LANGTON AND GAVINTON HISTORY


   Langton House in the late 1800s
  Langton House in the late 1800s



All About Langton House and The Lairds Of Langton

The Glasgow Herald 20/10/1946

The ruins of Langton House in the heart of Berwickshire possess no tragic grandeur of antiquity, for the mansion was built only eighty years ago. But an air of sadness hangs over them, since they are the crumbling relics of a long and eventful local history that goes back to the days of David 1.

The lands were then owned by Roger de Ov, a retainer of' the King's son, who was succeeded by William de Veteri Ponte a romantic name which became Scotticised as Vipont. They remained in this family till the fourteenth century, when on the death of the lord of Langton at Bannockburn a Vipont heiress brought them as part of her dowry into the hands of the Cockburns. Langton tower was then situated in what is known as Little Byres Field, and it was there that James IV in 1496 sent his artillery in preparation for the Raid of Ellem. In 1517 it was the opening scene in one of the Border’s most dramatic episodes, the ambush of de la Bastie the gallant French "Sieur de la Beauti” who came riding past Fogo with his enemy David Hume of Wedderburn and was set upon near the old fortalice of Langton. "The Bluidy Burn' still marks the path of' the skirmish which followed and which ended with the slaughter of the luckless foreigner near the banks of the Whitadder. Tradition asserts too that Mary Queen of Scots spent a night in the castle on one of her Border progresses. During and since the last world war the estate has been occupied as a military camp. A function by no means new to Langton, for the Covenanters stationed part of' their army at nearby Choicelee (or "Chelsea” as they called it), and when the fields were enclosed about the time of' the restoration they were used as grassland for army horses. The troopers like Poles of to day were quartered on the estate and declared that these well-watered pastures were the best their mounts had ever enjoyed.

Presbyterian worship

When William of' Orange came to the throne, it was by the advice of' his faithful adherent, Sir Patrick. Hume of neighbouring Polwarth, that he placed a detachment of soldiers, at Campmuir beside Langton as a check to the local sympathisers with the exiled king James. The Site of the now vanished chapel in Langton wood recalls how faithfully the people of' the village round the cast1e upheld their Presbyterian beliefs. Luke Ogle, The friend of Principal Gilbert rule of Edinburgh University, having suffered imprisonment in the cause of his religion came to preach in “The Langton Byre”. The authorities chose to turn blind eye on such a dysentery meeting and only the beadle was punished for being, “put out of his office". The death of Sir Alexander Cockburn at Fontenoy and the passing of the estate from his family mark the opening of a new era in Langton`s history. To follow the story we must shift the scene to Lunan in Forfarshire in whose bay a Dutch trading vessel was wrecked in the early eighteenth century. The villagers gave food and shelter to the sailors while the captain was cared for by David Gavin the beadle, in whose house he waited for a ship to take him home, passing the time pleasantly and profitably by wooing and wedding his host’s daughter. Being wrecked, however agreeable the results had been, may have given the Dutchman a dislike for any more seafaring. Certainly, on his return to Holland with his bride, he settled down to a trading business and flourished greatly. Meanwhile in Scotland, the old-beadle died and his son succeeded him, eking out a modest living by selling tea and tobacco. In time his son, the hero of our tale, grew up a likely lad, and having accepted an invitation to visit his relatives in Holland he so pleased the old ex-skipper that he was taken into the trading house. He prospered, became partner, married the Dutchman’s daughter and, on his employer’s death, found himself the owner of a large fortune. As his wife had died and he had no children, his thoughts turned homeward to Scotland. Selling his business, he came back, wealthy but lonely, to his native land.

Learning that the estate of Langton was in the market, David Gavin purchased it in 1758 and decided that his new house should overlook Langton Glen. Unfortunately the dilapidated cottages which had huddled under the protecting walls of the old castle were a blot on the landscape. But a wealthy financier had potent magic at his command. He waved his wand; a new village (to be called Gavinton in his honour) appeared on the crest of the Crimson or Crimstane Hill half a mile away, and the cottagers “flitted” up the brae. The ancient hamlet of Langton was razed to the ground and the historic tower demolished. The new owner of Langton was no dilettante country gentleman however and he soon set about improving the land, giving it the benefit of the marl that was plentiful on the estate end of the line, which he transported from Northumberland. As a result, the rental that had been 1100 when he came to Langton rose to upwards of 3000 by 1773.

