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History of West Calder
Chapter III. Planting the Kirk

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 exist.

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-steads—instead 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 reader’s 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 great improvement.

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 fu’s o’ heather” brought.from home to the kirk on the penitent’s back. (In 1739 Handax wood’s brother was fined 10s. (Scots) and a back fu’ o’ heather for insulting James Anderson’s 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 Cromwell’s horses. The people were content to stand during the long sermons of pre-newspaper days which were a’regular juxnble of matter —religious, social, political and ecclesiastical. The old and infirm, however, were allowed chairs or stools.

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 25—With 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 minister’s 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 minister’s stipend is not equal to ye allowance of law; as also, that ye minister’s 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 churches—the 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 locked—aye ! 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 one.

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 body’s auld and frail,
And sair wi’ pains I’m racket;
At me yon younk^rs laugh and rail,
And ca’ me humphy backet.

I mind ye day when I was young,
And ca’d a bonny bride, sir;
My praises were on every tongue
In a’ ye country side, sir.

But noo I’m auld—I’m auld and frail—
And turned a great-great Granny;
I’m 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 nation’s peace, sir ’

But, oh! my blessing’s 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—
I’d 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 gi’en ye:
My bairns, I feel a choking hoast,
But unco gled I’ve seen ye.

* * * * *

Upon my ear, so weird and queer,
A gurgling sound now fell,
And struggling with that sound so drear,
I heard the words—“Fare 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!

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