Gladsmuir Excluding Longniddry | Economy

Economy | Industry | Agriculture | Forestry

At the end of the war, there were still about 15 men in the village of Macmerry employed in mining, either at Dalkeith or at Bilston. Most of the other men worked in the building industry or in farming.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s a number of men from Macmerry ranging between 20 and 45 at any one time, continued to work in coalmines. Since then, the range of occupations has widened, and by 2000 many of the residents of Macmerry travelled to work in local towns or in Edinburgh. The companies that set up on the Macmerry Industrial Estate often brought a nucleus of their own workers with them, but they also employed some local labour. Some of them, such as Weber Marking Systems, employed mainly women.

Macmerry Airfield was located at the east end of the village on land belonging to Hoprig Mains farm an air strip had been laid out for the Edinburgh Flying Club in 1935. In its first year, the club had a membership of 114, of whom 29 were qualified pilots. In 1937 Macmerry became a passenger airport on the route from Aberdeen, to Perth, Macmerry and then south to Newcastle and Doncaster. It operated a request service. During world war two, the RAF requisitioned the airstrip.

Afterwards, it was returned to the Flying Club (reopened 31 August 1946), which continued to use it until 1955 when its activities were transferred to Turnhouse, west of Edinburgh. The site has since been used for industry (the go-karting centre and the Macmerry Industrial Estate) and agriculture.

The go-kart racing centre attracts people from quite a wide area. In 1990, go-karting started on part of the former wartime airfield; in 1992/3, Raceland erected a modern building. This is a private company, but the parent company was Karting Indoors Ltd. The name was changed to Raceland in 1995/6 when an outdoor amenity was added. There are about 20 people employed at the facility, 90% of them from East Lothian. Go-karters come from the Lothians, Edinburgh, Central Region, Borders and England.

Go-karting at Macmerry, 1992

Go-karting at Macmerry, 1992


During the 1939/45 war, a factory was set up by the Air Ministry to the north of Gladsmuir village on part of the Elvingston estate. It repaired planes for the wartime aerodromes in the county.

Between 1946-59, Calum Grant & Partners Ltd set up a light engineering firm on the site of these wartime hangars; in 1959, they sold out to Ayrshire Dockyard Company. They changed the name to Lothian Structural Development Company (LSD); this firm manufactured pylons and towers, which carried overhead electric cables, and became one of Britain’s main pylon producers. Various types of towers were made, such as those used to mount floodlighting of football grounds, and towers for supporting ski lifts in Scotland. At one time the factory employed around 350 workers and produced 350 tons of steelwork per week.

In 1976 W.N. Lindsay Grain Merchants, Leith took over the premises vacated by LSD. The buildings consisted of an office block and two hangars. Since then, four sheds have been built and three grain dryers installed. From 1982-91 the firm traded as Wholesale Grain Merchants. From 1991 to date, they have purchased two smaller companies and a farm as well; large transactions are negotiated with the agricultural industry. Local people and seasonal workers are employed.

On the Penston road to the west of Gladsmuir, planning permission was granted in 1975 to Truck Crete Ltd for a Readymix Concrete business. It was acquired by Aggregate Industries UK Ltd in 1989 and operates as a Readymix Concrete batching plant. It employs one full-time operator on the site with an average of four truck drivers and attendant maintenance and supervisory staff. The plant supports the sand and gravel quarry at Longyester.

From 1998 the Elvingston Science Centre (see also Land Ownership), has provided accommodation for nine companies involved in electronics and the manufacture of software as well as Simpson Research Ltd. This was a collaborative venture between Scottish Enterprise, Edinburgh & Lothian (SEE&L), East Lothian Council, Napier University and Simpson Research Ltd, a technology consultancy company.

