Ormiston, a classic East Lothian village
The core of the present day village of Ormiston is the result of a pioneering experiment by John Cockburn in the first half of the 18th century. Although the settlement has expanded far beyond its original bounds (explore Ormiston through time on our maps here) it is easy to explore and follow the stages in its development.
The main street runs east-west and is straight, wide and tree lined. It is flanked by one and two storey buildings – some directly on the street, some set back within gardens. Many date from its original development when John Cockburn
set about reforming his village of Ormiston; made a plan of a neat, airy, regular street, to be filled up with the houses of manufacturers and tradesmen; and granted feus on moderate terms to all his tenants and cottars who choosed to build houses. Hence, a village was reared up in a short space of time, which to this day meets with admiration from every one that passes. (Memoirs of John Cockburn)
Cockburn assisted the development by providing materials to build the new settlement and land for the industries he hoped would flourish – malting, brewing and distilling as well as linen processing, weaving and finishing. But perhaps he didn’t anticipate that Ormiston would find another means of supporting its economy.
Ormiston lies within the Lothian Coal Basin. Coal was worked around the village from early times, but the industry reached a peak with the formation of the Ormiston Coal Company. Their pits of Limeylands, Tynemount and Oxenford were opened from the 1890s and worked until the 1960s. At their peak they employed over 700 hands – which meant a transformation of the village. Housing spread on the western side, much built by the company, and sidings and branches extended from the nearby railway line to Pencaitland (which itself had been opened in 1862).
The second half of the twentieth century brought many changes to the village. Retail outlets decreased in number (many becoming houses) and increasingly residents had to look further afield for their purchases – and employment. Infill housing was built in the core of the village and several estates of council housing augmented the homes built earlier for colliery workers. About 200 children attend Ormiston Primary School and the village benefited from a new library, on which work began in April 2000, and since opening it has established itself as a focus for many activities and groups.
Ormiston is also the birthplace of Robert Moffat, another of East Lothian’s almost forgotten heros. Born in 1795 Robert trained as a gardener but devoted his life to missionary work in Sothern Africa. His association with Ormiston is remembered by a monument at the east end of the main street.
Several of Robert’s children also became missionaries: John Smith Moffat produced a Life of his parents and his sister Mary married the missionary David Livingstone; a grandson (Howard Unwin Moffat) became prime minister of what was then Southern Rhodesia between 1927-33.
Ye See it a’, The Ormiston Story, Annie Lyell, 2000