Whitekirk & Tyninghame | Environment

Land Ownership | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

By the end of 2000, the ecclesiastical parish boundaries remained as they had been for generations, though that year, Presbytery had threatened to amend them. The civil parish boundaries too remained unchanged, but the two however, did not exactly coincide.

The floods of 1948 did cause severe damage on that part of the parish bordering the river Tyne, which – until the construction of Buist’s embankment and the sea wall on the,south bank of the river in 1820 – was largely salt marsh.

At Kirklandhill, the sea breached the sea wall and flooded a large acreage; the wall was repaired by the Department of Agriculture but the land could not be used for two and a half years. Knowes Mill was three feet underwater and Tyninghame sawmill was completely flooded. By comparison the 1992 floods did only moderate damage.

The once majestic Binning Wood, which had boasted the tallest tree in Scotland, a Scots fir over 100 feet tall, had been clear-felled during the war, the beech to make the frames of Mosquito aircraft, the rest for pit props and other uses. Over the 15 years of its replanting, roe deer, badgers, foxes, grey squirrels and numerous birds returned; an effort to control the greys and encourage the red squirrel was begun, with the importation of some darker reds from the Black Forest in Germany. Careful management over the years has made the woods a profitable source of timber and an increasingly beautiful amenity open to the public. On the old Newbyth estate can be found the largest oak plantation in Scotland.

Intensive cultivation of the fields has reduced the partridge population but on the golf course skylarks flourished and the lochans and ponds host mallard and tufted duck. The rabbit and hare population had been the scourge of the land; after the war a determined co-operative effort had vastly reduced their numbers, which still fluctuate with seasons, disease and the attention of stoats.

Many greenfinch nest on the unspoilt whins above Whitekirk village, numerous goldfinch are still summer visitors but there are fewer swallows and swifts. A barn owl had relocated from the tithe barn to an old quarry. Many greylag and pinkfoot geese visit in the winter, as do whooper swans. Crows, rooks and jackdaws have increased as the regular shoots were abandoned. Kestrels, sparrow hawks and several buzzards had taken up residence. A green parrot was seen around Whitekirk for several years.

By an access agreement signed on 18 December 1974 (Tindall, F.P. 1998 p236) the Earl of Haddington agreed to make available to the John Muir Trust the lovely stretch of Ravensheugh Sands, St Baldred’s Cradle and the Tynemouth for public use, and at about the same time the Dale family opened Seacliff beach and the Geagan. Large numbers of wading birds, gulls, gannets, cormorants, shelduck and eider, curlews, terns, occupy these outer reaches of the Forth Estuary. There are two designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (S.S.S.I.s), which in effect stretch along the entire coastline of the parish. The continuation of the North Berwick coastal strip is nationally important for turnstone, purple sandpiper and eider, and for its colonies of fulmar and housemartins. The saltmarshes of the Tyne estuary support breeding terns, again of national importance.

Seacliff Harbour with Gegan rock in background.

Seacliff Harbour with Gegan rock in background.

The coastal stretches and large swathes of inland country had been restricted areas during the war. A lively fear of possible invasion had led to the deployment of concrete blocks, barbed wire, pillboxes like that at Whitberry Point, and wooden posts set in concrete to deter glider landings on Ravensheugh Sands. Many landmines were laid. These were all slowly cleared in the 1950s, though attempts by the Home Guard to blow up the concrete blocks only served to fill nearby trees with fragments of stone, making them dangerous to fell. At the end of the period some decaying relics of these defences remained.

Land Ownership

In 2000, as in 1945, the parish could be divided into three distinct areas: the land and farms owned by the Dale family; Tyninghame estate; and Newbyth estate. While the ownership of the first two of these had remained relatively unchanged for 55 years, in contrast, Newbyth estate was no more. Broken up in 1946, it was no longer a single cohesive unit.

Auldhame, Seacliff, Scoughall and Lochhouses all remained in the hands of branches of the Dale family, though Auldhame House had been sold to a private buyer and William Dale had bought Lochhouses from Lord Haddington, his landlord, in 1984. The Dales also farmed New Mains in a shared farming agreement with Charles Lambert through their manager, Neil Knox.

The Tyninghame estate is owned by the Earl of Haddington (the 12th earl to 1986, and then the 13th). In 2000, it was either managed by his factor, Alastair Milligan (Tyninghame Links, Lawhead, Binning Wood), or farmed by tenants (Peter Cochrane at Knowes, Robert Carswell at Kirklandhill); the mansion and some lands outside the parish boundaries had been sold. Nevertheless, to all appearances the estate was much as it had been in 1945.

The dowager Lady Haddington had remained at Tyninghame when the rest of the family took up residence at Mellerstain, and then the mansion was sold in 1987 for £250,000 to Kit Martin. He divided it up into nine apartments, preserving the outward appearance of the house, and sold these on to private owners. The owners are obliged to maintain garden and grounds and have their own garden committee on which Lord Haddington or his representative sit as one member.

Tyninghame village had been established in 1761 as a model planned estate village and remained so in 1950. There were about 100 people employed on the estate but 50 years later, as machinery took over, the number had dwindled to five. Many houses in the village had been sold or let privately and ten plots sold for sympathetically designed housing.

