Spott | Homes

Standards of Living | Utilities | Shops & Services | Mobile shops

The remote and exclusively agricultural area of the parish allowed Spott to remain unaltered other than some demolition until the mid 1980s. Until this time, no pressure was apparent to require the parish to expand with new or improved housing, indeed, the reverse was evident, with empty houses and particularly The Square in Spott falling into total disrepair. For many years, Spott, its former school and community hall remained intact and part of Spott estate.

In the village, the Orlits in St John’s Street were built as public housing in 1948; other than that very little physically changed in the village until the 1980s. In 2000, the houses in The Square are in private ownership and only four houses in High Road remain with preserved tenancy. Five out of eight of the council houses in St. John’s Street have been sold. The remaining houses in the village, many of them new build, are privately owned. Very few houses remain available for rent.

The proposal to increase the village and reinstate various buildings that had fallen into disrepair was promoted by Gilmour Lawrie of John Lawrie Farms, Spott House. The resultant scheme design by Malcolm Jones and Alan Sheerin Associates increased the village by 15 units and required a major planning application and approval. These houses, built and renovated between 1986 and 2000, retained the linear nature of the village and infilled garden ground along Spott High Road in a manner sympathetic to the existing settlement. The Square, formerly the cottages for Big Spott farm that had stood in derelict condition for many years, in 1988 was converted into private homes. The Square was central to the concern for regeneration of existing resources. Various contractors and private individuals built the houses, a mix of new and refurbished properties; all followed the template established within the planning approval. Major building companies were not involved; the works have been entirely funded and built locally. Seven new houses were built between 1990-2000, on the south side of High Road.

The name of High Road itself was the subject of a small dispute between the residents, the post office and the council. Its local name has always been High Road, but at some point the post office renamed it High Street; during the 1970s, locals objected, and took their concern to the council to have the name changed to High Road – when of course it had actually never changed to anything else. Historic Scotland has done little to help, insisting on listing their properties here as being located on Main Street!

In the wider parish, on three farms (Spott, Halls and Bothwell) the cottages are kept for employees, rented out or stand empty. The remaining three farms have sold their cottages to private ownership. On some farms, redundant farm buildings have been converted into homes.

Doon Steading, located close to the village of Spott, retained the former chimney of its threshing mill, and the character of a working farm steading and farmhouse. The steading conversion (1988), designed by Hazel Crawford, retained the majority of the existing building resource and many of the architectural elements common in a steading of such design found in East Lothian. The resultant converted steading provided accommodation for eight families.

Oswald Dean Mill (1990) converted and extended to form one family house, also engaged with forming a significant garden within Oswald Dean, which was designed by Malcolm Jones.

Easter Broomhouse steading, including the farmhouse, was sold for housing development in 2000. The design (by Malcolm Jones) retains the rudimentary nature of the elemental steading, running with the contours of the landscape and surrounding fields. Less formal than Doon steading, the resultant building, including the alterations to the farmhouse and grieve’s cottage, provides housing for 13 families. These conversions impact upon the number of housing units in the parish, and on the agricultural landscape of the area

The old bothy and outbuildings adjacent to (but to the outside of) the Bourhouse walled garden were derelict by c1960; in1980, these were transformed into a home now called Elderside, designed and owned by Malcolm Jones. He is also responsible for the design of the Marrians’ house begun in the walled garden in 2000.

A new house was built at Burnhead in 1992.

What has happened in Spott parish reflects the pressure throughout the county to provide additional housing within East Lothian. The facility withdrawn over this period to provide housing for rent has resulted in entirely private housing being built within the fabric of that which exists. Within the various housing provided, care has been taken to respect the existing nature of a planned village, listed steadings and former agricultural cottages. No particular buildings of distinction have emerged, rather a concern for being complementary to that that already existed.

The change in the physical and social landscape of the area with regard to home ownership is quite devastating. The historic agricultural use and tenancy of buildings no longer exists with the resource of land being overtaken by the critical resource of physical buildings. The migration of the harmonic population that supported the agricultural economy has resulted in an ageing, transient and disparate series of unconnected satellite communities. The new houses have virtually all been occupied by families working outside rural employment, many of them at some distance from Spott, or by people retiring to the countryside.

