Interviewed by Angela Foster, 2002
I’ll be 82 at the end of March 2002. I was born in 1920 at Fulfordlees up above Oldharnstocks in Berwickshire. My father was a ploughman. He had come home from the war in 1919 to be a forester on Dunglass estate. He worked there for a couple of years and then as a young married man he had been offered a house in Cockburnspath. But it was next to a boarding house that was a wee bit rough. My granny, that’s my mother’s mother wouldn’t let them go there so he had to come back to farm work where he would be given a cottage. So he went back to driving the horses. His father was a shepherd at Ferneylees at the same time. My father became a ploughman and was one for the rest of his life.
I had five brothers and one sister. They all went to work on the land. There are only three of us left now.
When I was six months old my father moved to Wollens [Woolands] just above Oldhamstocks and we were there for two years. In 1923 we moved to Meiklerig and I started at Stenton school in 1925.
We were at Meiklerig for about two years when my father moved down to Markle Farm above the railway at East Linton and then I went to East Linton school. We were at Markle for about two years and when I was eight years old we moved to Westmains, near Morham and I went to Morham school. I went on to the Knox Academy Advanced Division they called it then. I left school when I was 14 years old. There were no choices given to me. I was to go on the land to work. As I was the oldest it was expected of me. Money wasn’t too plentiful then.
The people I was at school with went on to be joiners and builders and other jobs in Haddington. After I left school I didn’t see them again. Once you worked on the farm your friends became those that worked on the farm with you that were a similar age to you.
I began work on the farm that we lived on at that time called Westmains. John Russell was the farmer. The present farmer’s father. I worked there for eight years.
When I started work I was called the odd boy. You would be an odd boy for three years. The year is 1934 and 1 earned ten shillings a week. As an odd boy I was expected to do general farm work. You were shown what to do and how to do it. The farm was an arable farm but it stocked sheep and cattle too. The sheep went in the fields. Wheat, oats, barley, hay and turnips were grown as well as ‘mangold worsleys’, for the cattle.
As an odd boy I would have just one horse and a cart. A ploughman would have had two horses. I drove turnips and herded the sheep. I took feed out for the shepherd to feed the sheep. I would feed the horses. They were kept inside in the winter but in the fields in the summer.
The odd boy did stooking in September, after the cutting of the crop by the binders. Each farm would have three of four binders. We would put a sheave in each arm and stick them in the ground. That was called a stook. There were eight sheaves in a stook sometimes called a threave. The stooks were left to dry then we would take them to the stack yard on a long cart. It was put into stacks there would be a wheat stack an oat stack and a barley stack. These stacks would include the grain. Theek was put on top, that is, wheat straw was put on top, a thatch, to run the rain off. When the farmer wanted to sell some of the grain he would take off a sample and have it threshed and then taken to Haddington market.
The cattle were brought in and fed in the closes in the wintertime. Another of the odd boy’s jobs would be to bed the closes in the winter. This meant to put straw in for the cattle to lie on at night. Fresh straw was put in every day. When the cattle went off to market we would clear it all out and put it onto a midden. Here it would stay, from May until October when it would be spread onto the fields. We used a ‘dung Tom’ to mark out the field for the dung. A ‘dung Tom’ was a long wooden arm that stuck out of the side of the plough and it marked the field up into squares. Then we would go to the midden and used a grape fork that had five teeth, to fill the short box carts. Then you took a muck hack to spread the dung out. A short box cart held enough dung for about six squares of field.
We started work at six o’clock in the morning until quarter past eleven. Then you started again at one o’clock and went on to five o’clock. I worked five and a half days a week. We stopped work at twelve o’clock on Saturday. Sometimes you worked longer hours but with no extra pay. There was overtime. It the spring during seed sowing time you worked for a month on the Saturday afternoons but you didn’t get paid for it. You didn’t get any days off in lieu. You only got the one holiday, a day in July.
There was another boy just two years older than me. And we palled about all the time. The people I worked with were my friends.
