Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Reminiscences of the Parish of Morham

THE parish of Morham is a very peculiar one in many respects. It is the smallest one in the county of Haddington, if not in Scotland, either in respect of population or extent The real population at last census was only 199; the acreage is 1458 Scotch acres; the church is as small, if not smaller than the manse, and the minister’s stipend the smallest in the county — but perhaps big enough when the number of the congregation and extent of the parish is taken into account. The congregation varies from twenty to forty people, and sometimes fewer, except perhaps on extraordinary occasions, when it may be a little more. The ordinary church collections varied some years ago from 5^d. to is. i£d. each Sunday, except on casual occasions. Dr Forsyth, a late minister of the parish, now of Aberdeen, an able preacher and divine, used to remark that in Morham “his light was hid under a bushel,” although his congregation was much larger than it is now. From the time of the Disruption in 1843, until lately, there were no elders*in the parish. An intelligent farmer in the parish^ being twitted on this point, remarked that Morham was such a model parish that no elders were needed. In the statistical account of the parish, written by Dr Forsyth, and published in 1837, it is thus stated about Morham: —“Morham is one of those few very small parishes in the Church, which ought either to be annihilated by dividing them among the surrounding parishes, or augmented to a sufficient amount of population by additions from such populous parishes as may be contiguous. In the case of Morham, the latter is the process that ought to be adopted. Addition might with propriety be made to it, from the outskirts of several of the contiguous parishes, where the inhabitants are considerably nearer the church of Morham than that of their own parish.”

The parish contains some very fine rich land near the church, and south and eastwards, while on the west side of the parish there is a good deal of very indifferent quality. The part formerly called Morham Muir, and the Haggs, now Rentonhall, and including Beechhill and Morham Bank, was eighty or ninety years ago all heather and whins. Mr Patrick Brodie, the tenant of Garvald, had the whole of Morham Muir, &c., upwards of 450 acres, for £$0 of yearly rent, and gave it up because it was too dear. A Mr Patillo was at one time proprietor of the whole. He divided it into Morham West Mains, Rentonhall, Morham Bank, and Beechhill, and sold them to different persons. The Earl of Wemyss is the largest proprietor in the parish, Mr Ainslie of Elvingston is the next.

Mr Forsyth thus describes Morham:—“In aspect, it is bare, tame, and unpicturesque, forming in these respects a complete contrast to the districts of Whitting-ham and Gifford to the east and west of it; although towards the western extremity it assimilates more to the richly wooded character of these districts. It has neither lake, mountain, nor stream (excepting the small burn of Morham) within its boundaries. It possesses not a morsel of what may be called fine scenery, with the exception of the pretty little glen which forms the minister's pasture glebe.” This description, however, is not strictly correct, for many pretty spots are to be found in the parish, as well as magnificent views from the higher places, of the Firth of Forth, the Fife Hills, the Bass, and Isle of May, Traprain and North Berwick Laws, and the Lammermuir Hills, Morham Glen is really a charming spot. Its beauties are well described in a poem written by the late Mr Robert Gray of Amisfield Gate. The Morham Burn, with its beautiful waterfalls of considerable height, and deep pools stocked with trout, runs through the glen. From its high banks grand views in a fine summer evening can be had of the Pentland and Ochil Hills, and even of Stirling Castle and Ben Lomond. The Morham burn is very circuitous in its course, and it is singular to note that the postrunner from Haddington crosses it and its tributaries no less than nine times during the delivery of his daily letters.

Old hamlets, old landmarks, and other old associations which were known to old people, and handed down by tradition, have now disappeared in Morham parish, as well as in many others, and their names are in the course of being lost. The village of Morham stood in a field on the north side of the road leading from Morham Loanhead to Morham Bridge. Not a stone or relic of it now remains. Crossgate Hall, a well-known place, where a famous road-side hostelry, in days of yore, was long kept by William Robertson, “the patriarch of the parish,” and latterly by his daughter Kirstie, has been demolished. Canty Hall, a hamlet of several houses east of Morham, has shared the same fate. An old cart and foot road, called Stabstane Loan, which began at Winton Bams, near Haddington, crossed the road leading to the Haggs Muir, through Bearford farm, and extending through the Muir to Morham Loanhead, and which was a near cut to Garvald and the south, was many years ago closed up, and made arable land. A tradition, as before stated, has been handed down that it was by this road that stones were carried in hand-barrows from Garvald quarries to build the “Auld Kirk ” of Haddington—the real and genuine “Lamp of Lothian.” The Garvald people, as well as the general public, had a right of passage along this road through the Muir. Cooper Neillans and old “Bannety” of Garvald frequently travelled with their carts through it; but in wet weather it was almost impassable, and they were frequently laired.

On the Morham Bum, which runs for some length alongside the road, was situated Shuit-her-tae Mill, or the Mill of Morham, to which the tenants of Morham were thirled long ago. The mill and its relative buildings have long ago disappeared. A field in the farm of Northrigg still retains the name of Shuit-her-tae. The Haggs Muir was at one time all covered with heather and whins. It was reclaimed, limed, and made arable by Mr Peter Forrest, tenant of Northrigg, towards the end of last century, and for many years under his management produced heavy crops of wheat, barley, and oats.

On the top of Roger Law, a field of Morham Bank, a hamlet of several thatched houses once stood. The writer of this article has been told by some old people that they were born there. A road from the bad road of Morham, which still exists to the disgrace of the county, led past this hamlet of Roger Law up to Bara Kirk, and was used by church-going people, and by travellers going southwards. This road, as well as Roger Law hamlet, is now only a subject of history.

