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History of West Calder
Chapter I. Origin


In presenting your readers with an historical account of West Calder, it is my first duty to state that I am indebted to various authors for the following information which I will endeavour to compile in consecutive order.

Calder is a large district in Edinburghshire or Mid-Lothian, Scotland. The ancient history of this district is involved in the general history of Scotland and England, commonly called great Britain, and a few general extracts will lead us through the vista of time down to the more immediate history of Calder, and thence to the history of West Calder, to which I will afterwards confine my remarks.

The most early mention of Scotland is made by Tacitus, who flourished about one hundred years after Christ. The original population seems to have consisted of Cimbrians from Jutland. About two centuries before the Christian era the Cimbrians appear to have been driven to the south of Scotland by the Caledonians or Picts, a Gothic colony from Norway.

Tacitus denominates the country Caledonia. The venerable Bede, who wrote about the year 700 a.d., names the country the Province of the Picts. And Alfred the Great, who translated his history into the Anglo Saxon tongue about the year 882 a.d., called the people Pichts and their country Picht-land. From the Picts then or Pichts probably originates the population of the Lowlands the Lowlanders having been in all ages a distinct people from those of the Western Highlands.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries the name of Scotia, previously applied to Ireland, was given to modern Scotland, by which title it is designated by Adam of Bremen. About 258 years after Christ, the Dalraids of Bede, the Attacotti of the Roman writers passed or repassed from Ireland into Argyleshire, and became the progenitors of the Scottish Highlanders, who speak the Irish or Celtic language, while the Lowlanders have always used the Scandinavian or Gothic.

Coming to the more immediate history of Edinburghshire, we find that although the Romans landed in Kent about 60 B.C., yet it was uot until 80 a.d. that they reached this part of the country, when Agricola formed a chain of forts from the Forth to the Clyde. After many wars with the natives, the Romans at length subdued them and called the province that lay between their two well-known walls, Valentia, in honour of their Emperor, Valentinian 1st.

The Romans held the country they had conquered until 446 A.D., and three years after they left, it became a prey to the Saxon invader. After a century of hard fighting, the superior genius of the Saxon Ida fixed this new race in the kingdom which he founded 575 A.D., extending from the Forth to the Humber, called Northumbria.

About this time Christianity was introduced by Columba of Donegal into Iona, and about thirty years later by Augustine, who came to Canterbury in Kent.

In 843 A.D., Kenneth Macalpine ruled the country north of the Forth and Solway.

The kingdom of Northumbria lasted until the year 826 A.D., when Egbert the Angli conquered all the country south of the Tweed, and founded the kingdom of England. In course of time the Scottish kings gradually secured the land between the Forth and Tweed, and as a consequence their royal residence was removed southward by stages, until at last Edinburgh (the Saxon King Edwin's burgh) became the royal seat.

After much reading and personal observation, I am of opinion that the descendents of the Scots proper are the Celtic Highlanders, The Picts the inhabitants of the North-East Coast, Strathclyde, and South-westward, while the Saxon line is still distinct in the Lothians and South-eastward.

The name Lothian has occasioned much controversy and has been spelt in various ways, such as Lothene and Loudian. Some suppose it took its name from Lothus, a king of the Picts or pictured people (tattooed), and that the Pentland Hills derived their name from these pented or painted warriors who lived by hunting and pillage, and whose religion was Druidism, with its mysterious rites and human sacrifices. They worshiped the sun and venerated the oak. On the night of the shortest day they lighted great fires on the hill tops in honour of the sun’s return to longer days, and from this has descended the custom of burning the Yule-log at Christmas or Yule-tide, a curious combination of Christianity and heathenism.

Whatever the origin of the Lothians, it is certain that century after century it was the Debateable Land or battle ground of the various tribes; and that the high roads passing through it from England to Scotland are stained with blood from end to end; and many places have derived their names from well known battle fields, such as Athelstane-ford, Gorebridge, the Hills of Peace, &c. &c. But it is pleasing to reflect that, after ages of warfare, the Scottish and English tribes were at length fused into one great nation, under one monarchy, the result of a royal marriage, and that international and civil wars have long been banished from this island.

It is also a pleasure to turn to the history of Calder, for this district, although in the Lothians, lay out of the highway between the nations, and in ancient times must have been a splendid retreat. So much so, that in connection therewith one cannot help thinking of the beautiful words with which Longfellow begins his tale of Evangeline—

‘This is the forest primeval for the very word Calder signifies a wooded stream, and no doubt was applied to the district on account of the boskiness of the watercourses, but was applied, however, in circumstances and at a date unknown to record. The district may have been originally one property or barony, but it was early divided into Calder Clere on the east and Calder Comitis on the west; the latter, which was by far the larger division, was afterwards divided into Mid Calder and West Calder. The name of Calder by itself or accompanied by some distinctive prefix or affix, is common both in Scotland and England, such as the Calder, North Calder (streams), Caldercruix, Calder Abbey (places).

From which of the tribes or kingdoms, that have from time to time inhabited or possessed this island, the distinctive name of Calder with its beautiful meaning has descended I am unable to determine, but some of your numerous readers maybe able to do so. It is sufficient for our present purpose to know that the whole of East, Mid, and West Calder was originally called Calder, and that it belonged to or was ruled by the Thanes of Fife under the feudal and baronial systems, with their castle somewhere near Calder House.

Any one acquainted with the district will know how aptly the word “Calder” describes it, for to this day it is a land of woods and waters. In primeval times there must have been great forests here if geologists are correct in saying that coal and peat are simply decayed timber. And there is probably much truth in some of the traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation about boar hunting, &c., in the Calder wood or rather forest, for it was then of great extent.

I once had pointed out to me a cottage at the east end of West Calder Kirk, and was told by the owner that there once stood on the same site a lone house whose charter contained a free gift of the dwelling, with, in those days, the great privilege of “Hunting with hawk and hound, for four miles round.”

Now, whether this poetic clause had been inserted for faithful services or money’s worth it is impossible to tell, but it is certain that noble deeds used to be recorded in song or recited by the minstrels at the festive board of the old baronial halls, as beautifully depicted by Sir Walter Scott.

Calder, as already said, included the whole three parishes. In the reign of Malcolm IV., 1160 a.d. the manor of Calder was granted to Handulph de Clere, and from him it became known by the name of Calder Clere to distinguish it from Calder Comitis, the adjoining manor, the property of the Earl of Fife.

The ancient Church of Calder, built in the 12th century, is now in ruins at the west end of East Calder village. It was founded in Catholic times and dedicated to St Cuthbert, whose bones and robes are deposited in Durham

“Where, after many wanderings past,
He chose his lordly seat at last
Where the cathedral, huge and vast
Looks down upon the Wear—
There, deep in Durham’s Gothic shade,
His relics are in scarlet laid,”—Marmion


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