Shewington Farm, Rosewell

Shewington nowadays (2015) consists of 4 households on a former farm, but there are indications that it once had a considerably greater population. Attempts to trace the origin of the name have come up with only one suggestion. In “Gaelic place names of the Lothians” by John Milne, which appears to have been a private publication dated 1912 (accessible at The Internet Archive), the meaning of Shewington is given as “Hill Town”, which is reasonably appropriate, as indeed it would equally be to a number of neighbouring farmsteads. The meanings of names suggested by Milne for a number of other Lothian locations (e.g. Penicuik) are at variance with popular opinion nowadays, but may be valid nonetheless.

Shewington steading in 1985
Steading and lambing shed in 2001

Shewington lies within the parish of Carrington and there are 2 gravestones of farmers at Shewington in the churchyard there. The oldest is of Archibald Dickson who died in 1864 aged 72. In the Edinburgh County Directory of 1870-71 both Alex Noble and Robert Noble are listed as farmers at Shewington. Carment's Directory of 1890 and 1891 show Alex Noble as being the farmer: by 1894 the tenancy had changed to Stewart Wilson, whose grave is also at Carrington, and who died in 1903 aged 68.

The farm ceased to be an independent working farm in about 1978 when the then tenant, a Mr Drysdale, died. The lands were mostly added to those of the neighbouring Broachrigg (whose name does not feature in Milne’s 1912 book), and the farmhouse and 3 cottages sold off. The steadings were mostly unused from that time and have steadily deteriorated until in 2015 the roofs are in an advanced state of collapse.

The farmhouse is a grade C listed building dating from the early 19th century, along with 2 bothies (see here), one of which is now part of the house and in good condition. The other is attached to the steading and will in due course collapse with it.

Farmhouse gable end and ruinous cart shed in 2001. The Northern bothy is behind the shed.

Southern aspect of Shewington Farmhouse in 2005. The gable end of the Southern Bothy shows up red.

Western aspect of Shewington Farmhouse in 2005.

Shewington steading in 2005. The Southern Bothy is on the left.

The cottages are said to date from about 1875: this would appear to be the date at which the stone built core took its present form. There is a record of a ploughman, John Hunter, his wife and 7 children living in the cottages at the time of the 1881 census . Originally there were 2 cottages, one with 3 rooms and one with 2. One would hope the Hunters at least had the larger cottage. These had brick extensions added to each end, probably in the early 20th century, and the 3-roomed house became 4 and was then divided into two houses with 2 rooms each. Each of the 3 cottages had a kitchen and bathroom added to the rear, and the kitchens originally had a coal-fired wash boiler built in, with a chimney up the rear gable. The garden of no. 1 cottage (3 rooms) contains the buried foundations of further walls, however, in line with the front wall of the cottages, indicating that there were probably other dwellings there before 1875.


Shewington cottages photographed from near the curling pond in winter


No.1 Shewington cottages is nearest

Other features of historical interest at Shewington include the curling pond at the top of the hill south of the cottages, with a stonebuilt vaulted building beside it. This could have been an ice house, but it has a fireplace at one end so may have simply served as a shelter for curlers. It is possible it served both functions. During dredging of the pond for wildfowling during the 1980's an old curling stone was recovered from the bottom of the pond.

Shewington curling pond

Vaulted building at the curling pond
Interior of building with recently bricked up fireplace (2004)

Top view of the curling stone

Base of the stone

Side view

There are 2 footbridges crossing small streams running into the Shiel Burn near the current farm access road. The road crosses the burn and one of the streams nearby, so the footbridges were rendered redundant by its construction, presumably at the time of the enclosure (and drainage) of the land. There is a similar footbridge beside the Shiel burn near Broachrigg. Prior to the drainage of the land, there would have been extensive marshes to the east and west of the Shiel burn, with the only reasonably dry ground being near the burn.


The western footbridge in 1985

The eastern footbridge in 1993

The eastern footbridge in 1998


The burn runs through a steep wooded valley downstream of the well described below. To the west of the curling pond there used to be the foundations of a cottage or other building called Fatlips (present on the Pont 1636 map, and reputedly occupied until the second world war). This was excavated and recorded prior to recent opencast operations which have removed it. No other historical artefacts were touched by these operations.

Beside the Shiel Burn to the south of the current access road there is a stone water tank which was fed from a well nearby, referred to locally as ”Katie’s Well”. There is also a drinking trough beside the tank, at a point where there would appear to have been a ford for crossing the burn. Upstream of the little waterfall beside the tank, the bed of the burn has been lined with bricks for some distance, an enterprise which must have served some practical purpose or it would not have been undertaken.

Excavation of Fatlips in 2006

The stone-built water tank beside the Shiel burn (south face)

The north side of the water tank, with a drinking trough or tap at the bottom right

On the other side of the burn there was until the early 1980’s a square stone building with a pyramidal “cottage-style” slated roof. It had a vent at the apex and in both the east and west facing walls there were stones carved into s-shaped vents. There was a wooden door to the south and, prior to its demolition for its slates, it had a wooden floor and a table inside. The walls were robbed for stone also, and under the wooden floor were revealed two long slate shelves up each side, a short distance up from the ground. Nearby to this building was a more recent larger brick-built water tank which stored water from the Rosslynlee reservoir, built around 1900 to supply the mental hospital of the same name (recently closed). This was removed in the 1980’s. The reservoir is now a fishery.

