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History of West Calder
Chapter V & VI. Old Statistical Account

I have much pleasure in presenting your readers with a copy of the Old Statistical Account of West Calder, written in 1796 by the Rev. John Muckersy, the then young and talented minister of the parish, who afterwards received the title of D.D., and is still remembered by old residenters as "Dr Muckersy, a clever wee body.” A good many anecdotes are still told of the Doctor, and he was just the type of men Dean Ramsay was so fond of. When he came to the parish there was no dissenting place of worship in it, but his presentation was somewhat stoutly resented, and the Seceders thereby increasing, he saw the first dissenting chapel (the old U.P.) erected in the parish. Still the Doctor was not a man of mean or narrow spirit, for he seems to have been on the very best of terms with at least one of the Seceding ministers of West Calder, viz, the late Rev. Mr Fleming, with whom, I am told, he frequently exchanged visits, and they had many a chat and spent many a social hour together. This well-known friendship combined with the natural jealousy of sectarianism, and the native dry humour of Scottish wit, gave rise to the following dialogue, which actually took place in West Calder one Sunday between two neighbours who happened to be returning together from their several places of worship—the one being a Seceder and the other a member of the Auld Kirk.

A. K. Member—Weel, John, hae ye been to yer kirk?

Seceder—Deed have I, sit, and heard a grand sermon.

A. K. M.—And, if it’s a fair question, may I ask what your minister (Fleming) was on the day?

Seceder—Well, well, sir, if it will dae ye any guid, he was on the epistle to the Hebrews. It was a first-rate sermon, and the first o’ a new course.

A. K. M. —John, I’m rale gled to hear’t. I'm sure they'll be uncommon sermons, for oor minister (Muckersy), just finished them last Sunday!

The subject matter was simply a co-incident, but the Doctor having heard of it, used to tell the tale with great glee to the last of his days, and amongst others to the young minister, who afterwards turned out to be his successor, from whose lips I heard it.

But now for the statistical account, which I trust you will give to your readers in full, as it falls to the lot of very few to have access to the original document.

Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, 1796 a.d., Vol. 18, No. IX., p.p. 190.— Parish of West Calder, County of Mid-Lothian, by the Rev. Mr Muckersy :

The parish of West Calder lies in the county of Mid-Lothian, in the presbytery of Linlithgow, and in the synod of Lothian and Tweed-dale. The average breadth is about 5| miles, and the length 10 miles.

It is bounded on the south by the Cairn Hills, and on the north by the Breich Water, which falls into the Almond at the north-east point of the parish.

The southern part, which lies contiguous to the parishes of Dunsyre and Carnwath, consists of high moorish grounds, interspersed with morasses of considerable extent.

These grounds, for the most part incapable of cultivation, are parcelled out into sheep farms. The arable parts of this parish vary considerably in their value, either from the degree of improvement or their local situation, but the soil of the whole parish is of a black, mossy earth, or a wet clay, both in a tile bottom.

The height above the sea is from 400 to 700 feet, and, from this circumstance, joined to the neighbourhood of Cairn Hills, this parish is exposed to considerable degrees of cold and moisture. The chief storms of wind and rain are from the south and south-west.


The modes of agriculture most generally practised in all probability have been nearly the same since any part of this parish was cultivated. Hence, agriculture, except in those instances where the common method is departed from, is in its simplest and rudest state. The whole process consists of spreading dung on lee, allowing it lie for some time on the surface, and then taking three or four crops of oats. After this, the field lies three or four years in grass, and the process begins again.

In place of dung, the middle of a high ridge is sometimes opened with the plough, and the furrow mixed with lime and spread on the surface.

It is somewhat astonishing that notwithstanding this mode of agriculture, the farmer frequently reaps apparently luxurious crops, and perhaps the only probable way of accounting for it is, that in many instances the crop is not sufficiently ripe to exhaust the manure. The farmers here have discovered that lime acts as a powerful solvent on all kinds of mossy earth, and they have applied the discovery with great success to the process of agriculture. The spirit of improvement has now begun to reach this place. The soil in many places has been by some of the intelligent proprietors ameliorated by enclosing with double rows of hedges and ditches, leaving a considerable space between to be filled up with young trees adapted to the climate. This has served the double purpose of enriching the soil and rendering the appearance of the country more beautiful. One proprietor, in particular, has improved his grounds on the best principles of agriculture, and he has succeeded in raising turnips, and a proper rotation of crops.