When I left the school the biggest job of all on the farm was shawing the turnips. The turnips were grown in rows. The roots grow into the ground and you have to grip them by the shaws, pull them up, cut the shaws off and cut the roots off. Then you put them in a row. Leaving the shaws separate. The carts would then come along and lift the turnips up. It was backbreaking work. The other boy and me, we shawed everyday. Rain, hail or snow. It was hard work. Mangel-wurzels were also hard work. We called them mungies. You took the shaws off them but not the roots because that bled them, if you took the roots off. Mungies lasted longer than turnips. We put them in bings and covered them with straw and clay. They used them in the spring of the year when there was no turnips left. The mungies were only fed to stock, mostly to cattle.
You had a contract of employment that lasted for a year. You could stay for as long as you wanted. Every year your pay went a wee bit up. The gaffer made up the wages and you went up to his house to collect it.
At Westmains the gaffer’s house was on the farm. You went to his house at 5 o’clock and got your pay. I went home at night to stay with my parents. My father was working on Westmains at that time, as a ploughman. I would give my pay to my father and I was given sixpence a week from it. My mother supplied everything for us like. I was the oldest, so I was the only one to work on the farm but then my brother joined us. His name was Willie. I was on that farm for three years. Then in 1935 we went up to Long Newton above Gifford. I was still moving with my father. My brother Willie came too but afterwards he stayed on at Long Newton as a gardener.
I would now be about fifteen and paid a pound a week. I wasn’t sad to leave Westmains because I was going to drive a horse on the next farm. The farm belonged to St Cuthbert’s Store in Edinburgh. They had four farms up there. There was only one tractor on Long Newton then. Tractors were only starting to come on the farm then. There had only been one on Westmains the year we left. It was the start of the mechanisation on farms.
I just worked with one horse, except in the summer. The first horse I worked with was called Paddy. He was an Irish half bred. The Irish half bred were just the same as Clydesdales but they had thinner legs and smaller feet. Some horses worked in pairs but mine was just a single worker. Generally you just worked with the one horse unless another ploughman was off. Then you would take on his horses to do his job. This was when I was an odd boy. If it was the likes of the harrow or the plough there wasn’t much in that. I could do that when I was a boy. I would use the pair of horses used by the ploughman. I just had one horse as I was still an odd boy.
I had always been interested in sheep. When I was eight years old I used to go and stay with my uncle, John Telford, who was a shepherd at Castlemains near Gifford. I used to spend my summer holidays with him. I loved following him around with the sheep.
After two years at Long Newton I went to Deuchrie and started working with the sheep. When I was young every farm would have at least one shepherd and a flock of sheep. I didn’t come with my father this time because they needed a young shepherd. I thought that was a nice change. I didn’t apply for the job. Mr Jeffrey, the farmer mustn’t have had any applicants for the job and he knew me because my uncle John was up there. Anyway, Mr Jeffrey came up to my father and asked him if l would like to come and work with the sheep. So that’s how I started. That was the first time I had left home. I was 17 years old .
I worked under Hammie Hall the head shepherd at Deuchrie. The two of us stayed in Lucknow bothy. It’s a ruin now. The two of us bothied there. Cooking our own meals and looking after ourselves.
You got up about four or five in the morning and went out to the sheep. The sheep were always put up on the hill to keep the ground clean. This was to keep the droppings at the top of the hill. Sheep lie down at night and when they stand up in the mornings, there would be the droppings. So to keep the bottom of the field clean for feeding, the sheep were driven to the top of the hill last thing at night. So the first thing you did when you went out was to bring the sheep down. Most of them would come down easily as they would be into the routine.
The in by’s were fed on sugar beet pulp and what they called lambs food, a mixture that contained oats. The hill sheep didn’t get any feeding. Just a pickle of hay in the wintertime.
It would be breakfast time by the time you got round the fields and had got them down and fed them and done everything that had to be done. You would have to sort their feet if there was any problems. The dirt had to be clipped off their wool before shearing time. And there were Iambs and such like. In the afternoon, at about 3 o’clock you went up about the fields again and the sheep that were at the bottom of the hill you chased up to the top of the hill. So that they slept at the top of the hill.
My first sheepdog was called Bet. Before I left home there was man there that knew the shepherd at the Hopes and he had one for sale. So I went and bought her there. She cost me £3. It was a lot of money at that time. She was two years old. It is 1937 and I was now earning 32 shillings as a young shepherd with one and six extra to feed my dog. I was feeling smart now and cocky a bit! Bet was trained when I bought her and she came to live with me at the cottage.