When Mr David Gavin set his mind on a second courtship her approached no less a person than the Earl of Lauderdale, meeting that nobleman’s query as to what claim he might have to his daughters hand with the forthright and most satisfying statement “ Ten thousand a year “. So Langton acquired a worthy chatelaine whose daughter was to add to the honour of the house by marring the Earl (later first marquise) of Breadalbene. And that is how the son of a Lunan beadle became son in law to an Earl, father in law of a marquise and eventually let us add, grandfather of a duchess.

In 1886 David Gavin”s home was in its turn demolished, only the dinning and morning rooms being incorporated into the ornate mansion designed by David Bryce for the Breadalbene owners. Not only was it an imposing edifice, mullion windowed, turreted and statue - crowned. It also contained a wealth of art treasures – works of Ruben`s, Van Dyck, Valasquere, Marrillo, Teniers and Cuypie, armour and weapons of Tudor and Stuart times; And twelve of the famous “ Stirling reads “ which adorned the billiard room. Broad terraces looked down over the picturesque Langton Glen, the picea nobilis planted by Gladstone during his visit in 1886 rose to memorial dignity and masses of Rhododendrons Azaleas enhanced the scene. In a true shaded enclosure the fragments of the ancient church kept watch over the mouldering gravestones, whose 17th century inscriptions were almost illegible.

Time has wrought its revenge – if that burial ground of a lost village is nearly forgotten, the proud mansion that marks the sight of David Gavin”s castle of dreams is slowly sinking into ruin. After half a century of dignity and honour its end was sadly ignoble. Stripped of all marketable fittings, the stone fabric was sold for the miserable sum of 15/- the great gates combined with the Breadalbene coat of arms have been torn down, and Langton House is doomed, as Langton village was.
    

Where is Langton Parrish

From the PROCEEDINGS OF THE BERWICKSHIRE NATURALISTS CLUB 18th October, 1985

LANGTON PARISH

From Duns, the nearest boundary of Langton Parish is a mile Southwest on the road to Greenlaw, a small field's breadth beyond the house called Hardens Way where we live. Along the foot of that field runs the Bluidy Burn, which got its name when the people of old time Dunse, stampeded an invading English force into the bog by the Burn and massacred them there. At the farthest corner of the field the Bluidy Burn joins the Pouterlynie Burn which forms part of the Parish boundary, and the main road crosses into the Parish over Pouterlynie Bridge. Continuing through the Parish Southwest towards Greenlaw, the road approxi-mately demarcates the limit of the rich arable land stretching northwards from the Tweed, through the Merse of Berwick.

The Parish is entirely agricultural and one of its features is the diversity of the land, within its boundaries, which encompass an area extending at its extremes only 31/2 miles from east to west and 41/2 miles from north to south. South of the road are the arable farms of Langton Mill, Middlefield, Ladyflat, Woodend and part of Choicelee. North of the road the land risers into the Lammermuirs with the farms of Hardens, Raecleughhead, Langtonlees and more of the Choicelee land, still mainly on the southern slope. Further north the farm of Stobswood lies among the hills, and Forestry Commission plantings occupy the steepest land in the north east of the Parish along Langton Edge.

The lowest land in the Parish is around 300 feet above sea level. The highest point, where the old wartime radar masts are located on top of Hardens Hill, is 1166 feet. This range of about 850 feet in altitude may not seem great, but in these northern Latitudes it is sufficient to cause a marked difference in climate. On winter mornings it is commonp-lace to see from our north-facing windows that precipita-tion, which fell as rain on the lower ground, fell as sleet or snow down to about the 600-foot contour on Hardens Farm. And in more wintry weather, two miles away on Hardens Hill, the road to Longformacus is often blocked by snow, when very little has fallen at the foot of the hill.

Depth and fertility of soils also come into the picture. The deep soils of the arable land give way to less than one inch of poor topsoil under the heather on the hills. Place names help to underline the Contrast; for example Boglands Plan-tation, between Ladyflat and Woodend, contrasting with Hell's Cleugh, which is a deep and wild ravine behind Hardens Hill. The total effect is that there is a range from totally arable farming on the low land, through stock farm-ing, with some arable on the lower slopes, to Blackface Sheep in the heather which they share with grouse on the highest ground.

