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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Farm Stewards in East Lothian


EAST LOTHIAN has been acknowledged to be superior to most other Scotch counties in its soil, climate, and farming. It has produced many eminent farmers, probably more in former generations than the present. In addition to those already mentioned in separate chapters, George Sherriff of Broomhouse, Andrew Howden of Lawhead, Robert Hope of Fentonbarns, John Brodie of Amisfield Mains, John^ Howden of Ugston, George Brown of Halls, &c., may be alluded to as first-class farmers, among many others who, in their day, by their skill and energy, led the way to the improvement of the soils of East Lothian, and to a greater development of the resources of its agriculture.

The following remarks on a class of men, bred and reared on farms under eminent agriculturists, may be interesting; we allude to farm-stewards or “ grieves.” Many worthy specimens of such men, now gone, have been known, yet their memories remain fragrant at many a farmer’s fireside. It has been often remarked that good masters are generally served by good and valued servants; and many examples of grieves and hinds living on the same farm for one, two, or three leases are qviite common in the county. Of such men some names are now given.

John Walker, bred under the late Mr Brown of Markle, served him and his two sons, Alexander and theMajor, first in Markle and afterwards in Drylawhill, for several leases. He was a man of rare parts, and a good manager of farm operations, and as true as steel to his master’s interests. He died as he had lived, a much respected elder of the Free Church of Scotland at East Linton.

Alexander Ross, steward at Morham, first under Mr Sommervaile, and latterly under the late James Aitchi-son, Esq., of Alderston. He was a man of great general intelligence, and altogether a superior man in his profession. Having the entire management of a clay farm, difficult to work and keep in order, he evinced great skill in raising superior crops. His opinion was often asked in agricultural matters, and his sound judgment was universally acknowledged. In private life he was an example to all, and was ordained an elder, first in the parish church of Morham, and latterly in the Free Church of Yester.

George Brown, at one time farm-steward at South Belton, under Captain Hay of Belton, was a remarkable man in his day. In his management of a fine farm, producing the best quality of grain, he brought the capabilities of the soil to the highest degree of perfection, and sold the produce of the farm at the highest market price going. He latterly managed the Home Farm of Foulden, in Berwickshire. He died full of years and much respected.

William Vert, steward to the late Mr Miller of New-house, served his master faithfully for forty years. After Mr Miller’s death he retired, and died at East Linton, an old respected man.

William Robertson served the Walkers of Whitelaw for two generations. He was a man of sterling integrity, and a much valued servant of the family. He was a son of the old patriarch of Crossgate Hall. He is buried in Morham Churchyard.

George Heriot, farm-steward to Adam Bogue, Esq., Linplum, for two leases, and afterwards for one to , Mr James Brodie. He was much respected by all who knew him, as a good and worthy man. He died in 1868, full of years. He was an elder in the Free Church at Garvald.

James Vert was for upwards of sixty years in the service of the Yules of Fenton and Gibbs Lees, an old East Lothian family, who always respected their old servant and knew his worth. When he left the family’s service, Mr Yule presented him with an elegant silver snuff-box with a suitable inscription.

Many other names of good and honest men could be added to the above list, but sufficient has been noted to testify that the farm-servants of East Lothian are in general men of a superior character and intelligence, and deservedly esteemed. Bom and bred in the locality where they lived and died, they naturally acquired a keen interest in their master’s welfare. Educated at the old excellent parochial schools,—sometimes, however, in a very moderate degree,—they received the rudiments of religious and secular knowledge, which in riper years developed itself and bore good fruit. Long may the farm-servants of our county and country be enabled to give their sons and daughters as good an education as the present Board Schools under the new system can afford! It is the best legacy they can give them, enabling them to get well on in the world, and now more than ever, when so many openings for skilled and educated young men are afforded by emigration to the different colonies of Great Britain, and in the great commercial and manufacturing establishments of the country.

Such examples as have been given of farm-stewards who have lived and died respected should be an encouragement to young men of the present time to follow their footsteps, and stimulate them to keep up the high character of East Lothian farm-servants.

Our national poet, Bums, in the. following splendid stanza, has immortalised the Scottish rustic peasant, and long may such a noble sentiment prevail in our land :—

“Oh Scotia! my dear, my native soil,
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content.
And oh ! may heaven their simple lives prevent
From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile!
Then howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,
A virtuous populace may rise the while,
And stand a wall of fire around their much-loved isle.”


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