At the turn of the 19th century, David Erskine Dewar Esq. – a Colonel who had made his fortune in the east India Company – used his money to build Gilston House. He acquired three neighbouring farms and commissioned Robert Balfour, a local architect based in St Andrews, to build him a “modern mansion house.”
After his death, the Estate passed to James Wyld, a Leith merchant. He planted many of the beech shelterbelts on the Estate, built the farm steadings and drained the fields. In 1862, his son sold it to Edward Baxter, the Dundee merchant. The family of industrialists had a flax spinning and weaving business based in Dundee. They were first to give employment to a then 13-year-old Robert Fleming who would later become the Scottish financier and philanthropist.
Edward had bought Gilston for his 2nd son, J.H.Baxter. The original Balfour house was much extended in 1879 by J.H. Baxter using the Elie architect John Currie. J.H.Baxter also built a substantial stable block in 1875. Today, the Gilston Estate belongs to Edward Baxter – the great, great grandson of the first Edward Baxter. He lives here with his family.
The estate includes a range of commercial activities:
Farming: activity is centred on Gilston Mains, 600ft above sea level. It is a mixed farm on very fertile arable land, growing crops including wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape as well as grassland for rearing sheep and cattle. Our crops are grown using the principles of Integrated Farm management – just enough pesticide to keep them clean, healthy and free of disease and just enough fertiliser to make sure that we have the optimum yield. The total area farmed is just over 800 hectares on land owned by our family as well as land belonging to our neighbours.
We grow 4,500 tonnes of cereals every year – almost all for local markets. In addition to three full-time farm staff are 3 full-time employees looking after our properties, woodland and boundaries – including fences, walls and hedgerows. The grassland at Gilston is largely in fields that are too steep, too stony or too wet to plough, although they have all had crops grown in them in the past. Our grass is sown with many different species designed to give our cattle a complete diet.
House rentals: the estate has a number of properties that have been converted for housing and are rented out to long-term tenants.
Woodland: the Estate is an important environmental resource. For 5 generations, our family has planted and maintained woodland, which has a huge impact on the landscape. In the 18th Century there were no trees here. The first planting in 1840 created mixed woodland: coniferous (softwoods) for making paper, fence posts, pallets and chipboard – and hardwoods (mostly beech and scychamore) predominately for firewood. The woods are very important for shelter for the wildlife within them and for the animals and crops in the fields between them. In the last 20 years, we have planted a further 75,000 trees.
Gilston is a L.E.A.F. Demonstration Farm (Linking Environment and Farming). It is a charitable organisation working to develop and promote Integrated Farm Management (IFM) common sense farming practices that are both financially viable and environmentally responsible. The Estate is an excellent example of how IFM balances the economic production of food with positive environmental management. As part of our commitment to our environment we have converted 22 hectares to bog and marsh. They are now rich in waders and rare marsh plants. There is an extensive network of mature hedges and some planted over the last decade. Recent work includes establishing all-year round cover on arable field margins to give rare farmland birds protection from voracious aerial predators. More information about LEAF is available on their website.