Turning back to Pouterlynie Bridge on the Duns to Greenlaw road, the Stream rises as the Wellrig Burn two milers upstream on the watershed of Langton Edge in the north-easternmost corner of the parish, in an area of a afforested land known as Young Jeanie's Wood. Over the parish boundary is Jeanie's Wood. Who were Jeanie and Young Jeanie? Defining the eastern boundary of the parish, the Wellrig Burn gathers other small streams from Langton Edge on it’s way downhill and once fed the reservoir which supplied Duns with water. Crossing the Duns Golf Course it passes Wellrig, now reduced to ivy grown walls, on the edge of the Duns to Longformacus road.

By the bridge just inside the Parish boundary is Pouter-lany, which is said to be a corruption of the name Peter Lany. Originally a small row of cottages occupied by Flemish weavers, the site is still occupied by a modern house which encompasses some of the original Structure. Just to the west, on the opposite side of the main road, is Scotston, built to house linen weavers brought from the west of Scotland, still occupied today, Scotston retains part of its old red tile roof, and stone carved weaver’s knots are at each corner of the gables.

Half a mile downstream, beyond the Confluence with the Bluidy Burn, the linen woven at Scotston was bleached at Bankhead. Remnants of the ponds and sluices can still be seen in the stream bed, also the old channel of the mill lade, which led water downstream to drive Langton Mill, Now a small farm, but then primarily a mill with some adjoining land.

Here is an example of how the same water was often used repeatedly to provide power to drive waterwheels. Just downstream from Langton Mill, water from the Pouter-lynie Burn was led off across two fields to drive the water wheel at Duns Mill. From Duns Mill this Water was released into the Langton Burn, which again provided water to drive Putton Mill a little further downstream. In cases like these, early use of waterpower is readily visible, but it was also used in locations apparently well above any serviceable stream. Middlefield Farm just to the South is such a case. Standing well above the nearest stream, it was supplied by a long lade buried deep under ground, which brought water from some way upstream under two fields of arable land, to a waterwheel located underneath the farm buildings.

Below Langton Mill the Parish boundary is marked by the Langton Burn which almost immediately flows under the disused track of the railway line, which crosses Mid-dlefield Farm and which once linked the main East Coast railway line at Reston, with the South West of Scotland. It served all the small towns and many villages along the way. There were for example stations at Chirnside, Edrom, Duns, Marchmont and Greenlaw. Certainly it was not an express service, but you could commute from Duns to Edinburgh. This line was not a victim of the Beaching axe but of the famous flood of 1948, which washed away so many bridges in the Borders, including one on this railway, which was too expensive to repair. Last year in Bogota in Colombia we met a lady from Dumfriesshire, who as a girl travelled regularly all the way from west to east, to attend her school which had been evacuated to Ayton during the Second World War.

Although it is nearly forty years since the through line was broken, it is less than twenty years since trains ceased to come into Duns from Reston. In its time, the railway was the main source of transport for the farms. Livestock were driven up to several miles to the nearest station, in this case Duns or Marchmont, for shipment to markets, as far away as Edinburgh or beyond. The same route store and breeding Stock were brought into the area from even farther afield. Similarly farm produce was carted to the stations for outward shipment, and other farm supplies came in by the same route.

From the Langton Burn, the boundary turns south, fol-lowing the eastern boundary of Middlefield Farm. Till it strikes the Howe Burn, whence it turns west following the Howe Burn, the Kirk Burn and the Back Burn up stream. Finally crossing the Duns to Greenlaw road at the Backburn Bridge, close to where a few surviving houses mark what was once the site of Polworth village in the neighbouring parish.

All along this southern side of the parish between the boundary burns and the main road to the north is friendly arable land, intensively farmed. The aspect changes and quickly becomes bleaker as the boundary begins to swing north beyond the Backburn Bridge and again picks up the Langton Burn as boundary by Polwarth Mill Toll, where the Tollhouse is still occupied. A little way downstream is Choicelee Farm, and a little way further still is Gallows Knowe.

