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Walden Farmhouse


This project, which includes members of Haddington History Society, aims to record the ruins of Walden Farmhouse near Gifford, East Lothian and to research the archives and local records for any data relating to the farm and its structures. In particular the group will establish when the farm was laid out, its extent, tenants and farm workers, the nature of the farming conducted, and when it was absorbed by nearby Sheriffside. We also aim to establish to what extent Walden can be considered a pre-improvement farm.

Click here to view the results of the project in Canmore.

Latitude: 55.8989
Longitude: -2.5245
National Grid Ref: NT 560 676


Walden from the air
The cartshed
Walden from an 1844 farm plan
Walden farmhouse reconstructed
Plan & Elevations



Sep 10 2010

Walden Farm
Walden (earlier Waldean) farm is 2 miles south-east of Gifford, East Lothian, Grid Reference NT560676. It lies on the former estate of the Marquess of Tweeddale at Yester. The farm occupies gently sloping ground rising from 180m to 200 m on the north side of the estate. Where the southern edge abuts the estate policies, there is a sharp cleuch, Walden Cleuch, dropping down to the Gifford Water, presumably the ‘dean’ of Waldean. In the 17th century Walden was the property of the Hays of Linplum and Baro and lay in Baro parish. Baro parish was absorbed into Garvald parish in 1702. The western edge of Walden farm marks the present boundary of Garvald and Yester parish.

Documentary evidence
The Yester Papers in the National Library of Scotland provide a rich source for the changes in agricultural practice on the Tweeddale estates from the 17th to 19th centuries. Although much of the collection relates to family matters and affairs of state, it includes wage books, accounts and factors’ letters, mostly to the Marquesses. These letters tend to follow a pattern of polite enquiries relating to the family, news of the weather and crops, details of developments on the home farms, estate matters, local and East Lothian affairs. The record is strongest for the home farms; much less so for the tenanted properties. There are inevitably gaps. Accounts are fullest when the Marquess is away from home and the factors’ reports are necessarily more detailed. When at home, the record is thinner. The researcher greets with dismay remarks such as this from George Dalziel, the Marquess’ lawyer, begging leave to see him for ten minutes as “a few minutes conversation is better than a week’s correspondence”.1 The nature and volume of documents preserved also varies with whoever kept the archive at different periods in history. For some periods of the eighteenth century, the record is so full it would almost be possible to recreate the diet, clothing, and lifestyle of the Tweeddale households.

The earliest record in the Yester Papers of relevance to this project is of Elizabeth Diksone giving up the tack of Walden in 1606.2 Although the document itself is not preserved, its contents is listed in an inventory of documents prepared in 1617. On the evidence of other ‘discharges and renunciations’ by a woman, this may have followed the death of her husband. In 1621 Walden made payment of ten marks rent and 3 bolls, probably of bere or oats, as tithes to Baro kirk.3

Some tacks survive from the mid-seventeenth century. The tack of James Witherspoon of 1662 is typical. The period is 15 years and, as well as money, the rent includes ken (poultry), victual rent and carriage rent (coals). Carriage rent at Yester continues to at least 1810 with carts provided by tenants for conveying loads such as lime and stone to various parts of the estate as well as coals to Yester House. Carts were also hired from the tenants for bulk carrying. In the case of James Witherspoon, it is unclear whether he had to purchase the coals as well as convey them to the Hays’ mansion. The Factor’s accounts for 1717 show that this form of rent amounted to 200 carriages “carrying home to Yester great coalls from the Coallhill and loading stanes and gravel.” 4 Where the ‘Coallhill’ was is unclear. The first Statistical account gives Penstone and Pencaitland as the nearest coal mines but this is considerably later. The money rent in pounds Scots may seem overly precise but equates exactly to 400 merks (1 merk being 13/4d Scots).

James Witherspoon for his roume of Walden pays 266 lib 13s. 04d.
2 douson of ken foulls
4 cartful of coals
8 bolls of oatts
15 thraves of stra
This tack is for 15 years beginning at Whitsunday 1662 and expyring at Whitsunday 1677 [ ] his father patrick Witherspone.5

