for the latter year reduced proportionately, as 242ha are now farmed against 170ha in 1947. 72ha had been bought from Fenton Barns in the 1997.
|Crops||Varieties||1947 (ha.)||Varieties||1999 (ha.)|
|Seed potatoes||King Edward/Majestic/
In 1947, Steve Graham had, unusually, a 6-furrow Ransome tractor plough drawn by an International BTD9 caterpillar tracked tractor. This combination speeded up autumn ploughing. A six-year rotation was practised with one year’s hay, a mixture of ryegrass and clover, with the aftermath being grazed by bought-in lambs. The lambs were finished on sugar beet tops and turnips. All the straw was used for bedding, feeding or the potato pits. The Irish cattle were fattened in the cattle courts on the steading, whilst some home bred bullocks were grazed and fattened on a rotation pasture. The growing of seed potatoes came to an end in the 1950s.
On this farm two differing activities not carried out elsewhere in the parish were developed. In the 1950s this farm was the first in Scotland to fatten sheep inside to gain weight quickly and produce higher quality meat. The breeds were Suffolk and Cheviot crosses. This activity ended in 1963 when there was a decline in market prices. Before this Steve Graham had given up the fattening of Irish cattle. He then purchased Aberdeen Angus cross bullocks, unusually for this area, from Orkney. The quality and condition of these animals meant they required only a short period for finishing off. Around 200 were fattened in the steading and 150 on summer grazing. After a matter of weeks they would be sold in Edinburgh – Steve Graham having developed a number of good outlets within the meat trade. This continued until early 1990s. Since then this farm has been a ‘crop only’ farm.
In 1950, there were 227 cows and heifers in milk on seven farms. At Castlemains only three cows had been kept during and just after the war, supplying milk to the farmhouse and to the farm workers. Two other farms would have only kept a few cows for a similar reason. Two farms, Muirfield and Dirleton New Main had kept small dairy herds after the war, but only two farms, Fenton Barns and East Fenton, continued with a large dairying operation, Fenton Barns to 1955 and East Fenton to 1997.
East Fenton was the only large milk producer in the parish for almost the whole of the period under review. By 1960 they had a total of 250 dairy cattle, which had halved by the time milk production ended in 1997. In 1950 two bulls were kept. However, after the establishment of Artificial Insemination Centres the performance of herd improved significantly. The herd of Ayrshire cows was replaced by Friesian Holstein cows, which resulted in much higher milk yields. In 1950 the average yield was 1000 litres per lactation. This had doubled by the 1990s. A seven-a-side herringbone milking parlour was installed in 1972. This reduced the number of people engaged in milking the cows – one man could milk 120 cows in three hours. New cattle courts were built making it much easier for feeding silage to the cows in winter. The milk was sold to the Scottish Milk Marketing Board, later Scottish Milk, for pasteurisation and processing. It was collected by a tanker once a day after the morning milking.
In 1952 Robert Miller of Ferrygate farm died. He had come from Ayrshire to Dirleton 50 years earlier. The Simpsons of the Castlemains and Highfield farms, whose families also came from Ayrshire, made the move to east in 1893 and 1906 respectively. Robert Miller was one of several East Lothian farmers who had actively participated in public life. He had been a Director of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society, a Governor of the Edinburgh and East of Scotland College of Agriculture, a County Councillor and was the Vice-Chairman of the East Lothian Agricultural Executive Committee during the war. His only son, James, then took over the running of the farm. He also became an East Lothian County Councillor and was the council’s last Convenor before local government reorganisation in 1975.
Since then Ferrygate farm has diversified into egg production. Small scale free-ange egg production at the end of the war expanded to keeping several hundred hen in straw yards in the 1960s. This was followed by a move to the intensive battery cage system accommodated in specialised buildings holding 5,000 hens. Later a building holding 10,000 hens was built. Laying hens numbered 14,000 in 1970, rising to 45,000 in 1985, and, falling in the 1990s to around 28,000 laying pullets at the end of the century, producing approximately 8m eggs per year.
When Alastair Miller joined his father, James, to help run the farm in 1960, the enterprise became James B Miller & Co. When the closure of the sugar beet processing factory at Cupar was being considered, a group of farmers asked the Eastern Border Development Association to carry out a feasibility and marketing survey regarding the growing of other crops. In 1971, a co-operative venture, the East Lothian and Border Association of Growers (ELBA Growers) was launched. Pilot crops of vining peas and sprouts were grown for freezing in 1972, and, in the following year a freezing factory was built at Eyemouth. In 1982 Scotfresh Ltd was established so that more capital could be obtained to expand the operation. With changing market conditions Scotfresh Ltd ceased trading in 1997. Alastair Miller was the Chairman of ELBA Growers and later Scotfresh from 1974-89.
