Gladsmuir Longniddry | Leisure

Facilities in Longniddry varied over the years. There had been no pub in Longniddry since the late 19th century, but shortly after the second world war a hut was obtained from the disused airfield at Macmerry, erectedon to the former tennis pavilion and a local branch of the British Legion was set up – with a bar.

I can remember Geordie Mitchell giving Billy the lorry to go up to Macmerry and bring down that big hut, and that was the start of the British Legion … It was down at the tennis court.


Wives were not forgotten entirely:

That was the start of the Women’s Section, and I went to that. And we didnae drink or smoke at that time! No!


In 1961, the Legion moved into the old school building off Links Road, which was gutted and renovated. The Royal British Legion allows its hall to be booked by members for private functions such as birthday parties and anniversary celebrations.

During and before the war the Recreation Room at the top of the main street was used for whist drives and dances. Whist drives continued to be held there in the years after the war.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the school hall was regularly used for whist drives and ‘socials’ (dances with a break for tea and sandwiches). These ceased in the mid 1960s.

Several other organisations met in the school hall at that time, including scouts, guides, and a Scottish country dancing club. Night classes have been held in the school throughout the period 1945-2000. Political meetings were also common in the school hall in the 1950s and 1960s.

When in 1961 the British Legion moved out of their hall next to the tennis courts, the scouts took it over. Regular rock and roll dances were held here in the early 1960s, with Dan Gillan’s band, The Heartbeats. This hall was demolished around the late 1960s, and the scouts moved into a new hall nearby.

The church hall was also used by many organisations in the 1950s and 1960s – the SWRI, brownies, youth clubs, and of course church-based groups such as the Guild and the Youth Fellowship.

Since the community centre opened in 1979, it has become available for all sorts of organisations and all sorts of functions. Not as much use is made of it as might have been thought, however.

Facilities are available in the Longniddry Inn for weddings, dinners, discos, and parties. Before the Longniddry Inn was built in the early 1970s, there was nowhere in the village to hold a wedding reception.

Organisations & clubs: the immediate post-war years were not an age when women were expected to have many interests outside the home:

I never got entertained at all. I was never out. At Redhouse I was never out. At Redhouse I had no visitors except my immediate family.


Women’s organisations were typified by the WRI:

There was baking and making rugs. There were classes for that sort of thing. The Rural used to have shows, you know, for the county, showing the different handicrafts that were made. And they still do to this day … knitting, or sewing again, making toys now, all these kinds of things. And baking.

Mrs J. Robertson

Formally organised clubs and associations in Longniddry are as follows: Bowling Club; National Women’s Register; Bridge Clubs (two); Tennis Club; Biodiversity Group; SNP; Longniddry Golf Club; Probus Club; Artisans’ Golf Club; Longniddry Stick Makers; Scottish Country Dance Club; Garleton Singers; Phoenix Ladies’ Club; Rotary Club; Royal British Legion; and the Women’s Rural Institute.

Longniddry bears the distinction of having started the first branch of the WRI in Scotland in June 1917; the group’s 70th and 80th birthdays were celebrated with a craft exhibition (1987), and a craft and history exhibition (1997) in the church hall. The group was also active in the local community. For example, in 1967, Longniddry WRI sent a complaint to their MP regarding the proposed closure of the railway stations at North Berwick, Drem, Longniddry and Prestonpans.

The Woman’s Guild, the Scottish Country Dance Club, the British Legion, the Golf Club, and the Bowling Club have all operated throughout the period 1945-2000, or near enough it. Scouts, guides and brownies have also operated since at least the 1950s. There have been drama groups from time to time but there is not one at present. A lapidary (stone polishing) club operated from at least the early 1970s but was finally wound up in 1999 due to lack of support.

Church organisations include: Woman’s Guild; Young Women’s Group; TYC (Today’s Young Christians); and the Theatre Bus.

British Legion: until the creation of the Longniddry Inn in the early 1970s, the Legion had the only bar in the village (apart from the rather more up-market golf club), and in the 1960s many young people waited impatiently for their 18th birthday to be able to apply for associate membership of the Legion. At that time, and in the 1970s, the Legion ran regular Saturday night dances, an annual dinner dance, and an annual Burns supper, and fulfilled to some extent the dual function of pub and village hall. For a few years in the late 1950s and early 1960s the Legion had public film shows in their old hall at the tennis court once a month in the winter months. There was occasional confusion with the changing of reels, but such films as Rob Roy, Reach for the Sky, A Town like Alice, The Thief of Baghdad, and many others were all much appreciated. At the present time, the Legion still has a programme of entertainment but it tends to be more on the lines of discos and country-and-western evenings.