Much of the victual rent went in payment to the ‘low servants’ on the estate. The hind in 1810 had a meall allowance of 7 bolls.6 Some of the straw may have been for stable and byre or for thatching. To thatch a cottage in Gifford in the 1750s required 35 thraves.7 Other tacks of the period for this estate include wheat. Some specify ‘sufficient oats’, meaning of satisfactory quality, and straw may be specified as barley or oat, sometimes both.
We know a little more of James Witherspoon from other sources. He paid hearth tax in April 18 1691 for one hearth.8 He was an elder of Baro Kirk during the ministry of Robert Colville 1694-99.9 He is buried in Baro kirkyard. According to Martine, a local historian of the nineteenth century who copied some inscriptions when they were still legible, the gravestone records that he died aged 61 on 17th June 1714.10 The Factor’s accounts for 1713 have David Witherspoon paying the rent but for 1716 show James Witherspoon paying rent of £22 4s 5d.11 Martine may have mistaken the date or the tack may have been continued by a relative of the same name or even his widow, although in the latter case the accounts usually state ‘relict of..’. The money rent in 1716 is unchanged from 1662 but expressed in sterling. The tack now includes ‘straw steelbow’ which occurs in most of the estate tacks of the early eighteenth century. It meant that the straw and usually the dung of the season before the lease terminates had to be left on the farm.

The extent of the farm at this time is unknown but is likely to have been much smaller than its final size. The seventeenth century tacks are for farming at Walden rather than farming Walden as it came to be at its fullest extent. The most northerly of the Walden field names shown on an estate map of 1844 hint at an earlier unimproved landscape where the higher portion was moorland: Galalaw Moor, Easter Moor, Peeseweep [lapwing]. The neighbouring farm of Danskine includes Peatmoor Braes, Hunter’s Snipe and How o’Muir Park. It is possible that moor land was being brought into cultivation in the late seventeenth century. In 1680 the tenants of the neighbouring farm of Sheriffside which marches with the western edge of Walden had a reduction for 3 years in their rent “ for their encouragement and bringing in the land which they possessed it was given down.”12 However, this may refer to land taken from them for the Deer Park rather than brought into cultivation. The last moorland in the area, Townhead Moor, was cleared of whins in 1812 and a plantation put in the following year.13 Whins still survive in the field margins on the upper ground.

William Sanderson took on the lease of Walden and Windyraw in 1717, paying 400 merks entry money. He has a 21 year lease, longer than usual, with the same money rent as James Witherspoon. He appears in the Yester Papers as one of ‘the servants belonging to the parks’ in receipt of meall allowance in 1713.14 He was clearly a man with ambition. In 1716 he is described as ‘late forester’, purchasing a considerable quantity of ash and beech trees from the estate.15 On commencing the lease, he built a new farmhouse, byre and barn as well as repairing existing buildings. These are not identified in the accounts but he must have had a cartshed and stables and possibly cothouses in addition to the new builds. Detailed accounts exist for the purchase of timber at Leith, masons’ bills for the construction of the new properties as well as carpenter’s accounts and the cost of the carriage of and the lime itself for the repairs and new construction. On the basis of these accounts and the evidence which remains at Walden, it is possible to ‘reconstruct’ the farmhouse as a low 2-storey building with 4 to 5 windows and a single hearth. The mason’s account uses ells for rubble masonry and linear feet for cut stone. The footprint of Walden farmhouse is exactly 7 ells by a shade over 20 ells. A wall height of 4 ells can be calculated from the length of skews and the area of masonry detailed in the accounts.16 See SRP publication .... for further details.

Sanderson was ambitious. In 1720 he rented the grass “about the old yards in the head of Walden Cleugh” for a 15 year period. From 1735 he rented part of Castle Park. He continued to deal in timber. In 1737 he and James Sanderson, possibly his son or brother, purchased timber to the value of £250 which he paid off in instalments. His Castle Park property may be the fields of Waldenlea and Shanklea, which lie on either side of the Gifford Water. They were subject of a law suit in 1754 when the 4th Marquess took action to remove Sanderson from Waldenlea and Shanklea on the grounds that he had been cutting growing timber. He is described as a ‘tenant and tacksman’, meaning that he had subtenants. Sanderson lost the case and his appeal failed. He was required “to flitt himself, wife, bairns, servants, cottars, subtenants, goods gear hencefurth”.17 However, he appears to have remained tenant of Walden itself and was succeeded by James Sanderson who appears as tenant in the carriage rent accounts from 1763/4.18 The two fields concerned in the dispute are now forested.

The 8th Marquess (1787 to 1876) inherited the title in 1804 while still a minor when his father, followed shortly by his mother, died at Verdun where they had been interned. They had gone to France during the short-lived peace of Amiens and lingered too long. He had a spirited military career, seeing action with Wellington in the Peninsula and also in America where he was captured in 1813. He must have seen little of Yester at this time. As a serving officer, he spent freely and by the end of the war was £17000 in debt.22 Most of his property in Gifford was entailed and therefore could not be sold.
Some of his tenants had life rents; in some cases passed from father to son. Three of these tenants were Hays, all called John, one at least related to the Marquess’ family. In 1816 he sought advice from his lawyer on evicting one of these life tenants on the grounds that this John Hay was the illegitimate son of an illegitimate father and hence had no right to life tenancy. His lawyer advised him such an action would fail.

