DIRLETON, a parish, in the county of Haddington; including the villages of Fenton and Gulane, and containing 1497 inhabitants, of whom 353 are in the village of Dirleton, 2½ miles (W. S. W.) from North Berwick. This place, anciently called Golyn, a Gaelic term signifying a small lake, derived that appellation from a sheet of water near the village of Gulane, which has long been drained. The ancient manors of Golyn and Dirleton, which latter gives to the parish its present name, belonged, together with the lands of Fenton, in the early part of the twelfth century, to the family of Vaux or De Vallibus; and in 1340 passed, by marriage with the daughter and heiress of William De Vallibus, to Sir John Halyburton, whose grandson, Sir Walter, lord high treasurer of Scotland, was created Lord Halyburton in 1448. On the decease of the sixth Lord Halyburton, the lands were conveyed by his daughter and heiress Janet, in marriage, to William, second Lord Ruthven, by whose descendant, John, Earl of Gowrie, they were forfeited to the crown in 1600. They were afterwards granted to Sir Thomas Erskine, who killed the Earl of Gowrie while making an attempt on the life of James VI.; and Sir Thomas was created Lord Dirleton in 1603, Viscount Fenton in 1606, and Earl of Kellie in 1619. In 1663 the lands were purchased by Sir John Nisbet, afterwards lord of session and king's advocate, from whose descendant they passed by marriage to the present proprietor. Sir John Nisbet was born here in 1610, and died in 1688; he published a work entitled Doubts and Questions in the Law, especially of Scotland, which was highly esteemed, and of which Lord Chancellor Hardwicke was accustomed to say that "Dirleton's doubts were better than most people's certainties". The ancient castle of Dirleton, erected by the family of Vaux in the twelfth century, was a fortress of great strength, and opposed the most formidable resistance to Edward I., on his invasion of Scotland in 1298. The English forces by whom it was besieged were, during the long period of its defence, reduced to the greatest extremities; it was at length surrendered to Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham. The fortress remained in the hands of the English till the year 1306, and subsequently, on the invasion of Scotland by Cromwell in 1650, was besieged and taken by General Lambert, by whose orders it was dismantled and almost entirely demolished.
The PARISH is about five miles and a half in length, and four in breadth, and is bounded on the north by the Firth of Forth, and on the south by the small river Peffer, which divides it from the parish of Athelstaneford. It comprises an area of about 9450 acres, of which 6680 are arable and in a state of good cultivation, 380 woodland and plantations, and the remainder pasture and heath. The surface is generally flat, being varied only by two nearly parallel ridges of moderate elevation, which divide it into three almost equal portions. The scenery is greatly enlivened by the Firth, and its several islands, of which those of Fetheray, Eyebrochy or Ibris, and the Lamb form part of the parish. Fetheray is situated directly opposite to the village, about a mile from the shore, with which it is connected by a narrow isthmus rising on the west into an elevation, called from its appearance the Castle of Tarbet. The coast towards the east is level sand, and towards the west rocky, having crags of considerable height. The rivers are the Millburn and the Peffer: the latter divides into two shallow and inconsiderable streams, one forming the boundary of the parish, and, after a course of nearly eight miles, falling into the sea at Aberlady, and the other flowing in an eastern direction into the sea near Tynninghame.
On the southern side of the parish the soil is partly wet and marshy, and on the northern side light and sandy; the remainder is generally a good loam, resting on a tilly substratum, and by a highly improved course of agriculture rendered extremely fertile. The crops are wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, potatoes, and turnips. Bone-dust and rape manures have been extensively introduced; tile-draining is practised to a large extent, and much unprofitable land has been reclaimed. Great attention is paid to the improvement of live stock; about 2000 sheep are annually pastured, of the Cheviot, Leicester, and black-faced breeds, and about 500 head of cattle are fed yearly, besides about 120 milch-cows. The plantations are mostly on the sandy soils, and are well managed; the thinnings supply abundant materials for palings and other purposes. In this parish the substrata are sandstone, whinstone, and limestone: the sandstone is quarried at Gulane, and the whinstone at Burnside; the limestone has not been worked. Basalt is found near the coast, and on the farm of West Fenton it assumes the columnar formation, appearing in pentagonal columns, of which more than thirty were some years since discovered. The annual value of real property in the parish is £13,885. Archerfield is a handsome mansion-house, in a park, commanding an extensive view of the Firth. The village of Dirleton is beautifully situated on an eminence, about a mile and a half from the sea, and consists of neatly-built cottages, with gardens attached to them, richly ornamented with flowers and shrubs. From its elevated site it commands interesting prospects over the surrounding country, embracing, towards the east, the Bass rock, the island of May, and North Berwick Law; and with the ivy-clad ruins of its ancient castle, seated on a lofty rock at its eastern extremity, it forms itself a conspicuous object in the landscape. In the village are, a parochial library consisting of 160 volumes purchased by collections at the church; a subscription library; and a library of 180 volumes for the use of the school. It has a post-office under Haddington, and the North Berwick branch of the North-British railway passes through the parish. There are also good roads.
Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Haddington, synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, and in the patronage of Mrs. Ferguson. The minister's stipend is £293. 18., with a manse, and a glebe of thirteen or fourteen acres. Dirleton church is a substantial and handsome edifice, erected in 1612, and repaired within the last few years; it is well situated for the accommodation of the parishioners, and adapted for a congregation of 600 persons. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. The parochial school, in the village of Dirleton, affords instruction to about eighty children; the master has a salary of £34, with £33. 16. fees, and a house and garden. There were anciently several chapels in the parish, all subordinate to the church of Golyn: one of these, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was situated on the isle of Fetheray, and there are still some portions of it remaining. On the lands of Archerfield was formerly a convent of nuns of the Cistercian order, a cell to the monastery founded by David I. at Berwick-upon-Tweed; and the remains of the old church of Golyn are still in good preservation. Numerous coffins have been found near the villages of Dirleton and Fenton, formed of a peculiar kind of stone, and containing bones embedded in dark-coloured earth. Near West Fenton, a stone hammer of very great antiquity has been dug up; and not far from this there have been discovered by the plough the foundations of several houses, supposed to have been destroyed by an encroachment of the sea, which formerly reached the spot, though now some miles distant. In the parish are also remains of the old mansion of Saltcoats, belonging to the ancient family of Levington, whose ancestor received a grant of the lands of Saltcoats as a recompense for having killed a destructive boar that infested the neighbourhood.