Children/teenagers: there is no support to Longniddry children in general through the Youth and Community Service, and no paid youth leaders. There is a wide range of clubs and organisations for children in the village, a community centre and sports facilities, and both Longniddry Primary School and Preston Lodge High School offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities. These include: 1st Longniddry Guides; beavers; brownies (three packs); baby & toddler group; rainbows (two groups); youth clubs (S1-6), (P5-7), (P2-4) at the community centre); Longniddry & Aberlady rangers; guide unit; scouts; cubs.


The annual gala has been running since 1970. Events during Gala Day and Gala Week have taken different forms over the years, but Gala Day itself always includes a parade in the early afternoon and a dance at night. The gala committee resolved from the beginning to have no truck with the business of gala queens and courts, which is the norm in neighbouring communities.

Gala Day parade, Longniddry – note prefabs on the right (A&J Gordon)

Gala Day parade, Longniddry – note prefabs on the right (A&J Gordon)

Dances: in the 1940s and 1950s Scottish dance music was still very popular. Andrew Bathgate who lived in the village played with and eventually ran Tim Wright’s Band based in the Cavendish ballroom in Edinburgh. Andrew was a highly respected musician in his day, and his compositions are still part of the Scottish dance band repertoire. Andrew’s main instrument was the clarinet, but the favourite instrument for local musicians was the accordion.

My brother brought my first accordion from Germany during the war … I loved it, you know, loved the sort of music it produced.

We went to a man in Prestonpans by the name of Jimmy Dowther … We jumped on the bus and went along to Jimmy Dowther to see if he’d give us lessons, and I think he lived in Gardiner Crescent. And he says “Aye, come in boys, come in”. He took us up the stair into the bedroom and he put his hand underneath the bed and he drew out his accordion. And it was the most beautiful accordion I ever saw. It was a ‘Ranco’, lovely black accordion … And oh, he could play! Some beautiful stuff! He just about sickened us completely listening to this man.

Morris Glen

When Morris and his pal began to feel that they were not progressing as fast as they should, they decided to try the famous Chrissie Letham in Tranent. They got the bus to Meadowmill and walked up to Tranent carrying their accordions.

We went up to the Labour Rooms and we saw Chrissie, and she says, “Yes, come in boys. I’ll take you on”. And she was half-a-crown a lesson as well. Chrissie never ever asked for the half-crown, you know. You had to give her the half-crown. If you walked oot o that place and never gave Chrissie that half-crown, she widnae ask for it. She used to always say when you went up with the half-croon, “Ah, just put it on top of the piano”

Morris Glen

Farm kirns – harvest home celebrations – had been very much part of the rural East Lothian scene, and continued at Longniddry Farm until around 1950. The farmer recalls

Oh yes, we used to have the Johnstons, Alec and Nicol. The Johnstons used to come. Or Chrissie Letham. Remember the Lethams’ band? The women used to scrub the place. We used to have kirns regularly, and then during the war we ran them for the Red Cross … It was in the granary. We used to put props underneath it. The floor used to rise and fall like that; and we used to prop it all up underneath.

Gordon Morrison

I went to the kirns but I never played at a kirn. Andrew Honeysett always ran the Longniddry Farm kirn. Longniddry Farm always had a kirn, you know. It was always after the harvest. Once the harvest was in you had your kirn. And you had the kirn on the Friday night. And the dance after the kirn was on the Saturday night. It was always a two-night thing. Now, I went to a kirn at Longniddry, I went to two or three at Longniddry. Andrew Honeysett, I can always remember, he was the man that ran them … They always started with a Grand March. And the farmer and his wife always led the Grand March down the middle of the hall. Then they split at the bottom of the hall and they marched right round the hall. And when the Grand March was finished it went on to the Circassian Circle. Everybody stayed in the hall for the Circassian Circle. And that was how the kirns always started off on the ferm … It was the grainary! And a’ that was roond aboot for seats wis bales. Everyone sat on bales … the fermer’s wife and the ploomens’ wives and whatnot, they made all the baking, scones and cookies and biscuits and everything, and sandwiches. They did all that for the kirn, and if there was food left over they brought it to the dance on the Saturday night. There was always two nights at a kirn … The floor on the grainary, it used to go up and doon when they were dancin. An Eightsome Reel, an the bluidy flair wis gaun up an doon! Bouncin!

