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History of West Calder
Chapter IV. Facts and Inferences, 1645 to 1798


In the previous chapters we traced the origin and founding of West Calder, and will now proceed with its history, along with a few notices of contemporary events illustrative of the times and surroundings, as well as the character and manners of the people. And here I may state that the material at my command is so great that I feel the necessity of abridgement so as to avoid unnecessary details or repetitions.

In the General Register House, Edinburgh, the Old Kirk Session Books of West Calder are carefully deposited, arranged and preserved, where any one historically inclined may any lawful day, during business hours, free of charge, inspect and peruse these old tattered and time-worn records of by-gone generations. Their contents may be said to contain the whole sum of human life, viz., births, marriages, and deaths—for the struggle to live is simply an interlude of a few short years. Some of the leaves and probably some of the books are wanting, but, on the whole, they are in wonderful preservation, considering the rudeness and troubles of some of the periods embraced as well as the eagerness with which they have been searched and handled over and over again by deeply interested parties. The register of births dates from 1645 to 1819, the marriages from 1677 to 1817, and the deaths from 1677 to 1819. The births, Arc., previous to 1645 would belong to Calder Comitis—the parent parish.

These books accumulated and lay in West Calder Manse until they were called up by the Government, when a more correct or rather enforced system of registering was enacted. The penmanship, as well as the peculiar formation of the letters, arc various,, and more or less difficult to read, but Saxon and English words alone are used.

Without any doubt the penmanship of the brief period in which the Prelates held the charge stands out the boldest and best. This may arise from the circumstances of the case, the curate or priest, more than likely, acting as' clerk instead of an elder, according to Presbyterian fashion.

The following heading of one of the Pre-latic registers is noteworthy for more reasons than its good penmanship, for it proves the Prelates held the benefice and turned out the Presbyterian incumbent; also, that the marriages were solemnized “ in the church/5 and that the English word “church," was used instead of the Scotch word Kirk. It is entitled—“Ane Register of the Manages solemnised in the church of West Calder since 25tli July, 1G85, to 24th July 1686.”

Taken as a whole, these records are simply a leaf in the book of time showing the transient joys and sorrows of a past age. Those pages—like the pages of the Bible itself, or the pages of the Government recorders and session clerks of our own day—relate welcome and unwelcome births, joyful and sorrowful marriages, mourned and unmourned deaths, us well as other matters of a relative nature -r-such as discipline, scandal, private quarrels, Arc.—over which kirk sessions formerly had a qaasi-magisterial power.

Bu^j, before proceeding with details, the reader wiU perhaps permit me to notice the general state of the kingdom at or about the period when West Calder was founded. We have previously noticed that West Calder was originally a kirk township or landward parish quoad sacra, and this circumstance, as will hereafter be more fully noticed, left its distinctive mark upon the character and habits of the parishioners down to a very recent date; when, owing chiefly to a remarkable development of shale and coal mining, the very features of the landscape, as well as the habits of the people, have been changed, and a new element introduced, in the shape of a large influx of strangers, principally miners of Irish or mixed nationality, many of them Homan Catholics.

It being obvious that a careful study of the time and circumstances of the birth of any person or place will throw a flood of light upon their character and surroundings, the following notes will amply illustrate the state of society at the period referred to:— There was no great middle or merchant class in those days such as there is now, there being only the common people and the various grades of nobles above them. Food, clothing, and all the necessaries of life were cheap and plenty, but money was very scarce, though not so essential then as now, the people being simpler in their habits and modes of living. They made more of their food and personal clothing than we do, and so needed and spent less money.

According to Lord Kilsyth’s Chamberlin Accounts, feed corn was only 7s. per boll, barley 8s. and oatmeal 10s., eggs 2d. the doz., butter 4d. and beef 2d. per lb., a leg of lamb 7d., and a leg of mutton Is. Id., a load of coals 2d, a.cow’s hide 2s. 6d., his Lordship’s boots Is. 8d. per pair, servant’s do. Is. 6d., a score of lean Highland cows, 13s. 4d. From the way this last item is entered, I cannot say whether they were 13s. 4d. each or altogether. This was in 1670. At a later period wages were as follows and were probably less previously :—A man servant with victuals, £6 per annum, a maid servant with victuals, £1 10s. per annum, while a day labourer received Is. per day and provided for himself. “Four shillings per day” was the handsome (considered so) sum allowed by the Long Parliament to each of the Westminster Divines for incidental expenses. Forty shillings would scarcely go as far now’ in.London as four had to do then.