A report prepared by the East of Scotland College of Agriculture in 1984 enables us to compare what was happening then and 15 years later on the Ferrygate farm.
|Activity||1984 (ha.)||1999 (ha.)|
(2nd early 7amp; maincrop)
|Peas for vining||20||–|
|Sheep – hoggs & lambs||–||500|
|Farm staff||Fulltime||13||4 men & 3 women|
|Part-time||4||0 – 20, average 4, mostly women|
Another example of diversification at Ferrygate was the growing of strawberries. This venture started in 1971 with 3ha, increasing each year until 8ha were devoted to this crop in 1975. The strawberries were grown both for the fresh fruit trade and for freezing. The latter use of strawberries was short-lived. The fields devoted to strawberries were alongside the main road, providing good access for the ‘pick-you-own’ customer. Initially, the work involved in growing strawberries suited the annual farm routines, but difficulties experienced in recruiting pickers saw a reduction in the area growing strawberries and an end of the activity in 1984.
Since then other changes that have taken place on the farm, include a 50% reduction in the number of beef cattle and a return to fattening lambs, as well as a 30% reduction in the number of laying hens. These changes have resulted in a significant reduction in the workforce as shown on the table above.
This farm could be considered to be one of the first UK Agribusinesses. A considerable proportion of both the Fenton Barns and West Fenton farms had become the Drem airfield during the war. At the end of the war, Fenton Barns was still operating one of the most successful dairy farms in the country. It had been set up in 1923 and was the first farm to supply certified milk to households in Edinburgh. After the war the dairy enterprise continued with its 200-cow byre and the state-of-the-art milking parlour and milk processing plant, which had been provided by the Government when it started to redevelop the Drem, formerly Gullane, airfield in 1939, still selling the milk in Edinburgh. This enterprise continued until 1955 when the milking herd of 175 cows was sold in order to release space for the growing turkey rearing business. Here was a truly vertically integrated enterprise, from the production of the raw materials (home-grown calves becoming the milking herd), the development, processing and marketing of the finished product (milk bottled on the farm and delivered to distribution depots in Prestonpans and Edinburgh).
In 1947, brothers Rupert and Irvine Chalmers-Watson, sons of the pioneering dairy farmers and physicians, Douglas and Mona Chalmers-Watson, decided to establish a breeding flock of turkeys. Initially this was located on a rented farm, Bankrugg, near Gifford. A chicken hatchery was started on the same farm a year later, producing chickens suitable for broiler production.
It was not until 1949 that the land requisitioned by the government for the Drem airfield was re-purchased – the Air Ministry, however, retained control over some of the largest buildings. The Newbyth estate, Whitekirk & Tyninghame parish, had been purchased in 1948; here the ever-increasing flocks of turkeys roamed in fields, and were housed in redundant buses and trams. However, it was soon evident that a greater return would result if the birds were kept ‘indoors’. Sheds were then constructed using redundant steel taken from the Gifford railway line and former army buildings at Gosford. Broad-breasted American turkeys were then imported to form the nucleus of a breeding programme, ultimately creating the best male turkey bloodlines in the world.
1948 saw the beginning of new poultry enterprise, the production and sale of day-old broiler chicks from a new strain of Danish birds. This lead to the enlargement of the then expanding broiler chicken market. The chickens were sold to farmers who grew the chickens to the size required by the processors. This initiative led to the setting up, in 1956, jointly with another poultry farmer, D B Marshall of Ratho, a new company, Chunky Chicks Ltd. This company built new units at other locations. By the end of the decade this activity ended at Fenton Barns so that more attention could be given to the continually expanding turkey enterprise.
The turkey-breeding programme continued through the 1950s with the aim of producing two strains of birds, one to give more meat, the other to produce more eggs. Newbyth was sold in 1958 and greater use made of the steadings at the two rented farms of Blackdykes, near North Berwick and Bankrugg. The lease of the latter was later terminated. In 1962 Rupert Chalmers-Watson joined forces with two of his largest customers in England to form British United Turkeys Ltd (BUT) to develop more widely the turkey egg hatching business.
The expansion meant that more purpose-built sheds had to be constructed, culminating in two sheds 500 ft x 50 ft being built in 1974. The local MP, John P Mackintosh, in the same year opened a new packing station and canteen for 140 people in the original dairy building. Earlier, in 1970, the Queen had visited Fenton Barns to present the ‘Queen’s Award for Industry‘. BUT expanded rapidly in the UK until 1978, when it was sold to an American organisation. At the end of the 20th century, the company is probably the world’s leader in primary breeding stock.
The original family farming company, DC Watson & Sons Ltd. (DCW), then reassumed the residual turkey business along with all the other agricultural activities. By 1979, 20,000 turkey eggs were being hatched per week – 1m day-old poults were sold in that year. The Agricultural Census returns in 1980 show that the turkey flock had reached 50,000 birds. In reality the number of turkeys reared in that year was about ¼ million, two-thirds for the oven ready market, the remainder for turkey meat products, the production of which had started two years earlier. Market conditions subsequently changed. For oven-ready turkeys there was more foreign competition, mainly from France and the USA. Greater emphasis was then given to producing more added value products based on turkey meat.
In 1981, a separate company was formed, Fenton Barns (Scotland) Ltd, to develop this activity. Two of the directors had expert knowledge of the cooked meat industry. Live turkey production ceased at the end of 1993, as the company found it more economic to purchase poultry meat from South America. The company was sold in 1999 to Brown Brothers who continued this cooked meat enterprise.
