Yester | Environment

Land ownership | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

There have been few major changes in Yester apart from the new quarry in the foothills of the Lammermuirs at Longyester. Here, glacial deposits of sand and gravel have been quarried since 1976. This caused some alteration to the landscape but the main impact was the damage to road surfaces by heavy lorries. Changes in farming policy have recently begun to impact on the countryside: in the past, the farmer at Woodhead removed many hedges to make much larger fields to accommodate combine harvesters and other modern machinery, and in other places, fencing replaced many stone walls and hedges as it was much cheaper. In the 1960s Redshill farm made a pond and planted eight acres of woodland hardwood mixture. Since the late 1990s, some farmers in the parish, such as at Broadwoodside, have taken advantage of Forestry Commission and SERAD (Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department) grant schemes to plant small areas of mainly broadleaved woodland and hedges, to create ponds aimed at encouraging wild life, and to generally improve the environment. The grey partridge scheme is a successful part of this initiative, with Hugh Broad of Woodhead being just one of several participating farmers: wetland, hedge and beetlebank creation all contribute to biodiversity (East Lothian Courier 2003 April 4 p19).

The brief weather records kept by village resident Mary Renton since 1979 imply that Gifford’s weather is much the same as that elsewhere in the county. She has noticed that since the early 1990s, there have been far fewer hard frosts, and that there are not the falls of snow of the past. Gifford residents are certainly aware of the fall in temperature that accompanies a north or northeast wind. In the hills however, the weather can still be very harsh, and snow falls considerable – and often long-lasting. The winters of 1947 and 1953 brought heavy snow to the parish; in 1963, the weather was so bad that fodder had to be airlifted to stock in the Lammermuirs.

As in many other parishes, the severe floods of 1948 caused chaos in Yester; the main impact was the damage to the railway bridge at Humbie. As a result the railway closed for good, so there were no more goods trains for the sawmill products. After the Gifford line closed until c1959, railway lorries from Haddington uplifted parcels etc from Gifford station office and also delivered items from Haddington station.

Natural History: there has been an increase in the numbers of grey squirrels and a decline in red squirrels. Foxes have increased in number and also deer. Numbers of rats and mice have declined on farms perhaps because of more efficient poisons.

Birds of prey – buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels – have increased. Farmland birds have declined except where farmers have kept their hedges. Urban sparrows declined in the 1990s but are increasing again. In the countryside, native partridges have decreased and some French partridges have been introduced. Numbers of grouse have declined on the Lammermuirs. Yester estate raises pheasants.

There are still a good quantity of bumblebees, wasps and butterflies; Red Admiral and Peacock have increased perhaps due to global warming.

Most elm trees in the parish have succumbed to Dutch elm disease and been felled during the last 25 to 30 years. The 62 trees that comprise the lime (Tilia x europea) avenue in Gifford are reputed to date back to the 17th century; like much of the Yester woodland, the avenue is protected by a Tree Preservation Order. There is some concern over the compaction of the trees’ roots due to cars parking along the avenue. Other large old trees – beech – are situated in Yester estate on the Beech Bank. A large oak from Yester was used for panelling at Holyrood House during the reign of Edward VII.

There is also a commemorative Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) planted in 1863 on Yester drive.

The removal of hedges and chemical spraying has had a detrimental effect on wild flowers.

Lammer Law is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The blanket bog and heather moor is of botanical interest.

The Pishwanton Project near Longyester was established by the charity, the Life Science Trust, in 1996; the Life Science Centre is located in Pishwanton Wood. This is an ecological experiment based on farming with traditional methods aiming towards self-sufficiency. The ethos followed is based on the work of J.W. v Goethe and Rudolph Steiner.

