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Innerwick Church
Innerwick Church

The name Innerwick (of Anglo-saxon origin meaning inland farm or dwelling place) was presumably coined around the 7th – 9th centuries but discoveries along the coast indicate a continuous human presence in this area since shortly after the retreat of the icesheets that shaped the present day landscape. By the 12th century much of the parish had been acquired by a branch of the Stewarts, about the same time as which a church is first recorded. The Hamiltons succeeded to Innerwick Castle, with a branch of the Homes established at Thornton Castle; both were slighted during the Rough Wooing in the 16th century.

The parish of Innerwick extends from the coast (where there are minor settlements at Thorntonloch and Skateraw) to the Lammermuirs. The village of Innerwick is situated where the land begins to rise, affording prospects over the Lothian plain and coast. The parish is about ten miles in length and two to three in depth,  extending to about 8800 acres. On the southeast it is bounded by Oldhamstocks, on the south by part of Berwickshire, on the southwest by Spott and the northeast by Dunbar; its coast faces northeast.

The fields on the coastal plain of Innerwick parish are counted amongst the best arable land in East Lothian. They were formerly extensively used to cultivate root crops, in particular carrots; potatoes, wheat and barley were also grown. A station on the main east coast line ensured that produce could be shipped rapidly. As the land rises more was and is devoted to pastoral use: dairy, beef and sheep. The highest parts were once the domain of the shepherd but are now extensively managed for shooting, forestry plantations and wind-farms. The population peaked at just under 1000 in 1831 and reached a low point of 347 in 1991; increase since is accounted for by residents at Thurston.

In the 19th century, the inhabitants of the parish looked to their community for support and entertainment. The period saw a flourishing of specialist societies – many people served as committee members or were otherwise involved. This list has been compiled from almanacs, guides and the pages of the Haddingtonshire Courier – more detail might be found by consulting our records.

Parish   LibraryLibrary
Itinerating   Library (Brown’s) (two units)Library
Friendly   Society (formerly Funeral Society)Friendly   or mutual
Association   for Churchyard ProtectionBurial

Within the parish, the three settlements of Innerwick village, Skateraw and Thorntonloch maintain their character, augmented by seasonal caravaners at  Thorntonloch and the extensive Thurston Manor Leisure Park established in the 1990s on the policies of the old Thurston estate. Innerwick retains its school, the Victorian facility being retained as an outdoor education centre, and church (united with Oldhamstocks and Cockburnspath). However, none of the four or five shops recorded in the 1880s has survived. Similarly both the Post Office and railway station have closed. On the coast, Torness Nuclear Power Station dominates the view. Construction began in 1980 (not without controversy) and the station was commissioned in 1988. Just across the northwestern boundary of the parish the former quarry of Oxwellmains Cement Works has been reutilised as a land fill site with a proposed incinerator, which also causes local concern.

Further Reading

Statistical Accounts for 1793 and 1850s

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

Alexander Somerville, Autobiography of a working man, London 1951

4 thoughts on “Innerwick”

  1. Stuart Gray says:

    Please find attached a photo of Dad Birrell’s House, in Innerwick, East Lothian, taken in 1962. (I know this photo and surrounding card was originally a calendar, although the calendar bit has been removed/lost. The hanging loop is still attached. It may have been sold locally in Torry’s shop as a calendar. Torry’s shop is where the further van is parked along the street).

    “Dad” Birrell was Alexander Gibb Birrell who died aged 72 in the old Cottage Hospital, Dunbar, in September 1962 as the result of a stroke.

    After his death, and the sale in 1963 (for £1000-00) of the Innerwick property (Large House, 1/2 acre Garden, Stable/Laundry and Groom’s Quarters building, row of 7 roofless Terraced Houses, 1 acre of sloped Drying Green, 7 acres of Woodland with ruined Cottage, the house was named by the new owners, “Birrell’s House,” which in any event was what the local villagers called it anyway.

    The small black van standing at the door was an old Morris van, registration number DWG 433, which Dad used for his morning paper round, and to ferry Aunt Isa, various dogs and grandchildren, to dog shows all over the country. He also used it to transport his beehives when they were taken out to the heather moors in early summer. Although the hive entries were closed up with mesh the night before transporting, on one memorable occasion the occupants of a hive escaped within the van during transit….

    The lower window in the gable was the bedroom of Granny and Dad. The roof dormer windows are quite unusual, being glazed at the sides as well as the front. The first dormer window was the bedroom where we slept on our frequent visits. The further dormer was the bedroom of Aunt Isa, who lived with Dad at Innerwick before she married.

    At the front (south) of the house were two doorways. The nearer one was permanently shut, but originally gave entry to the village shop, and this room was always referred to as the shop. A smaller storeroom off this still had hooks in the ceiling from which hams, etc. would have been hung. In my day there were still shop furnishings stored in the shop and in the basement, such as a glazed wooden McVities’ biscuit cabinet.

