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History of West Calder

"He that writes a book doth not ill,
He that writes none does better still,
Saving his own pains and his critics ill will"
Old Saw.


Wife. Dinna believe him, guide man, he havers owre mnckle for me.

Husband. I’m no shure about that, guide wife. I doot the callant speaks a lot o' trith in his havers, he keeks into sae mony holes and corners that ither folk wad ne’er think o’. Wha wad e’er thocht afore that a hail book could be written about Wast Cather?

Dear Reader, This conversation could have been overheard one night last winter, in a humble cottage within sound of the Co-Operative clock, between a worthy pair “of ye olde schoole,” while the good wife hobbled through^the kitchen, attending the household duties, and the good man sat at his great armed chair, speecks on, reading the West Calder Reporter of the day, containing one of the following Chapters. Both were elderly persons, rather deaf with age, speaking louder in consequence, otherwise their conversation wouid not have been overheard, nor the writer told their were already two opinions abroad about his “book or history.” It is somewhat dreadful to be told that the auld wives are against me, for a woman’s instinctive intuition is often shrewder than a man’s reasoning. A novice at writing, may, however, console himself, on reflecting that great authors have been severely handled by the critics, who were once described as themselves the failures in arts and letters. Besides, this book has no pretentions to anything but painstaking care, and only in that respect will it be recommended or defended. Before commencing to write a careful collection of material was made whereon to found the facts, theories, and inferences it contains. If errors have occurred no one would be more thankful to have them pointed out than the writer, who has spared no pains to test the truth of what has reached him by history or tradition. But the more that was gathered the more apparent it became that some links were wanting which previous information led up to, hence he turned to others for information which brought pleasant intercourse with persons who gladly gave it so far as they possibly could, but who often perplexed me with posers on Antiquarian, Genealogical, Geological, and other kindred subjects of undoubted interest, which it is to be regretted, are still unsolved, so that in these and other respects

“A hallo of mystery
Surrounds this history."

One thing, however, has come clearly to light, the origin and meaning of the word Calder, it comes from the Celtic, a northern language, and has passed through various stages of spelling, in various districts, some of which I will give: Calder (in Caithness, Lothian, Yorkshire, and Cumberland); Cadder (in Lanarkshire); Cawdor (Argyleshire); Caleddwr (British or Welsh for hard wood; and Celldwr, for woody water); Caldarium (Rom. The place of Springs); Caledonii (Rom. The people who live in the well watered woods). Cal, water; hence Caul the waterfall, Caldron the waterpot; Caledonia, land of the mountain and the flood. Der is derived from dour or dor, i.e., oak, literally the stubborn hard wood that defied the ravages of time and the axes of the stone age; hence Calder means the well watered woods. Here the mighty oak was once the dominant tree, amidst streams, marshes, and meadows variously called waters, burns, skyes, mosses, moors, mires, lochs, lakes, bogs, as successive languages mingled, or the features of the places changed. These combined features giving character to the district, found expression in the poetic exclamation of the first Celt, who viewed the place from the heights of Bathgate, and to his followers shouted Cawdor!

“Aboon whar Bathkel after stood
As gifted to ye Holyrood
Be Malcolm fort ye good.
Nigh silver mines which King Jamos wrought
That unto him brought profit nought
Save empty show and bitter thought.
Lands that Camraore did inherit,
Lands redeemed by Bruce’s merit;
Which dowry fair Marjory got,
WThence sprang the Royal Stuart, I wot.
That ancient line would’st thou retrace,
Go then to Holyrood apace
Where thou shalt see each lineal face
And note their serial looks
Conform to coins and pictured books
Roll of o'er a hundred kings
That lore of twenty centuries brings;
Lo! these the Scoto-Irish royal race
On the canvas thou dost trace
No Pictish Caledon is there
Save of the female line the heir;
Fierce Scots and Picts could ne’er combine
Till love cords bound the royal line.”

What the place was like then we can only guess now. A Saxon rhyme, of a later date, however, records that

“Cather wood was fair to see
When it went up to Camel tree,
Cather wood was fairer still
When it went up to Corset Hill.”

So that by progressive inference it must have been fairest the further it extended in ages past, of which extent we have undoubted evidence. Impenetrable is the darkness that overhangs the first colonists of this isle; but the “bull’s eye” of Rome sheds the first ray of light upon them. Let us see whom they found here in these very woods, what their appearance, deportment, and name. From a fragment of Dio preserved by Xiphilin, we learn. “Of the northern Britons there are two great nations called Caledonii and Moeatae, for the rest are generally referred to these. The Maeatae dwell near that wall which divides the island into two parts. The Caledonians inhabit beyond them. They both possess rugged and dry mountains, and desert plains full o' marshes. They have neither castles nor towns, nor do they cultivate the ground, but live on their flocks and hunting, and the fruits of some trees, not eating fish, though extremely plenteous. They live in tents naked, and without buskins. Wives they have in common, and breed up their children in common. The general form of government is democratic. They are addicted to robbery, fight in cars, have small and swift horses. Their infantry are remarkable for speed in running, and for firmness in standing. Their armour consists of a shield and a short spear, in the lower end of which is a brazen apple, whose sound, when struck, may terrify the enemy. They have also daggers. Famine, cold, and all sorts of labour they can bear, for they will even stand in their marshes for many days to the neck in water, and in the woods will live on the bark and roots of trees. They prepare a certain kind of food on all occasions, of which, taking only a bit the size of a bean, they feel neither hunger nor thirst.”