Oafs, potatoes, flax, barley, peas, and turnips are raised in this parish. The grain most attended to is oats, the average producer of which may be from 4½ to 5 bolls an acre. When the ground happens to be laid down with grass seeds, the prevailing crop is rye grass. Of this there are two kinds—annual and perennial. The former gives a double quantity of grass the first year, which is thought in most cases to compensate the continuance of the other. A considerable quantity of rye grass seed is preserved, and beside what is sufficient for next year’s sowing, there are frequently, in good years, from 300 to 400 bolls sold out of the parish.

There are considerably more horses reared than supply the wants of agriculture, and the rent is most commonly paid from the sale of cattle.

The high grounds in the south and west of the parish are divided into fifteen sheep farms, and it is conjectured that the whole lands employed in this manner may maintain about 6000 sheep.

The ploughing is mostly carried on by two horses, and “Small's” plough has been introduced ; while at the same time a great many of the old farmers regret the disuse of the old Scots plough and a greater number of horses, and affirm that their soil requires a deep and large furrow.

It is scarcely possible to make' any conjecture with respect to the rent of arable ground, because the greater number of farms have some out field or moss or moor connected with them. Were it otherwise, perhaps the ordinary rate of arable ground would be 12s. to 20s. per acre. The size of the farms is scarcely in any instance greater than necessary to support a family, and almost every attempt to accumulate this kind of property has brought ruin on the projector.


In almost every instance the local situations of men form their characters. The inhabitants of this parish are much excluded from the commerce of the world, and nearly all on a level with regard to each other. Their attention is directed to few objects, and hence they are simple and unaffected in their manners ; while they possess a wonderful degree of sagacity and acuteness in everything connected with the circle of their pursuits. From the great number of small farms, every individual may look forward to an establishment in life; and hence his attention to business and industry is excited. In this state of society, it must be confessed, there is little scope for ambition which impels a man to rise above his humble sphere; but this situation supposes contentment and happiness. From this circumstance, too, it may be mentioned, as a character of the people, that the advantages which they cannot secure to themselves they wish to convey to their children; and it has been observed, that a greater number have been designed for the Church than perhaps of any ten parishes of equal extent in a highly cultivated country and in a given time.

The great bulk of the inhabitants of this parish have a considerable share of religious knowledge, and a becoming fervency in their devotion. It is hoped that they will not be charged with singularity of manners when we mention that there are not perhaps six families in this parish who do not daily and in a family capacity assemble together to acknowledge the Author of their mercies. Altogether detached from the capital they are unacquainted with its vices. Drunkenness and debauchery of all sorts are scarcely known ; and there are very few instances of men continuing unmarried who have the means to support a family. This parish has been particularly blamed with disaffection to the present constitution. From the state of society in which they are placed, the representation of any kind of oppression, whether real or imaginary, is apt to affect their minds. This, however, is but a momentary impulse ; for when they find that the chief articles of life by which they are supported are not subject to taxation, and that what they bring to the market is raised in its value by the very system of which they are taught to complain, the good sense of the parish is soon brought to prevail over the designs of those who would mislead them.

In continuing the Old Statistical Account of West Calder in 1796, we next come upon the population table, which is at once a curious, antiquated, and interesting document.

From the above table of population it appears that the average number to a family is 4 and near 4-16, and that the males and females are as 16, to 17. In the account of the Seceders none are returned under 9 years of age.1 Of these Seceders 142 are Antiburgers, 169 Burgers, 7 connected with the Presbytery of Relief, and 3 are Cameronians.

The causes of separation from the Established Church have been extremely various in this parish. In consequence of the last settlement from forty to fifty persons have joined the Secession. Of those separated from the church for the last ten years before this period, the strictness of church discipline seems to have been the chief cause.


This parish, previous to the year 1646, was a part of the parish of Mid Calder, and had a chapel belonging to it at a place which still retains the name of Chapel town, about a mile east of the village of West Calder. The present proprietor, Mr Gloag, has now in his possession a large hollow stone which seems to have been the font of the chapel.

