| CHAPTER XXIII.
NORTH FIELD HOUSE.
Northfield House—The Builder—Defaced Inscriptions—Curious
Old Close—Ancient Dovecot—The Original Church supposed to
have been here—The Dower House, or Barracks—Original Occupants—French
Invasion—Curious Inscriptions—Preston Lodge—Colonel Cameron
and his Staghounds—Mr Hume and his Lions—Present Proprietor,
Mr George Moncur, one of the firm of His Majesty's Hothouse
Builders—Athelstane Lodge and Lord Cullen, etc. —Market Gardeners:
Messrs Wright, Wilson, Crichton, and Gillies.
THIS beautiful antique wayside dwelling-place is situated
on the south side of the road towards the west end of Preston
village. Year after year it is flooded with visitors, sightseers,
and no end of artists sit down to make copies of the curious
The house was built in the year 1611, as the figures over
what is termed the new doorway plainly indicate. Over this
doorway too, beautifully carved on the lintel, are the arms
and initials of Joseph Marjoribanks of that ilk, and his wife
M—— Simpson, together with this Scriptural quotation— "
EXCEP THE LORD BVLD INVAINE BVLDS MAN. " This Joseph
Marjoribanks was brother-in-law to Sir John Hamilton of Preston.
Sir John Hamilton was brother to Sir George of Preston, and
succeeded him in the title and estate of Preston in 1617;
and this same Sir John it was who obtained from James VI.
charters erecting Preston and Prestongrange, severally, into
burghs of barony, with the usual privileges pertaining thereto.
In 1746 Mr A. Nesbit, surgeon, Edinburgh, along with several
other properties at Preston, purchased Northfield, and he
afterwards sold it to James Syme, slater, Edinburgh. It was
for a great number of years occupied by his son, the late
Captain Syme, R. N.
In 1890 Mr James M'Neill, Wishaw, became proprietor of Northfield
House and estate. Having a practical knowledge of coal and
iron mining, he immediately began to open up his mineral fields
thereon. He afterwards let them on lease, and the minerals
are at the present time being successfully worked by the Northfield
How many centuries have elapsed since coal was first excavated
here would be difficult to determine, and as there are no
records extant relating to the matter it may never be discovered.
In visiting the gloomy caverns shortly after their reopening
by the proprietor, we were struck by the very original system
of excavation which had been adopted here during the early
ages. The "long wall" system being but a recent
innovation, here the " stoop and room " system had
been in full swing. The stoops were some 4 feet in thickness
only, and about 40 yards in length. In working downhill, where
the ancient excavators had the water to contend with, they
adopted the usual remedy in those days—the " dam and
lave " system; but in such a fashion, until seen here,
we had never before heard tell of. Instead of making a "clay
dam" to keep back the water after "laving"
it out from the wall-face, they resorted to the more laborious
system of leaving on a few inches of the "ground coal,
" and cutting out again behind it, leaving on a few inches
more the next time, and so on, until they ran themselves out
altogether. These ancient " dams " may yet be seen
in Northfield Colliery.
A curious old close or entrance forms the boundary of Northfield
estate to the east of the mansion-house. This is known as
" Katie Herrin's Close, " from the fact that a very
old woman of that name lived and died there. Her house was
pulled down many years ago, the stones going to pile up the
walls in the neighbourhood; but there was a brewery of very
large dimensions in this close many years before Katie Herrin's
time. It also has vanished and gone, and the only piece of
antiquity which remains entire on this very antiquated spot
is a curious old conical-shaped dovecot at the extreme south
end of it.
There is nothing strange in finding an old dovecot in the
neighbourhood of an old mansion-house; it is customary all
East Lothian over. Northfield House is dated 1611, but this
dovecote is evidently a couple of centuries older than the
The pigeon, whether as an article of diet or commerce, seems
always to have been a favourite with the monks in the early
ages; and so we find, wherever an old monastic building