The early 1820s were hard times for agriculture. The inflated prices of the war years collapsed. The Yester tenants were having difficulty paying their rent. Some went bankrupt. In 1822 the Marquess made a temporary reduction of 10% to 15% in rents on the advice of his factor, William Gilberston, “in the present unsettled and grievously depressed state of agriculture”.23 Gilbertson also agreed to a reduction of his own salary. Thomas Carfrae of Walden was one of those who benefited. His rent was reduced from £235 to £200.24 In these circumstances, it would have been difficult for the Marquess to initiate improvements. Bankruptcies continued in the 1830s with two tenants having to leave their farms in 1839.

In 1839, the Marquess incurred enormous expenditure on the marriage of his daughter to the eldest son of the Duke of Wellington. For that year, his expenditure exceeded income by £3984 7s 6d, mainly due to the wedding.25
From the 1830s, but increasingly so from the 1840s, the correspondence of the Marquess shows an growing interest in agricultural improvements: experiments with better ploughs including attempts at steam ploughing using engines on rails, steam thrashing, discussions on the best way to grow turnips, including ‘Swedish turnips’, correspondence with experts on road building. He was much interested in drainage and in 1835 set up a tile works at Yester Mains. The requirement to drain was sometimes written into leases with tiles provided if the tenant paid for the coals for firing them.
In 1842 the Marquess was appointed Governor of Madras, where he served until 1848. In the same year (1842) Henry Davidson was appointed factor after a financial scandal involving the previous factor and his clerk. In Davidson the Marquess found someone with a similar zeal for improvement. Davidson’s correspondence with the Marquess details a programme of rebuilding on the home farms, laying new hedges, drainage, and purchasing the latest equipment, including steam-driven thrashing machines.

While serving in India, the Marquess despatched detailed instructions to his factor on crops to be grown: the depth of ploughing; where hedges were to be planted and the nature of the infill, “I hope you mix plenty of good earth with the light soil before laying the thorns.”26 While these improvements impacted on the home farms directly, there was the opportunity when each lease fell due to demand changes to the tenanted farms such as drainage, creation of plantations, removing fields from one farm and attaching to another. He asked for plans to made of a number of his farms, including Walden, and to be sent to him in Madras so that he could consider how best they could be improved. These were returned to the factor marked with planned improvements.

There was extensive rebuilding at the home farms of Yester Mains and Broadwoodside in 1842. For the tenanted farms, Davidson was keen to attract men ‘of capital and respectability’, as was the Marquess. “My wish is to have respectable tenants and the land managed according to what you know and believe to be the best system of farming.”27 Davidson believed that combining farms would make for greater efficiency and save the cost of farm buildings. For example, he suggested merging the farms of Carfrae and Snawdon to attract “a person of both money and intelligence”.28 The same year, 1843, the lease of Walden expired and the factor brought the farm into his own management.

The last tenant of Walden may not have matched Davidson’s criteria for capital and respectability. He was Peter Hay. From the 1841 census we know he was born about 1793. He married Agnes Muirhead in 1840. In 1841 he was living with his wife, 2 farm servants and a child, none of whom shares his name. Also at Walden were 2 agricultural labourers (aged 17 and 13) and a third aged 45 with a family of 7 children plus wife.29 According to Martine, Hay died in 1850.30

Peter Hay may have had some expectation of the lease being renewed as the Marquess congratulates the factor on moving him, “ I am glad to hear you have settled with Hay of Walden without a law suit.”31 Walden was taken under the factor’s control. This provided Davidson with an opportunity for improving the farm. “Walden is now all stocked [with horses and servants] the young wheat looking very well and we shall soon commence with drains and improvements.”32 Later that year, beef prices being good, he bought “A lot of Aberdeenshire polled stots from McCombie at £11 a head for Walden.”33 Presumably these were Aberdeen Angus in contrast to the ‘home bred’ cattle of the previous tenant. Guano houses were constructed which reduced reliance on dung. “Guano is coming in in fleets [and] will be cheap”.34

In 1845 the tenant of Sheriffside died, the old Hay life tenant whom the Marquess in his youth had tried to evict. This provided the opportunity to unite the two farms, with some re-distribution of Walden fields to the neighbouring farm of Danskine and the incorporation into the policies of part of a field, Waldenlea, to provide greater privacy. The new joint farm was rented to James Wilson on a 19 year tack at a rent of £540. The merged farm was of 460 acres as opposed to Walden’s 252. A new steading and farmhouse were erected on a new site at Sheriffside in 1846. Presumably at or around this time, much of the old steading at Walden was pulled down leaving only the northern range.

