Humbie | Homes

Utilities| Shops & services | Healthcare

The 1953 account noted (p261) that of a total of about 150 houses, only ten ‘all large except one’, were owner-occupied. Six cottages (two at the station and four at Upper Keith) were rented from the local authority, there were two station houses, a schoolhouse and a manse, and the rest were tied to a farm or an estate. Some of the latter remained unoccupied ‘waiting the day when workers may be found’, and many cottages were reported to be in a poor state of repair. Within the parish the Rev Bain noted that the nearest approach even to a hamlet was the very loose grouping of farm, school, shop, former mill, church, manse, and Upper Keith farm.

The 1953 survey, looking to develop the hill villages, noted (pp59-64) that the railway station at the north-eastern edge of the parish had no passenger services, and could ‘no longer’ (could it ever?), be considered as an adequate centre. Also, that the situation of the church – which was not on a main route and, with limited space for development – meant that it had never acted as a nucleus for development. Upper Keith, however, was thought to be well situated and a good site for a village; five roads met, it already had the post office and shop, and a few houses, and also the Children’s Village. However, with a population of 67 it was hardly as yet an adequate focus.

It was noted that Humbie was the nearest (East Lothian) hill village to Edinburgh and that it could become an attractive dormitory village, and that building by private enterprise would result in advantage to the community and to the village facilities. This development did not take place, although two houses were built in the 1970s on the site of the old village hall, and the local authority built the Kippethill group of ten houses in the 1980s. The area around Upper Keith has nevertheless become recognised as the village of Humbie.

The 1953 survey also noted (p61) that for the hill areas in general, shortage of accommodation was ‘aggravated by the sale of many old cottages to moneyed people wanting holiday homes’. It is unclear if this was the case in Humbie at that time, although the letting and sale of properties later became more common in Humbie as farms became fully mechanised, electricity and water supplies were updated, and private transport became more widely available.

Until the late 1980s, strong planning controls applied in East Lothian, and with the notable exception of Scadlaw House, Upper Keith (built 1969), very little new building took place in the parish unless to replace existing unfit properties or for an identified agricultural need. However, the majority of properties had by that time been renovated and/or extended. Relaxations to the strict application of the Local Plan policy from 1988 permitted more freedom to private developers and more visible new houses were built.

Initially many farms were reluctant to lose control of cottages except those on the very perimeter of the property however, subsequently the costs of renovating and maintaining letting property to modern standards, and difficulties in attracting suitable tenants led to more property being sold to individual buyers and to speculative property developers. All of the non-agricultural ‘tied’ properties recorded in 1953 were sold to private buyers when they became surplus to the original requirements – the manse in 1976, the (by then) two school houses in the mid 1980s, and the station houses at Humbie and East Saltoun by 1990.

By 2000, development of cottage groups into larger units had been matched by the small amount of new housing that was built. The housing stock was again at about the 1953 figure of 150.


The 1953 account noted (p258) that, although all houses had internal water supplies, only a small part of the parish was served by the county council supply. The rest received private water from springs which ‘might be more reliable’ in dry weather. Only 90 of the 150 houses had circulating hot and cold water and baths. Water supplies to some properties were, at that time, provided by hydraulic ram pumps in the local watercourses. In the 1953 survey (p64) it was considered that a new water main from Stobshiel treatment works (to allow development of the village) would not be economic. However, it appears that new pipes were laid in the 1950s from Stobshiel to Humbie and to Windymains via Crossroads, and that service tanks were installed at Bankhead and at Keith Hill.

The extensive private supply system for the various parts of the Humbie estate continued in use until 1978 when difficulties in maintaining the distribution pipework led to its closure. Increased demands for water led to the laying of new plastic mains in the 1980s, and Pogbie received its first public supply in 1986. In 2000 however, a few properties still depended, perhaps by choice, on private supplies.

The 1953 account made no mention of sewerage arrangements or the availability of internal toilets, perhaps because these were universally available following legislation and grant provision to farms in the 1930s. In 2000, the village area itself had a communal septic tank, all other properties had individual or joint septic tanks of various ages and effectiveness, discharging directly into local watercourses or to soakaways.

In 1935 Lord Polwarth, the then owner of Humbie estate, arranged for an electricity supply to Humbie House (and to the church) from the East Lothian Power Company. The route of this supply is still indicated by ELPC markers from the church by way of Kirk Bridge and Humbie woods. The 1953 account noted (p258) that although electricity, principally for lighting, had been installed in many houses, the oil lamp was still extensively used (presumably mainly pressurised paraffin ‘Tilley’ lamps). In the 1950s, following nationalisation of electricity and other basic industries in the 1940s, electricity was brought to all parts of the parish, including the village area in 1953. However the supplies were often subject to disruption in bad weather conditions, and only in the 1990s was a start made in renewing and interconnecting the system to provide a more reliable supply.

