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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
William Brodie of Upper Keith and Amisfield Mains

MR WILLIAM BRODIE of Upper Keith in the parish of Humbie, and afterwards tenant of Amisfield Mains, was in his day an eminent breeder of sheep, agriculturist, and improver. He was born in 1739, and died at Amisfield Mains in 1810, aged seventy-one years. He was first tenant of Bughtknowe, then on the Leaston estate, and now occupied by Mr James Burton. Having disposed of the lease of that holding to the landlord for a valuable consideration, he entered on the large and fine farm of Upper Keith, and soon displayed those talents which latterly distinguished him above the great body of his contemporaries. The lands of Upper Keith were, before his entrance, in the hands of many small farmers, who farmed in the ways of the old school. He soon got the whole farm into good order—introduced drilled turnip husbandry, sowed the most approved grass seeds, for which Upper Keith was, and still is, admirably suited—reared early lambs in great numbers for the Edinburgh market, and cultivated the best and most improved varieties of grain. In a few years his character as a diligent and enterprising farmer was well established.

Before Mr Brodie’s time, and long after, the breed of sheep in the county was confined to the native blackfaced, or more properly, the broacked faced, a sort of dirty-looking mixture of black and white, which were kept both in the hill and lowland districts. When fed, the wedders weighed only from ten to twelve pounds per quarter, and the ewes eight to ten pounds on an average. The Cheviot breed was, however, at that time beginning to become known. Mr Brodie considered that where fine rich feeding grass and turnips could be raised, such as he could grow on Upper Keith, a finer class of sheep could be profitably kept, hence his enterprise in investing a large amount of money in the new Leicester breed. To him the merit is due of first introducing that breed into East Lothian. It was in 1776 that he imported rams and ewes from Bakewell of Dishley, the Messrs Culley of Coupland Castle, and others. In the Edinburgh newspapers of 1802, it is stated that “Mr Brodie had given one hundred guineas for twenty ewes, fifty and eighty guineas for the hire of rams, and that he had in his possession a grandson of the famous Leicester ram which was let in this county at no less a sum than three hundred guineas per season; and that our butcher-markets were indebted to Mr Brodie, who was the first person who introduced the feeding of house lamb into Scotland.”

The statement led to a lengthy and hot controversy, and a correspondence was commenced in the Farmers’ Magazine, in 1803, by persons signing themselves “Epicurus,” “A Breeder of the Coal Heaver’s Mutton,” “F.,” &c. “Epicurus” maintained that President Dundas was the first who introduced house lamb into Scotland, principally for the use of his own table, and that Robert Wight, farmer at the Murrays, afterwards attempted to introduce it into the Edinburgh market as a regular branch of business, but complained that the citizens of Edinburgh did not understand good eating well enough, and therefore would not give a sufficient price to recompense him for the expense of fattening lamb entirely upon milk in the house. It is a certain fact that a quarter of Wight's lamb, so fed, weighing eight pounds, could not at that period (about 1780) bring more than 2s. 6d. per quarter. A story is told in one of the controversial papers referred to, that one of the bailies of Edinburgh bought a quarter of house lamb, but it was of such pure fat, that it melted away when it ought to have roasted; and the sapient bailie came back on the flesher, and threatened to prosecute him for the loss of his dinner, if he would not refund the half-crown given for it, which the flesher was obliged to do for the sake of peace. By that means the sale of real house lamb was knocked up in the Edinburgh market for ever, for nobody dared to call it by that name ever since.

The public taste at that time seems to have run on small blackfaced or Cheviot lambs, in preference to the new bred ones, which were only fit to be eaten by gluttons and epicureans, as one of the writers said. Mr Brodie, however, never fed what was called house lamb, but managed by a mode of treatment peculiar to himself to send the earliest lambs, from Leicester rams and ewes, to the Edinburgh market, to the amount of some hundreds in a season, which were sold at £1 or £1, is. each, a big price in those days. Deacons Cummins and Mellis, butchers in Edinburgh market, were the chief buyers of Mr Brodie’s lambs at that time. When the paying prices for early lambs were found out, Mr Brodie had plenty of imitators in East and Mid-Lothian, Berwickshire, &c.

After being tenant of Upper Keith for a period of years, Mr Brodie sublet it to Mr John Brodie of Scoughall, his cousin and son-in-law, at a considerable surplus rent, and took a lease from the Earl of Wemyss of the extensive and well-known farm of Amisfield Mains, where he died in 1810. Amisfield Mains was before Mr Brodie’s entry in two farms. The westmost one, called the Barns, was at the west side, and at the place north of the Cross Road, where several old beech and chestnut trees grew, betwixt the second and third plantations. The whole of it was in bad order, mostly in foul grass, and little if any of the farm had been limed within the memory of man. Mr Brodie being amply provided with means* set about the necessary improvements with energy and judgment He built a new house, enlarged the steading and offices, made the Cross Road divide the “Lang Plantings,” nearly one mile in length, right across the farm, which much facilitated his operations. After the first crop of oats he summer-fallowed the land, which he limed and dunged heavily. On the best parts he raised large crops of turnips. In a few years the extensive farm was brought into the highest condition, producing large crops of wheat, barley, and oats, which, during the time of “ war prices,” realised large sums of money. His fat cattle and sheep grazed and fed on the rich grass of the Plum Park and other fields, and were well known to be about the best in the county, and were eagerly competed for by the best Edinburgh, Glasgow, and English butchers.

In the Farmers’ Magazine of March 1810, Mr Brown of Markle, an old friend of his, thus concludes a notice of his death:—“We have extreme anxiety to do honour to the memory of a man for whom, when in life, we entertained the most sincere respect. Suffice it to say that the success of Mr Brodie furnishes a strong proof of what may be accomplished by a steady and diligent man. The writer knew him well, and can safely say that in activity and attention to business he was exceeded by few people. In a word, his death causes a blank in society which will not soon be filled up.”

Mr Brodie left three sons. The oldest, William, commonly called “Count Brodie,” for many years farmed Little Spott. Alexander, his second son, succeeded to the lease of Amisfield Mains, which expired in 1822 or 1823. He maintained his father’s character as a skilful and successful agriculturist. George, his third son, was bred an advocate, and was long and favourably esteemed in legal and literary society. He was known as “History Brodie,” having, besides other works, published a history of the British empire in four large volumes. He also edited a new edition of Stair’s Institutes of the Law of Scotland. He was Royal Historiographer to the King of Scotland during two reigns, and was succeeded by the late Dr J. Hill Burton in that office. The Brodies, an old and much esteemed East Lothian family, were all buried in the pretty and sequestered churchyard of Humbie.

As previously stated, Mr William Brodie, on his removal to Amisfield Mains, sublet Upper Keith to his relative Mr John Brodie of Scoughall and Thorton-loch, &c., who was succeeded in it by his son Mr William Brodie, who continued in it for many years. Mr John Brodie was also in his day one of the most extensive and leading agriculturists in East Lothian. He was examined several times before agricultural committees of the House of Commons relative to the Com Laws, and agricultural matters, especially in 1814. He published an address to the landed and farming interest of Great Britian, more particularly to Scotland, in 1822, with special reference to a contemplated change in the distillery laws to allow Scotch whisky to be sent into England, which was at that time prohibited unless at a very high differential duty.

His address caused a lengthy correspondence to take place between him and Mr Archibald Dunlop, distiller in Haddington, and others, which is to be found in the Farmers' Magazine for August 1822. Mr Brodie states, in his address, that he paid nearly £6000 of yearly rent for land, and that, if he did not make fully a third of that sum by feeding, he was not doing well. He calculated, on the whole, that at least one-third of the rents of arable farms in East Lothian must be produced by the profits of stock, otherwise the present rents cannot be paid. Mr Brodie argued that if the distillery laws were altered, the great increase of distillery offals would cause an immense increase in the supply of fat cattle, and would entail absolute ruin on the landed and farming interest of Scotland (a wrong conclusion, however). Mr Brodie was an extensive breeder and feeder of Leicester sheep, for which the fine land he farmed was well adapted. Exhibitions and sweepstakes of £5, 5s. each were at one time common in East Lothian among the principal tenants. Mr Brodie frequently, by the excellence of his stock, carried off the prizes. An account of one of these exhibitions, which took place at Linplum, will be given afterwards.

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