At the turn of the 18th century, David Erskine Dewar Esq. – a soldier who had made a fortune in the East India Company 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 and house 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 in turn to Edward Baxter, the Dundee merchant. The Baxters were a family of industrialists with 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.¬† The family founded Dundee University and Abertay, gave the city the Macmanus Gallery and Baxter Park – designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and recently restored with Heritage Lottery Funding.
Edward Baxter 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 and he added 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 centered 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. 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 they have the optimum yield. The total area farmed is just over 800 hectares through a collaborative venture (4front Farming) with 3 other families.
4,500 tonnes of cereals are grown every year – almost all for local markets. In addition to three full-time farm staff are 3 full-time employees looking after the properties, woodland and boundaries – including fences, walls and hedgerows. 8 houses on the Estate are heated with biomass from Estate woodlands, while the farmhouse and office at the main Farm steading is heated on biomass derived from waste cereals.
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, the 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, a further 75,000 trees have been planted, many of which are now being harvested for the biomass boiler.
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.¬† More information about LEAF is available on their website.