Whitekirk & Tyninghame | Homes

Utilities | Shops & Services

The main centres of population in the parish throughout the period were Tyninghame and Whitekirk; the nature of these two places though had changed. In 1945, Tyninghame, two miles from East Linton and six from Dunbar, was still largely home to the families of those who worked on Tyninghame estate. Likewise at Whitekirk, four miles south of North Berwick on the old Edinburgh road, lived the farmer, his workers, a minister, a schoolmaster and a postmistress (Snodgrass, C.P. 1953 p372). Each farm had some cottages for its workers and perhaps a bothy or two for the itinerant Irish. The great house at Tyninghame was home to Lord Haddington, Newbyth mansion lay empty and the substantial Mains houses were occupied by owner or tenant farmers.

Tyninghame Village from the east.

Tyninghame Village from the east.

By 2000, there had been extraordinary change. The two great houses and most of their outbuildings passed from the hereditary ownership of distinguished families to multiple occupancy. Though most of the farmhouses were still occupied by farmers, the many farm cottages were now largely in the hands of careful owner-occupiers. New houses, perhaps 50 in all, had sprung up in various well-chosen sites. Buildings where cattle had lowed now echoed to the hum of central heating and the early morning snarl of departing cars.

The district council had built four houses in Whitekirk in 1940, and added eight Orlit houses on the main road in 1948. These were the only council houses in the parish and by 2000 most of them had been bought by the sitting tenants.

Recollections of homes

As far as interiors is concerned there was of course a huge difference between farmhouse and farm workers’ cottages or indeed between the former and Tyninghame House. Newbyth mansion was mostly unoccupied during the period until its conversion. One lady I spoke to worked at the ‘big house’ and one whole long working day a week she had to devote to the polishing of the brass and silver.

The farmhouses were spacious dwellings, with generously-sized rooms, big ‘living’ kitchens with Aga, utility rooms with boilers and outhouses. They have not changed much over the years, apart from central heating having been put in, some double or secondary glazed and modern appliances in the kitchen.

The council houses and Orlits were built with a range in the main room, which also heated the water and a coal boiler in the kitchen for laundry. The floors were covered with vinyl with mats through the house. (There were of course no stairs). A kettle was singing on the range and the dinner was cooked there. The mothers who worked on a farm or in a farmhouse had to put the pot on the stove before they left. Most cottages had two bedrooms, one for the parents, one for the bairns and beds in the attic. One family lived for several years in a sort of bothy with one bedroom and the attic to be shared by all six children, boys and girls. They were very grateful to move into one of the new council houses.

When the Whitekirk farm was sold six of the cottages were turned into three and they made very comfortable homes for two families, and one a holiday home for an Edinburgh lawyer. The post office cottage was enlarged because the shop became part of the house and the cottage next to it was also enlarged because its ‘single-end’ was incorporated in it.

Some owners have built a garage or conservatory, but the look of the village in 2000 was very much the same as in 1945. It is changing in 2001 with new developments.

Recollections of standards of living

Before these changes came, fuel for heating and cooking was coal, the coal lorry coming once a week. At some farms the workers were given sacks of coal as a Christmas gift. Until electricity came in 1953, lighting was provided by Tilley lamps and candles. The paraffin for the lamps was bought from the post office shop, which kept it in a special shed to the right of the house.

Breakfasts were substantial, including porridge, eggs (from ‘Granny Main’ from Whitekirk Mains) while the midday meal was the main meal, many times ‘one-pot meals’, a roast on Sundays. After work was done there was ‘tea’, always with some hot snack, bread, butter and jam. The children got their main meal at school.

A small number of new houses had been built varying in scale from the substantial – Newbyth House, Ashfield House, Old Stonelaws, Howdens, the Pillars at Seacliff – to the modest, mostly in the second half of the period; sensitive small scale developments for sale were planned or in train at Tyninghame and Whitekirk. A proposal in 1990 for 50 houses at Whitekirk received a hostile reception from villagers and was withdrawn. Tyninghame House, Newbyth mansion, stables and steading all housed affluent families from the 1980s. Few of these developments violated agricultural land.


Public water supply and sewage schemes were in place throughout the period. Electricity came to Tyninghame in 1948 and to Whitekirk in 1956. Coal was the normal source of heat (though since the 1800s ‘the poor find their interest in picking up the broken and decayed branches in Lord Haddington’s woods, to which they have at all times free access’ Wallace, J. 1835 p41). The houses had a range for cooking and a hot water boiler. Lighting was by paraffin lamp. During the period, oil and LPG began increasingly, though not completely, to replace coal; a gas main was laid along the road from North Berwick in 1995 but only reached as far as Leuchie.

The only street lighting, which was in Whitekirk, had been in place since the 1960s – also a 30mph speed limit. Tyninghame, as the period closed, coveted the speed limit but could not agree to accept the street lighting, which would justify it. In 2000 the public telephones at Whitekirk and Tyninghame, and the telephone exchange at Whitekirk, were still in use. Also in 2000 a mobile phone mast was erected near Lawhead.

Shops & Services

The villages had changed from their role in servicing a busy estate in 1945, to very different places by 2000:

There were of course still the farmers and farming families themselves with a few workers on their land, a smithy at Merrylaws, a sawmill in Tyninghame, some tradesmen, landscape gardeners, a garage, a farm shop, a coffee/gift shop and an agricultural machinery repair shop. Horses were only kept for riding and there was hardly a house without a car (or two)

The general aura of the parish had changed from rural and all that that implies to comfortable middle class.

The village post office and shop held out in Whitekirk until it closed in 1983 after the retirement of the last postmistress. It did good business in paraffin until the electricity came, and in sweeties for the schoolchildren from next door until the school closed. The property lay empty for two years and then became a private house.

Tyninghame had both joiner’s shop and smiddy in the 1950s. The latter became the post office and general store. A coffee and gift shop replaced the general store in the mid 1990s, and retained the post office as well until 1999.

The sawmill at Tyninghame ceased to operate in the 1960s and became a private house, as did the joiners’ shops at Tyninghame and Bankhead. Alec Anderson at Merrylaws was the only blacksmith still going strong in 2000.

Gerry Fitzell started in 1990 with a small motor engineering workshop at Whitekirk Mains and moved later to a more modern facility on the Whitekirk golf course, with Alex Sibbald, agricultural engineer as his neighbour.

Grocers, butchers, greengrocers, ironmongers and coal merchants from North Berwick, East Linton and Dunbar had van deliveries for orders, and still in 2000 a fishmonger from Cockenzie called every Wednesday evening. Milk was also delivered throughout the period.

Food was bought from the vans: the butcher, the baker, the ironmonger (who took orders for the following week, also for sewing needs) and the grocer. When the milk was all done in bulk and sent straight to the big dairies the milkman started calling. He had as well to provide the school with its ? pint bottles. At Lochhouses they called the grocer ‘The midnight man’ as he came there at the end of his round – 11pm on a Saturday. Once every six months or so someone from McLeod’s Tea called, selling only tea.

A fish man arrived in later years and was in 2000 still there on a Wednesday; the only other one by then being the milkman.

In the early 1950s, Andrew Logan would take a pony and trap from Tyninghame into East Linton on Tuesdays and Thursdays for messages, tethering the pony at the fountain and popping over to the Crown for a pint or two before making his way back. When he retired the estate bought a van, which probably knew the road less well than the pony had done. The Cochranes at the Knowes established a very successful farm shop in 1984, specialising in local produce, eggs and a wide range of homemade fare.

On buying clothes and so on

The days of the drapery van were over. For clothing the farm workers and their families went to the Co-op in Dunbar, diligently saving the ‘divis’. There they bought as well any of the basic furniture they needed – bedding, floor covering, curtains, kitchenware. Most spent the days in wellies, the evenings in slippers. Nearly all the ladies remember their first nylons, but before that stockings and a corset. The tailor in Dunbar measured the men on the Saturday afternoon and they could collect their suit the following week. Most only had one suit, for Sundays, weddings and funerals. The ladies all possessed a hat.

And on hair care

The men had their hair cut by one of their own, not always too expertly. The ladies and girls too helped each other and put curlers in. The older ladies normally sported some kind of bun. But when money and transport became more readily available, they visited the hairdresser in East Linton and came home with permed curls!