    In its day the house would have been of some importance in the village, comprising shop, storeroom, kitchen, front room and bedroom at street level. A 180 degree left-curving stairway led to the upper floor which contained 2 bedrooms, each with a dormer window, and a boxroom between them with a roof light or window. To the rear was the bathroom with an old fashioned claw-footed bath, sink and w.c. The window of this looked north and from it the River Forth estuary, the Island of May and the Fife coast could be seen. I first saw the Northern Lights from this window as a small boy.

    The kitchen had a small pantry attached and food was stored here. Within it was a metal perforated box with a ventilated door, to keep flies off, used for storing meat etc., and called a meat safe – there was no refrigeration in those days! There was also a heavy marble slab on which was stored muslin-covered jugs of filtered goats’ milk. The kitchen had a cast iron range with an open fire on the left hand side. On the right was a top oven above, and a bottom oven below. An iron kettle was always on the fire, and it contained an old china marble to try to keep the hard water calcium deposits to a minimum within the kettle. A long handled cast iron pot was also used to cook meat on the fire for the dogs.

    Leading down from the street level hallway was a right-turning curving stairway which led down to one of the two basement houses or apartments. These would have been servants quarters in olden days. In my day, Dad Birrell used the western one as a workshop/store where he worked on his beehive sections and combs, etc. My father, Andrew Gray, gutted the eastern apartment and concreted the floor. It was intended to be used as a kennel annex/dog grooming area, but never was.

    At the bottom of the garden was a two-storied pantile-roofed building. On the ground floor of this at the northern end was a stable containing three stalls separated by wooden partitions and having wooden mangers at their head. A very small window in the north wall gave some light and ventilation. The ‘grip’ or drainage channel at the end of the stalls drained directly into the burn which flowed under the building. Dad Birrell at one time stabled his own horse here, but latterly it was used to house goats. At the south end was the laundry where in former days the washing would have been done. In my time it was used as a general junk storeroom. Above, reached by an outside stair, was what I presume would have been the stable boy’s or groom’s quarters (probably in the glory days of Innerwick House and Thurston Manor and Estate). Here Aunt Isa kept many of her whippets in kennels built into this upper floor. At one time there were 86 dogs, mostly whippets, resident at Blik Kennels; this figure of course including many puppies. Blik Kennels was so named after the combination of the first and last initials of ‘Birrell’ and ‘Innerwick.’

    Almost directly opposite Birrell’s House stands what would originally have been an open coach or wagon shed. This was modified as a garage for old Tommy, and his son, George, Fogo’s coal lorry and car, the centre section of the building facade being framed and walled, the two outer ends having doors fitted. I believe that there would have been a connection between Birrell’s House, the Stables building and the Coach/Wagon shed and Innerwick House in its heyday.

    Earlier I made reference to meat for the dogs being cooked on the open fire of the kitchen range. I remember heavy cardboard boxes being delivered from Edinburgh by the local bus, and containing whale meat. These boxes measured about 1 foot x 1 foot x 18 inches (300 x 300 x 450 mm) and were filled with frozen pieces of whale meat neatly sawn into bits about 2 inches x 3 inches x 1 foot long (50 x 75 x 300 mm). There was never any fat or wastage, only very lean meat. When cooked, the whale meat had the appearance of cooked beef, only with a stringier texture. It actually tasted delicious and quite similar in flavour to beef! Sometime frozen raw tripe would be received, straight from the slaughter house and which still had half-digested grass within it. When cooked, this had a distinct greenish tinge, but it still tasted good to a hungry young child! One other meat source for the dogs was something akin to a haggis called a ‘bomb,’ and probably containing offal not fit for human consumption. These were also boiled up to cook them for the dogs. I never tried eating these…..

    Stuart R. K. Gray
    (grandson of Alexander Gibb Birrell)
    Scot-Scan Ancestral Research.

    1. Jacqueline Cavellini says:

      Hi Stuart

      I was really interested to find your information as I’m researching my brother in law’s family tree and his grandfather Andrew Bruce Birrell was the younger brother of your grandfather Alexander. I’ll have to let him see this.


      1. Mark Beattie says:

        I Remember staying next door to the Birrells for
        18 months @the end of the 50’s & Jock Ness
        had a car,an old one,registration AGE 395 which he replaced with a Vauxhall- WMV 457.
        A number of years ago Tommy Foggo loaned me
        a suite of ’50s school photos which I posted on
        a1historydunbar-school gallery &with Dennis Patterson’s help all the scholars names were added.
        Happy Days!!!
        Mark Beattie

        1. Stuart Gray says:

          Hullo Jacqueline,
          I’ve just seen your reply to my piece on Alexander Gibb Birrell of
          Please feel free to contact me.
          Best wishes,
          Stuart Gray.

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