Since the late 1950s, the council has encouraged industrial development at the Macmerry Industrial Estate, east of the village, which opened on 23 September 1960. In 1963, East Lothian County Council had agreed to build the first advance factory on the site. The intention was to attract industry to the area to provide jobs following the decline in mining. By 1965, the site had been serviced at a cost of more than £100,000, and the first project, a 20,000 square foot warehouse for the Scottish Grocers’ Federation was opened in 1966. Although it only provided 20 jobs, it was hoped that other enterprises would soon follow. The take-up of units on the site was slow, but an upholstery firm moved in and a firm manufacturing mobile classrooms moved to the area from Peterborough. Hart Builders also took up premises on the site. By 1968 a fifth factory was being build for a precision engineering firm McKettrick-Agnew & Co Ltd who were moving from Musselburgh and employed 30-40 people. In 1971 United Sintering, a subsidiary of United Wire Ltd of Edinburgh moved in. They produced precision metal castings, and employed around 30 people.

In 1972 the Macmerry Industrialist’s Association was set up. Bisset & Steedman moved their colour television servicing depot, employing about a dozen skilled men from Musselburgh, to a new unit at Macmerry and a small Musselburgh firm, Newhailes Plastics (which manufactured glass fibre products) moved in. Alande Designs, which employed up to 20 people in the production of modern clothing, moved from Hadddington to one of the units in Macmerry.

In addition to providing more suitable premises for existing local firms, the estate began to have more success in attracting firms from outwith the area. Cookson & Zinn, specialist manufacturers of storage tanks, moved from Suffolk to Macmerry in 1972 because of the development of North Sea oil. They took over premises occupied for three years by Eastore, the only company on the site so far to have gone out of business, the result of the failure of a major contract. The company’s workforce and the skills they had built up had, however, been instrumental in attracting Cookson & Zinn to the area. Weber Marking Systems, which manufactured stencils, ink and printers for use in industry, moved from Reading to Macmerry in 1973. By 1973 therefore only four of the original 32 acres of the site were still available for further development and the council was considering the acquisition of additional land for the building of advance factories.

With the industrial slow-down in the later 1970s and 1980s however, there was little new development on the site and some firms such as Eliot Medway were forced into staff reductions and redundancies. It was not until the 1990s that there was further growth, with Had Fab expanding their production of phone masts. By the end of this period the industrial estate was busy, although there was always some changeover in the firms occupying sites. There were also plans for further development on the site between the A199 road and the A1 dual carriageway to the north of the village.

The principal occupants of premises on the industrial estate at the end of the period were East Lothian Council with a base for vehicle and plant maintenance; Northcross Works, manufacturing fittings for museums, exhibitions etc; and Lothian Tractors, Numac Engineering, Bindery Machinery Services, McBirnie Coachworks, ITW Industrial Finishing, Had Fab Steel Fabricators, Pentair Enclosures, Scotprint, Hart Builders, CR Joinery, Reywood and David James Kitchens and Bathrooms.


In 2000, the farms in the parish are: Gladsmuir (59 acres), Hoprig, Hoprigmains, Penston, Westbank, West Adniston, Greendykes and East Adniston, Chesterhall Hodges, Samuelston Mid Mains, Samuelston East Mains, Samuelston West Mains, Merryhatton, Coates, Redcoll (250acres), Trabroun + Laverocklaw (379 acres), Southfield, Chesterhall, Longniddry, Harelaw, Wheatrig, Setonhill and Redhouse. All are owner-occupied except the Hodges (on the Winton estate), and Longniddry farm, Setonhill, Wheatrig, Harelaw, Redhouse (all of which are on the Wemyss estate).

Changes in land ownership & tenure have been considerable over the period. From among the former tenants of the Lamington estate, sold in 1954, now only one family, whose main farm is outwith the parish, still retains ownership of the land they formerly tenanted and then purchased from the Lamington estate – the Inn Land at Gladsmuir, but not including the buildings of the former Cochrane Arms.

Likewise on the former St. Germains estate, Greendykes, Adniston and Chesterhall were all eventually sold on by their former tenants. To the east, Elvingston, Trabroon, Laverocklaw and Coats have been sold. Setonhill was let to the present tenant, and Samuelston Mid Mains has been taken in hand by the owner.

In the mid 1950s, farms in the parish still employed numerous full time male workers, most residing in the farm cottages. Horsemen and cattlemen in particular, required to be on or near the farm of their employment.

When we moved through from the Borders to Greendykes Farm, Macmerry in December1949, I was surprised to see that horses were still used on the farm. There must have been five or six pairs of horses working, from ploughing to pulling carts etc and each pair were looked after by one farm worker. Horses doing this sort of work were rarely seen in the Borders at that time.

