UK Genealogy Archives logo

Aberlady, Haddingtonshire

Historical Description

ABERLADY, a parish, in the county of Haddington, 4 miles (N. W.) from Haddington; containing 1050 inhabitants, of whom 537 are in the village. This place is situated on the Firth of Forth, and near the mouth of the small river Peffer, supposed to have been anciently called the Leddie, from which circumstance the name Aberlady is said to have been derived. A strong castle was built here in 1518, by Patrick Douglas, grandson of Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindy: he was treasurer of Scotland during the minority of James V., but sharing in the fate of the Douglases, he forfeited his estates, and died in exile. The parish is bounded on the north and north-west by the Firth, and comprises an area of about 4000 acres, chiefly under tillage, with very little permanent pasture, and only a small portion of woodland. Its surface is generally flat, but has a very gradual rise from the coast to the south and south-east; and though attaining no considerable elevation even at the highest point, it still commands a richly-varied and extensive prospect over the Firth of Forth in its widest expanse, the Pentland hills, the city of Edinburgh with its castle, and the Grampian hills. Near the coast the soil is light and sandy, in some parts clayey, and on the more elevated lands a rich and fertile loam. The system of agriculture is in an improved state; tile-draining has been extensively practised, and on all the farms are threshing-mills, many of which are driven by steam. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the rearing of live stock; but the number of sheep and cattle is increasing, and it is not improbable that in due time the farmers will be distinguished for improvements in the breeds of stock. The chief substrata are limestone and whinstone, and coal is supposed to exist in some of the lands; the limestone is not worked, but along the coast the whinstone is quarried extensively. Clay of good quality for bricks and tiles is found, and about twenty persons are employed in works for that purpose. The annual value of real property in the parish is £8151. Ballencrieff, the seat of Lord Elibank, is a handsome mansion, in a richly-planted demesne, commanding some fine views of the surrounding country. Gosford, the seat of the Earl of Wemyss and March, upon which large sums have been expended, was anciently a possession of the noble family of Acheson, whose titles as Barons, Viscounts, and Earls Gosford have been chosen from this place, where was formerly a village that no longer exists. The mansion is beautifully situated, and contains an extensive and very choice collection of paintings, most of them by the old masters. Luffness is an ancient mansion, considerably enlarged and improved, but still retaining much of its original character; the grounds are well planted, and laid out with exquisite taste. The village is pleasantly situated, near the influx of the Peffer into the Firth, and is neatly built; a subscription library has been established, and there is also a parochial lending library. At this part of the coast is a small haven, where vessels of seventy tons may anchor at spring tides, but from which their return to the sea is difficult when the wind happens to be westerly: the haven is the port of Haddington, but the trade carried on is insignificant. Great facility of communication is afforded by the North-British railway, which passes through the parish.

At a remote period, there appears to have been an establishment of Culdees near the village, probably subordinate to the monastery of Dunkeld, on the erection of which place into a bishopric, David I. conferred the lands of Aberlady and Kilspindy on the bishop, in whose possession they remained till the Reformation. Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, granted these lands to Sir Archibald Douglas in 1522, and in 1589 they were resigned to the crown, and the church of Aberlady became a rectory, independent of the diocese; the patronage remained with the Douglas family, from whom it passed to others, and ultimately to the Earl of Wemyss, the present patron. The parish is in the presbytery of Haddington and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale; the stipend of the incumbent is £280. 11. 11., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £27. 10. per annum. Aberlady church, rebuilt in 1773, is a neat and substantial edifice, adapted for a congregation of 525 persons: four handsome silver cups, for the communion service, were presented by the Wedderburn family. The parochial school affords a liberal course of instruction; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4½., with £34 fees, and a house and garden.

Till lately there were some remains of the castle of Kilspindy, already noticed, situated between the village and the sea-shore; but they have now totally disappeared. On the margin of a small stream which separates the parish from that of Gladsmuir, are the ruins of Redhouse Castle, apparently a place of great strength, the erection of which is referred to the sixteenth century; the lands belonged in the fifteenth century to the family of Laing, of which one was treasurer of Scotland in 1465, bishop of Glasgow in 1473, and high chancellor in 1483. The more ancient portion of the house of Luffness was formerly inclosed within a fortification, raised to intercept the supplies sent by sea to the English garrison at Haddington; the fortification was demolished in 1551, but the house was preserved. Near the site was once a convent of Carmelite friars, to whom David II. granted a charter; and at Ballencrieff and Gosford were ancient hospitals, of which there are now no remains. Along the coast, stone coffins and human bones have been frequently dug up, supposed to have been those of persons slain in some conflict near the spot.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis


Online maps of Aberlady are available from a number of sites:

CountyEast Lothian
Postal districtEH32