Lawyers turn Lairds
The Setons' departure
left a vacuum at Winton.
The York Buildings Company who followed were interested principally in the minerals (coal) on the Estate and the House was leased to a market gardener. When they went bankrupt in 1779, the house was sold to Mrs Hamilton Nisbet of Pencaitland. This was the start of an extraordinary lineage involving over twenty families whose intertwined histories pre-date even the Setons.
Whilst the Setons were siding with Robert the Bruce, loyalty to The Bruce at Bannockburn by Walter Fitzgilbert Hamilton was rewarded with a grant of land from which stemmed the most senior family in Scotland today. And when George Seton, Earl of Winton was creating his Renaissance Palace at Winton, the Hamiltons also formed a base in East Lothian. Sir James Hamilton, Sheriff of Lanark bought Biel, to the east by Dunbar, in 1641. It had formerly been owned by the Earls of Dunbar and then Lauder of the Bass (Rock).
Sir James Hamilton's son, Sir John, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1635 and 1st Lord Belhaven and Stenton in 1647 for his support for King Charles 1 during the Civil Wars. He avoided Cromwell heading south via the Solway to become a respected horticulturalist at Kew and a messenger for Charles II. Meanwhile his cousin James Hamilton, Senator of the College of Justice like his father, Sir Robert of Pressmennan, moved closer to Edinburgh. He bought Pencaitland Estate in 1698 and took the title Lord Pencaitland.
The granddaughter of James, Lord Pencaitland, was Mary Hamilton, who bought Winton for her second son, Colonel John Hamilton. She was already linked to Archerfield Estate and the village of Dirleton through her marriage in 1747 to William Nisbet before she inherited Biel from her father Alexander in 1758. When her cousin, James 5th Lord Belhaven died in 1777, he left her the estates of Belhaven, Pencaitland and Barncleugh. The opportunity was taken two years later to purchase Winton and amalgamate it with the neighbouring estate at Pencaitland.
Although the strength of the Hamiltons' legal and regal influence was considerable, their hold on East Lothian affairs was enhanced further by the marriage of Mary to William Nisbet. William was descended from Adam Nisbet, Burgess of Edinburgh at the end of the 15th century; Harry Nisbet, Provost of Edinburgh in the next century, and Sir John Nisbet, Lord Advocate and Sheriff Depute in Edinburgh in the next. Sir John, like the Hamiltons, had moved out to East Lothian, buying Archerfield Estate in 1633, the coronation year of King Charles I at Holyrood when the King had stayed with the Earl of Winton. The law and land then seemed to go hand in hand!