The state of commerce, such as it was, may )>e shown from two items in the customs returns to Government in 1645, when Bo’ness seems to have been a greater seaport than Glasgow (before the American trade was dreamt of), Bo’ness contributing £382 to the revenue, while the City of Glasgow could only send £381. It is also on record that one harbour master in Glasgow was exalted to the same office in Bo’ness.

In religion, politics, and municipal matters, we find the Kirk, the Parliament, and the Town Councils claiming extraordinary rights and privileges, overlapping each other’s sphere, sometimes in agreement, sometimes at variance.

Protestant and Catholic was, however, the great dividing line of society, and the undying cause of plots and factions, although the only puppets then on the stage were prelate and presbyter. As a consequence The Maiden was then at the height of its glory; ever ready to do its terrible work for the party in power, with the greatest speed and the least possible pain. In 1645, it artistically severed the head of President Spottiswood from his body. In August of the previous year, the town of Glasgow, which had been partly fortified, was again put in posture of war, and the Town Council ordered “ all manner of persons between the ages of sixteen and sixty, to come out presently with match, powder, and lead, and twenty days’ provisions, ready to march when they should be ordered, on pain of death. ” The Assembly of Divines were then sitting at Westminster, purging, or compiling the Confession of Faith on the lines of the second Covenant. This was the great bone of contention, involving the divine right of priest and king on the one part, and the divine right of presbyter and people on the other; and woe befel both king and people between these two stools. The United Kingdom was thenceforth divided into two great factions—the Episcopalians and Royalists, with whom the king (Charles I.) sided on the one hand, and the two Parliaments, with the Independents and Presbyterians on the other. To Scotland, in particular, the year 1645 was one of most intense interest and excitement, for the Kirk, Parliament,, and Reformation were all alike in danger of overthrow. The Scottish army, as previously mentioned, was still in England triumphing with the Parliamentary forces over the Royalists, but even that proved an immediate source of danger, for the flower of the army being from home, Montrose, who had deserted the Covenant and joined Charles, suddenly swooped down from the North with his Irish and Highland levies, and driving all before him, routed the Covenanters at Kilsyth. lie next threatened Edinburgh with destruction, unless the prisoners of the king’s party were instantly released, and the city at this moment being desolated with the plague (for fear of which the Parliament had fled to Berwick), his demands were complied with. But his triumph was short lived. Proceeding Southwards, pillaging and slaughtering as he went, he was unexpectedly met and defeated by David Leslie’s troops, after which he fled to the Highlands for refuge.

Sad and mournful are the tales that are still told of these “killing times;” but we who live in peace amid our political and ecclesiastical differences little understand or sympathise with the sterner nature of the men of those days, when news of stirring events was eagerly looked for, and spread from mouth to mouth like wildfire, at the kirk or market, both of which then had & double interest for those who attended them, the kirk even taking the foremost place in the nation's affairs, and thereby securing the enormous powers which were delegated to and exercised by kirk-sessions in their respective parishes over the moral, social, and religious condition of the people, their decisions being enforced by fine, penance, excommunication, imprisonment, and in some cases death. Thus the history of every parish in Scotland is thoroughly entwined with that of the kirk ever since the Reformation, and thus it was that Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries long held and exercised such regal powers. The clergy were better educated' than the nobles, which gave them more power over men’s minds, as well as more unanimity in their counsels and ability to record and regulate their proceedings, an example of which I gave in the previous chapter, viz., a full account of the first presbyterial visitation of West Calder, which took place in the month of October, 1645; At that time of the year the hairst would be ended and the winter approaching, when the people of West Calder parish were duly summoned for their interests to meet the Presbytery of the bounds in their bran new kirk2 on the bent moor, to which they doubtless repaired, male and female, young and old, an eager, orderly, expectant throng of fathers, mothers, bachelors, maids, and winsome lads and lasses, simple it may be of manners and dress, but sterling and fearless in character and principle. By mere chance the record of that event has escaped the flames. It is a tattered and quaint document in wonderful preservation, and beautifully written in the characteristic, style of Charles I., specimens of which may any day be seen at the-Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, and indeed I have to thank Dr Anderson of that institution for helping me to decipher this one, the contents of which are plain and palpable and worthy the perusal of any one interested in the history of West Calder. From that document we learn, amongst other things that the Rev. Patrick Shields was the first minister of the parish. That his whole stipend and allowance, excluding manse, was less than £50 per annum (putting one in mind of Goldsmith’s father, who was an Irish clergyman,  passing rich on £40 a year.. We also find that money was exceedingly scarce and ill to get hold of even from the landed proprietors of the parish, although to their credit it is expressly said that they were “very ready to contribute their utmost” in order to the payment of tho workmen who had built the kirk, &c.