Arnott Craigs

Grain and potatoes were the two main cash crops with hay and swede-turnips grown primarily as stock feed for cattle and sheep. But hay too, on some arable farms, traditionally made from Italian Rye Grass, was also a good cash crop. This variety had long been accepted as the best, in particular for horses. During the grain and potato harvests and at other times throughout the year some of the farm workers’ wives worked on a casual basis. When greater numbers of women were required for potato gathering and other tasks, they were sent out from Tranent and other towns, by people who made their living from supplying casual labour, also to farms engaged in market gardening. From Macmerry also there were a number of women who came out to help at busy times. Long gone was the requirement for a horseman to provide a female worker.

Progressively employment on farms slowly declined, as mechanisation reached new levels of efficiency. In 1845, some of the farms were said to have between 50 and 76 resident workers and their families (Ramsay, J p188); now there are probably at most no more than two or three workers. Farm cottages, now modernised and extended, if surplus to requirements, have either been let or sold.

Although cattle and sheep should be noted in Gladsmuir, as in the other parishes along the coastal belt, agriculture is now largely geared to intensive cereal production. The acreage of autumn sown wheat has increased several-fold with the introduction of new high yielding varieties with more advanced chemicals to protect wheat, barley and oats from disease and keep weed infestation at bay. The yields of all farm crops had risen very considerably by 2000, also the input cost of machinery, fertilizers, chemicals etc.

There have also been great advances in mechanization including bulk handling of grain and potatoes with automatic controlled grain dryers and environment control in potato stores. Fertilizer is now delivered in one tonne bags which have replaced the one hundredweight bags which before the introduction of pallets and forklifts were handled manually. Lifting and handling manually is now said to be a lost skill!

Gone is the tendency to sow wheat only after potatoes. Under the old East Lothian six/seven year rotation, wheat followed potatoes, benefiting from the high level of residual potash, just as barley did with phosphate following swede/turnips. Formerly, years without wheat reduced the risk of the disease take-all, which could decimate a crop. Old farm leases could be quite specific on this point and other terms relative to good husbandry. Set-aside, an EU regulation to curtail production, compulsory for about a decade now, is a blot on the landscape, with land on one year set-aside left uncropped and all but abandoned, from the previous year’s harvest till the following July or August.

Ribund is currently a popular winter wheat variety. One winter barley variety Regina is early ripening, allowing early autumn sowing of oil seed rape. Scottish maltsters still favour spring-sown varieties of malting barley – like Optic and Chariot. This is an important crop if the land and conditions are suitable. Introduced around 1967, the variety Golden Promise remained on the preferred malting list for over two decades. Even yet small quantities of this variety are still grown for a niche market. The acreage in spring oats, still substantial in the post-war years, fell away steeply with the switch from oats to barley as stock feed for cattle and sheep and the fall in demand for oatmeal.

Far fewer farmers now grow potatoes, while others who have invested heavily in the crop have extended their acreage, some by renting land on other farms in their district. Sugar beet was still grown at Greendykes in Gladsmuir till 1969 when the sugar beet factory at Cupar closed.

In 1960 the spring oat varieties – Blenda, Forward and Sun II were popular. Spring varieties of barley were Ingrid, Ymer and Procter, the latter being the most suitable for malting. Wheat varieties were Cappelle-Desprez, Hybrid 46 and N59, the latter having a long straw which was favoured for thatching stacks and covering potato pits in the open. By 1968, the popular spring barley varieties were Zephyr, Golden Promise, Ymer and Maris Baldric.

Initially, the extension and alteration of existing buildings was sufficient to handle the output of the early combine harvesters which did not over night replace binders and threshing mills. As yields increased, combine harvesters and the more recently introduced potato harvesters progressively became larger and more efficient. Improved grain drying and storage systems evolved, with the environment in some potato stores monitored and controlled. The last fields of wheat seen by one farmer bindered and stooked were in Angus in 1986. By this time the combine harvester had, for a number of years, replaced binders in East Lothian.

Larger and faster tractors with matching trailers and other modem implements have not only made it possible to run a farm with fewer people but also for some to extend their enterprise, by purchasing or renting individual fields or larger areas, within a practical radius of their existing farm steadings. This also justifies the purchase of larger and more economic equipment.

The modern 100 hp plus diesel engines on farm tractors with their greatly advanced technology, are a great leap forward from the popular 25 to 40hp models of the 1950s which were started manually on petrol before being switched over to tractor vaporising oil (TVO). During wet spells, when ploughing there was the constant problem of wheel-spin with the rear wheel which was not in the newly opened furrow. There were no cabs and although trailing ploughs were giving way to mounted ploughs, weight transfer to the tractor rear wheels was not all that effective.

Where livestock is kept, new labour-efficient buildings and equipment are a great advantage. A dairy herd was kept at Adniston, Macmerry for a number of years till the late 1970s having been moved from Kingslaw in Tranent parish. Although the number of Clydesdale horses had fallen sharply by the late 1950s there were still a few around within Gladsmuir parish. For a few years in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a farmer of Greendykes who bred and exhibited Clydesdale horses.

Government post-war policy was geared to encourage home food production. Initially Landrace pigs were introduced from Denmark, followed by continental breeds of cattle and sheep. First came the Charollais cattle followed in 1970 by Simmentals, while Texels were the first Continental breed of sheep, introduced in 1974.

Memories of eggs with rich coloured yolks from farmyard hens, such as Rhode Island Reds, served with thick rashers of home cured bacon from English Large White X Wessex Saddlebacks, rekindle cherished memories of the 1940s and 1950s. Other popular free-range breeds of poultry were Barred Rocks and Leghorns. It was not unusual to find a few bronze or white turkeys, hatched and mothered by those adaptable farmyard worthies – the hens.

The degree of change varies from farm to farm depending on circumstances, policy and requirement. The old adage about not having all one’s eggs in one basket still holds good. Ever-increasing legislation has greatly increased the administrative burden. Computer systems are now almost standard in many farm offices. Gone are the imperial measures of bushels and quarters. Yet still places names such as ‘Nine Mile Burn’ on the road to Carlops from Edinburgh remind us of the Old Scots Mile (1984 yards or 1.814 km). Every farmer has his own ideas, knowing what is best for his own land, with some willing to try new types of crop, and other new ideas.

Jean Shirlaw describes the farms on the Elvingston estate, from 1944-80

They were Redcoll, Trabroun, Laverocklaw and Hopefield (not in Gladsmuir parish). When the estate was bought in 1944 by David Lowe & Sons Ltd. (Musselburgh) it was mixed farming specialising also in horticulture. The firm also owned land in Prestonpans where vegetables were grown under special heated conditions. In 1962, the partnership was dissolved leaving David and his brother Arthur to form Elvingston Estate Ltd. David, the Chairman, lived in Elvingston House and Arthur (who is still alive) lives in Redcoll.

From 1944 until 1980, when Sir David died, quite a large part of the land was used for horticulture. Over the years, a large variety of vegetables were grown such as cabbage (Savoy, spring, red); cauliflower both early and late varieties; broccoli, curly kale, French and broad beans. There would be about eight-nine acres of celery, 30 acres of carrots and turnips, and 50 acres of cabbage lettuces were grown. They were famous for their own specially bred leeks (short and long) and sprouts, which would cover together about 40 acres. Among other vegetables grown were potatoes, marrows, courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Another venture was fruit growing. It was not unusual to see a field of rhubarb or blackcurrants and maybe five acres of raspberry canes. It was beautiful to see 20 acres of plum trees in blossom in the spring with some of their own specially bred daffodils blooming between the rows of plum trees’ [David Lowe was a keen daffodil breeder].


Alba Trees Ltd occupied a site on the eastern edge of the parish beside Butterdean wood, which it bought in 1988. This had formerly been part of the Elvingston estate. It has since developed into the largest native tree nursery in the UK, specialising in raising native trees from seed in environmentally suitable conditions. It had supplied 60 million trees (by 2001) all over the UK and abroad. Alba Trees Ltd has about 30 permanent employees and a further ten or more on contracts. It has recently received a Royal Warrant and an East Lothian Business Achievement award.