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Earlsferry Corner

 

This is how the Earlsferry corner looked for many, many hundreds of years until in the middle of the night on a fateful day in 1947 the two buildings on the corner came crashing down to change forever the ambience, the charm, and the gateway to the village.

When it happened I was their owner.

For many years the two level building on the corner and the single level adjoining building in the High Street had stood empty.  Most every day over the years as I walked by them I thought what a shame that something wasn't done with them. I often thought what a wonderful home they could be made into. The two storied house right on the corner was several hundred years old and was  maybe the oldest house in Earlsferry. It was the only house in Earlsferry that had an inside solid stone winding stairway. The walls were made of good stone and were more than two feet in width at the base. The last person to occupy the property on the Ferry corner was William Bromley who used the lower floor as a camera and film shop and the upper floor as his photographic portrait taking studio.

On the right; my sister Minnie who was born in 1920 and my

elder brother John, born 1923. Photographic portrait by Wm. Bromley.

I became the owner of the properties at the corner in quite a strange way.

Two elderly spinster sisters, by the name of the Misses Waddell lived together in a house on the beachfront in Earlsferry.  From time to time, as a teenager, I did odd jobs for them like doing minor repairs and gardening, that sort of thing.  One day, in making conversation, I made mention to the two ladies as to my admiration for and interest in the two old vacant houses at the Earlsferry corner. They astonished me by telling me that they were the owners. After a short time they said, well, come back again and we can have some tea and talk about it some more.

 (What I remember most about their house was that in the street side garden there grew a fuchsia bush that was so old and prolific that when I was a teenager it had grown to become a tree that then must have been  ten to fifteen feet tall.)

I did. I asked, did they want to sell the two old houses?  No they hadn't been thinking about selling. They went on to say that it would take quite a bit to bring the properties up to modern day standards.  I said that I thought that over time I could do it. They then went on to say that they had been talking things over between themselves and had decided to not sell but to give  me both of the old houses. There was only one catch.  They went on to explain that at the corner they also owned the large two level house by the name of Ferry Lodge, This house was right next to the corner house. They were the owner/landlords and as such had tenants living in Ferry Lodge. Some years prior to this a wartime law had been passed called The Rent Restriction Act. The gist of the law was that the amount of the rent of a rented house was frozen at the amount being charged as of 1939.  The landlord had to keep the house up to standards and pay for all repairs. The landlord could not regain possession until the tenants either voluntarily vacated or died. They told me that the expenses of ownership of this house far outweighed the income and that, with the age they both were, the sitting tenants would in all probability outlive them. If I would accept this house too and relieve them of their responsibilities they would have papers drawn up to transfer all three buildings to me for nothing.  They did not want me to say anything then but to come back the following week for tea, after I'd thought about their offer.

And so I became the owner of all three properties at the Earlsferry corner.  It was a tender moment when the two dear ladies handed me the keys.

As I stood inside the buildings for the first time as owner I knew instinctively that somehow I'd only become the person designated to be custodian.  I made one change to the inside which was in keeping with the antiquity and the character of the two properties. This was to make an internal connecting doorway to make one home out of the two properties. The outside appearance I decided not to change in even the slightest way. 

In due time I had in my mind all the non structural and minor changes that I'd do to make " home". My start was to clean from end to end and from top to bottom.

At this time the Earlsferry and Elie local authority decided to resurface the roadway of the Earlsferry High Street. Before doing so they contacted all the underground utility people to first carry out any repairs or the laying of new  pipes etc. to prevent at a later date having to dig up the new road surface. This was just after World War ll ended and the Labour Government had been voted into power. One of the first things the new government did was to nationalize many industries. The gas industry was one of them.

It was decided that a new gas main pipe would be laid along the entire length of the Earlsferry High Street.

The foundations of many houses that are built near the sea rest on sand which is a stable substance as long as it is contained and it is never disturbed.  A foundation that is built on  well drained sand makes a better base than earth which can turn to gooey mushy mud when it gets saturated. A foundation that is built on a solid rock base is preferred.

A trench was dug the length of the High Street about five feet deep and the pipe was laid starting from the west end. At the east end, the Earlsferry corner, the roadway was so narrow the pavement sidewalks on either side of the street were less than three feet wide and the roadway was not much more than the width of one vehicle.

The trench had been dug hard against the pavement on the north, my, side of the road. To still allow vehicles to enter the village, the sand that was dug up out of the trench was piled upon the pavement and against my houses.  Before the pipe was laid in the trench it started to rain in a heavy downpour. It rained heavy and incessantly for a whole week. All work stopped. The almost six feet deep trench had not one stick of shoring. During the fateful night the weight of the sodden sand that was all piled up on the sidewalk caused the concrete sidewalk to shear off and slide down into the trench. Right behind it the entire foundations of my two buildings slid sideways into the trench and the walls collapsed.  The roof exploded into splinters as the entire structure of the two buildings broke up.  When daylight came it was like the two buildings had taken a direct hit from a high explosive bomb. 

The buildings were a total loss.   An ignominious end to a historic past. 

Authorities came to inspect the site and the buildings were declared a danger and a hazard to the public at large. As the owner I was served with a demolition order to completely clear the site. A contractor was engaged to do the work. It took heavy equipment to get the large stones hoisted out of the trench and all the materials that had comprised the two buildings loaded on to trucks. Clearing the site took the labours of several men about a month. The sea had been eroding the land adjacent to the twelfth tee of the golf course. All the materials were hauled there by way of the West Sea road and used to rip'rap the shoreline.   

After the site was cleared the now exposed  gables of the properties on each side of the break had to be strengthened and repaired.

The situation was taken advantage of as this was the ideal time to exert the right of the  public as to eminent domain to take from me as much of my ground as was necessary in order to widen the roadway to the extent that it is today.

No single entity would admit responsibility for the damage.  The town authority claimed that they only ordered the work to be carried out in a workmanlike manner.  The National Gas Board said they had engaged a responsible Edinburgh contracting firm to dig the trench and lay the pipe.  The contractor claimed that the incessant rain that stopped the work and so caused the disaster was an act of God.

The controversy as to the liability for damages made newspaper copy.  I was contacted by a lawyer who contended that all concerned with the pipe laying project were liable and  named the joint towns of Earlsferry and Elie, the National Gas Board and the contractor as parties jointly accountable for the incurred expenses of the loss.

When at last the dust settled it was established that there had been gross negligence as to the carrying out of the work and that all of the  named parties were jointly accountable. I was awarded an amount of money sufficient to pay for all the costs of demolition and the repair of the gables and an amount sufficient to pay for all of the lawyer charges and legal costs. It was determined that since I had just recently become the owner of the properties and had paid nothing for them that I wasn't out of pocket. True to an extent.   I wasn't into it for money.

The real losers were the long time residents of Earlsferry and the public at large.

The gateway to the village had consisted of ancient, unique and attractive old dwellings, heritage properties.  The very essence of the village became a gaping void.  

Overnight my dream of making home there vanished with the rubble.

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Other heritage properties that vanished in but a few short years

Open my "Caddy Days " page and read about Walkers' Cottage. 

Open  my "Wilson the Bobby" page and read what happened to his cottage.

Also Earlsferry House built by Admiral Duddingston, the Gourley mansion house atop the Kincraig cliffs and last but by no means least the humble salmon fisher's cottage at Shell Bay.

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    Earlsferry Corner,  As it was until 1947

 

   

Earlsferry Corner, As It Is Today