The parish has never had a mains gas supply. The 1953 account (p258) noted that some houses used bottled gas, and that some (unidentified) properties used home-generated gas. In the 1950s the open coal fire was the main form of heating. Although ‘clean air’ legislation has not been applied, a number of houses have since the 1970s utilised smokeless fuel and/or wood in enclosed multifuel stoves. Central heating installed generally since that time was oil-fired, although bulk stored gas installations became popular in the 1980s and 1990s, often in association with Aga or similar cookers. Electrical heating systems utilising cheaper off-peak electricity and storage heaters were installed in a number of mainly more modern, better insulated properties, in particular in the period following the rise in oil prices in the early 1970s.

In the 1940s rubbish was not the issue later became: many products such as drinks and paraffin were supplied in returnable or refillable containers. Food waste was fed to chickens, tins were flattened and buried locally, and the small amounts of packaging materials were burned on the domestic fire or incinerated outdoors. An examination of one local cottage dump of that period indicated that, in addition to tins, the main disposed of items were broken crockery, small non-returnable bottles for meat pastes, sauces and coffee essence, and multi-celled dry batteries for radios. From about the 1950s, increasing amounts of domestic waste led to the introduction of a refuse collection by the local authority. This progressed from the galvanised dustbin to the more secure modern ‘wheelie-bin’.

In 1953 the switchboard at the post office – described in the East Lothian Yearbooks as the Telegraph & Telephone Call Office – connected 30 telephones in Humbie and 20 outside the parish in Fala, which was still in 2000 connected to the Humbie exchange. It is remembered that news of the successful ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953 was circulated to many people in Humbie two days before the rest of the world, as a telegram was sent via the Humbie post office switchboard by the expedition leader John Hunt to his mother, who was visiting her brother Colonel Cruikshank at Johnstounburn House at the time! The news was not officially released until June 2nd – the day of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

By the 1990s connections were available in all parts of the parish from the automatic exchange built adjacent to the post office. The exchange was upgraded on several occasions, although usually a few years behind urban exchanges. During the 1990s, many households obtained mobile telephones, often initially purchased for emergency use in cars, and an increasing number were connected to the Internet.

Shops & Services

In the 1950s the parish had two shops – a grocer and the post office (and shop), and milk was available locally and was also delivered to individual properties by the vans of the Edinburgh & Dumfriesshire Dairy and of the East Lothian Co-operative Society. However housewives shopped (usually once a week) in Edinburgh, Haddington, Tranent and Dalkeith.

Humbie village shop

Humbie village shop

The grocer’s shop was a small establishment at Keith Bridge which had been run as a cartage business and shop by the Pendreigh family since the 1870s. The business traded until 1952. The post office and shop at Upper Keith has always had to compete with ‘the weekly shop’ in the towns and with visiting traders. From the 1970s it was let to a succession of tenants, all of who struggled to make it viable, with an ever-reducing income from post-office activities. In the late 1990s to avoid closure, the tenancy was taken over by a company set up by a group of residents. In 2000 the shop continued to be at the heart of the village for the 50 or 60 regular users and was the distribution point for newspapers, milk supplies, groceries and some local produce.

In the 1980s the village was still served by travelling butchers, bakers, grocers and fishmongers, and to a limited extent by milk deliveries, although by 2000 only a weekly visit by a fishmonger and a greengrocer survived. At this time a delivery service was being introduced by the major supermarkets on the outskirts of Edinburgh who, together with one in Haddington, had already attracted the majority of the trade in food and household goods.

For many years coal has been delivered by a number of hauliers on a weekly basis, and from the 1970s fuel oil and later bulk tankers delivered gas supplies. Petrol was available at a pump at the post office from the 1920s to the 1980s. Although the supply to the public no longer existed, the Shell sign was in 2000 still a feature visible in the adjacent beech hedge.

Humbie parish has supported a number of services over the years: the 1953 account noted (p257) that a joiner continued to work at the Leggate, and that a visiting blacksmith also worked there. By 1966 both businesses had been discontinued.

In 1953 there were two daily deliveries of letters from the post office at Upper Keith, and collections from eight boxes. Then (as now) the Duncrahill area was served from Pencaitland. By the 1960s, sorting and delivery was carried out from Pathhead, and by 2000 sorting and delivery, and collection from the four remaining boxes, including the inconveniently small-mouthed antique Victorian box at the post office, was by van once a day direct from Dalkeith.

In 1963 a mobile library service was introduced by the local authority; it originally visited and stood at a number of farms and other individual properties. By 2000 the lack of people at home during the day, had led to the service only visiting the school and standing at the village centre, and calling ‘by request’ at other properties.


Medical services in 1953 were provided from Ormiston, Haddington, and Pathhead, and this continued to be the case to 2000. However, for many years the Pathhead practice had served the majority of Humbie residents.