Morris Glen

Although the farm kirns petered out around 1950, several of the village organisations would hold a ‘Whist Drive and Dance’ in the school hall to raise funds. These ‘socials’, as they were often called, tended to be held in the spring and the autumn, and the dances in some ways were not unlike the farm kirns. They were still going strong in the early 1960s. Rumour had it they were stopped when the fashionable stiletto heels of the day began to cause serious damage to the gym-hall floor, but by the mid-1960s many people had begun to feel that accordion bands and whist drives were a bit old fashioned.

Many of us remember the ‘socials’ fondly however.

They would advertise it, and go round the village selling tickets, and they would hire a band. Well, we got the chance to play at one or two of these. They had Johnny Johnston’s Scottish Dance Band. He came and played at them. Chrissie Letham and her band. Her father was Peter Letham. They came and played. You had all different bands round about the Lothians; came and played. Anyway, we got our turn as well, and played at these dances. And the whist drive was always first. They had the whist drive and it was followed by a dance. And the whist drive would start, say seven o’ clockish, and the whist drive would go on till maybe half past eight, nine o’clock. Then the hall would be cleared, then the band would come in and the dancing would start, maybe about half past nine, towards ten o’ clock, and they danced right through to two o’ clock in the morning. In those days it was a selection of Circle Waltz, St Bernard’s Waltz, Dashing White Sergeant, Slow Foxtrot, Military Two Step, Gay Gordons. These were all the dances that we had then. Eightsome Reel, Nips o’ Brandy. There was always somebody from the village would do what we called MC. Maybe somebody like Jim Maule he was a guid singer. Or Jock Rowberry, Billy Gillan … Billy Gillan was a great M.C. Billy Gillan used to sing. I can always remember what he sang. He used to always sing ‘Nicky Tams’. ‘Roll out the Barrel’! And I used to play along with him when he was singing ‘Roll out the Barrel’. He used to say to me, ‘Come on Morris, play Roll out the Barrel, and we’ll give them a song!

Morris Glen

Some village organisations still organise fundraising dances in the community centre. These however, do not occupy the important place in village life that the ‘whist drive and social’ did in the 1950s. Whist drives have long since disappeared from the scene.

By the early 1960s the age of rock and roll had arrived in Longniddry:

Jim Marshall played bass because he had money. He could buy a bass and a bass amp. But Ronnie Noon played bass at one time. Derek played the drum … My brother played rhythm guitar. I tried to play a wee bit of lead guitar. We were playing sort of Buddy Holly stuff, Roy Orbison stuff, because George was keen on Roy Orbison … Used tae dae ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘Running Scared’ … Bobby Beith used to play the piano occasionally.

Danny Gillan

These dances with Dan Gillan’s band The Heartbeats were held in the Scout Hut (the former Legion Hall) and were very different from the school hall ‘socials’. The era of the teenager had arrived:

There were mair adults at a social in the school hall, so that it put certain restraints on the teenagers whose main aim was tae bag off wi a burd. And so there was a big difference. But it was fun. I enjoyed the socials in the school hall. We used tae dae mair sort of traditional dances. We used tae dae sort o Scottish dancin a well sometimes. The band would be atraditional band – accordions and a drum and that would be about yer lot. And locals would get up and sing, folk like Jim Maule and ma faither wid sing. Jock Stewart would sing, and two or three others. It wis braw. It was a right guid laugh. Did they no used tae have them efter the whist drives? … Whereas, at the Scout Hut it was darker, more sort of, the leanings were towards females’ bodies … It was much more erotic, because ye were hotchin on a lassie.

Danny Gillan

So were the 1960s indeed the decade of ‘sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ in Longniddry?

Very little sex. I mean, well, maybe there was. Maybe it was a’ doon the wuids and – I think there probably was in a sort of highly furtive sort o way -clandestine findins. Drugs? No, just drink. I cannae mind any drugs. Rock and roll was definitely the thing. Music was the big thing, that’s right, you could find solace in. And folk like Buddy Holly were talking our language. They put into music and words what we felt.

