Having in the two
previous chapters traced the historical origin of West Calder and
its inhabitants, we now come to the actual building or planting of
the kirk, which was the immediate cause of the origin of West Calder
as a distinct parish in 1643; as for the village, it did not then
Whether the chapel at Chapelton had ever been used by the
Protestants, or was only a ruin at that time, I have been unable to
find out; but one thing is certain, and ought to be remembered, it
never was a full parochial charge, and, as a consequence, has no
history of its own, being amenable to the parish church of Calder
Comitis, or perhaps to Kelso Abbey, in either of which its history
may be entwined, or lost, as the case may be.
Now, in order to form a just appreciation of what West Calder was
like in those days, we must, in imagination, revert to a bird's-eye
view of its natural features, undulating as it is, and intersected
by numerous small streams or burns, sloping northward from the Cairn
Hills to Breech Water.
Very different was the prospect then from novr. Instead of a highly
cultivated country, as the most of it is, instead of
beautifully-arranged woods or forests, instead of noble
mansion-houses and good farm-steadsinstead of several villages and
five or six churches, instead of numerous collieries, oil works, and
their appurtenances, such as slack hills and smoking chimney stacks,
&c., instead of many well-made highways and railways, with the
various sorts of vehicles thereon respectively, I say, instead of
all these and many other things which have done so much to enrich
the parish and increase the population, you must imagine a very
different scene. I question if there were even many hedge-rows or
dykes then; and the songs of the herd lads and lassies would be a
sweeter and pleasanter sound than the screaming whistle of the steam
engine. The one even yet speaks to us of love, labour, leisure; the
other tells of ceaseless toil, feverish care, and imminent danger.
The West Calder of 1643 a date which I wish to impress upon the
readers memory is still (1885) quite legible on the cope stone of
the original door-way (the one opposite the entrance gate) of the
Auld Kirk. The West Calder of 1643 was a very different place from
what it is now it was then little else than a moorland tract, with
trees in plenty, whins, broom, heather, moss grass, down, rashes,
and all the natural accompaniments of rich virgin soil, capable of
The population was, thin and scattered, while their manner of life
was primitive, and their dwellings of the humblest sort.
Cattle was their chief wealth, but they reared horses and sheep as
well, while oats, was the principal crop they cultivated.
There is a tradition which bears a vast amount of probability on the
face of it, that the first stones carted or carried for West Calder
Kirk were lost sight of in the heather, and the lapwings and
peesweeps swarmed where it and the village now stands. This kirk,
like most of the kirks of the period in which it was built, has no
pretentious to classic architecture, and, before it was recently
unroofed, was a very plain, barn-like elongated building, with
Norman-shaped doors and windows. The walls, which are very thick and
massive, are composed principally of water-worn or rubble stones. In
position, it stands due east and west in the centre of its small
kirk-yard, I have reason to think it was originally thatched with
heather, as discipline fines have been recorded[as having been paid
in coin and back fus o heather brought.from home to the kirk on
the penitents back. (In 1739 Handax woods brother was fined 10s.
(Scots) and a back fu o heather for insulting James Andersons
wife.) The small square belfry still remains on the western gable.
Originally there was but one door,the eastern one, the western
one having been added at a later date, as also the slate roof, the
seats, galleries, and the buttresses. Long after the Reformation the
churches had few or no seats, which made them such favourite
stabling places for Cromwells horses. The people were content to
stand during the long sermons of pre-newspaper days which were
aregular juxnble of matter religious, social, political and
ecclesiastical. The old and infirm, however, were allowed chairs or
The site of this kirk was well chosen, being on a naturally drained
slope, close to the principal roads from north to south, and east to
west, in the heart of the most populous part of the parish, and
commanding an extensive and beautiful prospect.
Humble and quaint as the little kirk was, it was destined (as a full
parochial charge) to be the centre of light and leading in an
extensive landward parish, and seems to have entered upon its sphere
of usefulness as happily and as gaily welcomed as any bride could
wish the people being unanimous and enthusiastic for the
maintenance and establishment of the Protestant Presbyterian Kirk.
Although the kirk was built in 1643, and the minister, elders,
precentor, and beadle were shortly after elected by the people
themselves, it was not until 1645 that the Presbytery of Linlithgow
made their formal visitation, and confirmed and recorded matters as
they found them, as the following extract amply testifies:
Ye Kirk of West Calder, 26th October, 1645. This day and place ye
Presbytery of Linlithgow met and was constituted. Sederunt Mr John
Heggie, moderator; Andrew and Alexander Kinnear, James Ramsay, John
Lothian, John Waugh and John Mowbray, ministers; and the Laird of
Hilderstoun ruling elder. Sermon was made by Mr Patrick Shields:
Psalms xviii. and 25With the merciful, Thou (God) wilt show Thyself
merciful; with an upright man, Thou wilt show Thyself upright. And
after prayer, ye moderator received a list of ye elders names which
were found to be in order. Ye minister being removed, ye elders were
gravely exhorted by ye moderator, who put them in mind of their oath
given at their admission, being to declair thereupon if they knew
anything commendable or blame-worthy in him as tney should.
Interogate. Upon being removed and called in again by ye beadle,
they were interogate concerning their ministers diligence,
discipline, and doctrine; and if he was dilligent in preaching,
catechizing, visiting of ye sick, relieving ye poor, visiting of
families, and in all other questions by order of ye Presbytery and
appointed to be interogate in all such cases. In which they did
agree and professed their great satisfaction. Ye beadle then called
three several times at ye kirk door if there were any within ye
paroche who had oucht to say or declair against ye minister or any
of ye elders; but no one did compeer. Whereupon ye moderator
recalled ye minister and gravely exhorted him to continue in that
Christian life and walk that becomes a minister of ye Gospel, and in
particular' seeing that he is called so to study and approve himself
to God for ye welfare of his people. Ye minister likewise being
enquired at anent ye elders, did approve of them as faithful in
their charge. Mr John Lothian and Mr Alexander Kinnear gave an
account of ye session book, and declare they have found them very
careful of discipline and of ye poor, and that they have observed
nothing of any importance, only some errors and escapes in ye
writing, and which ye minister promised to get amended in time
coming. Ye precentor and beadle being removed, after that ye
minister and elders were enquired at anent them. Were approvin. This
day ye Presbytery, having found that ye heritors had been at much
pains and expenses in building a kirk and a manse for ye minister,
and settling upon him for maintenance eight hundred merks (£44 8s.
lid), and thirty merks (£1 13s. 4d) for grasum, with fifty merks (£2
15s 7d) for cumumns eliments, (total, £48 17s. 10d.); and that ye
collectors that were appointed for gathering in ye proportion of
money stinted upon the heritors have not as yet made their accounts,
although ye session have often pressed ye same; foreby several
things to be done in order to ye minister and manse, kirkyard dykes,
and ye payment of workmen employed to build ye kirk and manse are
not yet paid; only so much as ye minister has received they find
disbursed and produced discharges for ye satisfaction of ye
heritors; and also, that ye ministers stipend is not equal to ye
allowance of law; as also, that ye ministers manse is not
sufficient for ye accommodation of ye minister; and further, that ye
kirkyard dykes are not in sure posture as is incumbent for a burial
place. Wherefore, especially finding ye heritors very ready to
contribute their utmost for remedying these things, ye Presbytery
appointed some of their number for being with them and giving them
advice anent foresaid, viz. : Mr John Waugh and Mr Andrew Kinnear,
who are to meet with ye foresaid heritors, ye Lord Torplnchen, and
others, upon day of , and make report anent ye foresaid portionary.
(Signed] J. Mowbray, Cl. Presby.
Although the above visitation took place in 1645, it was not until
1647 that the Commissioners for Plantation of Kirks and Valuation of
Tiends finally completed the disjunction and erection of West Calder
parish, hence perhaps the different dates which historians give,
some choosing one date, some another. For my part, I prefer the year
1643, being the one the kirk still bears itself, ruin though it is,
and so recently neglected and deserted. It has lived to a good old
age, and been the direct mother of no less than four churchesthe
Old J.P. and Free, Addie-well, and the New Established. It has been
unroofed and gutted, the old door-way and the windows built up, the
kirkyard wall heightened, and the gate lockedaye ! and all this (as
the record of the heritors meetings proves) in anything but the
spirit in which their ancestors founded it.
Its career, like all other earthly careers, has been a chequered
Oh, the loves, and the hatreds that and entwined and buried with it
in its history till the judgment day, when its chapter will again be
opened, and the dead shall rise to give . their account (after we
have joined them).
Recently I re-visited the Aulk Kirk, before it was unroofed, when I
found it sad, lone, and sorely neglected. The wind was weirdly
sighing through its solitary aisle, from broken door to broken
window, and above its murmur methought I heard the dying speech of
this auld, auld kirk; and thus to me she seemed to say, in accents
slow and solemn, and in my mother tongue :
And noo my bodys auld and frail,
And sair wi pains Im racket;
At me yon younk^rs laugh and rail,
And ca me humphy backet.
I mind ye day when I was young,
And cad a bonny bride, sir;
My praises were on every tongue
In a ye country side, sir.
But noo Im auldIm auld and frail
And turned a great-great Granny;
Im neither worth my saut nor kail,
And hardly worth a cranny.
And, oh! it hurts my feelings sair
When mocked wi bairns a round me;
Why parents now ye rod do spare,
Doth fairly vex and stound me.
Alas for them when they grow auld,
Their sorrows will increase, sir ;
Their selfish hearts grown sour and cauld
Will spoil ye nations peace, sir
But, oh! my blessings a I hae
Aught else they hae taen frae me;
My blessing, tis my wull to gie,
If they would listen to me.
I bless ye a, my bonny bairns
I bless ye a and mair;
May ye frae Breich unto ye Cairns,
Ye word preach true and fair.
Losh me! I'm nearly waunert noo
Id something else to say
That Catholic deil, that cried boo, boo.
May he repent and pray.
And may ye licht and Holy Ghost,
Like Penticost be gien ye:
My bairns, I feel a choking hoast,
But unco gled Ive seen ye.
* * * * *
Upon my ear, so weird and queer,
A gurgling sound now fell,
And struggling with that sound so drear,
I heard the wordsFare well!
Just then a fluttering dove-bird flew,
And lit on ye bellan bell,
I sadly turned me and withdrew.
Listening to that knellin knell!