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History of West Calder
Chapter II. Origin, continued


In the previous chapter I briefly traced the history of Calder down to the time when it was divided into Calder Clere and Calder Comitis, in 1160 a.d.

It is now my duty to note briefly the history of Calder Comitis — the tract which now forms the parishes of Mid Calder and West Calder — which was anciently one barony or parish, the barons holding the land as well as the advowson of the church. The Monks of Kelso seem, however, to have acquired the advowson of the churches and chapels of Calder, along with the tenth of the multures of the mill of Calder, which the Earl of Morton acquired after the Reformation.

About 1215 a.d., a fine Gothic Church was built for Calder Comitis, by Duncan, Earl of Fife, then lord of the manor. This church was afterward restored and enlarged at a cost of 3000 in 1541 a.d.. by Peter Sandilands, a scion of the noble family of Torphichen.

The extensive barony of Calder Comitis was possessed by the Earls of Fife as early as the reign of Malcolm IV. (1153-65 A.D.), and by them it was enjoyed as low down as the reign of David II., when it passed to Sir Jarves Douglas of Douglas, who gave it in free marriage with Eleanor his sister, to Sir James de Sandilands, in 1349 a.d. This grant was confirmed by Duncan, Earl of Fife, and David II. From this marriage sprang the family of Sandilands, who acquired the estates of the Knights of St. John at the Reformation, a.d. 1543, along with the peerage of Torphichen.

The first Lord T. Torphichen seems to have been a strong Protestant, for under his patronage and protection John Knox dispensed one of the first Protestant Sacraments in the hall of Calder House, where the portrait of Knox still hangs as a precious heirloom. A striking but unfinished picture of this event can be seen in the National Picture Gallery, Mound, Edinburgh.

Near Calder House stands the House of Greenbank, celebrated as the birthplace of John Spottiswood, minister of Calder, and afterwards Archbishop of St. Andrews — a covetous and crafty ecclesiastic. Before the Reformation there was a chapel in the upper part of the extensive district of Calder Comitis, which gave name to Chapel town, about a mile east from West Calder village. This chapel remained till the reign of Charles I. (1625-49 a.d.)

In 1637 A.D., John, Lord Torphichen, was served heir to his father and to the patronage of the church.

Long before the Reformation the feudal system had lost its former hold upon the people, as king after king gradually broke the power of the barons, and at length instituted the (Charles II. 1662) nucleus of a standing army, leaving the barons as lords of the soil to pay taxes instead of service and vassalage.

The current or contemporary history of the period embraced in this chapter is too well known to be introduced here, but we may glance at the general condition of the people. Doubtless the inhabitants of Calder Comitis shared in the times and changes that happen to all men. They would follow the usual avocations of rural life, as commerce was little known until the union with England. The blessings of peace and plenty would fall to their lot as well as the scourges of famine and war. The Scots have always been an intensely warlike race, and even when they could not find a common enemy, have quarrelled amongst themselves and devastated their own country with fire, pillage, and sword in their clanship feuds. They loved the wild freedom of their mountains and glens with their roaring streams and smiling lochs. Their chief wealth consisted of sheep, cattle, deer, game, and fruits; as for fish, though plenty, they would not eat it, and they cultivated only sufficient grain for the bare necessaries of life.

The Saxons, on the other hand, cultivated and fought for the richer Lowlands, and cared more for agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce than their Celtic neighbours. Amongst the forest glades on the naturally drained slopes, they built their rude but comfortable homesteads or touns, and cultivated the surrounding soil. The women, clad in homespun, lilted their simple songs as they performed their homely duties (while the children were playing around them in simplicity and freedom) as they spun, tended the kye, or ground the meal in the quernstone, &c. &c. The men followed their ordinary labours, according to the season of the year, in the field or the forest, ploughing, sowing, reaping, fishing, felling timber for fuel, hunting the wild ox, the boar, the stag, or the hare, and hawking or trapping the wild fowl, &c. &c.

