Broxburn (by Dunbar)

Blacksmiths' workshop at Broxburn, c1900

Blacksmiths’ workshop at Broxburn, c1900

Broxburn is one of these ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ settlements with which East Lothian is so richly endowed. Now bypassed by the main road, and seemingly out of the way, the reason it’s there isn’t obvious. But take a minute to look around and things become clearer.

The hamlet lies at a fork in the road, by a river crossing. The bridge is ancient and carried the Great North Road across the Brocks Burn; the junction itself became one of the toll-places along that road. Approaching from the south, one fork led into Dunbar, a mile northwest and the other led on to Edinburgh. Further, immediately to the east and north of the settlement lie the walled policies of Broxmouth House, once a seat of the Dukes of Roxburghe; to the south, a little way up the burn, is a mill complex (one of several that was under the control of Dunbar Burgh).

When these elements are put together – mill, estate workers and toll place – the reason for the settlement becomes straightforward: a rural craft and production centre at a convenient location well served by roads. Indeed, in the middle of the 19th century (data from the 1851 Census) the little hamlet was a hive of activity:

  •                 There were six working at Brodie’s saddlery
  •                 Craig’s carpentry employed three
  •                 Bishop’s smithy had four hands
  •                 Mill master Bowhill employed three others
  •                 there was a roadside inn
  •                 and a Miss Bishop kept a small grocer’s shop.

At the big house there were 10 indoor servants and even more outdoor servants (two gate keepers, a groom and 11 gardeners): and that’s without the ducal family in residence! Add in the toll keeper, a mason, and a couple of road-men and the economy of the settlement is complete.

Today is very different. The last business was a garage, that became uneconomic when the settlement was bypassed; a group of detached houses were built in and around its site. The smithy survives – but as a dwelling. Other Victorian houses have been replaced or modernised but the toll house disappeared under a road widening scheme. Part of the inn survives, albeit unoccupied, and the main mill complex has been converted to housing.

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