Connected with this hamlet a pretty story of olden times has been handed down, and which is worth inserting here and preserving. An occupant of one of the houses, named William Robertson, with his wife and bairns, had been attending worship one Sunday at Morham Kirk. Mr Patrick Carfrae, then minister of the parish, who was translated to Dunbar in 1795, preached from Matt v. 7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Mr Carfrae was one of the most eloquent and accomplished preachers of his day. His sermon seems to have made a deep Impression on William Robertson and his wife, as the following practical fruit and effect of it will show. During the night a wild storm of snow arose, and William and his wife were awakened with a loud knocking and howling at the door. On opening it, they found two vagrant women with a number of bairns shivering with cold, and wet, and hunger, who implored for shelter during the night. One of the women cried out, “ Oh, for God’s sake, take me and my bairns in, but do not take the other in, for she's a bad woman, and her bairns have never been christened.” Willie’s wife replied, “Christened or no christened, I’ll take ye baith in, bairns and a’, in sic a night like this.” The snow-storm increased in violence; the road was drifted up, and Willie and his wife had to keep and feed the two women and their bairn5 for some days. Such instances of kindness of heart were not unknown among the peasantry of East Lothian in those days. Willie Robertson and his wife’s merciful kindness contrasts very favourably with the story of the Dumfriesshire farmer’s household, who refused shelter to a wayfarer in an awful night of wind and rain, and being asked despairingly, if there were no Christians in that part of the country, replied, “No, no, there are no Christians here; naebody but Johnstones and Jardines, so gang yer ways.” Kirstie Robertson, the late well-known hostess of Crossgate Hall, was a descendant of the kind and merciful hearted Willie Robertson and his wife of Roger Law.

Coal was wrought on the Haggs and the lands of West Morham seventy to eighty years ago, by Sir Archibald Hope and others; an old row of houses is still called the collier houses, and the debris and waste of coal can still be seen in many places on West Morham, There is no doubt a thin seam of coal still exists in the west part of the parish, but it may not be profitable to work. The Mealpock Bum, which divides Morham from Haddington parish on the north-west, is very interesting to a geologist. In the banks and bed of it, strata of coal, limestone, fire-clay, and shale are to be found in considerable quantities, also fine specimens, in the freestone bed of the bum, of sigillaria and stigmaria. The Mealpock Bum crosses the road, after running through Coalston Woods, at Woodend cottages. In its course through a field of West Morham a singular thing occurs. The burn makes its entry into a coalpit and reappears at a good distance farther down the field. When the burn is in flood it boils up in great fury. Various reasons have been given why the burn should have been called Mealpock Burn. When it is in flood, it is quite the colour of water which has been mixed with oatmeal, the stiff* whitish Coalston clay giving its character to the water. This may be one version of its name. Another is that beggars, both sturdy and gentle, long ago, on their way to Gifford and the south, used to sit down on its banks and empty their awmoses of meal, &c., from their pocks, and make their brose or bannies with water from the burn, plenty of wood being at hand to make a fire. The Mealpock Burn runs through a pretty glen on the east side of Sandersdean, and empties itself into the Morham Burn near Shuit-her-tae.

In Castle Shot field, on Mainshill farm, was the site of Morham Castle, as tradition hands down, not a vestige of which now remains to mark the spot where Malherb, the potent lord of the manor of that time, had his residence and his stronghold. The corner of the field near the kirk overhanging the glen below was perhaps the site of the castle.

Although the minister’s stipend of the parish of Morham is small, the salary of the precentor, the second official in the church, was still smaller in proportion, as the following application for an augmentation will show. A very decent person, now dead, of the name of Temple, who kept a small school in Haddington, and who went by the name of “Jupiter" was precentor for many years during Mr Graham’s incumbency. He appeared one day at a heritors* meeting, and made application for an augmentation of his salary in the following speech :—“It is with great diffidence that I appear before your honours to ask from you a favourable response to my application for a small augmentation to my salary as precentor of the parish church of Morham. When you consider, gentlemen, that my yearly salary is only £3, which comes to not quite 15s. 2d. each Sabbath, not counting Fast-days, and that I have to travel from Haddington to Morham each Sabbath, a distance of six miles, I hope you will not consider it impertinent of me asking a small augmentation from you. I have no wish to resign my office for two reasons. First, because I am sincerely attached to the Church of my fathers, the Church of Scotland; and second, because I much relish and admire the ministrations of the Rev. Mr Graham, the minister of the parish. Therefore I hope your honours will give a favourable response to my present application, which, if you do, I will always gratefully remember.” The heritors present agreed to give him an augmentation of two pounds, for which Mr Temple returned his sincere thanks and went away well pleased, to which Mr Graham, who happened to be present on some business of his own, added his usual phrase, “Just so.” Mr Graham, however, in his goodness of heart, used to add something to the precentor’s yearly salary out of his own pocket, besides giving him a dinner every Sunday.

It was the custom long ago, when the yearly dispensation of the sacrament was administered in Morham church in the month of July, for a number of the congregation to repair during the interval of service to the loft above the Dalrymple aisle, where refreshments of ale, bread, and cheese were furnished by Mr William Robertson of Crossgate Hall and his daughter Kirstie, This practice still exists in some parishes in East Lothian, as well as in many of the large country parishes of Scotland. Dean Ramsay, in his Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character, speaks of the country habit of making the gathering of the congregation in the churchyard previous to and after divine service an occasion for gossip and business, and gives an anecdote of a servant lass who would not engage with a mistress who denied her such gossiping. The girl said—“I canna engage wi’ ye, mem, for deed I wadna gie the crack in the kirkyard for a* the sermon.”

Morham used to be no exception, and perhaps is so still, to such an old practice in the country parishes of Scotland. Farmers, hinds, hinds* wives and daughters used to discuss the news of the town and country in the kirkyard before the bell was rung in and after the “ skail-ling,” and any bit of country scandal was well ventilated.

