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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
The Tyne and its "Spates"


ALTHOUGH the Tyne has been named by a country poet, the “gentle Tyne,” yet it is a matter of history that it has often been very turbulent, and caused much damage in property and loss of life, by its sudden and great risings.

In 1358 an extraordinary inundation took place. The Nungate was swept away. Fordoun relates an anecdote of one John Birley, whose house was flooded, but having made a raft, got it fixed to the Nungate Bridge, and clung safely until he was removed. He sung out,

“Row we merrily,
Well done, John Birley.”

On St Ninian’s Day, 27th September 1421, it suffered greatly by another inundation. On the 4th October 1775, the Tyne rose seventeen feet, and laid the town under water. Again in September 1846, it rose to a great height, and flooded the Nungate, and all the lower part of the town, as far up as Sidegate Lane, and the Custom Stone.

Our present purpose is to write a few notes as to the great floods of 1775 and 1846. They are not, however, to be compared in extent to the great floods of Morayshire in August 1829, so vividly described by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, who propounds a very plausible theory for their cause. He says the prevalence of westerly winds had produced a gradual accumulation of vapour, somewhere to the north of the island, and the column being suddenly impelled by a strong northeasterly blast, was driven towards the south-west. Now something of the same sort must have happened in the floods of 1775. The Tyne rises in a south-west direction from Haddington, and is fed by branches mostly from the south. A tremendous water-spout is said to have burst suddenly, which fell mostly in the neighbourhood of the Gifford Water, and rolled down to the great terror of the inhabitants. It is curious to note how certain striking events become associated in dates with the history of individuals. For instance, Tibbie Instant, an old Haddington woman, used to tell that she was six years old, the year of the Flood. Tibbie lived in the Nungate, and was put into a “kist” for safety, which floated on the top of the water. Old Mr Peter Martine used to say that nobody could mistake his age, as he was born in the week of the Flood, which event is recorded on the plate at the Custom Stone. The generation of the year of the flood have now all passed away, but some old traditional stories have been handed down. In the Haugh, the wooden Chinese bridge below the Sting Dam sluice was swept away, and the remains of it was found on Tyninghame sands. The damhead at Lang Cram was swept away. The Lauderdale aisle in the old cathedral was filled with water, and the leaden coffin containing the remains of John Duke of Lauderdale was shifted out of its place—a just retribution, as old people averred, for his sins and iniquities, there being “no peace for the wicked.” An old pear tree in Gimmersmills garden still remains, to the top of which Mr Forrest, the then proprietor, and Robert Davie, dyer in Haddington, had to climb, and remained on the tree until next morning. One of the mills was carried away. Lennoxlove, Clerkington, and Amisfield grounds were much injured, and much corn was carried down to the sea and lost. Carts off the wheels, with hens sitting on them, were swimming in the High Street, as far up as Nannie Moffat’s public-house, next the Tolbooth Wynd. Tibbiedale was flooded also, Myles Burn having overflowed its banks, and the water ran down Clark’s Entry. A sheet of water stretched from Lang Cram, and covered St Ursula’s meadow, the West and East Haughs, Mill Wynd, and Poldrate. Happily this flood happened in the afternoon, and no lives were lost. To commemorate the event, a plate was put up at John Hume’s house at the Custom Stone, with the following inscription:—“On the fourth day of October 1775, the River Tyne at 3 o’clock afternoon, rose to this plate. Quod Non Noctu, Deo Gratias, Nemo Enim Periit.”

The last remarkable flood occurred in September 1846, and being during harvest, much grain was again lost. The Tyne rose rapidly to the corner of the Custom Stone, and as far up as Sidegate Lane, as in the old flood of 1775* The Nungate, and the lower parts of the town were under water, as well as Gimmersmills, the Eastgate-End, St Martin’s churchyard, and as far east as Amisfield Park wall, which being broken down in several places, allowed the pent-up water to escape. The depth of water along Gimmersmills orchard wall was five feet, one of the Magistrates having ridden along it on horseback. Tyne House (Miss Wilkie's) was surrounded most part of the day. Millfield Lands, and the Haughs, were one sheet of water. The distillery grounds suffered much damage. The tenant of the West Mill had a cow carried down. The rushing of the impetuous flood over the damhead at Lang Cram, and Gimmersmills, was terrifically grand. The Nungate and Abbey Brigs, old veterans, stood bravely out, while newer erections, including the new railway bridge at Linton, with its lofty middle pier, were swept away. Many a country bridge over burns and rivulets was much shaken, and a general repair of them had to be made, entailing a heavy expense on the county.

Although the Tyne is a small river, and not rapid in its course, yet it is of considerable commercial value, there being upwards of twenty corn and other mills on it and its tributaries, also several extensive works, such as Messrs Bernard’s maltings, and Mr Coalston’s tan-yard. Its banks are adorned with much natural beauty, and with old castles and mansion houses of historical interest, such as Tynninghame, Lennoxlove, Stevenson, Clerkington, Coalston, Yester, Hailes, and Crichton Castle, &c. Sir Walter Scott did not think it beneath his notice, when he described Marmion’s course to Holy-rood through Humbie and through Salton Wood to Crichton Castle.

“That castle rises on the steep
Of the green vale of Tyne.”

The county poet, Richard Gall, has, in his address to Haddington, sung the praises of Tyne in the following sweet lines:—

Sweet Tyne! while thus thy streamlet plays,
An' sparkles bright in siller rays,
How bonny are thy banks an' braes
Through simmer's prime!
They claim the musing minstrel’s lays,
An’ thoughts sublime.
Yes, down thy banks, ance on a day,
Aft Saltoun’s sons wad musing stray,
Whan freedom fanned the kindling ray
O patriot fire,
An’ eke the muses went to play
Their gleesome lyre.

As fine a piece of river scenery as can be seen anywhere, is to be found on the Gifford or Coalston water, from Slateford downwards, to the old mill of Coalston, A walk there on a fine summer evening will afford much pleasure, and amply repay its length. The finely wooded banks, irregularly broken with red freestone strata, amid a mass of foliage, will to an appreciative mind afford much delight The beautiful vale of Yester, with “Goblin Hall,” is also well worth a visit The Tyne affords excellent trout fishing, its produce being known as of first-class quality. As Linton Linn has now been cut down to allow grilse and salmon to get up from the sea, the Cascade at Amisfield should be altered, or cut down, to allow these fish to reach the upper parts of the river. The upper proprietors and lovers of the rod should make a movement to attain this object, which is now much facilitated by a recent Act of Parliament on the Fishery Laws.


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