Farming brought the families to Midlothian

The Bruces arrived at Smeaton in 1914
The Bruces arrived at Smeaton in 1914

This series of articles came about when I decided to see what Dalkeith looked like when my family first arrived here, writes Alan Mason (Dalkeith History Society).

I knew that both my parents had been in the area since the 1930s. When I looked further, I found that my Granny Mason’s family, the Smiths, had been at Elginhaugh for short time around 1900, and my mother’s family, the Bruces, were at Smeaton Farm from 1914 to 1916.

Later, my father’s family came to Dalkeith from Galashiels in 1934, and the Bruces returned from East Lothian to Fordel in 1935.

So I’m going to have a quick look at 1900, then tell you a bit about 1914 and World War 1, but most of the series will look at the mid-1930s.

As I’ve said, my great-grandfather James Smith and his family arrived at Elginhaugh around 1900. James, originally from Selkirk, worked as a miller and, like farmworkers, millers were contracted by the mill owners to work for six or 12 months at a time. James had changed employers nine times between 1869 (when he married) and 1899 or 1900 when he arrived at Elginhaugh.

As well as moving nine times, he’d managed to produce 15 children – 11 girls and four boys – and my granny, Jane, was number 13, born in 1888. The only documentary proof I have that the Smiths were here is the death certificate of one of the boys, David, who died in Dalkeith in April 1900, aged 23.

As a miller, James Smith would have lived in one of the mill cottages and was employed by James Lowrie Gray, who owned both the farm and the mill at Elginhaugh, following on from his father and grandfather. Mr Gray’s maternal grandfather was James Lowrie, the man who built the Glenesk viaduct.

When Mr Gray died in 1930, his obituary said he was an authority on oatmeal milling, a philanthropist and a prominent after-dinner speaker.

He had been chairman of the Dalkeith Parish Council, the School Board and the Dalkeith Choral Society, and was involved with the Dalkeith Choral Society.

In 1928 he had completed 64 years as a Sunday school teacher, first at the Relief Church then at St John’s and Kings Park, and was a life member of the Dalkeith Bowling Club at Ironmills. When the new bowling pavilion opened in 1924, he presented a cup for an annual competition.

Whatever the merits of Mr Gray, James Smith only worked there a short time before moving to Swanston. So ended the first contact.

The next arrivals were the Bruces at Smeaton Farm in 1914. My grandfather was a ploughman and had married my granny in April 1914 at Athelstaneford, so Smeaton was probably their first home together, and their address was “2nd House”. My mother’s oldest siblings, the twins Emily and John, were born there on 18th April 1915. The family stayed there until 1916, then moved to Morton Mains at Mortonhall, where my mother was born in 1918.