Dean Ramsay has also in his volume introduced many anecdotes about Scottish beadles or “betherals.” Morham parish can furnish a few anecdotes of the same kind, which elucidate in a small degree the eccentricities and racy remarks of that parochial character and functionary. It used to be the custom in Morham church for the minister to go up to the pulpit himself, without being preceded by the “betheral” to usher him in and close the door after he was in. But as new masters have new laws, so a new minister wanted the beadle to walk before him, and to shut the pulpit door after he was in. The beadle replied, “It is no that I canna dae what ye want, sir, but it has never been the practice in this parish. The minister aye gaed up into the poopit himself.” It used to be the practice in Morham parish for the waming-bell for public worship to be rung at half-past nine o’clock summer and winter, and in former ministers’ times mostly by the servant-girls of the manse. The beadle’s house being at Bogend, a distance of a mile and a half from the kirk, he made a complaint about having to travel three miles backward and forward, and eventually gave up the ringing of the warning-bell altogether. He used to complain in the following racy remarks—“Div ye no think it’s no reasonable for me to travel from Bogend, which is out of the parish, to ring the warning-bell for two or three minutes. I am shure the folk ken well eneuch it is the Sabbath day.” The warning-bell is now a thing of the past.

The collection plate stands outside the church door. One Sunday, now long ago, the plate was well filled with penny pieces and bawbees, besides some silver. On seeing which, a well-known farmer of the parish said to the elder, Mr Ross, “ Lord’s sake, Sandie, whae’s here the day ? I never saw such a collection in Morham before. There is surely some of the quality here today.” It turned out that a young farmer in the neighbourhood had a company of friends with him the night before. They had been playing cards, and had agreed to put all the winnings into Morham plate on the Sunday. Speaking of the church-door collections in the parish, the late Dr Cook, Haddington, was wont to tell a very good story, in which he happened to be the chief actor. The doctor on one occasion had been officiating in the church during the incumbency of Dr Forsyth. After sermon, and while chatting together in the manse, the latter jocularly remarked to his visitor, “You must be a very popular man in the parish, doctor.” “Aye,” replied the doctor, “what makes you think so?” “Oh,” said Dr Forsyth, “our usual collection is threepence, and to-day it is ninepence.” “Waes me for my popularity,” was the rejoinder; "I put in the extra sixpence myself! ”

The estate of West Morham belonged at one time to Mr Dunlop of Dunlop, in Ayrshire, whose gifted and amiable lady was a correspondent of Robert Burns the poet. He resided at Morham in 1788, as appears by some published letters of Burns to her. Dr Carfrae of Morham owed his introduction to the poet (with whom he corresponded about Mylne’s poems as formerly stated) to Mrs Dunlop’s being one of his parishioners. Her son, Captain Dunlop, was in possession of West Morham in 1800, and farmed it himself. His steward was Gilbert Burns, brother of the poet. When Captain Dunlop sold West Morham, some years afterwards, Gilbert Burns was appointed factor to Lord Blantyre, and he removed to Grantsbraes, where he resided till the day of his death, 8th November 1827. West Morham came into possession, by purchase, of John Somerville, Esq., long a partner of William Younger & Co., brewers, Edinburgh. After his death it was sold to James Aitchison, Esq., of Alderston.

The farm of Mainshill at one time belonged to the notorious Earl of Bothwell, husband of Queen Mary, about whom the following old story is narrated in the statistical account of the parish of Morham:—“1559, .October.—The Earl of Bothwell attacked Cockburn of Ormiston, who had received four thousand crowns from Sir Ralph Sadler, for the use of the congregation, and wounding him, carried off the money. Sadler mentions that Arran and Moray immediately went with two hundred horsemen, and one hundred footmen, and two pieces of artillery, to Bothwell’s house in Haddington, where he occasionally resided, but were a quarter of an hour too late. Having got notice that the troops were entering the West Port in pursuit of him, Bothwell fled down the ‘Gowl Close* to the Tyne, and keeping along the bed of the river, stole into the house of Cockburn of Sandybed by a back-door, and changing clothes with the turnspit, performed her duties for some days till he found an opportunity to escape. In return for this timeous shelter, Bothwell gave Cockburn and his heirs a perpetual ground-annual of four bolls of wheat, four bolls of barley, and four bolls of oats* out of his lands of Mainshill, in the county of Haddington, parish of Morham.”

Whitelaw Burn, a feeder of Morham Bum, on the east side of Mainshill farm, divides the parish of Morham from Whittingham parish. On the Morham side there stood within these few years the hamlet of Bogside, but which is now all demolished. On the Whittingham side there still stands the hamlet of Bogend, with its old-fashioned farmhouse. A largish bog at one time existed betwixt Bogside and Bogend, through which the bum flowed, the site of which can still be readily discerned. No doubt the two hamlets got their name from the bog. Bogend was a farm by itself at one time, but is now incorporated with the adjacent farm of Westmains. It was long occupied by Mr Henderson, father of George Henderson, merchant, Garvald, a curious character in his day. On the north side of the road the bum runs into a deep cavity, now covered up, which gets the name of “ The Sink.” On the farm of Standingstone is a large and upright stone, a pillar about which many legendary stories have been handed down. Eminent archaeologists have of late years inspected it, and searched for the bones of King Loth, a very old Scotch or Danish king, who, tradition hands down, was buried there, but no bones of any kind were found in the soil round it. Another similar stone is to be seen on the adjacent farm of Cairndinnes. It is thought they belonged to the time of the Druids, like many others of the same kind which are to be found in East Lothian and elsewhere. These pillars tell

A tale of the times of old,
The deeds of days of other years.

The farm of Standingstone gets its name from this stone. It was evidently brought along with its neighbour at Cairndinnes from Traprain Law, where any one can still see at the bottom of it, on the south side, immense blocks of the same kind of stone, porphyritic clinkstone, which have been detached from the precipitous stratified rocks on the south side of the Law, and fallen down to the bottom. It must have taken much time and trouble in those days to remove the stones and set them up in their present positions. In the north-east corner of the parish, and on the farm of Northrigg, is an old-established and well-known smithy, called Cald-ale, or, as it is better known to the county folks, “Cauld Yill.” The name is curious, and puzzles one as to its etymology. The names of Caldhame, Cald-shiel, Caldcoats, &c., are common enough in the country, but it is not easy to account for “Cauld Yill.” Perhaps some learned etymologist may help to solve the mystery.