Save the castles of the nobles, the abbeys, monasteries, churches, &c., of the clergy, the people lived in simple dwellings, few traces of them now remain. Close to the castle or keep of the baron, the bowmen, spearmen, billmen, and the craftsmen who wrought in iron, wood, stone, &c., built their abodes and dwelt within sound of the warder’s horn, and were ever ready at the call of their feudal lord to follow the arts of peace or perform the exploits of war. Whilst in the castle itself stores were heaped up, and the baron lived with his family and immediate retainers in rude splendour. And thus around the castles were founded the ancient villages and burghs in the troubled times of the past, while law and justice were dispensed according to the whim or natural talent of the liege lord who had the power of life and death in his hands. The king only had power to summon the barons to his standard or Council Board. To the standard in time of war the barons came with their armed men and their war steeds; to the Council Board they repaired with a few faithful retainers, and dwelt in their own Court-mansions, such as are still to be seen in Linlithgow to this day. :

Thus the people of these byegone times lived in their various positions of life, and spent their days in times of peace or seasons of war. As for education, it was little thought of, and relegated to the minstrels and Monks until the Reformation rudely upset the ancient ways. — which was not accomplished without fierce opposition and bloodshed, and all the horrors of civil war — at least, such was the case in Scotland, of which the Lothians then formed a part. For, in Scotland the Reformation was accomplished by the upheaval of the people against the Clergy and Crown; whereas in England it was brought about by the King and Clergy against the Pope of Rome. Hence the autocratic rule of England in Church and State; and the democratic laws and ways of Scotland — civil and ecclesiastical. From this difference there again sprung the latter wars between England and Scotland, for Episcopacy and Presbytery were not content to dwell as peaceable neighbours under one monarchy; each vieing with the other to gain the ascendency, they at length put their disputes to the arbitriment of the sword, and outdid each other in deeds of violence and cruelty, as the chances of war permitted. To this cause can still be traced a lingering envy between the two nations, as the one reads and reflects upon the Prelatic persecutions their forefathers endured, and the other upon the cruel austerity and severity of the Presbyterians. Happily, this feeling is fast dying out, under the united influences of education, toleration, commerce, and inter-marriage.

King James VI. and I., thinking the more firmly to establish his double crown, resolved to impose Episcopacy on Scotland, but met with little success.

Charles I. followed the same policy, and when in Scotland in 1633 a.d., he appointed thirteen bishops. Four years later he commanded a Service book to be used in the churches of Edinburgh, but when the Dean began in old St. Giles to read the new liturgy, Jenny Geddes fiung a stool at his head, and a great riot arose in the church, from which the Bishop and Dean fled in fear. An order came from Charles to enforce the reception of the new prayers by the aid of the soldiery if necessary; but the spirit of the Scots was roused. Within two months — February and March, 1638 a.d. — nineteen-twentieths of the nation signed a document, called the National Covenant, by which they bound themselves, to oppose the introduction of Catholicism into Scotland, and to unite for the defence of their laws, their freedom, and their king. A General Assembly soon afterwards held in Glasgow, excommunicated the Bishops and abolished Prelacy in Scotland. Thus in thirty days the work of thirty years was undone, and the Church of Scotland was more firmly established than before on the basis of Presbyterianism,

Charles was enraged but impotent, as both the Scots and the English Parliaments were against him. About 1643 a.d., the Scottish army, 21,000 strong, crossed the border under General Leslie (Lord Leven), and after seizing Newcastle marched to York, near which they and the Parliamentary forces defeated the King’s troops. The battles of Naseby and Philiphaugh (in the latter of which Montrose was defeated) completed the discomfiture of Charles, who was at length impeached and beheaded 1649 a.d., after a mock trial ordered by the Long Parliament at the instigation of Cromwell. The Scots, to their honour, disapproved of this horrible deed, and as a practical protest against it, immediately proclaimed his exiled son, Charles II., King of Scotland, an act which again led to civil war, in which the English, under Cromwell, were eventually victorious. Meanwhile, Cromwell was made Protector of the Commonwealth, which included Scotland, and existed until the restoration of Charles II., 1660 a.d., when the two kingdoms were again placed under one monarchy, although the two Parliaments remained until the treaty of union, 1707 a.d.

In closing this chapter, I feel it my duty to remark that although I have somewhat anticipated events, I have merely done so the more efficiently to trace the times and circumstances under which Ye Kirk and Kirktown of West Calder sprung into existence. It was a practical result of the new-born zeal of the Scottish Nation, whose Church resolved to lengthen its cords and strengthen her stakes by erecting new churches and parishes at the same time, that many of the ousted clergy were restored to their former benefices. Thus in the year 1643 a.d., the large parish of Calder Comitis was divided into two districts, named Mid Calder and West Calder. The old church was now appropriated to Mid Calder, while the new church was erected in the upper district, which has given rise to the Kirktown of West Calder. In tracing the authentic history of West Calder it is essential to know that the village thereof is a Kirktown, because it grew up around its kirk, which distinguishes it from castle towns that grew up around their castles and burghs that were founded by royal charter. It will thus be seen that the principal source of information must be its ecclesiastical records.

To this might be added the feu charters, of the various houses and estates, if it were possible to get hold of them; as well as any other information, oral or written.


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