The stocking rate for sheep was two and a half pairs of sheep to the acre. That is on two acres you would have five pairs. Five ewes and ten lambs. A full herding in those days was twenty score to twenty-five score of breeding ewes. When lambing time came you would have two or three times more.
Young ewes were bought in every year. Most farms bred for feeding. They were called fat lambs. It sounds a lot but not compared with now. They’re looking after a thousand to fifteen hundred ewes now. That was only five hundred in my day. We worked seven days a week. You got your holidays. A week’s holiday in a year. When I started to work you only got the one holiday that was the July holiday. You didn’t usually go away unless you went to visit a friend for the day.
The breeding season was a busy time. You had to sit up all night at the lambing time and you took night about. My very first lambing was at the fit o’ Deuchrie Hill. We stayed at the house and my sheep were at the foot of the hill in a lambing shed. Hammie’s were over at the farm and we sat up all night. You had to keep awake. You were up two days and a night. Then you got to bed for a night. Hail, sleet or snow it didn’t matter what the weather was like.
In those days I was working with South Country Cheviots on the hill. With a hundred blackies on the back of the hill. They stayed up there for the heather. They didn’t come over the hill. They were rough hardy sheep with horns on. They were easier fed on the heather and the rougher ground. The South Country Cheviots were more at the front of the hill for the grass. If you went down to the borders you would have all white-faced sheep. Sheep were bred for wool and for food. At that time there was an industry for wool.
Hammie had the Border Leicesters. The Northern Country Cheviots were from Caithness. These are the main ones you see now. They are bigger. They also had the half-bred. It has a Border Leicester father and a South Cheviot mother. The grey-faced ewe has taken over nowadays. They are easier to look after and they think they get more lambs out of them.
We did our own shearing then, by hand. Now they use machines. Some farms would join up together and help each other to shear. At Deuchrie we did our own shearing.
Sheep were taken away on sale days to St Boswells. At one time they used to go to the Haddington sales. Haddington must have closed down in the late thirties. When the war started I would think. That was when I first started to work at Westmains, I remember that. The farmer would drive us down to the station at Haddington and we would collect about 60 cattle and we would walk them back up to Westmains. In those days there weren’t the big lorries to carry the cattle. The last time I remember sheep walking to Haddington was in 1932 or 1933. When Steve Ramage was at Deuchrie. Now, he walked from Deuchrie to Haddington with 40 South Country Cheviots ewes and lambs to the sale at Haddington. He didn’t get a good enough price for them so he had to walk them back home again. I met him when I was coming home from school. I would be about twelve then and I walked to the filters with him then I turned and walked back home. The breeding sheep went to St Boswells. Up at Deuchrie there is a drove road that they took over to Duns. Most of them, at the end went to Edinburgh.
I was at Deuchrie for three years. Then James (the farmer’s young son) left the school and took my job. So I was made redundant.
Ruchlaw Mains, 1939 (Whittingehame parish)
I moved down to Ruchlaw Mains in1939. My father was working there. I was back to driving horses. My father was driving the horses but his legs started to give him too much trouble. So they put him onto a tractor. Tractors were beginning to come in then. Fordson tractors, driven by petrol to start them up then they worked on paraffin. So I came and took over his horses, to save him from moving. That’s when I met Jenny and we got married. It wasn’t necessarily a good move to leave the sheep then but I enjoyed working with the horses. The Wyllies were at Ruchlaw then. They had sheep but looked after them themselves. They didn’t have very many. The cattlemen looked after them mostly.
We are coming up to the wartime now and I couldn’t join up because of my head injury. I would have gone but the doctor said no. Many of my friends went of to the war. All of them came back. They joined the Royal Scots and the Royal Engineers. During the war years there was plenty to do with long hours of work and fewer men to help.
There were plenty of planes going about but they didn’t bother us. After the war we had four German prisoners working with us.
My father went over to Berwickshire to a place called Kirktonhill, at Oxton. My mother turned badly there and needed someone to look after her and the two younger children.
So Jenny and I went over there for six months. Jenny in the house, and I to cut hedges and do general work. This was in 1948. Then we came back to Nisbet Farm at Pencaitland.