Morham Kirk is situated in a pretty secluded spot, and is hardly seen from any point until you go down the brae, and are close upon it. It stands on a dry gravelly knowe, in the middle of the small churchyard, round which the Morham Burn sweeps. No record exists when it was first built, but there is no doubt it has been an ancient edifice. It was taken partially down and rebuilt in 1724. A few years ago, the interior was improved and reseated at considerable expense to the heritors, and now it is a very comfortable country church, more than enough, small as it is, for the real wants of the parish. Many of the lands in Morham parish belonged at one time to the old family of Dalrymple of Hailes, who were patrons of the parish. In a vault below and on the north side of the church are nine leaden coffins, containing the mortal remains of the old Dalrymples, including Sir David, the first baronet, and the celebrated Lord Hailes, who died in 1792. Miss Dalrymple of Hailes was the last who was buried there, somewhere about 1834. The vault is arched, and quite dry, and the Dalrymple arms are well and elegantly carved in stone above it It is understood that this old burial-place of the Dalrymples will not be used again by the present family. In the south wall of the church a long carved stone has been built in, that in former days had formed part of a Norman cross. Archaeologists of eminence pronounce it to be a fine and valuable specimen of the cross which prevailed in old buildings seven or eight hundred years ago. Where it came from cannot now with any certainty be ascertained, but it is probable it belonged to some old building near the present church. An old flat “through” stone, with an inscription to the memory of William Knox and his family, tenant in Morham, somewhere about 1598, is to be seen on the south side of the church. It is understood that he was connected with the great John Knox’s family, if not a member of it The inscription is now very much worn and defaced. Several elegantly carved “Memento Mori” tombstones are to be found in the churchyard, with the usual emblematic symbols of a former age, of time-glasses, cross-bones, scythes, skulls, &c.

The old manse of the parish at one time stood at the bottom of the brae. The north gable of it now forms part of the churchyard wall, and the site of it was added to the garden. It was an old-fashioned house, with a number of steps of Garvald red freestone, well worn, up to the front door. Being damp, and frequently inundated in the low part, when the burn came down in angry flood, it was condemned by the Presbytery of Haddington. The new manse was built in 1827. It is a large and commodious structure, and quite big enough for a minister’s large family. The manse garden is a spot of warm, rich, and well-sheltered land. It produces roots, fruits, and flowers of the finest quality. The late Mr Steel, minister of the parish, was a horticulturist and florist of the first class. He first brought Morham manse garden into much repute, besides forming an orchard, and planting a bank with hazel trees on the west side of the burn.

The Rev. Patrick Carfrae, a member of a much respected and widely connected East Lothian family, was long minister of Morham. He was translated to Dunbar in 1795. He preached from his manuscript, and as papers were not popular long ago among the country folk, he was called “Paper Pate of Morham.” He was an excellent preacher, and much above the average ministers of the day. His successor at Dunbar, the late Rev. Mr Jeffrey, says in his statistical account of Dunbar:—“ Dr Carfrae possessed in a high degree all the requisites of an orator and divine, and was one of the brightest ornaments of the classic age which is gone by.” The University of Edinburgh conferred the title of D.D. on him. Dr Carfrae corresponded with Robert Burns in 1789 about a volume of poems and tragedies which his relative Mr James Mylne of Lochhill wrote and intended to publish. General Carfrae of Bourhouses, a distinguished Indian officer, was a son of Dr Carfrae’s.

After Dr Carfrae’s translation to Dunbar in 1795, the Rev. John Steel, who was at that time schoolmaster of Dunbar, was presented by the Dalrymple family to the parish of Morham. He continued minister for the period of thirty-six years. He died 17th September 1831, aged seventy-two, and was buried at the west end of the church, where a tombstone was erected to his memory. Mr Steel was a man of no ordinary ability. He was a distinguished Latin and Greek scholar, and a proficient literary man in almost every department. Although no orator, nor such an accomplished preacher as his predecessor, Dr Carfrae, yet his ministrations were said to be always practical and useful for the parish. He was always attached to the Moderate party of the Church. His intimate friends used to tell him sometimes that his hands smelt as much of the spade as the pulpit, as he was a keen worker in his garden and glebe, and had besides a lease of a field of twenty acres, on the estate of West Morham, where he was often seen at leisure hours casting “gaw-furs” and cleaning out drains. The field he cultivated is called the minister’s field to this day. Mr Steel was very attentive to his flock, and useful both in spiritual and temporal things as becomes a minister of the Gospel. He attended zealously on all sick people, and made a point of vaccinating all the children of the parish. Hence he was much respected and esteemed, and his memory is still venerated by old people.

Fond of taking and giving jokes and puns, in company he was the soul and spirit of it. At Presbytery dinners he was particularly happy, and some of his sayings and jokes are still remembered. One member of Presbytery said to him, “Mr Steel, shall I give you more ham?” “Thank you, sir,” was his reply, “I have got More Ham already.” “Mr Steel,” said another, “I need not give you any more tongue, for you have plenty of that already.” Mr Steel was not to be done in that manner, for on the same member asking him what was in a covered dish near him, he replied, “It is what you are possessed of already, sir—a calfs hpad.” Mr Steel met his intimate friend, the Rev. Mr Traill, Episcopal minister of Haddington, one day on the road, and said to him, “Weel, Mr Traill, where are ye trailing to to-day?” to which Mr Traill replied, “Well, Mr Steel, where are ye stealing to to-day?” They both enjoyed a hearty laugh. Mr Steel always presided at the annual examination of Rector Graham’s Burgh School, and examined the scholars in Latin and Greek. When a blunder was in the course of being made by any of the scholars, Mr Steel used to cry out “Cave!” (beware). He thence got the name of “Old Cavie.” He was long chaplain to Haddington St John’s Lodge of Freemasons, and officiated on many occasions. As a mark of esteem, the Lodge and many of his private friends presented him with his portrait, which was painted by Sir James Gordon Watson, and which was an excellent likeness. After his death his nephew, Mr John Burgess of Greenock, got possession of it.