At Choicelee the Westruther road forks off to the west, still running through arable stock farmland till it reaches Foulburn Bridge. Along this section the boundary follows the Langton Burn in the gully below the road. Across the burn to the west rise the heather covered slopes of Hanged Man’s Hill, and at the Foulburn bridge the boundary swings almost due north to run across open moorland over rising land, till it reaches the Duns to Longformacus road by Henlaw Woods. Over this section it is running close to, and eventually follows the alignment of the old road from Greenlaw to Longformacus of which very little trace remains today. The Foul Ford, where the old road then crossed the burn, was the centre point of a gruesome and super natural tale This involved the death early last century in circumstances of horror, first of John Niel the blacksmith from Longformacus and Some years later of his son Henry Niel. Still stand-ing in the heather is a stone erected to mark these grim events.

Where the boundary joins and then crosses the Longformacus road at Henlaw Woods, there is an outlook over the northern most section of the parish. A watershed has been crossed and the Streams are running north towards the Dye Water, instead of east and south as they do south of the Watershed. First the parish extends north along the Black Sike to where it is joined from the east by the Sel Burn then east along the Sel Burn to a point close to the crest of the opposite ridge. From this point it turns sharply to the south and east, roughly following the line of another watershed from which the streams run north and east. Along this line is the wildest and remotest part of the parish. Most of it closes to or above the 1000-foot contour. Black Hill is crossed at above 1100 feet, followed by a steep drop of 600 feet into Hells Cleugh and a steeper climb to the Ordnance Survey marker at 1159 feet on Langton Edge. From here the boundary runs east a little farther through Young Jeanie's Wood, to reach the point where the Wellrig Burn sets off downhill along the eastern boundary where this account began.

Stobswood Farm occupies the northern section of the parish. With an area of lower lying cultivated fields around the farm steading. Merging into the rough grass and moorland around. All the cultivation relates to stock farming. Even With modern equipment, growing and harvesting grain crops in such surroundings is difficult, but there was a time. When grain prices made it worthwhile to grow crops even in this unfriendly environment, Also on the lower -ground opposite Henlaw Woods is the abandoned site of Old Stobswood, marked by a derelict house and ruins of other buildings standing among old trees. Extending around it is a large area of ridge and furrow land on which crops were once grown at a cost in effort which would normally be out of all proportion to the harvests that were reaped.

A recent development in this area is virtually invisible it is the large underground pipeline carrying North Sea gas from north-east Scotland to the South. Unlike the water that ran in the old mill lades, which is not a renewable resource.

Turning east from Henlaw Woods, the road from Long-formacus runs eastwards towards Duns reaching a high point close to Snuffyhole Bridge, above Langtonlees Farm, and below the radar masts on Hardens Hill. From various points along this road the full beauty of the border Country can be appreciated. North is the long, quiet contours of the Lammermuirs. Westward beyond the moors in the foreground, the Eildon Hills, twenty miles away as the crow flies, are only in the middle distance. In clear weather the Moorfoot Hills and Ettrick Forest can be seen beyond, stretching into the far distance. To the southwest, south and east, the views take in the whole length and breadth of Teviotdale and the Merse of Berwick, including the farmlands to beyond Wooler in Northumberland. Nearly 25 miles due south is the Cheviot, and this time it is the Border Hills which stretch away south west into the distance. East beyond the valley, the scene changes to the North Sea at Berwick on-Tweed and the Northumbrian coastline to Bambourgh Castle, and all this diversity of scenery changes, with every change of light and through the changing seasons.

People have looked out on these scenes since prehistoric times. Probably the first settlements in the Parish were in this area, when Beaker Folk of the early Bronze age settled here anything up to 1800 BC. From their cist burials on Hardens Hill a very ancient beaker and other relics were recovered, which are now in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. Later, prehistoric people built the circular fort on Raecleugh Head Hill which is the western-most feature by Hardens Hill, and still close to the 1000-foot contour. It dominates the surrounding countryside. Looking up from Hardens Way we see the earthworks on the skyline. From the fort itself can be seen prehistoric cairns on nearby  Dirrington Great Law and Dirrington Little Law, and farther off the Twin Law Cairns. These are clearly visible because they were rebuilt after the original cairns had been used as targets by a Polish tank brigade which was based in the grounds of Langton during the war.

Less prominent earthworks and cairns are recorded around and in the parish. From other earthworks on Lang-ton Edge, two cists contain inhumations, found on the lands of Middlefield and Crease in the 18th century. A masonry cist containing an inhumation in the Blakeside field found in 1943; and several earthen urns of different sizes contain what were probably cremations found when a cairn was removed front the summit of Crimson Hill in 1792. All of these sites adjoin the village of Gavinton, where Langton Church was built on the summit of Crimson hill in 1798.