Now, except the Kirk Session books (which no one will expect me to copy), the Presbyterial references, and current national history, I find little worthy of notice connected with West Calder from 1645 to 1796, when the “old statistical account” was published. As bearing, however, on the intervening period, I may mention that Cromwell and his army passed through and camped in the parish in 1650; and that the ancient sand hour-glass which did duty to many a long Covenanting sermon and prayer in West Calder kirk, is now zealously preserved in the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, along with the actual sackcloth formerly used in the same kirk for those who in any way brought themselves to the stool of repentance. What has become of the ancient mortcloths (for there were two—the “best mortcloth” and the “second mortcloth”) I know not, but some of your readers may be able to tell.

It is also worth relating that I somewhere read (although I have to regret not taking a copy of it at the time) that during the prelatical persecutions, the Presbyterian minister of West Calder was apprehended by the king’s soldiers for nonconformity, and marched to Edinburgh tolbooth.

The following story is from the Scots and occurred at the time Claverhouse was let loose upon Scotland by (the avowed Catholic) King James II. :—

“Peter Gillies, in the parish of Mueravonside, and John Bryce, in that of West Calder, afford two most signal instances of the cruelties which were perpetrated in 1685. In 1674, the former was brought to great trouble and loss for having allowed a Presbyterian minister to preach in his house; and again in 1682, being accused of nonconformity by the curate of the parish, he very narrowly escaped apprehension by a party of soldiers sent for that purpose. And being again informed against, he was, on the last day of April, 1685, taken at his house, together with John Bryce, weaver, who was there on business with him. After threatening to kill him before tie eyes of his wife who was just recovering from child-birth, they hurried him away with his companion; and after a little returned, rifled the house, and took away everything which they thought was valuable. The two men were tied together, and driven before them. After proceeding some miles, they bound a napkin over Gillies’ eyes and set him down upon his knees in order to be shot. In this posture they kept him for half an hour, and what were his feelings during this season it may be left to the sympathising reader to conceive. When they found that they could not by this means move him from his principles, they ordered him to rise, and resumed their progress towards the west country. On the 5th of May, they had arrived at Middlewood, in Ayrshire, from whence Gillies wrote a letter to his wife, full of affection and seriousness-—displaying much holy confidence in God—expressing an expectation of death as near at hand, and leaving her with his five children, upon Him who is a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, who put their trust in him From Middle-wood they were carried to Mauchline, and, on the day following, a jury of 15 soldiers impannelled, and an indictment served upon them to compear before General Drummond, Commissioner of Justiciary, within the tolbooth of Mauchline, We may be sure such an assize would bring them in guilty, and they were sentenced to be hanged at the town end of Mauchline on Monday 6th, which was done accordingly. No coffins nor dead clothes were allowed them, but the soldiers and two countrymen made a hole in the earth near by and cast them, with other three who were executed along with them, altogether into it. I have visited the spot on the Mauchline roadside. It is now railed off, and a suitable tombstone erected.


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