Somnerfield Works, Haddington – Implement Makers and Engineers

Pete Webb has researched the origin and development of an engineering company with works adjacent to Haddington’s railway station.

Detail from Wood’s Plan of Haddington, 1819. Site of railway terminus indicated.

Detail from Wood’s Plan of Haddington, 1819. Site of railway terminus indicated.

The area that became Haddington Railway Yard was open fields on the 1819 John Wood map and belonged to Richard Summers, Esq. It was still open fields in 1832 but it is quite possible that something was built at about the same time or soon after the railway arrived next door in 1846. Certainly after that date the Somnerfield Works were occupied as an agricultural engineering works next to Haddington Station.

The works were run by Samuel Dodds, millwright and engineer, and he lived on the premises with his family, presumably in the front part of the building. Samuel is thought to have married Janet Macintosh on 12 October 1863 at Dalkeith, Midlothian and he originally came to Scotland from Ireland and was born about 1831. He was there during the 1871 census and by the 1881 census, Samuel, then aged 50, has his occupation listed as millwright and engineer employing 11 men and 1 boy. The family consisted of Janet, his wife, who was born in Large (Largs), three daughters and a twelve year old son, who was also called Samuel. All the children were born in Haddington and the household included a seventeen year old servant girl called Ellen Fairbain born in nearby Dunbar.

A Thomas Moffat is listed in both the 1881 & 1891 census as living in nearby Somnerfield Cottage with his family. He was born about 1835 in Tranent, Haddington(shire), and was an engineer, quite possibly also at the nearby Somnerfield Works.

Courier extract, 26 October 1877

Courier extract, 26 October 1877

In 1893, Samuel’s employees presented a silver tea and coffee service to his daughter on the occasion of her wedding. He had three daughters, with Marie and son Alexander still at home in the 1891 census but a younger daughter Eleanor no longer listed. Sam Dodds, Somnerfield, Haddington is also listed in the Trade Directory for Scotland of 1896 as an agricultural implement maker. Samuel senior died in 1899 and by the time of the 1901 census, Somnerfield is occupied by Samuel J. Dodds, Samuel senior’s son, along with his wife Margaret P Dodds (born about 1869 in Haddington) and a young son also called Samuel (born about 1899 in Haddington). No record has been found for Samuel and Margaret anywhere in the 1911 census records although a Samuel Dodds, engineer, at Somnerfield Works, Haddington is still listed in the 1920 – 1921 Post Office Annual Directory for Leith and Edinburgh.

A notice in the Edinburgh Gazette dated March 5th 1929 gives notice that “Dodds & Clarke, engineers and Threshing Mill Owners of Somnerfield Works of which Alexander T Clark was the sole partner sold the premises and business to Messrs R Willie & sons”.

Finally a photo of a small steam engine called “The Dwarf” appears among the Timeline Photos of the “Lost Haddington” Facebook page. In the description it states that the engine was built at Somnerfield Works in 1926 by Dodds and Clarke who were agricultural engineers and hired out engines and equipment around Scotland. It also states that the works were thought to have been taken over by Wyllies in later years and relocated further up Hospital Road.  R. Wyllie and sons are mentioned in newspaper articles and adverts as being at Somnerfield Works as late as September 1935.

Haddington Station

Haddington Station

Passenger services to nearby Haddington Station ceased in December 1949 and goods ceased in March 1968. The Victorian station buildings next to the old Somnerfield Works were demolished but goods yards remained until the 1980s when, after a number of fires, they were eventually demolished in November 1982 to make way for the present industrial units. (Information from Lost Haddington, Facebook)

Supporting documents to the above article include:

  • census records for 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901;
  • Maps of the immediate locality for 1819, 1832, 1895, 1905 & 1948;
  • Copies of the 1896 Trade directory and the 1920 Trade directory;
  • the Edinburgh Gazette of 1929 which mentions Samuel Dodds snr’s death; and
  • various photos from the “Lost Haddington” facebook page.

Bill Wilson at the John Gray Centre, Haddington, supplied very helpful information.

Finally, if any readers are able to shed any light on or add any information to the above article, I would be very pleased to hear from them.

Pete Webb (peteashburton15(at)

7 thoughts on “Somnerfield Works, Haddington – Implement Makers and Engineers”

  1. I’m directly descended from the Somners who originally had the land, and gave it the name. Including my ggggg-granddad Richard Somner of Somnerfield at the time of Wood’s 1819 town plan. But I’m also a g..niece of Margaret Fair wife of Matthew Begbie coachbuilder at Somnerfield. So a double link. Happy to send you more info about the Somners or Begbies if you want.

    1. FrancesW says:

      Hi Vivienne,
      Yes please. If you could send it to us at [email protected] that would be much appreciated.
      best wishes,

  2. Pete Webb says:

    Before being called Somnerfield Works they were called “East Lothian Coach Works” as shown on the 1853 – 6″ OS map – does anyone know of anything about this business.

    1. Barb Beeson says:

      Matthew Begbie had the Begbie Coachworks at Somnerfield in the
      1820s through the 1850s. He lived there with his wife Margaret nee Fair and children Mary & James. See census records. Mary immigrated to Melbourne, Australia area about 1850 and married a Chirnside. She is in the 1851 census in Haddington as she returned to Scotland to give birth to her first child. The Chirnsides had a large presence in Melbourne. James never married and I believe he was sickly. Is anyone at the John Gray centre able to look into this more for me? It would be very much appreciated. I am related to Matthew Begbie by a son he had “in fornication” with Mary Heriot in 1823 … what a term 🙂 Regards Barb Beeson nee Gray. Surrey, Canada

      1. Mary married her Chirnside cousin, her mother’s nephew. I’m descended from their uncle George Fair. Plus the Somners who had the land originally.

  3. HelenB says:

    Thanks for that update Pete! Very interesting, and the map is helpful.

  4. Pete Webb says:

    Since writing the above article, I have had contact from John Stoddart, MD of Scot of Haddington. It seems that Scots still occupy the original Somnerfield Works building. They rented part of the site from 1973 to 1977 with R Wyllie still on the top part of the site. This was then purchased by Mr Muir (former MD of Scots) and the business then moved round the corner to where it still trades.
    The date of the new residential flats is at present unknown but is presumed to be soon after Scots moved in 1977.
    Attached is a map of the works in 1893
    Pete Webb

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