Land Ownership

The 11th Marquis of Tweeddale (the Hays of Yester) was the major landowner of the parish and Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian. He was very good to his employees and tenants. Previous to his death in 1967, tenants of most of the farms on Yester estate were offered the chance to buy their farms (at a very reasonable price). There was no apparent provision made – trust fund or whatever – for financing the continuation of ownership of the house, perhaps because the marquis had no direct male heir. After his death, Yester House and the farms of Yestermains, Quarryford and Broadwoodside plus several properties in Gifford had, by 1968, been bought by Dr Innes Lumsden (Haddingtonshire Courier 1968 May 10). He kept the farms, but soon sold on Yester House (1969), its policies, the village hall and several properties in the village to Peter Morris (who with Derek Parker had previously bought Hopes House, Garvald). As the retired estate workers died, their tied accommodation was sold off. By 1971/72, Morris & Parker (Yester) Ltd. was the listed owner; they stayed at Yester for a few years then in 1974 sold the house to Gian Carlo Menotti, an elderly Italian composer. He in turn sold it to his son Francis, the present owner, in 1986.

By 1945, Yester’s other main landowner was the St Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society Edinburgh (from 1981, part of ScotMid); the society had bought the four farms – Longnewton, Kidlaw, Leehouses and Skedsbush – from Newton Hall estate in 1918. In 1953/54, the society had sold three of these four farms, needing to realise the capital, as they were no longer producing the revenues required. The new owners were Kidlaw (John G. Morrison); Leehouses (George H. Brown); and Skedsbush – the Agricultural Research Council. A couple of years later, Longnewton was sold by St Cuthbert’s to William J. Whiteford.

By 2000 most of the farms in the parish were owned by the occupying farmer, the one exception being Skedsbush which, since the early 1980s, has been a research centre owned by the Institute for Animal Health, following on from its earlier role for the ARC.

Sherrifside is now run by Townhead farmer, McDowell; Broadwoodside and Quarryford are owned by A. Dalrymple. The home farm – Yestermains – has been owned by the McCreery family since 1992.

Newton Hall mansion house from north east, 1963

Newton Hall mansion house from north east, 1963

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The parish has a wealth of attractive buildings. Yester House (1699-1728), St Bothan’s Chapel (variously 15th, mid 17th century and Adam frontage 1753) and Yester parish church (1710) are all outstanding A listed buildings, and within Gifford village there are some 24 B listed properties, and several C listed. Nonetheless, over this period, the parish, and Gifford in particular, nearly lost some of its most interesting buildings; many were rescued from decay just before it was too late. This is in spite of the village being a designated Conservation Area since 1969.

In the parish

In May 1965, Newton Hall mansion house was demolished. The owner found it too large and expensive to repair after occupation by troops during the war. The roof had been removed to avoid taxes and the Royal Engineers employed to blow up the house. Described as a ruin in 1970, the remains were cleared and a new house built on the site. Later, this house too was cleared and another new house built by N Galbraith.

At Broadwoodside, two of the cottages here were occupied until 1998. The farm steading and further cottages were all redundant farm buildings that were allowed to decay. The group were part demolished, refurbished and extended to form a large private house 1999/2000. The approach road was diverted and the surrounding area landscaped. The two cottages were combined and refurbished to form one house (architect – Nicholas Groves-Raines).

In the village

Apart from the nursery pavilion (where the dairy was on the ground floor) where stonework is in need of repair, Yester House itself has been reasonably well maintained, partly due to the historic buildings repair grant scheme, which between 1977 and 1982 awarded £203,690 to Gian C. Menotti. There was local uproar when the change of ownership in 1986 (to Francis Menotti, under a family trust) meant that the public right of access to the house on nine days a year (one of the terms of the grant scheme) no longer applied (East Lothian Courier 1996 December 13 pp1,2,21). In contrast to the work on the house, some of the ancillary buildings on the estate have suffered over the years.

The Gardener’s House (c1824, also known as Bailiff’s Cottage), the walled garden, and hothouses at Yester House are all B listed, but were neglected throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The hothouses are ruinous and in a state of collapse, and the Gardener’s House has also been allowed to fall into dereliction.