At times the Marquess expresses concern at the mounting costs of these changes. Davidson’s zeal for improvement and the expenditure arising was also a frequent cause for concern to the Marquess’ lawyer, George Dalziel. He advised the Marquess in 1849 that his expenditure on farms exceeded his farm income by almost £1000 for each of the preceding 3 years due to his rebuilding.35 Duncanlaw is mentioned as incurring particularly heavy expenditure although “I know no Estate in Scotland where the Farm Houses and steds[ings] ..will be in such perfect order.” 36 “The very large expenditure on your estate during Mr Davidson’s incumbency as factor have frequently vexed me”.37

Map evidence
Forrest’s map of 1799 shows 4 buildings in a square. An 1844 estate map, surveyed by John Mason Junior of Belhaven, shows a set of buildings roughly in the shape of a rectangle with a central yard with trees and gardens on the north-east side. The 1854 1:10560 OS map, surveyed in 1853, shows only the north range surviving. It is roofed and gardens with trees are shown on the north side. The OS name book for Garvald parish, ca 1853, describes ‘Waldean’ as: “An old house which formerly had a farm of land attached but is now united with Yester Mains. The house is occupied by agricultural labourers.” It is possible the labourers were working for the home farm, Yester Mains, but the tacks show the land was part of the newly extended Sheriffside.
The OS 1:10560 map of 185438 shows only 1 building, roofed, with a square yard or garden on the north-east side. Aerial photographs of 1946 show mature trees on the north side of the ruin. These survived to the 1950s. The OS 1:63360 maps suggest the building was roofed until at least 1902.

Census evidence
Census returns show that in 1841 Walden supported a community of 21. In addition to the farmer, his wife, a 5-year old girl and two farm servants, there were two families of agricultural labourers and two single males, both labourers. In 1851 census, the number has fallen to 11 – made up of two families of labourers a widow with 3 children and a couple with 5 children. By 1861 there is only one family of labourers – a couple with eight children – two working as farm labourers, three at school and the others infants. The farmhouse is noted as having 8 rooms with windows. The 1717 building had 5 windows. The 1871 return shows the property as uninhabited. It is possible occasional use was made thereafter but there is no record of this in the census returns.

Archaeological evidence
Walden today consists of the roofless ruin of a long rectangular dwelling house with a smaller building on the west gable which has the remains of a pantiled roof. In its final phase the smaller building on the west side has been converted to a cartshed as the doorway has been doubled in width. It shows signs of earlier use as a byre or stable in that there are two air vents, later blocked. One is built into a blocked doorway on the north side. The doorway is rather low for a horse so its use as a byre for the family’s milk cows is more probable. At a later stage the entrance has been widened, possibly doubled in width to admit carts. The new east side of this doorway contains masoned stones salvaged from elsewhere, one with an OS mark, resting on a very insubstantial foundation which includes fragments of pantiles. The roof trusses are machine cut and unlikely to be original. The roof itself is pantiled. It shows signs of imminent collapse.

There is a small partially enclosed yard to the east side which contains a well, now covered. In March 2010 it contained at least 1.8m of water although the owner reports that it was filled with stones at the time of the demolition.
The house and shed are of random rubble; ‘stane and lime’ construction. The margins on the surviving doors and windows of the house are of well-cut sandstone. In contrast, the skews on the gable of the cartshed are roughly cut. The mason in 1717 charged 6d a foot for the margins as opposed to 1d for the skews. There are two hearths. That on the western gable is a later addition. The floor is at two levels. The original surface is well-below the soil level of the adjoining field. Attempts have been made to raise this and block the lower level of one of the windows, presumably to combat dampness.
All exits to the north side have been walled up. On the 1844 plan, these led to buildings on the north side of the cartshed and walled courtyard and to the gardens. This may have been done when the steading was demolished and the house turned over to farm servants. It may be at this time that the second fireplace was built on the west wall of the dwelling house.