In the year 1647 the Commissioners for the plantation of kirks and the valuation of tiends, valued the tiends of Calder Comitis, which included the parishes of Mid and West Calders, and allocated the whole tiends as stipend to the ministers of the two parishes.

The minister’s stipend is paid in money, and amounts to 800 merks, together with 50 merks for communion elements and 30 merks for grass. In addition to this, the glebe consists of 20 Scots acres.


The parish school has generally attending it from 50 to 70 scholars. Of these 6 to 10 are receiving the rudiments of a classical education. The school fees are Is. per quarter for English, 1s. 6d. for writing, 2s. for arithmetic, and 2s. 6d. for Latin. The schoolmaster’s salary is £5 5s. 7½d., and he has 20s. more yearly by a mortification. But a respectable number of the heritors have lately agreed to augment the salary by a voluntary contribution, to continue during their pleasure. Besides the Established school, there are several others in the parish. One of these has been lately erected by one or two of the small heritors in opposition to the parish school, the rest are occasional and ambulatory, consisting of the children of a dozen or more parents in the same neighbourhood, who, on account of their distance from the public school, are compelled to hire a teacher for their own families.


Towards the southern extremity of this parish there is an old castle which is reported to have been fortified by Cromwell to repress the Moss Troopers.

On the west part of Hayfield estate there was a few years ago the remains of an old camp, known by the name of Cromwell-Wit. This is now converted into a corn field, and it remains altogether uncertain whether the name was given as a mark of Cromwell's understanding in the choice of the situation or as a proof of his folly, although the last appears more probable.

About two miles due south there is on the top of a rising ground, called Castle Craig, the remains of a small Roman camp, in a pretty entire state. Within a few years several coins have been dug uj> from the environs of this encampment, on which the Roman eagle was sufficiently apparent, but the circumstances which could lead to the period at which they were coined were completely effaced. Except this circumstance, there are no proofs of ancient population within this district.

There are a few names of places, as Breich, Cobbershaw, and Polbeth, which seem to be of Gaelic derivation; but in every instance where a Gaelic name is employed there is a river or a morass or a wood to which the name might have been given before the country was inhabited.

In all other instances the names of places, farms, houses, &c., are in the old Scottish (Saxon?) dialect, and indicate a recent date. The following names may be mentioned as examples:—Black-mire, Heuch-head, Slate-heuch, Birny-hiil, Mossend, Rashie-hill, Back-i'-the-moss, S tank-head, White-sykes, and Turn-i-moon.


The greater part of this parish most probably stands on coal. It has been dug in various places, but never to much advantage, except at Longford, on the estate of Mr Douglas of Baads; but we understand that the proprietor has given a lease, and some attempts have been already made to find out the best place to erect an engine (horse-power engine?).

Limestone is also found here in great abundance. One great work at Limefield is now nearly exhausted. The stratum of limestone seems to have been in thickness about nine to ten feet, with a freestone roof and a dip of one foot in three. Great pillars have been left to support the roof, and limestone has everywhere been wrought down to level. By this means an excavation has been formed worthy the attention of the curious observer.


No precise account can be given from the Session Records of marriages, births, or funerals.


The only diseases peculiar to this parish are fluxes and intermitting fevers in the end of autumn.

There are very few instances of inoculation, and the reason against it is altogether the religious one : of not bringing on the disease before the appointed time. This parish is sufficiently healthy, and there may be alive at present about eight persons from eighty to ninety years of age.


The funds for supplying the poor of this parish arise from the weekly collections from the mortcloth money, from 2s. 6d. given at each marriage, and from the interest from a bond for £100. The 'mort cloth and marriage money have been nearly the same for fifty years past. The following table will show the increase of collections since the year 1743. (The sums following the different years is for six months in the summer and autumn)—In 1743, £5 11s. 1d.; 1773, £6 3s. 9d.; 1783, £10 10s. 11d.; 1793, £9 16s. 5d.; 1794, £10 8s. 4d.

The number who receive charity from the poor funds is from ten to fifteen, and the sum given to each of them is, at an average, 3s. per month.

Thus ends the Old Statistical Account, in which there is much food for reflection, especially to those who know the West Calder of to-day and the great contrast it presents.

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