Mr Steel enjoyed the acquaintance of some old select friends in Haddington, whom he used to invite yearly to dinner at Morham Manse. He made it a point of meeting them at Shuit-her-tae, on the border of the parish, and welcoming them, and setting them home again on a fine summer night to the same place, and seeing them safe out of the parish. On these occasions, Mr Steel was particularly happy, and made his friends equally so; hence a meeting at Morham old manse was really a treat He took pride in producing on his table bottles of wine and spirits fresh from his damp cellar,, of the finest quality, covered with dust and cobwebs. The writer of this, along with a companion, often accompanied the party to Morham, and after dinner were sent into the garden to enjoy themselves with grand gooseberries and other fruits, and many a time have his fine old cherry and gean trees been “spieled” to get at the clustered fruit. Every time Mr Steel came into Haddington, he had his pockets filled with apples, pears, and hazel-nuts, which he distributed among his young friends, and gave them many good advices.

Mr Steel yearly invited a number of young people from Haddington, members of the families of some of his old acquaintances, during the strawberry and gooseberry season, for a day’s pleasure and enjoyment Many a ramble and romp they had in the beautiful pastoral glen, in which the minister joined with all the vigour of youth. His grand fruit, and Mrs Steel’s famous curds and splendid cream, were amply done justice to. Mrs Steel used to say, “Come now, my dears, eat away at the berries, and sup plenty of curds and cream, for they winna keep.” The party left in the evening in a long cart, loaded with bouquets of beautiful flowers and baskets full of gooseberries, &c., for the family and friends at home. Mr Steel enjoyed in the greatest degree the yearly visits of his youthful friends. The reminiscences of a day’s jaunt to Morham Manse in these youthful days recall many sad as well as pleasant recollections in the minds of those who are still living.

It is needless to say that Mr Steel was always made a welcome guest by the most respectable families in Haddington. He was one of the old country clergymen of East Lothian, always kind and affable, and of a class of men not so numerous now as they were in his time. He was styled the Vicar of Morham by his friends, and he was proud of the title. He was unfortunate in being a shareholder in the East Lothian Bank, which stopped payment in 1822, in consequence of the absconding of the cashier with the greater part of its funds. In consequence he gave up half of his stipend, until his proportion of the bank’s debts was paid. The good old man, however, was contented, and at his death left some money.

Mr Steel had an intimate friend in his neighbour, Mr Thomas Henderson, then schoolmaster at Morham, who was succeeded by his son the late Mr Thomas Henderson. Morham school, under the incumbencies of the Messrs Henderson and their successors, produced many good scholars, who have proved themselves worthy members of society, and risen to distinction in their several callings of life. Morham school was long one of the best specimens of a parochial school, and still continues so, and is largely attended by the children of the adjacent parishes, besides those of Morham. Many an old man and woman will no doubt still recollect the first impressions of learning they received from old Mr Henderson, his son, and their successors, in Morham school. As Mr Steel was respected in the parish, so were Mr Henderson and his son, who succeeded him.

The Rev. James Forsyth was presented to Morham after Mr Steel’s death in 1831. He was translated to Aberdeen in 1844. The Rev. Alexander Graham succeeded Mr Forsyth in 1844. He died in 1866. He was a kind, amiable man, and quite suited for the parish. He lived on friendly terms with all his parishioners and neighbours, and hence he was much respected and esteemed by all who knew him.

In the parish of Morham, many years ago, there were excellent farmers. It may perhaps be interesting now to write something about some of them. In a few years a new generation may know nothing of them. Mr Peter Forrest entered, in the year 1793, to the farm of Northrigg, of 336 Scotch acres, belonging to the Earl of Wemyss. He proved himself an improving and excellent farmer, having thoroughly limed and highly manured the farm, which he entered into in bad order, during the first five or six years of his lease of nineteen years. He reclaimed and made arable the Haggs Muir, fifty to sixty acres in extent, which was in a state of nature when he entered, covered with whins and heather, and unenclosed. He possessed Northrigg under an open, silent, and unrestricted lease as to cropping or management. Having got his land into excellent bearing condition, and clean, Mr Forrest was in the habit of sowing about one-third or more every year, say 100 or 120 acres, with wheat, which was selling at that time at war prices—90s. to 100s. per quarter.

The Earl of Wemyss raised an action against Mr Forrest, before the Sheriff of Haddingtonshire, to restrict him from sowing more than a fourth of the farm in wheat. Mr Forrest defended the action, and contended that he was entitled by his open, silent, and unrestricted lease to sow as much wheat as he chose, when the season and condition of his land warranted him to do so. Sheriff Burnet remitted the case (December 1805) to two gentlemen of landed property, and three farmers, to consider the papers in process, and to inspect the farm possessed by the respondent, and to report how far the mode of cropping and management stated in the petition, .and not explicitly denied by the tenant, would have the effect, if followed during the remainder of the lease, to impoverish and deteriorate the farm at the expiry thereof, or was otherwise inconsistent with good husbandry. The visitors met, and inspected the farm, and unanimously reported to the Sheriff:—“Primo, That the farm is at present in excellent order and condition. Secundo, That the different fields intended for wheat this season are well calculated for carrying a crop of that grain. Tertio, That the mode of farming practised by the respondent is neither inconsistent with the rules of good husbandry, nor contrary to the practice of this county, as established for a considerable number of years, and will in no shape waste or deteriorate the farm.” This report was verified before the Sheriff, and in consequence of this decisive report, the Sheriff assoilzied the tenant, and found the petitioner (Lord Wemyss) liable in expenses.

Against this interlocutor a reclaiming petition was presented. The Sheriff adhered to his former interlocutor, and gave his reasons in a long note, which is fully reported, as well as the whole case, in the Farmers' Magazine of November 1806, vol. vii., page 471. Mr Robert Brown of Markle, the editor of the magazine, a high authority in such cases, says, in reference to the case:—“The Sheriff, after considering the petition and answers, adhered to his former interlocutor, by which two points may be considered as established, so far as his authority goes : First, That where a lease is silent respecting cropping and management, judicial interference cannot be gained in support of a proprietors claims so long as the tenant keeps his land in good order and condition. Second, That the sowing of wheat, even though it should extend over one-half of a farm, is not contrary to the rules of good husbandry, providing a suitable rotation is practised by the tenant. Discretionary management, where a tenant has not renounced it, we should view as the right of every free-born agriculturist, it being always understood that this discretion is to be exercised in such a way as not to injure the property of another person.”

