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History of West Calder
Chapter XIX. The Naphta Lamp, Fair Day and Fast Days


The previous chapter was devoted to the shale oil trade and its influence in the parish. After the statements and statistics given therein one would hardly believe that so lately as the year 1848, or only 16 years before Acldiewell Works were started, West Calder was literally in darkness at night, save for the dim glimmer of the old fashioned lamps and candles—dips— for ‘Paddy’s Lantern’ never shone there on a dark night.

Yet true it is and of verity that the Thistle Lodge of Free Masons West Calder took a step in the right direction, seeking a brighter light than they had hitherto been accustomed to, for in the year 1848 with all the deliberation and seriousness of a constituted and constitutional body, they actually resolved “That a deputation of their number proceed to Whitburn to see a Naptha Lamp burning : with power to purchase”. Oh ye gods! this is always the way with you, leading your children through darkness. How many million tons of a purer and brighter illuminating power did this deputation tramp over on their way ? No wonder Spunky frightened them that night with his wild-fore as they passed the moors and mosses to Whitburn! endeavouring to sheio them where light glorious light lay buried. Since then gas has even been introduced to the village. But I must hurry, on to the Fair which occurs this month, and give it a passing notice from a historical point of view.

West Calder Fair or Gymnastic Games.

These games may be said to have taken the place of what was formerly known as West Calder Fair, which, from being a business day amongst the farmers, fell to be held only as a f sweetie and groset fair ’ amongst the children. On some occasions games were got up by the young men of the village when funds could be got; but I think it was in the year 1854 that this fair reached its lowest possible ebb without vanishing altogether.

Though duly heralded for a week or so in advance by the boys and girls hand in hand in as wide rows as the street would allow them to pass, with merry faces and happy hearts lustily shouting a rhyme, of which the following is a portion :—

“Catber Fair's comin on.
We’ll get pies and porter!
Guess ye what the fiddle says?
Come and kiss my dochter.”

“A’ the jucks are in their nest
They’ll no be oot the day,
There’s some o’ them black and some o’ them green
And some o’ them like a turkey bean,
The cocks to craw, the hens to lay,
The morn’s Want Gather Fair Day”

Yet in the year I refer to, only one old woman put in her appearance in front of the auld yairds with chair,' table, and basket-of-good-things, if I may so call home-made gundy, ginger bread, and the few other confections spread out upon a clean white table cloth to tempt young eyes and stomachs out of the few coppers in their pockets.

Ay! coppers were scarce then; but possibly the stomachs were none the worse of that. We begged hard for pennies but got them few and far between ; for parents then were oppressed by the dreariness of everything as well as the extra taxation, consequent upon the Crimean War. Happy was the boy or girl who had saved up sixpence for the Fair, for the commodities in question were about four times the price they are to-day. Sugar aiul treacle having then to pay their share of the cost of fighting the Christian Russian for t\ e sake of the Mohammedan Turks or rather for India.

This annual fair or games has revived with the increase of population and wealth of this parish, and now constitutes the principal gala-day of the year.

This year—1885—is announced as the “ 52nd annual ” of these games or sports; and Friday the 31st July is fixed as the day upon which they are to be held in the Games Park.

The prize money offered is nearly £30 which is said to be £3 more than last year. “The West Calder Brass Band will be in attendance,” says the programme, which en-numerates 25 contests for the occasion, commencing with a quoiting match and ending with a five-a-side football competition, interspersed with foot racing, putting, leaping, vaulting, tilting at the ring on horseback— the only knightly game in the programme unless hurdle racing may be included in that list. There is also a miners’ race, sack race, and conform to the times a bicycle race Admission to the grounds, sixpence ; subscribers free. These with the entry money constitute the funds of the committee, who make no pretence of being ‘under distinguished patronage/ Tradition says West Calder Fair used to be a regular cattle, hiring, and settling market, held on a strip of land—supposed to be an old roadway to the Parish Kirk before the Cleugh Bridge was built—reaching from the site of the Burgher Meeting House or old U.P. Kirk down to the Killan Water or West Calder Burn. The business portion of West Calder Fair seems to have naturally gone to Mid Calder the ancient centre; but the pleasure portion seems destined to out-live even Fast Days—a result directly due to the divisions within the Kirk, the clergy scorning and miscalling each other, the people have scorned the clergy and burst the bonds. Pome was wiser in her day. We regulate our fairs by her festivals. Her festivals were her fairs, when from her goodly rent rolls she regaled her votaries, e’er the ^heritors :—

“Singing Sanct David’s psalter on their books were found .

“Rugging and ryving up kirk rents like rooks!” The greater part of abbey lands paid their rent in kind; and as the lands of Calder formerly belonged to Kelso Abbey, doubtless they also paid their rents in kind—in this then out of the way place—on the summer term of Lammas or Lamb Mass, the first of August, which still regulates West Oalder Fair or so many days from it. Doubtless the collecting place was once Chapelton or previously Kirkhill near Addiewell; but the Fair or what remained of it may have removed with the Kirk. Far away and beyond Holyrood lay Kelso Abbey at the beautiful confluence of Teviot with Tweed, but the road was by Edinburgh and down by the Stowe or Storehouse at the ond of the old Roman bridge on Galawater — the last stage for staying overnight—e’er passing Melrose for Kelso. The traditions of Stow are full of the monks and attendants passing and repassing there ; and Calder was thirled to Kelso.

When the Reformation upset the ‘Haly Kirk’ of Rome, the1settling day came as usu&l and rents only went to other pockets; but the people could not all at once be weaned from their pleasures, hence King-James VI.’s State-Craft and Poetry on the subject, to which I refer the reader who may be interested in fairs and holidays?—and who is not?

Having referred to fast days, I may not inappropriately conclude this chapter by stating that the parish minister, finding that these had become mere holidays, has practically abolished them. They were formerly held at least once a year to make the communion the great solemn festival of the Kirk. Latterly fast clays were appointed twice a year, viz., Thursday before third Sunday of June, and first Thursday of December, which for some reason or other were changed to the Thursdays before third Sundays of April and October or vice versa as I find both ways in the calendars.


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