The inability of the parish to support local families within its community and to provide socially affordable housing is the most unacceptable result of changing home ownership within the parish. No mechanism exists to enable the regeneration of the parish by individuals who have historic family or work connections. The significant change in home ownership between 1945 and 2000 is that home ownership in a rural location such as this in East Lothian has become almost totally exclusive to those from outwith the community.

Here (and elsewhere throughout the text) Walter Fairbairn and Moira Brad share their recollections of Spott with Eileen Dykes.

Standards of Living – some recollections of homes in the parish

[In the 1950s there were] five persons – infants and primary school age children, then [in the 1970s] there were six persons, school age and above [living in our cottage] at Pleasants farm. [We had] two bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchen and a bathroom, all with windows. [The] kitchen had a table and chairs, and a coal fired range, which was purely a cooker and did not give hot water. The range later was replaced with an open fire and back boiler, which heated the water. An immersion heater was also installed in the 1960s. [We had a] washing machine in the early 1970s, before which clothes were washed by hand using deep Belfast sink, wringer and scrubbing board. Soap was used to wash the clothes. The cottage had a larder with gauze on window. Milk was got daily by the jug full. The living room had an open fire, sofa and chairs, also a table. [We had a] radio from the 1950s, TV from the 1960s (black & white), and kitchen units from late 1970s. No fridge until 1980s. The bedrooms had carpet squares, free-standing wardrobes, fireplace, centre light, [but] no electricity until the 1950s. Bed linen used was sheets and blankets, downies [were] not used until [the] 1980s.

[We used a] Paraffin heater, coal, then electricity then gas. Paraffin could be smelly, [and] was a fire hazard. Coal gave a great heat but [it was] difficult to regulate and we often had to run off excess hot water. Electricity made the biggest single difference. The washing machine made life a lot easier. Before machines, [washing] was a major day’s work. Ironing was done by an iron with bolts, which were fitted into it having been heated on the fire, and then there were flat irons, which were heated on the range, then the electric iron.

Coal was delivered by a coalman; the coalbunker adjoined the kitchen, so every thing in the kitchen got covered in coal dust after a delivery. New exterior coalbunkers were made for each house. Wood was gathered locally.

Personal hygiene

All the cottages had a bath and toilet from 1950s. Prior to toilet, the outside loo was in use. Prior to the bath, [you] washed as best you could, heating the water by kettle and pot. In the 1950s we washed clothes and self with Fairy soap. Perfumes, deodorants [were] considered sissy. Persil, oxydol used in 1970s. In the late 1980s, [we began to use] Old Spice.

Walter Fairbairn

[Living at The Standards; post-war] we bought the house from an old couple, and it had been part of the Bourhouse estate. We had four children, so there were six of us living there. There was one bedroom (which had a flagstone floor), with an anti-room which held bunk beds; lounge; kitchen; bathroom. All had windows. There was no electricity until the 1950s- [we used] oil lamps. [We had] very little furniture in the early days. [There was a] solid fuel Rayburn cooker which heated the water. [There was a] Belfast sink for washing, [which was] done by hand using scrubbing board, wringer, soap. [We had] no washing machine ‘till the 1960s. [We used] coal for the Rayburn, coal and wood for the open fire. The coal was delivered. The Rayburn was discarded for an electric cooker (there was no gas available as [we lived] in the country.

Personal hygiene

[There was a] sink, toilet and bath. We washed several times a week, and used soap and water, and vinegar was also used. Not until the 1960s did deodorants appear.

Moira Brad

And on food

[We kept] hens, grew our own vegetables – turnip, kale, cabbage – and got potatoes from the local farms, and milk was delivered; we used marg not butter. [There were] delivery vans (including the Co-op) one or two times a week or we cycled to Dunbar. At home we produced elderflower wine. We had two meals a day, as my husband and children took a packed lunch. Breakfast consisted of porridge, the evening meal consisted of main course and pudding. I cooked the meal and then cleared everything away.

Moira Brad

All vegetables were home grown, and we had own own hens. Rabbits were eaten, fish very seldom. Each household had ration of about ¾ lb. meat per week; [there were] increased rations at harvest time. Dried eggs were used for cooking. All food was delivered by van – baker twice a week, butcher twice a week, and the fish man once a week. As [most people had not got a phone] you gave the van driver the order for the next delivery day. Local shops were serviced by their own delivery van. The only time alcohol was consumed was at New Year.