The case was carried by the Earl of Wemyss to the Court of Session, but was ultimately referred to the decision of Dr Coventry, then the Professor of Agriculture in the University of Edinburgh, who, to the astonishment of all practical and sensible men, decided the case in favour of the landlord, the Earl of Wemyss. The case excited‘at the time much interest in the county of East Lothian, and throughout the country generally. It was universally allowed that Mr Forrest was very harshly treated, and that Dr Coventry’s decision was wrong, and that he was biased in favour of the landlord. Now-a-days, when a universal outcry is made against restrictions in cropping, this case of the Earl of Wemyss with his tenant, Mr Forrest, may be of some interest to proprietors and farmers. It is now understood, however, that in new leases on Lord Wemyss's estate, restrictions as to cropping have been generally departed from.

Mr Forrest was the last member of the old family of Forrests, long tenants of West Fenton, afterwards of Stevenson Mains, Guriy Bank, and Linton, part of the estate of Phantassie, then the property of the Countess of Aberdeen. He was a very stout, tall, and stalwart man, and a fine specimen of an East Lothian farmer ; he died in 1836, aged 83, and was buried in the family burying-place within the old church of Gullane. He was much respected by all his neighbours and acquaintances. A kind master, he rarely parted with an old servant, many having been with him all his lease. Understanding the working of such a clay farm as Northrigg is, he would never work his land in wet weather, but kept his men and horses in the stable cleaning and oiling the harness, and doing “ orra ” jobs, while neighbouring farmers were busy ploughing. His stock of horses was always in capital condition, and about the best in the county. Punctually at eight o'clock at night a large “nout’s” horn was sounded as the signal for suppering the horses, at which Mr Forrest himself for many years attended. He kept up the good old practice of giving his farm-servants a winter supper, at which he presided, thus cementing the kindness of feeling betwixt master and servant, and at Auld Hansel Monday, old and young on the farm received a hansel —an old Scotch country custom. It is recorded of Mr Forrest that when a severe winter storm of snow was raging in the Lammermuirs, he kindly kept the hill stock of his friends until the storm abated. The much-respected Mr William Darling of Priestlaw still recollects how his father’s sheep from Millknowe got comfortable quarters at Northrigg during long storms, and the herds their bed and board. The rent of Northrigg farm was about 11s. 6d. per Scotch acre, a very different figure compared with rents now. With war prices for all agricultural produce, farmers with easy rents could not miss making money at that time. Northrigg wheat was well known to the Edinburgh and other bakers as of the finest quality, and brought the highest price in Haddington market The average price of wheat sold in Haddington market, crop 1804, was 84s. iod. per quarter ; of 1805, 72s Per quarter. Since Mr Forrest’s termination of his lease in 1812 to this time there have been six changes of tenants, besides Lord Wemyss having had the farm in his own hands for some time.

Mr Archibald Skirving of Standingstone, the last tenant representative of an old East Lothian family, was in his day a first-class and extensive farmer. Besides Standingstone, he was tenant of East Bear-ford, Hailes Mains, and Lawend for several leases, in all about 1000 acres. He died over thirty-five years ago at an old age, and was buried in the family bury-ing-place at Athelstaneford. Mr Skirving was one of the old class of East Lothian farmers, having succeeded to the farm of Standingstone while yet a young man, on the death of his father, and was tenant in it over fifty years. Well skilled and attentive to his profession, and no “gentleman farmer,” he was up in time in the morning to see his men and horses set to work, and all other farming operations for the day begun. He used to walk over his extensive holdings almost every day with his staff in his hand, and inspect minutely the daily work. He manured and limed his fields heavily, and thereby succeeded in raising heavy crops. A set of men and horses drove dung from Dunbar, Haddington, and other places, the most part of the year. In liming his fallow break for wheat, he used to cry out to his servants not to spare the “whitening.” His fallow land, when ready for sowing, was always in the best condition, as clean as new ribbons, and his wheat crops were very heavy in consequence, and the quality the finest, which was well known and much sought after by Edinburgh bakers and dealers. Fallow wheat was much more the fashion in those days than now.

Mr Skirving had a grand stock of horses of the .thick, short-legged, Clydesdale breed, mostly of his own rearing, in which he took great delight. Some of the Standingstone breed are to be met with in the county to this day. He took special pride in feeding cattle of the best description. At Hallow and other fairs he did not miss purchasing the best lots he could find, and did not grudge a good price if he thought they would answer him. Frequently he had one hundred to one hundred and fifty cattle past him in the feeding season. He drove large quantities of draff and dreg, much in fashion in those days, from Linton and Haddington distilleries, which, in addition to the turnips, grass, and hay raised on his farms, made his cattle prime fat, and in the best condition. He did not sell them off until May or June, and as the quality was well known in the market he always obtained the highest price it afforded. He relished a fine roast of beef of his own feeding to the utmost degree, and used to exclaim to his old friend, Mr John Walker, when a splendid roast was set down to dinner, “Jock, a roast of beef is the king of dishes.”

Mr Skirving, like his old friend and neighbour, Mr Forrest of Northrigg, rarely changed his servants. During several leases the same families continued in his service from girlhood and boyhood to old age. There were families of Whitelaws, Drysdales, Grieves, Maltmans, Hendersons, Cowans, Montgomeries, &c., long resident on his farms. A story is told of one of the Whitelaws, with whom Mr Skirving once had a slight quarrel. Mr Skirving told him that he would part with him at the next term. Whitelaw replied, “But, Master, I am not going to part with you, for I was born at Standingstone;” which anecdote is as good as the one told by Dean Ramsay of an old servant who was told to quit, who said, “Na, na; I'm no gangin'; if ye dinna ken whan ye’ve a gude servant, I ken when I've a gude place.”

