Work begins on developing Woodburn

The prefabs at Woodburn (courtesy Dalkeith History Society)
The prefabs at Woodburn (courtesy Dalkeith History Society)

As I said, Woodburn Estate was bought in June 1934, but planning would take some time, so the council had to do something in the meantime, writes Alan Mason (Dalkeith History Society).

Mr Robert Kerr (better known as “Cud” Kerr) was given permission to catch rabbits on the estate, and I’m sure many others did the same without permission.

And there must have been a lot of rabbits because one year later Mr Chalmers, of Gibraltar Market Gardens, complained that rabbits were coming from the Woodburn Estate and destroying his crops. The council refused to admit they were Woodburn rabbits and declined responsibility!

About the same time there were complaints that people, possibly workmen, were walking to Woodburn across the Curling Pond field at Salters’. Apparently part of the agreement with the Marquis was that the council would build an “unclimbable fence” from Ancrum Cottage (on the Lauder Road) to the Iron Gates, which were presumably near the Salter’s Road. Perhaps someone can tell me?

Councillor James Lean complained that if the fence was built, the Grassy Riggs would be fenced off for the first time in living memory. The Grassy Riggs were where Woodburn Park is now. As far as I know, the fence was never built.

The council also sold the grazing rights to Pat McCluskey of Fairfield Dairy, beside Fairfield House, until October for £33, and some shrubs were taken from the gardens and re-planted in King’s Park, which had not long been taken over by the council as a public park.

Nine acres, including two houses, the coach house and the gardens, were let out to Messrs. Wm. Bruce & Co., nurserymen, for £45 per annum.

I found out recently that part of the garden wall is still standing, between James Lean Avenue and Woodburn Drive. The only other parts of Woodburn Estate still standing are the gate pillars in Woodburn Road, opposite what I remember as Roy Miller’s shop. They used to be situated one each side of the road but were moved to make building work easier.

Just before building work started, most of the trees on the estate were sold to Souness & Speirs sawmill at Hardengreen.

Work eventually got underway in November 1934. Because of the high level of unemployment, one of the conditions attached to the building contract was that 75 per cent of the men on the site must be local, and the council did regular checks to make sure that was the case.

The first 20 houses were occupied in December 1935, at rents of £10 a year for a three apartment, £11 for a four apartment and £12 for a five apartment.

That’s £630, £690 and £760 at today’s values. Interestingly, the houses were allocated by blocks and it was up to the prospective tenants to decide which house they wanted.

Something else had to be done before they were given their keys – more on this later!