To the north of this location, 3 large water supply pipes cross under the road. The oldest dates from 1880 and carries water from Gladhouse, crossing the Shiel burn by aqueduct. Alongside it is a pipe laid in 1931 and carrying treated water from Rosebery filters (Shewington is supplied from this pipe). About 10m to the north is a pipe laid in 1984 to carry water from the Megget reservoir to Edinburgh. Where this pipe has been laid into the western bank there is clearly an old built-up roadway which runs for some distance through the woods, rising until it reaches the top of the slope.

The approach to Shewington in 1985, with the roof of the Rosslynlee water supply tank (now demolished) on the right

The 1880 stone built Gladhouse aqueduct with the 1931 pipe running alongside

The 1984 Megget water pipe, laid through the old roadway

Certainly prior to 1880 there could have been no piped water supply for the dwellings in the area, and it is possible that water for the inhabitants of Shewington, Fatlips and Newbigging had to be carried from Katie’s Well. The eastern footbridge would have been essential to access the well from Shewington. Historical records of Shewington may exist in the archives of Whitehill Estate, but the farm and adjacent land was for a long time owned by the Coal Board, and is currently in the ownership of Crown Estates.

A recent map showing Shewington and its environs may be found at Streetmap.

Historical maps of the area are available in the National Library of Scotland (at The existence of Shewington can be traced as far back as 1636 in the map by Pont, but there are many inaccuracies in this map. Adair, 1682, has a more accurate map but with little helpful detail in it. However, at this time the only places in the nearby area which found their way onto the map were Shewington, Kirkettle, Whitehill House, Roslin Castle, Auchendinny, Gorton House and Carrington. Of these, only Shewington and Kirkettle are now farms rather than large houses, which perhaps indicates their former importance. The name of Broachrigg only makes an appearance in the maps of Knox (1816) and Kirkwood (1817).

By 1766, Laurie’s more recognisable and informative map shows all the neighbouring farms in existence today. It also shows field layouts, and the enclosed ground stops just south of the position of Broachrigg steading (present but not named on this map). This means the land at Shewington was probably uncultivated grazing land at that time. According to Milne, the name Shiel Burn indicates that it ran past a shieling, or temporary dwelling used during summer pasturage of animals. It is a tempting surmise that the footbridges, well and store building were used by people tending cattle during the summer, possibly making butter or cheese and storing it in the cool, well-ventilated store with the slate shelves, half built-in to the hillside. The lining of the stream bed may have been done to assist with cooling the milk, allowing pails to be stood securely. Their accommodation would have been temporary and thus unlikely to have survived, or they may have boarded with the inhabitants of Shewington, Fatlips or Newbigging.

Captain Armstrong and Son's "Three Lothians Companion" (companion to a map), was published in 1773, and provides a list of places of importance within East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian (including Edinburgh), along with the names of their owners, the parish they lie in and a reference system for locating them on the map. At this time Carrington was called Primrose (after the family which were the landowners), and the only places in it thought worthy of mention were Kingseat and Shewington, both owned by Ramsay of Whitehill. In Lasswade and Penicuik Parishes the major houses near Shewington were Gorton, Fullarton, Howgate, Kirkettle, Auchendinny, Hawthornden, Mavisbank, Polton and Whitehill. None of the major farms in the area are listed, lending further strength to the idea that Shewington was a house of some importance. However, there is little on the ground to indicate where such a house may have been located, unless it was built over to construct the current farm house and steading.

At some date after 1766 the ground was enclosed and improved. The main means of doing this would be land drainage using clay pipes. The earliest form of these was a horseshoe shape formed by allowing a wet clay slab to drape over a round stick. These would be dried and fired, then placed at the bottom of a trench either with or without a flat clay tile underneath. Later versions were short sections of moulded clay tube.

Horseshoe tiles and later style moulded clay pipes

Horseshoe drain pipe laid on top of a slate

Another means of raising the fertility of the soil was the use of 'municipal waste', including 'night soil', collected in towns before the days of sewerage systems (recall the Edinburgh cry of 'gardy loo') and carted out to the countryside for disposal. A consequence of this is that the fields (and house gardens also) are littered with small fragments of the more durable rubbish thrown out along with the organic waste - glass and pottery. The image below shows some of the domestic articles which can be found: fragments of glass bottles and dishes, some window glass, the handle of a teapot, part of the lid of another, many pieces of decorated china, some small fragments of fine porcelain, some pieces of robust earthenware storage containers, and short pieces of clay (tobacco) pipe (more rarely the bowls turn up).


Recent History

The Rosewell area lies within the Midlothian coal basin and prior to 1984 had a deep mining operation functioning at Whitehill Colliery. Following the Miners' strike, the deep mining operations ceased, and the area to the south-west of the village was excavated by opencast methods, by the mining firm Budge. After this, further opencast extraction took place at Gourlaw.

Shewington was involved in recent coal extraction operations by Scottish Coal. Operations started at Newbigging Farm in 2004 and were extended into Shewington and Broachrigg in 2007. Extraction finished in 2012 and restitution was started but not fully completed due to the insolvency of Scottish Coal. Final restitution of the ground and replacement of the access road is expected soon.

Overburden from the opencast operation at Shewington, 2008

View of the opencast workings, taken as restitution was in train (Sept. 2011)

The deepest part of the excavation being filled in

Some of the massive earthmoving machinery used.

There are also deposits of clay in the area which were exploited in the making of bricks at Rosewell, at the Whitehill brick works. Clay has also been extracted recently during opencast coal mining.