Mr Snodgrass was the farmer. Jobs came by word of mouth or advertised in the Courier in those days. They could phone the farmer from my last job if they needed a reference. We never had a car until we came here. An old pushbike was all I had or there was the bus. We were handy for the bus at Pencaitland. I was back driving a tractor at Pencaitland, still no sheep. I’ve done everything on the farm but been the gaffer! And the farmer of course! I still loved the shepherding best. There were two pairs of horses at Nisbet’s and two tractors. The horses just disappeared and the tractors took over. My father’s uncles had all been engineers so my son Ian has inherited that side from them. I was at Pencaitland about two years and my son started school at Pencaitland.
Stenton, 1951 on
We came to live in Stenton in 1951. I came to work as a shepherd for Mr Weir at Pressmennan. We came to live at this house and have lived here ever since.
In the wintertime I looked after the young dairy stock. But I did mostly shepherding. I sorted fencing and dikes and such things as well. Farming was still fairly labour intensive in the 1950s. There were two tractor men and two horsemen at Pressmennan, plus a cattle man and the grieve.
Sheepdog trials were popular pastime. Lassie was the first dog that I ran at the sheepdog trials. My best prize was winning the shepherds up at Kinross. Out of 125 dogs. I was 3rd in the open and first in the shepherds. I won at Oxton one year. I’ve won several events throughout the years but they were my best wins. I travelled round the country. I ran in the nationals but was not lucky enough to make the team. The furthest I went was to Dornoch.
The breed of sheep nowadays is more or less the same as in my early years but the grey-faced ewe has taken over from the half bred, for fat lambs anyway. Sheep shearing was still going on with the wool going to the border mills at that time. Prices were still quite good then. When I was at Deuchrie they used to say that if the wool didn’t pay the rent to the farm the farm wasn’t paying. The change in the breeds was the main change in the 1950s. The South Country Cheviots were at Deuchrie when I started, but when I left they were on to the North Countries. Because the South Countries got too small. They wanted them bigger. So they went for the North Country Cheviots. And it’s been the North Country Cheviots ever since. You have to be down in the south country to get the South Country Cheviots now. Like at Lockerby [Lockerbie]. It was because they bred the South Country Cheviots too small for showing. They wanted a nice head and cocky ears and a smart look. They forgot about the size of the sheep. Just the same as they did with the Aberdeen Angus cattle. They let them get away far too small. Just because they wanted nice looking show ones.
Mr Weir retired. His son-in-law took over but he died. Then John Kinnaird and his father came here and I was made redundant again.
I went to Meiklerig to the Stewarts in 1971. That’s when I started showing sheep. From now on I only worked as a shepherd. We got on well enough together the Stewarts and I. But we did have our moments!
Sheep breeding was important to the farm because you got better prices for the sheep at the sales if they were nice and well looked after. When you prepared a sheep for showing you had to dip it and colour it with moorit, a dark sort of colour. The dip was a sort of yellow. The moorit darkened it down a bit, making it not too orange looking. Some of the show sheep were too bright and orange looking. The Wool Board stopped the colouring later on. They found that once they got the colour in they couldn’t get it out. And that’s when they stopped letting them colour the sheep. Nowadays show-sheep are all white perhaps with just a drop of moorit to darken the wool.
Jenny always looked after the sheep when I went to the dog trials. That’s how I got to as many, you see. She was able to take over and look after the sheep and the dogs when I was away. My sheepdogs have always been my friends and co-workers. The best breeder I had would be Tibby. My best ever sheepdog was Don. Tibby was his mother. That was a good litter. I sold them right down to the south of England. For years after, they wrote back to me to see if I had any more. Bobby Wood had the father. He had got Don but when he was working he got his leg broken by a cow that trod on his foot. It never healed up properly. Bobby Wood had a lot more sheep than me so I got Don back and gave him Liz as an exchange. She was a great dog who won all the prizes at the Internationals, two or three times. She was known up and down the country as Bobby Wood’s Liz. But that Don would have been one of the best dogs in Scotland. He was easily handled and it didn’t matter what you said to him he would do it. He was a really good dog. It was just a shame he got his leg broken. I would have him at the top of the hill at a trial and he would look at me and hold up his leg to say his leg was sore. But he would carry on. I got a lot of prizes with Don.