Breakfast was bread and cheese; lunch was two courses – soup and main course or main and pudding. High tea, which was an egg dish or a cheese dish, followed by bread/butter/jam, and home baking. Lastly supper, a hot milky drink and a plain biscuit, or something home baked. Fancy biscuits [were] not bought much. Milk was plentiful, so was drunk with meals. Children had both packed lunches and school meals. My wife prepared all the food, although I did take a turn clearing away the dishes on a Sunday as it was a non-working day.

Walter Fairbairn

On clothes

Men wore overalls, duffel coats, work boots, and wool trousers, cotton shirts, woollen socks. Children wore a flexible school uniform, duffel coats; [underneath] they wore grey skirts, white blouse, jersey; [I did] no home knitting. Women wore skirts, never trousers, aprons, and stockings. Underwear [consisted] of cotton vests, long johns, woollen socks. Clothing was purchased locally. [While some people had specific clothing – such as] auxiliary nurses who wore a uniform of heavy cotton – there was no special clothing for sports.

Clothes were washed by hand, and [some were] boiled on the stove. We used soap – Fairy, Lifebuoy, Sunlight and a washing board, a mangle, and then, flat irons. I cut our hair at home – we had no fancy hairstyles.

Moira Brad

[For work] men wore tackity boots or wellingtons, and dungarees or boiler suits; cotton checked shirt; cotton vest; long johns; wool socks; oilskin coat; leggings. Children had a school uniform bought from Co-op draper, with cotton vests, no liberty bodices, and hand knitted woollen socks and other woollens. A duffel coat for wet weather before anoraks; leather sandals. Ladies wore a wraparound apron or overall in the morning, and a pinny after lunch. Stockings not tights, and always a skirt. [On top of that, women wore a] tweed coat with a plastic coat on top if raining. Clothes were bought from a [mail order] working men’s catalogue, the local Co-op drapery department, or [if we could get into] Edinburgh, M&S or C&A.

My wife did her own hair, and cut it too; she shampooed it twice a week; I went to the local barber.

Walter Fairbairn


Public water is supplied now by a mains supply originating close to Garvald. Prior to the installation of the mains supply, people would take water from standpipes in the middle of The Square, next to the smiddy and half way down Canongate. There are no incidences of private water supply except for some wells still in use, such as that at Friarsdykes. There are no boreholes; water is taken from Spott Burn for irrigation.

All homes are dependent on septic tanks. The first toilets with a water supply arrived in homes in The Square around 1930. Before then, all houses had been served by dry closets only.

Mains electricity was introduced first when the council built homes in Spott (1948). It then spread to other privately owned homes as they were renovated, arriving finally at Wester Broomhouse around 1957. There is no mains electricity at Friarsdykes.

No other sources of power – wind, solar or other generated power – are available in the parish, nor is there a mains gas supply. Some residents use Calor gas or kerosene for cooking or heating.

The television reception, both terrestrial and satellite TV, is good. There are no mobile phone masts, and mobile phone signals vary according to the area and company utilised.

Street lighting was installed in Spott village around 1980, but updated with more powerful lighting in the 1990s; the lighting does not extend to other areas of the parish.

East Lothian Council now collects rubbish regularly. Previously, it was placed in open bins (which later gained corrugated iron covers halfway across) and emptied into the old quarry at Quarry Brae (on the south side of the road to Burnhead,) by Spott estate workers once a year.

Shops & Services

Before 1939 and the outbreak of the second world war, Spott was a dynamic thriving village with a growing population. At one time there were 55 children in the village school and there was employment for men and boys on the farms, in the sawmill and at the smithy. Some of the women were in service and many of the younger women worked in shops like the Co-op, or the hairdressers in Dunbar.

When tractors replaced horses, a depopulation of the village began. Before the war there was a tailor’s shop with a sweet shop attached at No 1 High Road, Spott run by Mr and Mrs Scambler: the tailors closed in 1939, and the sweetie shop in 1943.

Two men were employed as tailors by Mr Scambler and clothes made there were sent worldwide, particularly corduroy and moleskin trousers. The tailors sat cross-legged when they were hand-stitching, rising at times to press the cloth with box irons. These irons had a red-hot bolt heated in a coal-fired stove, inserted to give out the heat required.