Danny Gillan

While on the subject of teenagers, it is interesting to compare the simple tastes and respectful attitudes of the teenager of the late 1940s with the demeanour of too many of today’s young folk.

Every night, that was the place we went to, Matt Hardie’s chip shop … Matt even bought us a record player … And he had a swear box, and the swear box was in the corner. And if Matt heard you swearing you had to put a penny in that box. Every penny that went into that box, Matt kept it for buying another record.

Morris Glen

One suspects that nowadays Matt would have to extend the chip shop to house the record collection.

The first few gala dances in the early 1970s used Scottish country dance bands, but for many years now the bands engaged have been pop groups, usually specialising in 1970s hits.

Eating out has become popular in recent years with the Green Craigs and the Old Aberlady Inn being currently very busy. The Longniddry Inn somehow never managed to fulfil its potential in this regard, but there are encouraging signs that the situation there has changed markedly for the better.

Simply ‘going for a drink’ has waned greatly in popularity among married couples over the past few decades. The introduction of the breathalyser may have much to do with this, and the easily availability of cut-price drink in superstores. Certainly the overwhelming majority of Longniddry people nowadays stay at home on weekend evenings, presumably watching television. Since the ‘bourgeoisification’ of Longniddry in the early 1970s, little dinner-parties at home for friends and neighbours have become quite common.

A fair number of young people are attracted to the Bottom Bar of the Longniddry Inn, or to the Legion, but most prefer to seek entertainment and adventure in Edinburgh as soon as they can afford it.

Gardening is very popular in Longniddry, although, perhaps surprisingly, there is no gardening club or horticultural association in the village. The council house gardens in John Knox Road were particularly noteworthy in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Jock McCraw’s garden there was greatly admired and won the council’s Best Kept Garden award several years running.

Nowadays, however, it seems that many younger householders have no gardening skills and no inclination to learn. Vegetable growing in particular has declined drastically in popularity. All council houses built before the 1960s were provided with large gardens on the assumption that tenants would wish to grow a large proportion of their own vegetables. Nowadays most of these gardens have been turned over to grass. Recently built houses do not have gardens big enough for much vegetable growing. Longniddry’s recent developments of private homes contain large numbers of identical houses that are saved from monotony by their gardens, which enable homeowners to express their individuality. More prestigious houses set in more substantial grounds tend to have extensive landscaped gardens, often mainly cared for by a jobbing gardener or a professional garden maintenance firm.

There has been a public park in Longniddry, with a football pitch and swings, throughout the period. In the 1940s and 1950s, the swings were always kept chained up on Sundays. A dangerous ‘sweezy-boat’ was removed in the late 1950s after several accidents involving broken bones. Around the 1970s, children’s swings, chute, and climbing frames were erected on the north side of the park, and the swings near the school fence taken away. A football pavilion was erected around the same time. In the late 1940s there were still several allotments in the park. Tom McDonald, another noted Longniddry gardener, cultivated his allotment there right into the 1960s, many years beyond his ‘three score and ten’. This last of the allotments is now a tarred car park.

In the 1950s, there was a library in Mr Watt’s shop opposite the station, mostly of thrillers and crime fiction, from which books could be borrowed for a small fee. Also in the 1950s East Lothian County Council supplied a public library cupboard in Longniddry Primary School. After the British Legion vacated their hall by the tennis courts, part of the premises was partitioned off and opened as a small public library in June 1962. When the hut was demolished, and the tennis courts refurbished, a larger, better-stocked library was opened in a temporary building nearby in June 1970. This now carries a large selection of adults’ and children’s books, a small library of tapes and CDs, and also has public internet access and photocopying facilities. Adult fiction unfortunately tends towards the lightweight rather than the literary. A long-promised new library is currently under construction next to the community centre and is scheduled for completion in spring 2002.

Longniddry Golf Course, 1950s, with a flock of resident sheep. The tank traps in the foreground were supposed to hinder any German invasion in the second world war. Almost all have now been removed (A&J Gordon)

Longniddry Golf Course, 1950s, with a flock of resident sheep. The tank traps in the foreground were supposed to hinder any German invasion in the second world war. Almost all have now been removed (A&J Gordon)

Sport: as is patently obvious to anyone passing Longniddry along the coast road , the village’s most striking sporting connection is with golf. Longniddry Golf Club – a seaside links course – was established in 1921, and has always attracted large numbers of enthusiasts from all sections of the community. The Artisans’ Golf Club also uses the course subject to certain restrictions. It goes without saying that with such excellent facilities close at hand, golf has always been popular; most young people growing up in Longniddry will at least have a crack at golf at some time (see also Economy – Golf).