During the mid-1970s, a crop of partridges was grown in the WWI barrack block, which was no longer needed for turkey production. A consultant was appointed to investigate the possibility of growing mushrooms on the deep litter produced by the birds. Two years later five tonnes of mushrooms were produced per week. Contact was then made with Ronnie Wilson of Monaghan Mushrooms Ltd. (MM), a rapidly expanding Irish company. A joint venture resulted. After a four-year association with the Irish company, DCW sold their interest in MM. At the end of the century, the successor to MM, Monaghan Middlebrook Mushrooms plc, produce 100 tonnes of mushrooms per week and is the largest Scottish producer of mushrooms.
When Rupert Chalmers-Watson’s son, Keith, left college in 1966, he started a small game bird rearing unit, which was soon specialising in grey partridges. Subsequent expansion has, by the late 1990s seen the annual production rise to around 45,000 birds for sporting release and the table market. During the last 30 years Keith Chalmers-Watson expanded his hobby in the conservation and breeding of rare game birds. At the end of the century the collection has upwards of 60 species, a quarter of the world’s game birds, and, is the largest collection in the UK. Some of these birds have formed part of reintroduction programmes with birds being released in those countries of origin affected by wars in Asia, such as Vietnam.
Fenton Barns has always had typical farm activities taking place in tandem with the poultry, mushroom and game activities described above. After the war the expansion of a pig unit housed an 1874 traditional pantile-roofed steading took place. In 1970, the first environmentally controlled pig-fattening shed was constructed to hold 750 pigs. In 1972, the unit was expanded to house 250 sows, with a further 250 catered for in 1974. The fattening of pigs of pigs continued up to 1999, when, after weathering severe fluctuations in market prices, the herd was disbanded.
The principle crops on the farm for most of the period, and like other farms in the parish, have been winter wheat, spring barley and potatoes. Oil seed rape joined these from the 1970s. During the last decade, horticultural crops, such as sprouts and leeks, have been grown by wholesale/contractors, who rented the fields allocated to these crops in rotation.
When the Air Ministry released the large hangers and associated buildings, DCW leased them to a number of companies and this are became the nucleus of the Fenton Barns Industrial Village. During the 1990s efforts were made to find tenants for smaller buildings used by the RAF and those becoming vacant after the end of turkey and pig enterprises. By 2000 there were over 50 small businesses operating in these buildings, many being retail outlets
At the end of the war 25 people were employed at Fenton Barns. About 200 people gained employment at the height of the turkey era. At the end of the century employment on the farm itself had fallen to less than 20 people, but upwards of 400 people are employed in the industrial and retail villages. With the change of use of many of the wartime buildings during the last 10/15 years and a reduction in farming activities, some of the fields on the perimeter of the farm were sold to neighbouring farms. This saw the size of the farm reduced from 240ha to 90ha. However, Blackdykes farm is still rented and farmed in tandem with Fenton Barns.
Governmental controls on agriculture have continued ever since the end of the war.
With the entry of UK into the EEC, later European Union (EU), bureaucracy has increased further. Since 1993, all farms in the parish have had to leave fields fallow – set aside – to conform with EU diktats, which have attempted to reduce the amount of cereals grown in the European Community. In 1999, set aside accounted for 182ha (7%) of the land farmed in the parish. However, in the 1990s, two farms, West Fenton and Queenstonbank, have used set aside land for conservation purposes. At the end of the century, farmers are being encouraged by government agencies to undertake more conservation and diversification activities. At Queenstonbank strips of grass, of varying heights have been left at the margins of some fields providing food opportunities for birds and wildlife. At West Fenton land alongside the Peffer Burn has been developed as a natural wetland area which has been sown with wildflowers and a special grass mix which is enjoyed by birds. The arrival of the occasional rare bird attracts ‘twitchers’, (keen birdwatchers) which has happened, on more one occasion, at the reservoir constructed at East Fenton after they gave up dairying in 1997.
After the war there was one lady farmer in the Parish, Miss Stella Moffat, of Williamstone farm (in 1975, she compiled a unique map on which she named every field in the parish). Now, in the year 2000, there is another one, Mrs Nicky Borthwick of Queenstonbank farm, who took over the running of the farm following the death of her father, Sandy Graham, earlier in the year.
In the 1990s, the emergence of Farm Assurance Schemes by large buying organisations, such as supermarkets, has seen the arrival of the computerised office on all farms. This development started after the introduction of the Integrated Administration and Control Systems (IACS) scheme by the EU in 1989. Farmers had to provide their own maps, but in 1995 1:10000 Ordnance Survey (OS) maps were provided. Brussels, through aerial surveillance, knows what is being grown in every field throughout the EU area. In the last 50 years bureaucracy has escalated. Now, at the end of the century the UK government is asking farmers to diversify their farming activities as they move into the 21st century. We have seen that diversification is not unknown to farmers in the parish of Dirleton. However, with the ever-increasing move towards larger farm units in arable farming districts, will we see only a handful of the farming families in the parish at 2000 on their farms in 50 years time?
Researched and compiled by Michael Cox for the Gullane & Dirleton History Society 2001