Stenton parish is entirely landlocked and lies partly on the coastal plain but extends deep into the Lammermuirs, in form a bit like a tadpole! The (northern) head, is bounded to the NW by Prestonkirk and the E by Dunbar; the (southern) tail by Whittingehame to the west and Spott to the east. The short, extreme southern border marks the old county boundary with Berwickshire. The main settlement is now the village of the same name, but history seems to show it was not always so.
The original parish name was Pitcoks (now Pitcox); an even older name is supposed to be ‘Hanus’, the origins of which are lost. Pitcox is little more than a steading today but was anciently the site of a chapel. Unlike most rural chapels, it is well documented because it became subsiduary to the Collegiate Church of Dunbar when that was established in 1342. Pitcox is an unusual name to find in East Lothian: ‘Pit-‘ or ‘Pett-‘ names more commonly occur north of the Forth and have been associated with the settlement of Gaelic speakers in the eastern parts of Scotland in the early middle ages. Some authorities suggest that this particular occurrence is evidence of similar (elite) settlement in the Lothians in the 11th century. The parish was early a part of the earldom of Dunbar although portions were possessed by cadet branches of that family. From the Dunbars much of the parish passed to the Lauders of the Bass, a branch of the Livingstons and then, in 1644, to John Hamilton, later created Lord Belhaven and Stenton. The focus of these families was on the territory or estate of Biel, where the present mansion incorporates the ancient tower, or seat, of the barony.
The name change to ‘Stenton’ is supposed to reflect the ‘stony’ nature of the agricultural land. Historically, the lowland portion was arable with stock rearing predominating in the southern, upland portion. The second Lord Belhaven was a capable and enthusiastic agricultural improver andmaps show that he pioneered his ideas on his own estates where the traditional Scottish ferm-touns gave way to designed farm steadings equipped with suites of barns, byres and cattle courts as well as workers’ cottages and farmhouse. The agricultural improvements led to a steady increase in population as the rural economy grew. Population peaked in the mid 19th century and then entered a prolonged decline. The continuation of agricultural improvement now required less labour and the increasingly sophisticated equipment employed was sourced and repaired outwith the parish. The rural support industries (masons, wrights, engineers and smiths) disappeared and the commercial outlets (shops and inns) closed. Although Stenton parish maintains its school and church residents increasingly sourced their needs in the nearby urban centres and even further afield. The end of the 20th century saw a modest reversal: surplus steadings were converted to housing and rural living became popular with commuting families and retirees; visit here for a more detailed account.
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.
|Iterating Library (Brown’s) (two units)||Library|
|Old Friendly Society||Friendly or mutual|
|New Friendly Society 1804||Friendly or mutual|
|Friendly Society||Friendly or mutual|
Statistical Accounts for 1793 and 1850s
East Lothian 1945-2000: Fourth Statistical Account, Stenton