The roof, in its later phase at least, has been of Scotch slate. Roughly cut slates are found in the rubble. More intriguingly, the same slate is used as spacing between the masoned stones in some rybaits and in the original fireplace. The 1717 accounts do not indicate the roofing materials used. One would expect thatch at this early date but the Marquis is using Stobo slates for his house in 1665 and Easdale slates for his new mansion in 1699. The Factor’s accounts for 1717 include payments to Thomas Martin, ‘sclater’, for repairs to the roof and windows of the church, manse, townhouse, schoolmaster’s house and school in Gifford.39 The Wright’s accounts show that the roof trusses for Walden were made from imported timber. This would allow the more even finish that a slated roof requires. However, the trusses are more widely spaced than usual for a slate roof.
The house survived in a ruinous state, no roof, floors or stairs but with walls to two-storey height, until the 1950s when the walls were toppled as a safety measure. An entire section of the front of the house is missing.

Aerial photography of 1946 shows mature trees on the north side where the 1844 plan shows gardens. Traces of these gardens and trees survived to the 1950s and the soil today is darker. The plough turns up fragments of Victorian pottery. The interior of the house was cleared of tumbled masonry in 2008 as prelude to a failed redevelopment plan. The rubble was dumped to the west of the ruin. It includes roofing slates, hand-made bricks and a skewput from the cartshed gable.

The story of Walden, unlike many SRP projects, is not one of contraction. This is not an isolated upland farm surrounded by pasture showing evidence of pre-improvement practices. Walden lies in the midst of good arable land, intensively farmed. All trace of head dykes, rigs and lychets have long since disappeared. Even the field boundaries shown in estate maps of 1844 were changed to some extent by 1906 and have changed again in more recent times with the creation of larger units to fit today’s combine harvesters. None of the field names of 1844 is in use. But Walden is a rare survivor in archaeological terms in that the ruins of the former farmhouse remain and the core of this house dates from 1717. In contrast, other estate farms in the vicinity such as Winding Law and Windy Law, both shown on Forrest’s map of 1799, have vanished without trace while the farmhouses and steadings of others which do survive, such as Duncanlaw and Sheriffside, neighbours to the west, were completely rebuilt in the mid nineteenth century in new locations with almost all traces of the old removed. In the first Statistical Account, the Rev Andrew Nisbet accounts for the fall in population of Garvald parish as in part due to farms merging into larger units. “The conjunction of farms tends to the depopulation of the country and to increase the number of poor in towns and villages”.40 The ‘conjunction of farms’ and depopulation of the countryside continues. Sheriffside, which swallowed up Walden in 1846, is now part of Townhead farm. The combined farm is worked by a manager and one tractor-man with contractors brought in as required.
The land at Walden today is farmed by the family of Gavin Hamilton, Garvald Mains, to whom we are indebted for permission to survey the old farmhouse.

All manuscript references are to the Yester Papers in the National Library of Scotland.
1 Ms 14458 f147 24th October 1835
2 Ms 14759, f18, 1617
3 The aunsweris to the Kingis Majesties Commissioneris ffor Barowe, 1621
4 Ms 14603 f49, 1717
5 Ms 14745 f51
6 Ms 14610 f6
7 Ms 14666 f87
8 Baro paroch hearths payed their in 1691
9 Anderson, I (1991?), Garvald: the history of an East Lothian parish, p11 (Penicuik: Pen-y-coe Press).
10 Martine, J. (1890) Reminiscences and Notices of the Parishes of the County of Haddington, p71 1999 reprint.
11 Ms 14603 f39
12 Ms14745 f55
13 Ms 14603, f4
14 Ms14610, f30 and f73
15 Ms 14603 f35
16 Ms 14666 ff64-67, f100
17 Ms 14754, f109
18 Ms 14682 f178
19 Ms 14458 f 72
20 Ms14603 f2
21 Ms 14603 and 14604
22 Ms 14703 f69
23 Ms 14458 f29 11th January 1823
24 Ms 14458 f25 24th December 1822
25 Ms 14458 f254 23rd November 1839
26 Ms 14460 f54 23rd February 1843
27 Ms 14460 f69 26th March 1843. 8th Marquess to Henry Davidson
28 Ms 14460 f50 1st February 1843
29 Garvald Parish census 1841 taken the night of June 6th
30 Martin, J.(1890) op cit, p163 1999 reprint
31 Ms 14460 f146 22nd December 1843
32 Ms14460 f150 2nd January 1844
33 Ms 14460 f199 3rd October 1844
34 Ms 14460 f185 15th August 1844
35 Ms 14458 f297 5th March 1850
36 Ms14458, f286, 17th April 1849
37 Ms 14458 f313 14th May 1851
38 OS Haddingtonshire, Sheet 15, surveyed 1853.
39 Ms 14603 f53.
40 First Statistical Account, United Parishes of Garvald and Baro, p361

© Historic Environment Scotland - Scottish Charity No. SC045925.