Whitekirk & Tyninghame | Economy

Industry | Agriculture

Even by 2000, there was little economic activity outside agriculture. A few tourists could enjoy B&B at Whitekirk Mains and Stonelaws in the closing years of the period.


The tile and brickworks on the heavy clay by the burn at Newbyth had long since disappeared, though examples of its work could still be seen on roofs and walls in the area.

In 1969, Bernard Muller obtained permission to extract sand at Lochhouses Links for glassmaking. The sand was taken to a factory in the west of the county and returning lorries brought ash and clinker, which were used to improve roads and paths around Tyninghame estate – particularly in Binning Wood: this lasted till about 1975.

The Dale family set up an engineering workshop for all their farms at Scoughall.

In 1976, Jack Dale and Jim McConnell established Seacliff Haulage but after financial problems hit the firm it split and Jack Dale then specialised in the refrigerated transport of shellfish to Europe.

The modern softwood sawmill set up at Tyninghame Links in the 1960s was purchased by James Brown in 1984 and, combined with a forestry business, was in full swing in 2000, despite competition from cheap imported timber from Eastern Europe. James Brown & Son employ eleven staff.

On Tyninghame estate, the nature of employment had changed radically. In 1950 the pyramid structure went from laird through factor through farm manager and head forester, head gamekeeper, head gardener and so on, each with his own people. Fifty years later that structure had vanished: for example, for work in the woods the factor used a forestry consultant and contractors were called in.

Agriculture and horticulture (see also Land Ownership)

Agriculture itself changed beyond recognition, and with it the support services: in 1950 there were five or six pairs of horses on each farm and the village smiddy was busy all day shoeing horses or fitting rims to wheels for carts being made in the joiner’s shop – where eight men were employed.

Most men worked on the farms, many with the horses – two horses to a man. But most started off as general labourers. The practice of the hiring market in Dunbar, still remembered by the oldest amongst them – men and women – had stopped by the beginning of our period. The women were employed mainly for the cattle and milking and for helping in the farmhouses. Of course Tyninghame House and Newbyth mansion also employed household staff, as did the minister and the schoolmaster. In addition the two great houses employed several foresters and gardeners. There were also smithies on the big estates.

For the harvest, extra labour was hired, mainly Irishmen, who were housed in Seacliff and bothies around the area. There are no regrets that the old days are gone. Tractors made life so much easier and less worrying for the workers than working with horses had done, although the men loved their animals. The dairy too was hard on the women, especially on their hands and backs.

‘…there is no doubt that the agricultural worker has worked harder and for less money than his compatriots; many of these workers have been highly skilled…’ Thomas Dale, writing in the WRI book (1966).

This publication told us about the wages in 1966; for the men this was £11, for the women £8.15 shillings per week as a basic wage. There were some perks; oats, barley, potatoes, milk, eggs. And after the Agricultural Board was set up, two weeks holidays + six odd days, shorter working hours and therefore overtime.

As the numbers of farm workers dwindled the population changed. Mechanisation and tractors did not need the same manpower, milking was no longer done by hand and the country people began to leave for employment elsewhere. The steadings lay empty, awaiting conversion into comfortable dwellings with neat gardens and occupied by either retirees, many from elsewhere lured by their dream of country living, or commuters.

Auldhame, Seacliff and Scoughall, owned by J.R. Dale & Sons

With perhaps 700 acres between them, these were mixed farms with land of varying nature and quality. For example, at one point about 210 milking cows and young stock were kept, cereals and 300 acres of vegetables were farmed at Auldhame, but activities changed with the market; a busy market garden at Seacliff supplied North Berwick for some time.

The same would be true of New Mains, about 400 acres farmed in association with Charles Lambert.

Lochhouses, owned by W.P. Dale & Son

Lochhouses extends to about 500 acres. For several years, this branch of the Dale family grew potatoes, carrots, wheat and barley, and leased ground for a piggery; then carrots were stopped. Winter barley and rape were tried depending on the market and conditions. A fair parcel of land was leased to Stewarts for growing ‘The Best Turf on Earth’, the firm employing five men on average, taking a crop every two years and adding a cultured elegance to the fields.