From 1946 on, the significant and more visible change of ownership in the parish was the breakup of the beautiful Newbyth estate – mansion, and farms. This had been in the Baird family since the 1600s and had included Lennoxlove. The estate was split when the late Sir David Baird inherited Newbyth from an uncle in 1941; Lennoxlove passed to his brother Robert, who lived in the Bahamas, and he then sold his portion to the Duke of Hamilton in 1946. At the same time Sir David, whose roots were in Perthshire, sold the two farms of Newbyth and Whitekirk to the sitting tenants, James Gardner and William Main and, two years later, the remaining land and policies to Irvine Chalmers-Watson from Fenton Barns.

Newbyth mansion, 1972

Newbyth mansion, 1972 (Stephen Bunyan)

The stately Newbyth mansion, dating from 1807, had been used during the war as a convalescent home and remained in the hands of the South East Regional Hospital Board. It was briefly considered for use as a Borstal. It passed through various hands ending with Robin Jell, a developer. In June 1972, as work was about to begin on its conversion into nine apartments, it was severely damaged in a huge fire; however, the delayed work was completed a year later. Another developer, Christopher Weekes, turned the fine stable block into four apartments and another, David Gallacher, bought and developed the steading as a settlement of 17 houses.

Irvine Chalmers-Watson had consolidated his holding of Newbyth with Kamehill in an exchange arrangement with James Gardner (who now held Stonelaws with a further parcel of land at Bankhead to make a farm of 650 acres). In 1949, Chalmers-Watson built a new Newbyth House and used the land and the orchard as part of the family’s new turkey farming business; in the process he felled a lot of timber for sale and used obsolete trams and double decker buses from Glasgow as improvised turkey sheds. In 1958 he sold all that was left.

The 437 acre Mains of Newbyth, with Newbyth House, was sold to Anthony Hobrow and then by him in 1961 to Bill Elliott. He worked the farm for about 20 years, and planted thousands of trees both to replace the woodlands felled earlier and to add to them: for example Angus’s Wood on the East Fortune Road was planted to commemorate the birth of his son. He sold the farm to James Main (who had inherited Whitekirk Mains from his father) and retained Newbyth House with 35 acres of policies; Bill Elliott died in 1986. James Main was forced to sell up in 1988: Robert Dale from Lochhouses bought the Newbyth portion, and George Tuer from Yorkshire bought Whitekirk. George Tuer sold half of Whitekirk in 1999 to Robert Dale and Sir James Grant-Suttie of Balgone, retaining the rest for his golf course, some agriculture and some leasing.

Stonelaws was passed by James Gardner to his son Douglas who, on his retirement in 1985, sold it to David Miller from Cumbria. He in his turn sold the farmhouse and 500 acres to Colin Hunter, retaining 150 acres for intensive pig farming.

Kamehill was split from Newbyth in 1958 and sold to William Bruce from Seton Mains, who set up a pig isolation unit. He sold it in 1967 to William Cunningham from Dunbar who farmed pigs, initially very profitably, and built Ashfield House in 1972; but when the market collapsed he was forced to sell the land to Henry Wason from Fife, and Ashfield House to a private purchaser.

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The parish is rich in beautiful buildings, not all of which are grand in scale. Both villages were designated conservation areas in 1969, and are subject to additional planning constraints; the areas thus designated include the whole of both villages and Tyninghame estate. Historic Scotland has listed the more important of the buildings.

At Whitekirk, the parish church (see Belief) and the nearby tithe barn are both A listed buildings; the former manse (Lady’s Field) and Whitekirk Mains farmhouse are B listed.

The tithe barn had been started in 1540 as a country residence with gardens and pleasances by Oliver Sinclair, a favourite of James V, using stone from the pilgrim hostels which he had demolished, thus ending several centuries of pilgrimage to the Holy Well of Our Lady of Fairknowe. The well itself was ploughed over at this time and has never since come to light. After the Sinclairs abandoned it, the building began several centuries of use as tithe barn and cattle shed, decaying gently with time. In 1999 it was restored as a private house.

Fires at Whitekirk Mains steading in the 1970s led to the erection of modern steel frame sheds, which were demolished to make way for a residential development in 2000.

Newbyth old mansion is also A listed, with the stables and east lodge B listed.

Much of Tyninghame village is B listed; properties of note include the post office; smithy and smithy cottage; Teviot, Pear Tree and St Baldred’s cottages; the village hall, and the old school.

Tyninghame House too is A listed; on the estate, several of the ancillary properties are B (walled garden with gardener’s cottage, south lodge, the dairy, the factor’s house, the grieve’s house) and C listed.

The designed landscape at Tyninghame dates from the 18th century, with 19th and 20th century additions and amendments. The policies, the woodlands and the gardens continue to have a major impact on the appearance of the parish. In 1946, the Tyninghame foresters began the massive task of clearing, draining and replanting Binning Wood (400 acres), with the help of Italian prisoners of war, and the work lasted until 1961. Lord Haddington insisted on following the exact plan of 1707, with the same rides and clearings, but had to compromise on his wish to replace hardwood with hardwood because of the national shortage of stock, so that 75% of the planting was softwood.

Elsewhere in the parish

Knowes Mill, once a meal mill, remained derelict throughout the period, apart from the house. The increasingly unsteady footbridge across the Tyne at Knowes Ford was replaced with a new one in 2000. The ford itself was closed to public traffic after a car with a baby on board was swept away and the baby drowned in 1992.

The imposing remains of the pseudo-Jacobean Seacliff, (ruinous since it was destroyed by fire in 1907), have stayed much the same over the period.

Tyninghame sawmill was a watermill fed from a lade taken off the main river Tyne; it was subject to flooding. Waterpower was replaced by electric motors but the flooding problem remained. It was closed and became a private house.