Farm-servants did not change their places so much as they do now. Numerous instances, besides Mr Skirving’s, can be noted where the servants remained in the same farm for many years, respected by their masters, and on their side respecting their masters, and having their master's interest always at heart. It has been often remarked that a farmer’s market man was always a dearer seller of grain than the master himself. It is not too much to say that East Lothian hinds have generally been esteemed a very trustworthy and respectable class of men.

Mr Skirving was long a well-known man in Haddington market Thick and very stout-built, of moderate height, with a broad ruddy countenance, and no “dandy ” in his outward appearance, wearing generally a garment called a “Spencer” in those days over his coat, and shod with a pair of thick tacketed shoes, he was easily distinguishable. He was a member of Whitehead’s Friday Club, which numbered many of the East Lothian farmers of the time, now all dead, and their names remembered by few—such as Alexander Crawford of Rhodes, Henry Deans of Beilgrange, Andrew Dods of Saltcoats, George Bairnsfather of Beanston, Thomas Carfrae of Waldean, and many others. Mr Skirving was always one of the company at the yearly dinner at Crossgate Hall hostelry before harvest, where Captain'Walker of Tanderlane presided. This dinner among the farmers of the locality was kept up for many years, but at last was given up on account of the death of many of the old members, and changes.

Many people in Haddington and the county will still recollect Alexander Ross, farm-servant at Morham Westmains, when Mr John Somerville was proprietor, and afterwards manager to James Aitchison, Esq., for many years up to the day of his death. He was a man of superior abilities in every respect. Understanding the nature of a poor stiff clay farm such as West Morham is, he judiciously “tidded”. the land and manured highly so as to produce heavy crops of all kinds, especially his fallow wheat. It was his custom to pick out all the light bits of a field for his turnip crop, never sowing where the land was clayey and stiff, and in consequence of his good management his crops always excelled his neighbours’. From his knowledge of how land should be treated, he was often employed as valuer of crops and land, and of “redding ” disputes in farming matters between parties. His employers knew his sterling worth, and respected him accordingly.

Modest and pleasant in company, and well informed on almost every subject, his conversation was much relished, and having been acquainted with most of the leading farmers in the county in his day, he delighted younger men with anecdotes of men of a former day, especially of what took place in the county with “the friends of the people” during the time of the French Revolution in the end of last century. He was long an elder in Morham Parish Church, but saw it to be his duty to join the Free Church at the Disruption in 1843. He attached himself to the Free Church of Yester, in which he was an elder to the day of his death, in 1857. He was buried in Morham Churchyard, where a tombstone has been erected to his memory.

A good story has been handed down about Mr Ross, and the minister of Morham, the Rev. Mr Forsyth. Mr Ross had been supping with his friend and co-elder, Mr Thomas Henderson, schoolmaster, when crack upon crack succeeded until it grew late, or perhaps early. Mr Ross, on going home, met a person on the road, to whom he said in passing, “Fine night, sir," to which the reply was only a grumph. Mr Forsyth, the gentleman he met, had been to Haddington calling the doctor to the manse for a case of domestic emergency. Next day, Mr Henderson was called on, and complained against for keeping irregular hours, with his brother elder, Mr Ross. Mr Henderson gave Mr Ross the hint that he would likely be spoken to by the minister on the subject. Mr Ross said he would be up to him if he was spoken to. Accordingly, the minister took an opportunity of speaking to Mr Ross about keeping irregular hours. Mr Ross said—“Oh, it had been you, sir, that I met the other night as I was going home from Mr Henderson’s. I thought it had been some other person, for I said, 4 Fine night to him ’ in passing, to which the person only answered a grumph, and I thought the man had been very drunk when he could not speak.” Minister and elder both enjoyed the good-humoured banter, and there was no more about it.

Mainshill was long farmed by the ancestors of Mr Francis Walker and his successors. He was also tenant of Tanderlane, and well known by the name of “Tander.” He was captain of the East Lothian Yeomanry for many years, and to the day of his death, during the stirring times of the first quarter of the present century. He was a well-known and leading man in the county, and long adviser in land matters to the late Earl of Wemyss. His portrait, painted by “Painter” Skirving, was presented to him by the East Lothian Yeomanry troopers. An engraving of it was largely distributed at the time, and is still to be found among some of the old families of East Lothian. It is said to be an excellent likeness, and a good specimen of the artistic powers of the painter.

The Walkers were a numerous and well-known race of farmers in East Lothian at one time, but it is singular to note that there is not a tenant-farmer of the name of Walker now in the county. The farm of Morham Mains had long for tenants Mr Francis Walker of Whitelaw, and latterly Mr Robert Walker, late of Ferrygate. The displenishing sale of Morham Mains stocking in May 1836 was a very extensive one, and the amount of money realised came to a large sum. Mr Walker had a famous stud of farm-horses, which were keenly competed for. To show the difference of the value of farm-horses then, compared with the value now, it may be mentioned that a first-class Clydesdale horse, seven years old, named “Glancer,” the pick of the lot, brought the highest price, £38, and it was thought well sold. Mr Peter Ronaldson succeeded Mr Walker in Morham Mains in 1836, and during his lease of nineteen years was known as an energetic and skilful agriculturist.

A paragraph or two about the ancient and extinct village of Morham may perhaps not be uninteresting. The village was situated in a field on the north side of the public road. Its site is marked in the last Ordnance Survey map of East Lothian. When and why the village was taken down is a question not now easily answered. The farm of Morhamkirk Hall, a piece of fine, rich land, now incorporated with the farm of Morham Mains, was a farm by itself at one time, and no doubt the farm-house and steading of it was in or near to the village or “town” of Morham. The population of Morham parish we find stated at 345 in 1755. At the last census of 1881 it was only 200. No doubt Morham village, if in existence in 1755, must have contributed much to the population, for it is handed down that there were several weavers and a tailor in it, necessary trades for a rural population. At one time there was a corn mill, called the Mill of Morham, below the present bridge, which to this day gets the name of the Mill Bridge. The bridge was built not much over one hundred years ago. The burn before that time was crossed by a ford here, as well as at “Cauld Yill.” There must have been some “break-neck” braes to climb then on both sides of the burn. The miller’s house and relative buildings are marked in Forrest’s map of East Lothian, published in 1799, and stood about the middle of the Kirk Loan, not far from Morham village. A small field of rich land lies on the east side of the Loan, and gets the name of “Tams Craft,” probably from an old miller of that name.

