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John Clay - A Scottish Farmer
Chapter IV - Waygoings from Winfield Kerchesters and Plenderleith


The farm of Lanton Lees passed out of the Clay family's possession in the early seventies. The next place was Winfield and unfortunately it was not a friendly leaving. The farm had long been the property of the Trotters of Mortonhall and Charterhall. Old Mr. Trotter and his son Sir Henry Trotter were ideal landlords, but in division of the property at Richard Trotter's death three farms were left to the second son — the famous Jock Trotter, Master of the Meath Foxhounds. They were New Horndean, Fishwick Mains and Winfield. Hunting hounds and depending on a Berwickshire estate do not harmonize, and after some years Trotter became bankrupt and the farms were for sale. James Black, late of Grindon and living at Chiswick, purchased them. He was a close, rather shrewd man, very obstinate and purse-proud. Above all this, he had an inveterate grudge against the Clay family — for what reason we know not. Enough for the story is the fact it was there. Like a hawk watching for its prey he kept his eye on John Clay and waited his opportunity. To tell the whole story we must hark back some years. In 1879 the lease of the farm expired and by arrangement the writer was to succeed his father. The arrangement was carried through. The farm was valued by George Mills, tenant of Green-end near St. Boswells. The lease was made out and transcribed in accordance with the old lease, except the the rent which was slightly increased. The writer went to Canada on business on January 6,1879, and did nt return until April. Delays for one reason and another took place and the lease was not signed until June or July 1879. Then it was distinctly understood with Mr. James Low, factor for the estate, that in the event of the writer leaving for Canada permanently, which he did in the month of August, 1879, his father should carry on the farm — in fact, there should he no change. Consequently the lease never became operative because possession of stock, etc., never passed. As times grew worse in farming the rent was reduced, first to 600 per year from 780, and then to 500. When Black got the property he refused to accept it at the rate of 500 per year. John Clay, acting on his counsel's advice, paid the money into the Bank of Scotland, Coldstream, in the names of Black and Clay, and there it lay on deposit receipt. Two years and a half passed and then Black's agent, Mr. Porteous of Coldstream, an old and tried friend of John Clay's, gave him notice to quit at Whitsunday 1892, and preparations were made to this end at once by the tenant. The tenant held that his original lease executed in i860 held him, the other lease never having been in operation. Under it he was only bound to leave thirty-five acres of two-year old grass. As the years passed he laid away a lot of land to permanent pasture — some of it very valuable. He made overtures to leave this pasture land if he was paid for it by the landlord. He did everything that was possible to make a bargain. The reply was an application to the Court of Session to stop his ploughing up the old grass. This was the opening gun of a long and stubborn fight, the landlord always on the offensive. The temporary injunction was dissolved at the hearing. It was a Saturday that Lord Low gave his decision. At daylight Monday morning the work of turning the fine old grass over into red land was begun, and by the week-end fifty acres or more of permanent pasture — one field as good as any in Berwickshire — was ready for crop. To plough it up seemed like sacrilege but there was no other course open. A party who had taken the farm at once threw up his lease and a new arrangement had to be made. This fact intensified the landlord's already wrought-up feelings and, backed up by some of his sycophants, he swore vengeance against his tenant.

The next question that arose was in regard to compensation for unexhausted manures, etc., etc. The Agents for the tenant gave the landlord's Agents notice that they would file a claim. They did this in June, 1892. Under the Act of 1883 you had to file your claim four months before the end of the lease. The landlord held that the lease expired at Whitsunday. The tenant held that the end of the lease was the separation of the crop and that Martinmas 1892 was the legal end of the lease. The Court of Session took this view of it. Black was not satisfied, so he went to the House of Lords. The lower Court was sustained and he had to pay the piper. It was a long, bitter fight, giving the tenant great anxiety and costing him about 300. What it cost the landlord did not transpire. The next round was in regard to the rent. There an intricate question came up. John Trotter, when he reduced the rent from 600 to 500, was a bankrupt in Ireland but he was not so in Scotland. It was maintained by the Landlord that he had no right or rather was legally incapable of reducing the rent, but the Court of Session held otherwise, and thus ended a long and tiresome litigation, every point being won by the tenant, but it cost him a lot of worry and anxiety besides considerable pecuniary loss. They were the only lawsuits he ever had in his life but they were more than fall to the share of the average farmer. The rent and the amount for compensation could be calculated, but the old grass was a valuable asset not easily estimated without knowing the actual facts. When Lord Low's decision was made the rent of the farm went down 100 per year. At three per cent, it means 3,300. How much of this belonged to the tenant? Winfield had all along been farmed and treated generously. A fortune had been spent on cake and feeding stuffs on the old grass. No doubt the tenant had his money back, for he lived in prosperous times; but the fact remains that he left a great unearned increment and there was no means, legal or otherwise, of getting it back. His labor and money, his skill and energy went for almost nothing, for the amount of compensation received was a pittance in comparison with his outgoings. And so Winfield went and with it many a memory of the Clay family.

The outgoings at Kerchesters and Plenderleith were pleasant and easy. The Kerchesters sale held May 15, 1896, was a grand success. The stock came to the hammer in splendid order and realized over 8,000. The incoming tenant was the landlord, and although at one time there was some chance of a dispute it was smoothed over and the whole transaction was closed up in the usual way. Mr. John Wilson, Chapelhill, acted for the tenant. The total sum realized for stock, way-going crop, hay, manure, etc., was nearly 13,000. It was no great strain to leave Kerchesters. When he left it in May, 1896, John Clay was nearly 72 years of age, and feeling that a big farm like Kerchesters, with ever increasing labor and other troubles, was more than he could manage, he really welcomed the quitting day. He had been splendidly treated, except in one instance, by his Laird, and when he turned his back on the scene of his labors there were no regrets. In early days he had revelled in the work; as success came he saw the work of his hand bear fruit, and when old age cast its shadow across his path and his family had sought other fields, he felt that the hour had come for retirement, and so he left the everchanging vistas of Tweedside for Dune-din to spend in its academic shades the balance of his life.

The Plenderleith lease ran out in 1898, and he decided to give it up also. He had never felt as much at home there as in Lammermoor. The great swelling hills of greenery never filled his eye like the purple sides of the Twinlaws. When George Douglas, Upper Hindhope, took the place, they soon met and made an arrangement about the stock. They agreed as to the price, except a shilling per head between them. This was left to David Todd, Cattle Salesman, Edinburgh, and after a memorable day looking over the stock the extra shilling went to the outgoing tenant. It was an amicable business arrangement, reflecting the sound sense of both parties. The stock, etc., on Plenderleith came to about 6,000. And so ended his active farming days, for his tenancy of Wedderlie was in late years more of a pleasure than a burden. The farm was the apple of his eye. His other places he always treated as a commercial enterprise; but the Lammermoor farm — the child of his early days, the spot where he had spent his happiest hours —was to him what Abbotsford was to Scott or Tantallon to Douglas. It was dreamland, peopled by living characters, whose minds though still and deep opened up into rich seams of thought once you had the opening wedge. Many a summer evening with his wife and young family around him he lay amid the heather and gathered inspiration from the scene; saw fairy figures in the moving clouds touched by the evening breeze and painted by the setting sun, gray and gold and opal and violet too, sinking at last into a roseate hue as the fiery orb of day sought other lands. Above, the music of the skylark, pierced now and then by the wild, weird note of the curlew.


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