The B listed Stables (1820-26) have been allowed to decay over the last 30 years, and the former riding school is a ruin. Grandiose plans under the present owners to create a music school and performance space have never been realised.

St Bothan’s Chapel (formerly St Cuthbert’s Collegiate Church) in Yester House grounds, was the ancient burial place of the Giffords and Hays, and is owned by the Yester Trust. Between 1990 and 1995, a grant of £161,700 under the historic buildings repair grant scheme from Historic Scotland enabled the necessary repairs and conservation work to go ahead. The chapel was re-roofed with stone slabs, decayed masonry was replaced, and windows reglazed. The hoped-for right of public access, three or four times a year, to the chapel – part of the funding agreement- has not been easy to achieve; however, a service was held there in 2000 to pray for the cancellation of third world debt (East Lothian Courier 2000 July 28).

In spite of some repairs in the 1950s (mainly by donation from the feuars of Gifford), by 1977 the B listed village hall (previously a school) had fallen into neglect when it was owned by the proprietors of Yester House. In 1968, following the death of the 11th Marquis of Tweeddale, the hall was bought by Parker and Morris, who wanted to turn it into commercial premises; this was refused by East Lothian District Council. The hall was bought by the feuars of Gifford in 1979 with a view to restoring it for the benefit of the community. The Gifford Community Association, founded in 1979, has maintained and run it ever since. Money for major restorations and alterations was raised by 50% grant from the Scottish Education Department, 25% from the Regional Council Educational Department and 25% from covenants from local people. Restoration and improvements were completed during 1981 and the hall then reopened; the building was completely re-roofed three years later.

Ever since, the village hall has been the centre of social activities in Gifford (see also Leisure and Local Government).

The old Corn Mill in Station Road was built as a water mill in the 1770s; it fell into disuse and was a ruin until Peter Wilson restored it in 1983. It is C listed.

There have been some striking new developments built in the village. Private homes include the Rink on Haddington Road by owner/architect Ian Arnott (Campbell & Arnott); located in the garden of the former manse, the design won a Civic Trust Award in 1965. This is a 1963 house, described by McWilliam (The Buildings of Scotland: Lothian p201) as ‘single storey, with whitened brick walls boldly distinguished from plate glass voids, and upstanding monopitch roof lights, remarkably sympathetic with the Church nearby’.

Between 1965-69, a development of 14 houses was built on Tweeddale Avenue and Tweeddale Crescent. They are unusual in their flat-roofed modernity in a largely pitched roof traditional setting. Extensive use of rubble stonework and maturing planting has mellowed what were, at the time, controversial designs.

The Octagon in Station Road was a single storey, flat-roofed house built in 1974, based on an eight-sided plan, by architect Michael Calthrop. It has since had another storey added, contained within a steep pitched, slated roof.

The most noticeable new-build in the village is Yester Primary School on Walden Terrace, built in 1968. This seven-classroom school replaced the smaller village school and catered for pupils from surrounding settlements. It is on three levels, roughcast, with a combination of flat and single pitch roofs, which accords happily with its residential neighbours. The architects were Reiach & Hall.

From early in the 18th century, the designed landscape (Land Use Consultants (1987) pp253-259) around Yester extended over about 870 ha (2150 acres). The mid 18th century picturesque landscape was maintained until the estate was sold late in the 1960s; since then, development has been minimal, and the landscape, being ephemeral, has suffered. Yester House, the gardens and policies changed ownership in 1973/4 from Messrs Morris and Parker to the Menotti family. Dr and Mrs Lumsden owned the remainder of the estate until 1992, shortly after Dr Lumsden’s death, when it was sold. The Menotti family then purchased Yester woodlands. Yester Mains, Broadwoodside and Quarryford farms were sold separately. The decline of the integrity of this previously cohesive landscape is regrettable, though understandable.