It is perhaps interesting now to note some of the domestic habits and customs of the peasantry in a village like Morham long ago. Hinds and cottars had so much lint sown on the farm, as part of their wages, which, when ripe, was cut and steeped, then dried and heckled, which prepared the lint for being spun. Then, with the “ eident ” hands of the goodwives and daughters, the hum of the spinning-wheel was heard in the winter evenings. When the lint was converted into yam, the weaver had to do his part, and weave it into webs of cloth ; then the webs were sent to the bleachfield. The hinds’ wives were thrifty in those days. When young women came to be married, they got a good providing of home-made sheets and other necessaries of domestic clothing. In the same way, the weavers made woollen yam into cloth, which the village tailor fashioned into “ hodden grey ” suits for the “ goodman and callants.” It was the custom for a village tailor to go his rounds among the farmers and others to mend and clout the household “claes.” When some distance from home, he was boarded in the house for some days. Hence the doggerel lines—

“The tailor cam, to clout the claes—
Sic a braw fellow;
He filled the house a' fu’ o' fleas,
Feedle dum an' feedle.”

The hinds and cottars long ago soled and clouted their boots and shoes themselves with “dintle bend ” and kip leather, with home-made "rozet an' lingans;” some could also make their children’s shoes. Spinning-wheels and reels, as well as soling shoes, old industries of a rural village, are now out of fashion, both by “gentle and semple.” It has often been remarked that tradesmen and workmen who have sedentary occupations are almost invariably fond of birds, bees, and animals, as a relaxation from their monotonous employment; hence the breeding and fattening of pigs, the keeping and skeping of bees, making bragwort from the refuse of honey and wax, and rearing pigeons, &c., are ordinary subjects of enjoyment in almost every Scotch village; while their gardens afford them the pleasure of cultivating fruits, flowers, and roots.

An old story is handed down about a Morham weaver who had a “hobby” for keeping tame rabbits or “kinnings.” Some ill-meaning persons had, during the night, opened his rabbit-house door, and let the rabbits out. They dispersed themselves among the whins and heather of the Haggs Muir. Soon a crossbreed of tame and wild rabbits appeared. The weaver could not get his pets back again, but in revenge got the offenders up before the minister and kirk-session of Morham, and had them fined and reprimanded for their prank. The fear of the minister and kirk-session in those days was much greater than it is now.

It is pleasant to observe instances of love and affection which country folk and others come to entertain for their domestic pets. A fine story of this kind may here be told of a man who had a strong affection for his pig. A well-known whisky-merchant in the county had occasion to call on a customer for an order and money in the course of a journey. He found his customer would hardly speak to him, and was very dull and “dowie.” “What’s the matter with you to-day, James? dinna put yourself about if you cannot give me your account to-day; never trouble yourself, I will get it some other day.” James replied, “It’s no your account that troubles me; yer siller is all ready for you in the stocking fit in the kist; but, man, I am sae sorry that oor puir beast o’ a pig is to be killed the nicht. I fed it myself every day, and I rubbed its back twice a day, and it kent me sae weel, and I am like to greet at its being killed! ” No doubt the same affection for a “fat piggie” has manifested itself in the minds of tender and affectionate hearts, both old and young.

Most Scotchmen have heard of the epithet applied to a person who does something “outrie,” or who is perhaps a little silly in his mind, viz., “There’s a bee in his bannet.” The phrase is said to have arisen first in the parish of Morham in the following way :—A herd boy, a little weak in his intellect, was sitting on the roadside laughing immoderately to himself, when his master came across him and said to him, “Jock, what are you laughing at?” The boy replied, “Master, I catched a great big bumbee, and I put it into my bannet Dae ye hear it bumming and bizzing? Oh, it’s bumming and bizzing fine on the top of my head among my hair. My head’s a’ bizzing; master, put yer lug to my head, an* ye’ll hear it yoursel’—it would make a horse laugh.” The herd boy’s “vagarie” came to be a common remark, and is to this day applied to outrie characters throughout all the country.

The present hamlet of Morham Loanhead was larger many years ago than it is now, and it is likely that when Morham village was taken down, more houses would be built there. Seventy or eighty years ago,

Walter Jamieson was a celebrated millwright and machinist at Morham Loanhead. He did most of the farmers’ mill-work in the county, and some of his work still exists. When wind-mills for thrashing were in fashion, he invented a machine for easily turning the large flails in the direction of the wind. It got the name of “Wattie” after him. He lived to be an old man, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Charles Deans, in the same business, and he had always plenty of work. The late Mr Menelaws, manager of Sir John Guest’s very extensive and world-known ironworks at Dowlais in Wales, served his apprenticeship with Charles Deans at Morham Loanhead. While in the employment of Mr Robert Bridges, engineer at North Berwick, Mr Menelaws was sent to Wales to put up some drain-tile machinery, and was so fortunate as to attract the attention of some rich and extensive ironmasters in Wales, by whom he was employed, and by his abilities and sterling worth he rose to his high position. Mr Menelaws did not forget his Morham Loanhead apprenticeship, but loved to speak of old times, and old farmers and others who were living in his time, and took a warm interest in everything belonging to East Lothian. The trade of millwright and engineer is still carried on in the old premises at Morham Loanhead by Messrs Dodds, agricultural implement makers, who have helped to bring the small quiet parish of Morham into some repute. On East Bear-ford, but in the parish of Morham, there once was a small farm and hamlet called Cot Walls, but which has now no existence except the name of the fields— another instance in the parish of incorporating small farms with large ones.

Return to our Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus