Oldhamstocks History

This page is dedicated to sharing memories and pictures of Oldhamstocks from as far back as we can find. Please do send us any pictures or pieces of information you have for us to share!

Market Village

This watercolour below shows a bustling fair which took place at the Mercat (or Market) Cross, both the commercial heart of the village and symbol of its right to trade. Oldhamstocks was given the right to a weekly market in 1627. Carse's picture dated 1796 is an important record of a Scottish country fair, as these were becoming increasingly rare. The late eighteenth century saw the disappearance of many rural customs and was a time of great social change in Scotland. Fairs and markets had traditionally been an integral part of the rural economy, fulfilling multiple functions as food, clothing and livestock markets, and as a hiring ground for farm servants. Carse takes great delight in depicting all the local characters, and shows that fairs were also a great opportunity for social gatherings.

Mercat Cross

The market cross of Oldhamstocks was removed before 1900, the shaft at that time being preserved in the manse gardens. (J W Small)

The shaft of this market cross was re-erected on a modern base on the village green in the mid 1950's. The original site of the cross was in the North half of the manse garden (exact site not known) which once was part of the village green. (Mr Hendry, The Smithy)

This picture is titled "View of the market cross at Oldhamstocks, with no ball finial" but more resembles Cockburnspath Market Cross.

Date c. 1893

Date 1975-1976

Date 2018

Cromwell in Oldhamstocks

A number of houses in Oldhamstocks bear the name "Cromwell" and Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have stayed at a tavern on the site of the house now known as Cromwell Hall prior to the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. On the 2nd September 1650, Cromwell was ‘cornered’ at Dunbar expecting to be beaten soundly by the Scottish Presbyterian force of Sir David Leslie. The Clerics with the Scottish Army forced Leslie to make a fatal move that allowed Cromwell, on the 3rd September, demolish the Scottish army in the space of an hour.

More information is available at https://www.johngraycentre.org/east-lothian-subjects/war-battles-military/dunbar-1650/cromwells-prisoners/

The sites of Cromwell’s Ha’ at Oldhamstocks’ east end and the Plough, two village inns which had disappeared by the late 1800s, are now occupied by cottages 

The late-Mediaeval parish church was extended with the addition of the Hepburn Aisle in 1581. The church was further altered in 1701 and 1930. 17th and 18th Century memorials can be found in the kirkyard, although many are in poor condition.


Watch House

Small, single chamber watch house, set in S boundary wall. Droved ashlar with raised base course and eaves course. Doorway at the E end. Pedimented gables to E and W, with weathered plaque in E pediment. Pointed arch window to N at centre with intersecting glazing pattern. Ashlar coped skews and grey slates; stack by W gable. Simple chimneypiece inside at W end.

One notable individual from Oldhamstocks is John Broadwood. John was born in Cockburnspath and grew up in Oldhamstocks in 1732. He inherited his father's profession of carpentry, before walking all the way from the village to London, where he founded the now world-renowned piano manufacturer John Broadwood and Sons.

Another noted person from the area (born 1811 at Birnieknowes to be exact) was Alexander Somerville who was the author of many books and pamphlets including "The autobiography of a working man" which cronicles the farming communities around Dunbar in the 1800's

James Hardy LL.D. (1 June 1815, in Oldhamstocks, East Lothian – 30 September 1898, in Old Cambus, Cockburnspath, Berwickshire) was a Scottish naturalist and antiquarian. He was secretary of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club from 1871 until at least 1896. At least two species have been named in his honour.

Victorian Oldhamstocks

The East Lothian Combination consisted of the 15 parishes of Aberlady, Bolton, Cockburnspath, Dirleton, Dunbar, Garvald, Innerwick, North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Prestonkirk,  Spott, Stenton, Whitekirk, Whittinghame and Yester later joined by Athelstaneford, Ayton, Coldingham, Eyemouth, Longformacus, and Morham. The total population of the member parishes in 1881 was 19, 876. 

The East Lothian poorhouse was built in 1864 on a 4.5 acre site in East Linton, Prestonkirk. It was designed by the partnership of Peddie and Kinnera.

More information is available at http://www.workhouses.org.uk/EastLothian/

The picture below must be from the 1920-30's judging by the model of car and the fact that there is a public telephone!


There has never been any heavy industry in the parish. In 1948, almost all of the jobs in the parish were in, or closely associated with, agriculture: farmers (eleven), shepherds (seven) and farm workers (26). Of 20 woodcutters and sawmillers, only two were permanent residents. There were two joiners, a mason, a blacksmith and a general labourer. The roads gave work to two men, the railway to one. There was only one seaman and small cobbles no longer sailed from Bilsdean. Dunglass estate gave employment to three gardeners, two gamekeepers and four other workers.

In 1945, there were twelve farm holdings varying in size from 200 to 2000 acres including Springfield, Oldhamstocks Mains, Lawfield, Middle Monynut, Fernylea, Birnieknowes, Stottencleuch, Cocklaw, Luckieshiel and Nether Monynut. Dunglass Home Farm was added in 1950 and Woollands in 1960. Below the 600-foot level farms were mainly arable and above it, mainly pasture. Only two of the farms were fully arable, producing barley and potatoes on light red soils. Some of the farms reared lambs and calves, but sheep rearing was mainly on the hills above the village. A large poultry farm occupied the sides of the ravine south of the village.

Several generations of farm worker families continued to find local employment but younger members, especially girls, migrated to better-paying jobs in the towns. Agriculture started to flourish again in the 1950s, especially on the lower farms. Mechanisation and the use of squad labour at harvest-time meant that the parish as whole did not benefit through employment as it had in the past. There were no local sales of stock since animals were transported mainly by rail to auction sales. When Robert Henry retired in the 1950s, the village lost its blacksmith and smiddy.

From about 1940, Mrs Yule was a land girl, working as a stockwoman at Cocklaw Farm. She got a pound more than the others because of her responsibilities. The work was hard, in all weathers and for long hours. She did the job of an ‘orra man’, driving a horse and cart and was answerable to both the grieve and the shepherd. She carted loads of turnips and other crops, fed grain to the cattle and made frequent trips to the smithy to have the horses shod or to have various implements sharpened. Her favourite horse was a Clydesdale and she also had a lighter van horse and a heavy hunter. The number of hunting horses kept by farmers was supposed to be reduced during the war but they were shunted around the farms to evade the attention of inspectors.

Those recruited to help with the harvest at Cocklaw included girls from Edinburgh, agricultural students on leave from the army and Irishmen. The city girls stayed in a caravan on the farm and emerged each morning with full makeup and long painted fingernails and weren’t up to the long hard work in all weathers.

Italian and German prisoners of war were brought to Oldhamstocks Mains from nearby camps – but in the name of harmony, at different times.

As the war ended Mrs Yule retired from farm work but continued to help out by shawing turnips and at harvest times. Tractors had replaced horses. Her husband Jim had been the grieve at Cocklaw and then at Oldhamstocks Mains. Later, when Willie Christison took over the farm, Jim became a stockman looking after cattle and pigs. He continued working half time after reaching pension age.

Most people were elderly but those who had jobs, worked locally. There were two rabbit catchers in the village and an assistant rabbit catcher.



In 1950 there was one teacher with 20 children at Oldhamstocks Primary School, but three years later, the class size had fallen to 16. When the roll climbed again in 1960 to 21, there was a proposal to build a new classroom and toilet extension and to convert the two existing classrooms for general purposes, staff and dining. Alternatively, it was thought that building a new school might be a better option. When the council’s education committee met in 1961 however, it was decided to build a new primary school at Innerwick and to close Oldhamstocks. There was a stay of execution, however, and it was not until 1970 that Oldhamstocks school closed and the eleven children then registered were transferred to Innerwick. The primary school head teachers were: Mrs Baird (1945), Mrs Macintosh (1948), Mrs Beverley (1951), Mrs Thomson (1958), and Mrs Pratt (1969/70).

… we had a very lively school…prize giving … was a great event. The greatest one of all was our teacher Thomson – she was more like a mother to the children – and she wanted parental interest…so we were involved a lot…

Children … had their dinners brought to the school in containers

On school outings they would go by bus – sometimes to the Forth Bridge or to a beach – with parents (women, not men).

The women would take their sandwiches and their thermoses and off we would go … enjoying ourselves at a picnic…

Jean Yule


Settlements in the parish include Oldhamstocks, Birnieknowes, Bilsdean, Dunglass Mill and Dunglass estate. With the exception of Dunglass House and some on infill sites in Oldhamstocks and at Birnieknowes and Oldhamstocks Mains, few new houses have been built since 1945. Most of the older stone-built cottages once housed large families.

In 1948 a ‘parcel of valuable feus’ being sold with Thurston Estate (Innerwick) included 18 houses and gardens in Oldhamstocks including the ‘church, manse and stables’ and the old mill house. Some were originally used only as holiday houses bought by ‘city people’ (eleven in 1953). Several of the cottages were once owned by Dunglass estate but sold off in the 1930s, 1970s and 1980s.

Standards of living – some recollections of homes in the parish, again from Mrs Yule

On food

In the 1940s at Cocklaw the

housekeeper was a jolly good cook … she used to produce all sorts of lovely food … There was always the gun for pheasants… rabbits. … deer as well … we were well fed …

There was a local shop where you could get

cigarettes … sweets and … a loaf of bread, a roll or … sugar – just the bare basics.

On clothing

Mrs Russell of Thurston, the district head, dispensed Land Army clothing.

They had all your measurements …Of course you didn’t get them ad lib, you had to be careful with them.

However, there was no problem in replacing them if boots or clothes wore out. For farm work, there were

lacing leather boots and wellingtons, and whistlers – corduroy britches so called because of the noise they made when your legs rubbed together and anybody would know when we were coming.

Other items were

sandy-coloured Aertex shirts, woollen V-neck pullovers.

Such was the quality of these clothes that they were worn long after the war ended.

Later in the period, for picnic outings to the beach or with the school parties, best clothes were worn.

For the summer you’d have cotton skirts, cotton blouses … and a cardigan in case it was cold. And you wore sensible shoes because you wouldn’t know how far you’d have to walk to get to the picnic site… None of us really wore hats. No we weren’t a hatty lot…but we had to wear hats to church of course. Now we don’t you see.

One old gentleman – Mr Nisbet – used to sit on a bench outside his house

in his velvet jacket his velvet smoking cap, and puffing his pipe or cigarette…

Jean Yule


Water has always been plentiful in the parish because of local springs; from about 1955-65, a pipe near Haystall cottages west of the church also supplied Cockburnspath.

Sewage from Oldhamstocks village is piped to a sedimentation tank but farms and other parish houses and cottages use private septic tanks.

Mains electricity was not available in the area until the early 1950s. Before then, houses were wired up and lamps bought in expectation of a change from oil lamps. There is no mains gas but propane (LPG), fuel oil and electricity are widely used for heating and cooking.

An automatic telephone exchange came into operation in 1950.

Shops & Services

For those without cars, the bus service determines their shopping routines. The most convenient shopping centre is Dunbar but for the many who commute by car to jobs in Edinburgh and elsewhere, groceries and other goods will probably be bought en route.

A single shop selling basic groceries, bread, cigarettes and sweets was still operating in the post-war years but eventually was reduced to just a part-time post office and small general store. This closed in 2000.

Milk cows were kept at Cocklaw and at Oldhamstocks Mains. Villagers once collected their daily pints in lidded pitchers (which each held about two pints) from Lotte Armstrong at ‘Greenend’. Mobile shops provided groceries, bakery goods and meat to the village and hamlets from 1945 on a daily basis, but it is fair to say that even during times of rationing there was never any shortage of food in this farming community. Pheasants, rabbits and deer were plentiful sources of protein. Hays of Cockburnspath delivered pre-ordered groceries until the shop closed in 1993.

A county library service operated from the school until it closed in 1970. A bundle of books would be deposited once a week at the school and residents could take their pick but had to return them the next week.


Village Hall

The village hall was built in 1948, partly with funds from the Common Good Fund collected during the war. In years when there was no television and few cars, the hall was the centre of the village’s social life.

Clubs & organisations

The Oldhamstocks Recreation Club was active in 1945 and still going in 1970. An offshoot was the Young Men’s Recreation Club, which had a post-war membership of 30. Their main activity was to organise a carpet bowling team, whist drives and dances. The club later became the Oldhamstocks Carpet Bowling Club and was active mainly during winter months.

The Dunglass Ladies’ Guild (formerly the Woman’s Guild) organises talks and fund raising events. Also connected to the Dunglass parish churches is a children’s Sunday Club where activities include singing and art projects. The local branch of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI) remains active with monthly meetings and a varied programme of demonstrations and lectures.

The wireless was a main source of entertainment before television. Because electricity was not available until about 1953, radios were run on accumulators. Bob Cribbes, the Cockburnspath grocer used to service them and deliver the spares.

If your accumulator dried up, you didn’t have a wireless to use. You had to be jolly careful to have your spare accumulator serviced. You would say to Bob “Have you got my accumulator today?” “Oh no my dear, I’ve completely forgotten it, but I’ll give you Mrs Gibson’s because she’ll not be needing hers. I’ll just give you hers instead” and you’d get Mrs Gibson’s, and you were all right. Probably Mrs Gibson gave him hell when he went back. Word travelled very, very quickly because everybody was interested in everybody else.

Jean Yule

Mr Grant, a Dunbar chemist, used to hold concert parties, which were very well attended by farmfolk as well as villagers. There would be singing, monologues and sketches and a great time was had by all. In between Mr Grant’s concerts, there were charity fund-raising events organised by local people who would write and perform their own monologues and music. Dances were also held in the hall on Saturday nights. For a while in the 1990s, the charity concerts were held in the church with music provided by local musicians whose instruments included the violin, cello, organ and guitar.


The picture below shows the school, schoolhouse and "Greenend". Records of the school date back to 1872 and end with the school closing in 1970. Since then it has been a craft workshop, an organ factory and is now a private dwelling.


McWilliam, C E. (1978a) Lothian except Edinburgh, The Buildings of Scotland series. Harmondsworth. Page(s): 372 RCAHMS

Patricia Dennison, Eydmann, Lyell, Lynch and Stronach, E, S, A, M and S. (2012) Painting the Town: Scottish Urban History in Art. Great Britain. Page(s): 382-385 RCAHMS

Small, J W. (1900) Scottish market crosses. Stirling.

Statistical Accounts for 1793 and 1850s

East Lothian Fourth Statistical Account 1945-2000: The parishes of Dunbar, Innerwick, Oldhamstocks, Spott, Stenton. vol 6

Sally Smith, Cockburnspath: a history of a people and a place: including: Cove, Dunglass, Old Cambus, Oldhamstocks, Bilsdean, Tower and Pease, Cockburnspath, 1999

Keith Snell, The whistler at the plough, Alexander Somerville 1811-1885, London 1989