The park with its goal-posts and football pitch will also be obvious to anyone passing down the Lyars Road on Longniddry’s east side. In the modern world there is no hiding place from football, the most popular sport on earth, and there have been boys’ teams off and on throughout the period. There has not been a men’s team, however, since the demise of Longniddry Bluebell around the 1940s. Boys and youths are always to be seen kicking balls around in the park. Unfortunately some of them are not above engaging in the same activity outside the shops or in the streets.

Not immediately obvious, however, is the extent to which rugby has been played and followed by Longniddry people in the first half of the 20th century. Usually assumed to be a sport for toffs or Borderers, it was in fact enthusiastically taken up by significant numbers of boys and young men in Longniddry in the 1960s and 1970s, as a result of the importance placed on the game at Preston Lodge High School. There was no rugby pitch or rugby club in Longniddry, but for many years Preston Lodge FP Rugby Club in Prestonpans played an important sporting and social role in the lives of a sizeable group of Longniddry men and their wives and girlfriends. The rugby club bar was not an altogether negligible factor in the club’s popularity.

Bill Petticrew was the games master at Preston Lodge (1960s), and he was a pretty – he wisnae very impressive visually, because he wisnae a big man, but he certainly put the fear o death in ye. He was an awfy strict severe boy. And I think he was one o thae ex-army blokes. I mean, he wisnae against lashin boys wi six o the belt an a’ that for daein trivial things … But anyway, apart fae that, apart fae his sort o sadistic side, he was a decent bloke when ye got tae ken him.

It was only rugby. Rugby and athletics. He did play cricket but fitba wis just oot, oot the box. There wis plenty really good fitba players that played rugby wi me but wisnae allowed to play fitba. And Bill was the type o bloke if you said to him “No, you’ve given me the choice of playing rugby on Saturday morning or play football for the local club, and I’m going to play for the club” that was you condemned for the rest o your life as a scumbag!

Danny Gillan

In spite of such uncompromising attitudes, many Longniddry boys were not deterred.

It was something that appealed to me about the game. There’s a sort of heroic quality about it – 15 gadgies rushin aboot tryin tae win the game, ye ken. And I felt as if I was part of a team, and yet I wanted to be the star.

Danny Gillan

A good player might make it to the ‘firsts’ by the fourth year. As for the first team

I think it was moderately successful (mid 1960s). We were quite good at playing the local schools like Musselburgh, North Berwick, and Haddington, and Dunbar.

Danny Gillan

Preston Lodge also played Loretto and Broughton:

We didnae often beat them, but it was great when we did beat them. And we certainly didnae play their firsts. I think our firsts played their seconds.

Danny Gillan

For an outstanding player there were proud moments:

Bill Maclaren was there and Bill Petticrew introduced me to him. And he wrote an article in the Scotsman, and I got a good mention.

Danny Gillan

Rugby of course can be a dangerous game

I remember at school, third or fourth year … I tackled one of the twins pretty hard from behind, and he wasnae expecting me, and I just sort o launched masel at him, and his heid hit the ground. And he was oot. He wis oot for two weeks. He was in hospital for two weeks after it. And I was in touch wi his mum. It was really worrying.

Danny Gillan

Schoolboy rugby had its lighter moments

I remember meeting at Waterloo Place at the Prancin Horse (early 1960s). And we used to walk up the Bridges and get a bus. We had to get this bus away up to Liberton. And I remember there was ‘a these Panners, for  some reason they had this enormous box o condoms … Ach, it was awfy! We were supposed to be representing Preston Lodge and here they were lettin them doon by blawin them up and – ken, it was awfy! I remember bein black affronted cause there was hockey on another pitch an a’ these Panners were blawin them up an makin obscene gestures wi them an a’ thin. It wis a rid neck!

Danny Gillan

When they left school, keen rugby players would automatically join the FP Rugby Club:

At one time when I started playing there were at least four teams (mid 1960s), and there was a fifths, and that’s how popular rugby was then. I mean, the fifths obviously was more an amusing outing on a Saturday efternuin, but the firsts and seconds were pretty serious, and even the thirds to some extent … We went right up the leagues, up the Junior Leagues, up the Senior Leagues until we were in Division Two, National Leagues of Scotland. And I packed in then (c1983). And then they got in to the First Division, and I actually played yin game against Gala, at the Penny Pit, in the First Division.

Danny Gillan

The rugby club acquired premises in the old British Legion Hall in Prestonpans, and a social side to the club flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, with dances, discos, and other social events.

Captains’ Suppers, aye. They were at the end of the season where they had a big dinner and prizes were presented to ‘Player o the Year’ and a’ this business. And then they’d get guest speakers. Sometimes really amazing speakers. And then the rugby members, one or two would sing. That would be great … There was very much a ‘dose o drunkenness’. Amusing things would be like Dirty D – M -. He kent 56 verses o Eskimo Nell and he used tae spile the hail night by singin the hail lot o them. We’d hae tae drag him oot!

Danny Gillan

Enthusiasm for the game however is not what it was:

And then as the years wore on the fifths were abandoned. The fourths were abandoned after that. And I think even now at the present time they’ve got a firsts and seconds, and the thirds are there but jist hingin by a shoogly nail.

Danny Gillan

The social side seems to be similarly failing away. Young club members are keen enough to play, but prefer mostly to socialise elsewhere. There may be many reasons for the club’s lack of success and the decline of enthusiasm for the game, but the finger of blame is pointed at one cause in particular.

The professional thing came in seven years ago, and I think that’s knackered it. Scottish rugby’s in a dire way … I think the sheer playing for the enthusiasm for the game, for the love of the game, has definitely gone out of it I think, to some extent. It seems to be awfy hard-nosed nowadays. It seems to be awfy ‘winning at all costs’.

Danny Gillan

The magic may now be waning, but for several decades rugby was a powerful force in the lives of not a few Longniddry folk.

I mean, when I played rugby it really took masel oot o ma normal life, and for the 80 minutes, 40 minutes a half, I was like a different person.

Danny Gillan

There has been a bowling club throughout the period under consideration. Bowling in Longniddry, however, does not have the huge popularity that it enjoys in the neighbouring communities of Aberlady and Port Seton.

Other sports too had their supporters:

There was a flourishing tennis club before the war, but from then until the 1960s the tennis courts lay derelict. They were refurbished by East Lothian County Council in the late 1960s, along with the old tennis club pavilion, and tennis is once again a popular summer sport.

Sailboarding can be seen in the bay off the Ferny Ness car park at all times of the year. This of course is a fairly recent development. The participants are mainly members of clubs based elsewhere who seem to find Longniddry Bay ideal for their purpose.

Longniddry’s situation on the coast with a pleasant rural hinterland makes it ideal for leisurely walks, whether with an eye to nature and wildlife or just to enjoy the fresh air. The railway walk to Haddington is popular, as is the drive through the woods from the West Lodge. The beach and the coast road attract walkers in all seasons, and joggers are also a common sight.

In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, families would spend much of the summer on the beach, and youths would swim from the Diving Board Rocks at every opportunity. Since then, however, local people have developed a greater degree of awareness of the level of pollution in the water off Longniddry, and swimming in the sea is nowhere near as popular as it used to be.

Strings of riders on horseback from the equestrian centre at Harelaw take regular advantage of the railway walk and the tracks and estate roads around Longniddry

There are pheasant shoots in Gosford Estate in winter, and farmers and their friends try gamely to keep down the populations of wood pigeons and rabbits in the fields around the Village.

Traditional crafts are represented by the flourishing stick-making club in Longniddry, devoted to the traditional craft of shaping walking sticks and shepherds’ crooks from wood and horn. It is perhaps surprising that what is usually considered to be very much a rural craft should prove to be so popular in suburban Longniddry. This group has 14 or 15 members and meets in a garage in Wemyss Road.

David Robertson talked with stick-maker Alan Hay

The type of sticks that I like making are crooks and market sticks … They go from your toe to your chest, that’s the ideal length for a market stick. But a crook goes from the floor to your shoulder. But you also get sticks called ‘ordinary walkers’ or ‘crutch sticks’. They go from the floor to your hip…

You also get ‘leg cleeks’ too. They’re smaller in gape. The leg cleek’s used for catching up lambs’ legs. The inside curve is the same diameter as an old penny, and the gap is the same as an old ha’penny. And that’s how they measure them …

I also make ‘thumb sticks’ too. A thumb stick is when you’ve got a stick wi a natural vee in it … If ye get that maybe nigh on shoulder height you can get your thumb over the top of the vee and then plant the stick in the ground and you can stand there like that and it takes a guid lot o the weight off your legs.

Hazel is mostly used.

Usually in the show programmes it says, “Plain horn head or a fancy horn head on a hazel stick” … We usually get our hazels up at a secret location on the shores of Loch Ness.

However blackthorn, holly, ash, and fruit-bearing trees are all satisfactory.

Once you start making sticks every wood and copse becomes an interest. You see sticks in a different light.

The horn head is usually made from tups’ horn or buffalo horn. As far as rams’ horn is concerned, horn from older beasts is superior to horn from a young ram. Even so, horn has to be matured for about a year.

It’s classified as a ‘green horn’ until it matures. It won’t polish or it won’t shape right until its matured.

With rams’ horn it has to be heated to take out the curl, usually by boiling. The hollow in the ‘neck’ of the horn has to be greatly reduced. The horn in cross-section is roughly triangular and has to be coaxed into a more rounded shape. All this is done by applying heat and pressure. Heat, usually from a hot-air gun, is then used to bend the horn into the shape required for the head of the stick.

Once you get the shape that you want, then you’d get a shank about the same diameter as the neck. And then you’d cut a peg on the shank, and then you’d drill the neck of the horn out to the same size as the peg, and set it on, and Araldite it in place. And after that it comes down to the filing and polishing. All the filing’s done from the shank over the crown, down the nose. That’s how it’s worked. And after that the stick would be polished using different emery cloths.

Some stick-makers prefer fancy heads, thistles for example, or trout, or pheasants. As far as carving is concerned,

You’ve got to draw it out on the horn, but you’ve got to think three-dimensional … I use carving chisels. I’ve got a box of carving chisels that I use.

Some of the work is very intricate.

It would maybe take about 40-odd hours, a trout … I use a pyrograph to cut the fins into it. It’s like a soldering iron with a very hot tip on it, and you can burn into the horn … I’ve got a wee chisel that I ground at my work I can use. I can push into the horn and bring it up, and it’s like scales on the fish. And that’s a long drawn-out job, pushing the scales into the fish.

Some Longniddry stick-makers sell their sticks, others don’t.

A good wooden handled stick will go for about 70-80 quid. A good horn walker, a good plain horn stick will go for about a hundred pounds. And a fancy stick will go for anything from £130 to £200, maybe more… We show our sticks at the horticultural shows in East Lothian … We run our own show at the gala at Longniddry; an open show, everybody’s welcome … The stock shows in the Borders such as Ellemford, Duns, Peebles, and Kelso also have stick sections. If you get a ‘Best in Show’ at these shows your stick goes into the ‘Champion of Champions’ at Yetholm and that is the show to be in … just to get in it is a feat in itself.

Alan modestly says,

We’re just a bunch of boys that have a wee bit banter in the workshop and do a bit of work and things like that.

He personally however has a room full of rosettes, has had nine ‘Best in Shows’ since he started, and has had sticks in the coveted ‘Champion of Champions’ stand at Yetholm for the past four years. In 2000 he had two! He says,

I just enjoy it! When I’m standing welding at my work I’m thinking of the next project for the sticks.

There is no doubt that golfing and gardening are vastly more popular pastimes in Longniddry than stickmaking, but as Longniddry becomes progressively more middle-class and suburban, and the old rural ways are left ever further behind, it does the heart good to see ‘a bunch of boys’ taking pride in such a fine old traditional craft.

The list of clubs and associations in Longniddry is long. This, combined with Longniddry’s pleasant rural setting by the sea, and its closeness to Edinburgh, means that the range of opportunities for leisure and cultural activity is vast. In Longniddry, with both the city and the country close at hand, the residents have the best of both worlds. It should be difficult for any reasonably healthy and intelligent Longniddry person to suffer from boredom. Having said that, it has to be admitted that there is a certain air of middle-of-the-road conformity predominating. Despite the wealth of opportunities for physical and intellectual stimulation and spiritual growth, one suspects that by far the most popular cultural activity is watching television. Also, the ferocious work ethic of modern Britain often means that after a long day at the office, the most attractive prospect is a couple of hours winding down before bedtime.