Tyninghame Links and Lawhead, Tyninghame Estates Ltd.

Previously under factor John Hume, latterly Alastair Milligan, this covers 950 acres, with 900 acres forestry and 200 acres of grassland. Growing mainly wheat, spring barley and spring rape, with cattle grazing the grassland; 60-70 acres let to Stewart’s for turf, and the same to the Knowes for potatoes.

Kirklandhill, Tyninghame Estates Ltd.

Under tenant Robert Carswell, this 520 acres concentrated on wheat, spring barley and potatoes.

The Knowes, Tyninghame Estates Ltd.

Tenanted by Peter Cochrane; 380 acres of wheat, potatoes, some spring barley, vegetables and poultry.

Stonelaws, owned by Colin Turner, has 500 acres, grain and potatoes.

The once prosperous, traditional mixed farms of Whitekirk, Newbyth, Kamehill were largely inoperative as units at the end of the period, the fields being leased or sold to owners outwith the farms themselves and laid down to grain, vegetables or potatoes.

Overview of farming

These 50 years saw radical changes in the practice of farming


In 1945 farmers were often short of manpower, and such labour as there was became more expensive with the setting up of the Agricultural Wages Board in 1949. Horses, one pair to a man, which had dominated the scene for a thousand years, were slowly giving way to the paraffin tractor. This revolution was confirmed by the arrival of hydraulics and the 3-point linkage, which finally overcame the limitation of human muscle power for lifting heavy loads. These machines – ploughs, seed drills, combines, potato harvesters, irrigators, muck spreaders and crop sprayers – but above all tractors and fork lift trucks – became ever larger and more sophisticated – and more expensive.


A typical farm which employed 15 men in 1945 – with seasonal help from itinerant Irish labourers – would by 2000 be run by the farmer himself with perhaps one or two other hands at the most. The Dales at one time employed 70 workers in the vegetables and ran a daily bus to Tranent. No more.


The old steadings were no longer large enough to house the machines and were replaced with steel frame sheds. Cottages became empty derelict at first, aided by the ill-considered roof tax of the 1950s; later many became private homes.


Horses could reproduce themselves, and the simple machines of the 1940s lasted for years and could usually be repaired by the local blacksmith. Costs, among which labour was the highest, were low. Now the relation between labour and capital costs did a somersault, and borrowing from the banks became an even more necessary part of farming. Capital works like those at Auldhame, where Tommy Dale built four miles of concrete roads and laid down irrigation pipes and underground reservoirs to hold 13 million gallons of water, were put in train.


The last ten years of the period saw an increasing tendency to enter into co-operative agreements, to share machinery and enhance purchasing power and to use contractors for sowing, spraying, harvesting etc.


The use of pesticides and fertilisers came increasingly to supplement or even replace the traditional means of protecting the ground with crop rotation and animal manure. No more would be heard a Tommy Dale (who bought cattle, fed and kept them indoors to collect the manure) aspiring to build a manure heap as high as Berwick Law!

The Market

There was 15 years of steady prices with the Potato, Egg and Milk Marketing Boards. Then there was a lull. Then in the 1970s came the advantageous European regime, gradually spoiled by the high pound. Then in the mid 1980s supermarkets began to dominate sectors of the market.

There was an increasing tendency towards end of period to try to minimise overheads by buying more land, which tended to keep the price of land high.

In the 1980s some were tempted to farm with an eye on the subsidy position but by the end of the period production was dominated by the demands of the market, supplying through Black’s at Berwick-on-Tweed or various grain and potato merchants.

Latterly the golf course on Whitekirk Hill (designed for George Tuer by Cameron Sinclair) both attracted visitors and offered considerable employment. It opened in 1995, with a club membership growing to over 400 and a very popular bar and restaurant open to all. It became a challenging venue for the PGA Junior Tour. Whitekirk covert, planted with Scots fir and pine in the 1960s, became an integral part of the golf course, which blended happily into the landscape, made exciting use of contours and incorporated two ponds and two small lochans. Work on the leisure and health centre (and creche), and swimming pool began with an opening date set for May 2001.