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History of West Calder
Chapter XIV. Interesting Controversy on Parish Banks, with other Historical remarks


“Since writing the first part of the report of this parish, published in a late number, the author of it has heard several objections to parish banks. The mode of conducting them, he has observed, ought to be left to the direction of local circumstances, and to the good sense of every parish; but certain men, of feverish morality, are afraid that a spirit of coveteousness and calculation will prevail, in proportion as the money of the poor and industrious shall accumulate. The scheme, they think, is cherishing an evil passion of our nature, and giving greater encouragement to its exertion. This is one of the powerful objections, which we hear daily made to any useful and benevolent plan. It proceeds on the supposition—that the lower classes of the industrious have it in their power to save something from the daily demands of their families, and the point to be considered is—whether they shall spend the surplus as the week ends, or lay it up as a fund for future distress, or old age. If the objector to the parish banks believes that the first of these is preferable to any kind of saving, lie must also, from his knowledge of mankind, be able to show that this weekly expenditure is more directed to the purpose of generosity than dissipation; and that a man who has little to give is more disposed to humanity than a man who has something in bank and his capital increasing: whether, in short, is it easier to resist the temptation to sin all indulgences and be bountiful from the saving of one shilling per week, or to part more liberally with the interest, or with a proportion of a greater capital which the person has accumulated by the resistance of such indulgences. The first savings placed in a parish bank are much more likely to be rescued from unnecessary expense, than from what would have been charitably employed, and therefore the dissipation is prevented, while the means of charity may be employed and the disposition to it not weakened.

On the other hand, if the industrious are in the habit of accumulating, I have no doubt that a parish bank is the proper place for securing what they save. The smallest sum can be deposited in safety. It is not easy for a poor man to collect ten pounds for a public bank: while he is doing it, he is under the temptation of spending it improperly, or lending it without security; and if there is any danger of his acquiring the habit of covetousness, it is well known that this is more encouraged by the sight and handling of money, than by laying it in bank.

Another objection to parish banks is still more ingenious, and connected at the same time with the great principles of political economy. On the supposition, it is said, that many of the labouring poor have a sum in bank, the facility of purchasing provisions in a time of scarcity would so increase the demand as entirely to exhaust the supplies for the year, and produce a total want of the means of life. This is certainly earring the speculation as high as it can go ; and to obviate the objection, it is only necessary to say that the price of necessaries of life will always bear a proportion, not only to the quantity in the market, but to the money in the country, which can be bought to purchase them.

The two last harvests of 1816 and 1817 have been peculiarly severe on the agricultural part of the community in this parish. The greater part of the farmers had their seed to purchase last seed-time, and the whole produce of their crops did not supply their families beyond Whitsunday. The pro duce of the dairy was the only means of support during last summer; and the increased demand of the poor in Edinburgh for buttermilk, gave them a ready market, though at a reduced price. The crop, this year, owing to the frost in the beginning of October, has been so damaged that it will give less than last year’s. The potato crop, however, is tolerably fair, and the produce of it was housed, in excellent condition, before the oats were cut.

During the last twenty years, the proprietors mentioned in a former number, have built four very comfortable mansion-houses, with offices corresponding, executed in a very neat and substantial manner, and the workmen employed in those, and other improvements, have consisted of strangers, allured by the wages which they could obtain, and of the inhabitants of the parish, many of whom, from manufacturers, having become labourers. This has introduced a considerable change, for the better, on the habits and comforts of the people at large. The character of close selfishness, and fondness for litigation, which formerly distinguished those who lived between the hill and the dale, have now almost disappeared.

The people are generally well affected to the government of the country, sensible of the advantages of our mild constitution, and retain little of their former manners, except the shrewdness and good sense, by which they continue to be distinguished. Few of the prejudices, arising from wilful or real ignorance, which are to be found among the common people in more cultivated parts of the country, can be said to obtain here; and though in good times there is a proper spirit of independence in this parish, yet, it is free of that disgusting conceit which prevails in large manufacturing towns. Our people, at the same time, are capable of appreciating the interests of the country. As an instance, in the late outcry against the corn bill, they at once perceived that it was better to pay a little more for their bread, than be deprived of the means of gaining it; a fact, of which those who joined loudest in the cry, are now convinced.

The manners, of this parish 150 years ago, were such as might have been expected from the general state of the country, and the local circumstances of the parish, There was the keenest struggle for rights that were not worth the contest, and it seems to have been every man’s business to take charge of the character of his neighbour. The Session Records, at that period, and somewhat later, are full of prosecutions for scandal; and the rule was to lay down a shilling with the libel, which was forfeited to the poor if the libeller did not succeed. This seems to have been construed as a check to the spirit of censure, which was then abroad; but it does not seem to have prevented the evil.

The proprietors of those times, on the other hand, instead of improving their lands, and providing for their families, seems to have been constantly employed in defending their rights. Their whole estate was sometimes spent in securing a part of it, and the law, which is every good man’s protection, was their ruin. The violence of temper, which led to this conduct, has now almost entirely subsided, and, by a change of proprietors and of times; by the residence of families from Edinburgh, on small properties indeed, but otherwise in respectable circumstances; the business of the parish is now conducted in the best of manner; and the neighbourhood and society are more extensive, and better than what are generally to be found in the country.

There are two leading roads that run through the parish from Edinburgh to Lanark; and owing to the great number of respectable residing heritors, the parish roads, supported by the ploughgate money, are in good condition.

The only public works in the parish are a coal-work, three miles west from the village of West Calder; and a work for lime and ironstone, which, since the giving up of the Wilsontown Iron Works, is almost entirely deserted. There were 50 houses supported by this last—when it flourished—and 3 by the coal-work; making a population of more than 200 souls.

There are two corn-mills; one for barley; two for flax; and one for gunpowder; in the parish.

Except the remains of a Roman station, in Mr Young’s property of Harburn; and the remains of an old fortified castle, on the same estate ; there are no antiquities, and scarcely anything indeed to show that this district of country has been inhabited for more than 200 years.

The greater part of the names of estates and farms are modern, and where they are not so—but may be considered of Gaelic derivation—the reason of it stands unconnected with the habitation of men, and applicable to places near rivers of so extraordinary appearance, as to be named when the whole parish was uninclosed and uncultivated.”


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