Progressing downhill from the fort on top of Raecleugh Head Hill, and just north of Raecleugh Head farmhouse, is another earthwork with massive defences comprising double ramparts and ditches, and nearby what was possibly another earthwork. Below Raecleugh Head farm build-ings it is thought that there may have been a substantial village in the middle ages, but no traces remain. Nor does any trace remain of Langton Castle, which stood to the east of Raecleugh head.

A little farther down the hill are woods, which surrounded Langton House with its village of Langton, its home farm Langton Mains, its walled garden, lodges and other buildings. For centuries, and as recently as the early 1920's, this area would have been populace, and the hub of Parish life. Records relating to a series of Langton churches go back to 1150. Now there is very little left except a few smaller houses which are still occupied, and a sawmill operating in the area once occupied by the mansion house. The old churchyard is overgrown, and only traces remain of the last church, which stood on the site.

Gavinton village, itself still houses an active and close-knit community but is of relatively recent date. David Gavin built it half a mile to the southeast after he acquired Langton estate in 1758, to re-house the inhabitants of Langton village, and it was named Gavinton after its founder. A new church built on Crimson Hill at the West End of the village retained the name of Langton, as did a newer church built on the same site in 1872 by a granddaughter of David Gavin. Langton House itself had been rebuilt in the 19th century, but its inheritor in the 1920's never lived there and removed the roof. Partially demolished in the 1930's, it was completely demolished about 20 years ago.

When it was built, the village of Gavinton was a country village completely integrated into the life of the surrounding countryside. In July and August 1844 the new minister, the Reverend David Dunlop, visited all the houses in his parish recording who lived in them, and in many cases what they did. In Gavinton itself, which then had 225 inhabitants, he records more than 20 professions, trades and occupations. These include a quarrier and a sawyer; a stonemason and joiners; a Slater and a plasterer; a hedger and Carter’s; a blacksmith and a cooper; a bonnet maker and a shoemaker; a baker and a grocer; a travelling merchant and a journeyman tailor. Not forgetting a second minister and the village schoolmaster. Numbers of others were recorded as labourers, or working at Langton House or neighbouring farms. Some of the villagers had their own smallholding. There were at least one cow byre and stack-yard in the village, and the minister had the use of a 10-acre glebe.

In the "country parts" David Dunlop recorded another 288 people, giving the Parish a total of 513 inhabitants. On the farms are lists of the farmers and their families, stewards, shephers, hinds and bondagers. The latter were male and female farm labourers. There was a keeper of the Polwarth Mill Toll. In and around Langton house were gamekeepers, gardeners, coachmen, a cook, a footman, a housekeeper, lady's maid and other servants. The occupant of Langton Mill was a farmer and miller. Pouterlany and Scotston no longer housed weavers. Pouterlany had two households one headed by a farmer, the second by a widow, 9 people in all where 2 live today. At Scotston there were still three households, one headed by a joiner who worked in Gavinton, another by a miller who worked at Langton Mill and the third by another widow. Again 9 people where 1 lives today.

On the farms there is a similar Picture. In most cases mechanisation and changed cropping patterns have reduced the occupants to the farmer and his family plus one or two other households, compared to 43 people at Woodend, 36 at Choicelee, and 40 at Middlefield and Crease when David Dunlop made his record. No trace remains of Crease.

Gavinton village faces south across the fertile intensively cultivated farmlands of the Merse to the Cheviots beyond. Behind the village the outlook takes in the old grounds of Langton House to Raecleugh Head hill behind. It is still very much a village in the country, but it is no longer a country village in the sense that its life is linked to activities in the surrounding parish and countryside.

There are no outlets for any of the old trades and services recorded by the Reverend David Dunlop, and the connections between the village and what he called the "country parts" of the Parish have become very tenuous. His successor now lives ten miles away in another parish, and the Parish children go to school in Duns. Many of the people living in the village have retired locally or from elsewhere. Most of those who work find their living outwith the Parish, most of them in non-agricultural activities. Over more than three thousand years the area now comprising Langton Parish has seen many changes and clearly change continues.


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