Tailoring stopped in 1939 and although Mrs Scambler’s sweetie shop next door continued until 1942/43, that too was closed down. Mrs Scambler sold sweets crisps lemonade and biscuits but refused to sell tobacco or cigarettes. However Miss Johnson or Old Maria as she was called who lived opposite the smithy would sell cigarettes, tobacco, and paraffin for the stoves, as well as some sweets. Miss Johnson died during the war years.

John Cockburn had the smithy, which was still in operation in 1945. Boyd’s racehorses at West Barns were shod there, as were all the farm horses. The smithy closed in the early 1950s. His wife sold a few sweeties and such like from there:

By 1945 there was only a facility in the smithy where one could buy sweets and biscuits, lemonade and crisps, and cigarettes. The customer would knock at the door and, if it were a child, they would be invited in to choose their sweets, if an adult, the required goods would be brought out to the door. This functioned until about 1970.

Joan Baillie

The smithy was popular in this respect; the young people going to dance and socialise in the hall called there for their provisions.

Most people walked or cycled to Dunbar for the shopping such as fish that they did not get from the mobile shops. Refrigerators were virtually unknown to the villagers in the 1940s and 1950s, and food was kept fresh outside the houses in mesh cold boxes. Lack of refrigerators was also the reason that the mobile shops came so frequently. People shopped every day or every second day for their fresh food. Milk was delivered or collected from the farm in pitchers. Ian Sands got sixpence (2.5p) every week from the minister for fetching his milk; Janet Miller collected the milk in pitchers from Big Spott farm and delivered it to people in The Square – she remembers getting thru’pence! (1.25p)

Most of the villagers kept hens, ducks and pigs and were self-sufficient to a great extent with gardens full of vegetables and soft fruit bushes. The women picked eggs, bottled pears and plums and picked brambles in the glen.

In 1947, the Brunt Road was closed for eleven weeks due to severe snowfalls. The men crossed the fields on horseback to go to Dunbar to fetch bread in pillowcases; the bread was then distributed at the smithy.

Mobile shops

The decade between the 1950s and 1960s saw the demise of the mobile shop, that essential rural service. In Spott village, Jimmy Torry of Innerwick brought groceries twice a week on a Monday and a Thursday; orders were put in a week in advance and the order arrived in its own box. The Co-op vans came three times a week, one with groceries and a separate van for fruit and vegetables. Tait the butcher came from Dunbar. Paterson the baker came from Innerwick twice a week, often late at night and was known as ‘the Midnight Baker’; his bread was wonderful, as were the pies, scones and gingerbread he sold as well. Newspapers came from Dunbar and were delivered to the smithy where the villagers collected them.

Mr Young the coalman in Dunbar delivered once a week to the village. The man from the Pru (Prudential Insurance) came once a month to collect the penny policies.

Brunton and Purves from Allanton near Berwick came with clothes several times a year; they brought a whole range from socks and underwear to trousers, skirts, coats and jackets. The villagers had nothing to pay for six months, so everyone had time to save for their purchases. Mr Sanderson from Cockburnspath brought boots and shoes for sale about once a month. He also took boots and shoes to mend and they were returned by Paterson the baker on his round.

Groceries and vegetables were sold in brown paper bags and butcher meat would be sliced or ‘cut in the raw’. Once a year the familiar sight of the Onion Johnny from France with his strings of onions hanging from his bicycle would appear in the village. At New Year, Mark Torry would sell whisky and half bottles of beer from his van.

A grocer’s van from Duns driven by a Mr Veitch and later by Mr Baillie, served the farms on the south of the parish. Halls and Pathhead were served by Malcolm, the grocer from East Linton who took the order and delivered it the following week.

With the depopulation of the villages in the parish and the fact that most people had a car in the family by the 1970s, the mobile shops stopped coming to the village. Today only Knox the newsagent in Dunbar delivers papers to the village. Foggo of Dunbar delivers coal on request and Turnbull of Dunbar will deliver Calor gas by request, charging for delivery. Sadly the days of mobile shops, when a toot of the horn brought the women together for a chat as well as purchasing their goods, have long gone and the camaraderie that was there no longer exists.