There isn’t the sheep around in this area any more. The last few years I have just been dressing. The main changes I have seen from the 1950s to 2000 are the numbers of sheep that’s on the farms and on the hills. But I think they are starting to cut them down now. When they started to give subsidy the farmers put more sheep on the hills. This went on until there were too many sheep. They were dear at that time and prices were high. They fly round them on motorbikes now and they don’t know one sheep from another. We had to know the sheep individually in my younger day. Now the ewes and the lambs have numbers on them. We were never allowed to do anything like that. We had time then, to go round the field. But now they have so many they don’t have the time to get to know them. They are not shepherding like we used to do. They go so far with these motorbikes. One man will be doing two or three shepherd’s work.
Show sheep. I miss going to the shows, well last year was the first show I missed.
Shepherding was occasionally a lonely job. Shepherds would sometimes meet at the march fences and have a chat. A march fence was the line between two farms. Sheepdog trials would be social occasions for us all to meet. We did all our own clipping in the old days and now clippers are hired in.
As a shepherd you would have had time to look around at the nature all around you. Today they don’t have the time.
The Home Guard in Stenton was formed in 1939. Mr Rattry from Beil was the Officer in Command at that time. Mr Thompson from Pathhead was the other officer. We met twice a week in the hall and trained for different things. It was a bit like Dad’s Army on the telly but without the laughter. We had to be serious. I remember a young officer up from Dunbar to train us to use the bayonet. There was a row of us standing on one side of the hall and a row of us standing on the other side. We were to put the bayonet forward. Well, he took hold of mine and pushed it. I stepped back and he shouted at me don’t do that! Keep it forward! He wanted to see how strong I was pushing it! But I didn’t know that! I’m not in the picture in the hall because it was lambing time and I wasn’t there to get my picture taken. There are not many alive now that’s in that photograph in the community hall.
I am the fifth generation Bathgate to keep bees. My great-grandfather was the farm manager for Kinloch estates. He had bees there. His father was the gaffer at Westmains. His boss was an English minister called Trail. That’s how Trail came into the Bathgate name. Trail is in our name. When my great-grandfather retired from Kinloch estates he went to Jeanfield, over the hill from East Linton. He had four fields and a dairy there. He supplied East Linton with their milk. My grandfather got married there. He was what they called a tramp shepherd then. He went here and there looking after sheep and in the wintertime he fed hogs on the turnips. The turnips were cut into small cubes and fed to the hogs. They had no teeth by then so the turnips were cut for them.
They had ten hives of bees each. They took them up to the Lammermuir hills by horse and cart. A barrow would only be used to carry them for short distances. That would be for the heather honey. They would go up once a week to check on them. My grandfather would use a square box instead of sections for four or five of his hives and when they were full it would be the end of the season. A shop in North Berwick would take all of that honey. They went in the comb. You couldn’t extract the honey then. You have to have a press to squeeze the honey out. The shop in North Berwick just cut the honey into blocks. The honey just stayed in the comb then. There was no oilseed rape to make it runny. Extractors weren’t needed then. Then they started with the frame. They put the shallow frames onto the hives, above where the bees were. That was cut into squares and put into trays then. Along comes the oilseed rape and you have to extract the honey and put it into pails and leave it until it solidifies. Then you melt it and prove it before you can put it into pound jars.
That’s what we do now. The extractor I have now has to be done straight away otherwise it will thicken and it won’t come out.
You used to use puffers to subdue the bees. The bees see the smoke and think the hive is on fire so they rush and fill themselves with honey and that subdues them. Carbolic acid was used on a cloth to subdue them. It was used to let you take out the honey.
Steel and Brodie sold the extractors that I still use now. You take the sealing off the combs first. You put the combs into the drum that birls the combs round and round and the honey flies out. You put the combs back in the hives again. The bees clean them all up. They sort out the bits that get damaged then fill up the combs again and seal them over. Clover honey has the nicest taste but it’s very runny. Lime tree honey is very clear and good honey. The sycamore honey is about the best. It’s a bit darker and thicker and spreads nicely. The oilseed rape now, it spoils the honey. Also farmers spraying the fields often kill the bees. The Bee Association have a spray officer who is supposed to notify everyone when spraying takes place. But he can’t if he doesn’t know as the farmers don’t often tell him. This verrola disease is a bad one. It’s come here from the continent. It hasn’t reached us yet and it’s very expensive to combat it. I will continue to have bees as long as I am able.