The village is situated above the carboniferous limestone formation; the Tranent Splint, Four Foot, and Diamond No1 seams all outcrop in the vicinity of Ormiston but there are many faults in the area, which make the winning of coal both difficult and expensive. Nevertheless, for many years the fortunes of the parish were closely linked to those of the mining industry; in more recent times, modern opencast methods make the parish ripe for planning applications for coal extraction. Thus far, environmental considerations have won the day, as East Lothian Council continues to refuse such applications.
Coal has been mined in Ormiston since the 17th century, and many traces of this activity are still to be seen around in the woods of Ormiston Hall. Most of these were bell pits, where a shaft was dug down to the coal and as much coal as possible was taken out before the pit became unsafe; it was then abandoned and another hole sunk. It is recorded that in 1734 John Clerk of Penicuik came to Ormiston to give Cockburn advice about his coalmine. In March 1938, miners working the Four Foot seam broke through into old workings and found an old wooden shovel tipped with iron (now in the National Museum, Edinburgh); unfortunately, the workings collapsed and nothing further was recovered. Surveyor Mr White estimated the workings to be at least 200 years old (so c1738). Situated between the Howden and railway bridges on the north side of the village, it was perhaps the mine mentioned in the Statistical Account of 1790.
Years of shallow mining resulted in problems of subsidence and drainage problems, which limit where new buildings may be erected.
Other minerals also occur. Ironstone (70% pure iron) is also found in the parish but in very thin seams. Limestone is plentiful in the southern part of the parish. There is an abundance of freestone and several quarries have been used; the oldest was of brown sandstone that can be seen in the older buildings such as the Hopetoun Hotel and the Cross. A new quarry produced a much finer and harder stone, which can be seen on the third storey of the Hopetoun Hotel.
The famous Ormiston Yew Tree mentioned in the previous statistical accounts still stands.
Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction
The village itself is a designated Conservation Area, reflecting the importance of Cockburn’s original planned village. Main Street is flanked by a number of 18th century houses, and many of these are listed.
Ormiston Hall lies about a mile to the south of the village, off the B6371; the remains of the old hall – dating back to the 16th century – were incorporated into the new hall when it was built 1745-8. In 1970, it was a roofless ruin, the result of a fire in 1944, which occurred when occupied by the Polish Army. Ormiston Hall had been largely unoccupied since before the first world war, though a caretaker lived in a corner of the Steading courtyard until 1972. By 1970, the buildings of the Steading, of which the original hall forms one side, the surrounding walled gardens and woodlands had fallen to neglect. In 1970 the Hopetoun Estates Development Company applied, unsuccessfully, for planning permission to build five new houses, with the Steading serving as outhouses and garages. There was also a proposal, which was abandoned, to turn the surrounding land into a golf course.
In 1970 a group of four families (later five) approached the Hopetoun Estates Development Company to buy jointly the ruined Hall, the Steading courtyard, walled gardens and some adjoining meadowland and woodland. After the planning setback earlier that year the Hopetoun Estates agreed to negotiate a sale. Planning permission was granted to renovate the Steading as three houses, a flat and a studio, to build two new houses and to demolish the ruined Hall. This was to be undertaken as a unified project, to be overseen by one architect.
In 1971 the five families formed the Ormiston Hall Group (O.H.G.) and concluded the purchase. The Hopetoun Estates Development Company remains the Superior and still owns the drives through the area.
The Edinburgh firm of Iain Lindsey prepared architectural plans for the renovations and new houses, and the Ormiston builders Campbell & Smith undertook much of the building work.
The conversion of the coach house (cartshed) in the Steading, renamed House with Arches, was undertaken by Ulrich and Francesca Loening and their children as self-build, in an innovative style using mainly reclaimed materials. Aubrey and Margaret Manning and their children renovated the Old Hall in the Steading. The Gamekeeper’s house in the Steading, renamed Courtyard House, was renovated (self-build in part) by Colin and Marion Campbell and their children. The Courtyard House was sold in 1996 to Patrick Scott who finished the renovation and added an extension. Two new houses were added in 1973/4. Murdoch and Rosalind Mitchison and their children built Great Yew to the south of the ruin. Easter Haining was built adjacent to the ruin by John and Joan Busby and their children.
The ruins of Ormiston Hall were demolished in 1973, leaving the 18th century walls standing as a memorial. Between 1979 and 1985, eleven new houses were built in two areas of the estate that had been scrubby woodland.
In 1978 the Ormiston Hall Group purchased the wooded Belsis (or Leckie’s) Glen to the north east of the Steading and the woodland containing the ruined St Giles old parish church (abandoned late in the 17th century) to the west. Much timber had been extracted earlier and the woods allowed to become overgrown with scrub and sycamores. Three families (Busby, Manning, Loening) of the O.H.G. are replanting the woodlands with trees native to East Lothian. In 1982 a small lake was dug in Belsis/Leckie’s Glen to enhance biodiversity. In 2001 the Belsis Glen was additionally named Ul’s Wood, in recognition of Ulrich Loening’s work in ecology and woodland restoration.
The Ormiston Hall Group have endeavoured to undertake the renovation of the buildings, gardens and woodland in the spirit of John Cockburn, the 18th century improving landlord of Ormiston, who introduced many innovative practices to forestry and agriculture. Fruit trees have been replanted and the walled garden has been cultivated organically since 1970. A meadow is being managed for wildflowers and around 1000 trees have been planted. It is the group’s hope that this work will be continued by those who will live here in the future.