Such were the real or genuine inhabitants of the woods, remarkable amongst other things for large limbs and red hair. Such were the people who roamed, hunted, and camped in these woods, when the climate was more genial, and follage more luxuriant than now e’er the unwonted clink of the Roman hand axe clattered in these woods and vales e’er the arrow, javalin, spear, or sword of a Roman drank the blood of these brave nude tribes, who neither relished nor yielded to the civilising oppressors.

Fierce was the struggle they held with Rome, but they always got the worst of it. To extirpate them the woods were felled, and so the tree falls so it lies. In the mosses of this parish are still to be found deep below what now seems the surface those very trees, which peat diggers asserted were the evident remains or relics of the flood. Ok no, they are nothing of the sort. The story of the flood is upheld by the testimony of the rocks, and mayhap also by the shale that now gives back so brilliantly the light of other days. But these trees were felled by order of Roman generals, for their own protection and safety, from the men of the woods. By and by Rome, rotten at the heart, decayed and fell; in the death struggle her legions were recalled, leaving Briton to her fate. The strong arm removed, the various tribes fell foul of each other, producing scenes of bloodshed and woe; a cry for help went across the ocean, to which the Saxon responded even before Christianity had reached these warrior tribes, some of whose customs, cerimonies, and rites still cling to the popular mind, and will as long as there are two hearts left to love, and hallowe’en recurs to decide their fate:—

Two hazel nuts I through into the flame,
To each nut I gave a sweetheart’s name;
This, with the loudest bounce me sore amazed,
That in a flame of brightest colour blazed.”

Nor dare we deny our children like fun. Besides, many names from their various languages adorn our maps and puzzle our schoolmen. Weird were the religious rites and cerimonies they performed. Themselves nature’s children, nature was all they knew and worshipped. The sun that ruled the day, the moon that ruled the night; the lordly oak ’neath which they slept, worshipped, or hunted. But the moon, the strange fantastic moon, that never set nor rose two nights alike, and which has even in Christian ages caused such furious contests between Auld Lights and New Lights, and which, even now, exercises a strange lunar influence over the mind and body of man. It was the moon, I say, that puzzled them most of all, and drew forth their most enduring superstitious reverence, hence the moon alone, as a deity, has left its name in Calder, in memory of bygone days and ways. On the height, now called Turniemoon, variously spelled Tarn-ye-moon, Tame-the-moon, and probably Tarneymoon, for on this high ground there formerly was a lake on the farm, now become a peat moss, from which a little burn still flows. By this tarn of the moon in the siiver light of evening, me thinks I see the Britons of old — what are they doing, moaning, groaning, thumping, jumping, dancing, prancing. What is the meaning of this? Stay, let us behold them; see their operations have ceased, they have formed a ring round that little farm which reflects the moon, themselves, and the trees, in its placid waters. At a given signal they all fall upon their bended knees, and with a wild cadance pour forth their awful devotions, their long streaming red hair reaching the ground, hiding face and shoulders, and reflecting itself in the limped waters of the sacred tarn.

Some may doubt this tale, but such cast reflections only on the truth of history, which hitherto has been unimpeached, though scoffed by some, yet the recent discovery of a curiously carved stone dug up at Carriden the eastern end of the Roman wall, ’twixt Glotta and Bodotria (Clyde and Forth), and now preserved in the Antiquarium Museum, Edinburgh, having an inscription, to Ceaesar Augustus Pius in the centre. The panel to the left of the inscription has a sculptured representation of a mounted Roman soldier galloping over a group of two slain and two living Caledonians, naked and armed with a spear, sword, dagger, and square shaped shield. The other panel bears a representation of the sacrifice of the Suovetaurilia. Surely those who doubt me will believe this story, which has preserved its silent testimony for so many centuries, and is as old as Diana the goddess of the Ephesians, whose tropheys are now being unearthed in another land.

Another strange tradition belongs to Tamethemoon, which I was piously told when a child. Here the famous witches of Calder ascended to the moon, flying on broomsticks. Up they went to tame or turn the moon each eight and twenty days, fearing that under the influence of the new callendar of 1582 the moon would go wrong and forget to re-appear in the heavens for «ver, to the sad loss and- woe of mankind; some of those witches were caught, tried, condemned, and burned on the Cunnigar or witches knowe of Mid Calder, that still lies between the Almond and the village. Upon this mound or remnant of a Pictish forts were burned many of those unhappy wretched creatures called witches, around which, at morning and evening the conies play, and where at the solemn hour of midnight, when there is no moon in the heavens, these witches may still be met, keeping lone vigil with hooting owls and bats. If you wish to see them go then and take courage, for they are harmless now. Speak not to them, for with mortals they dare not commune, for they were more wronged than wrong doers, more innocent than the saneti fanatic murderers, the then Kirk-Session.

Speaking of witches, I may state that they were verily believed in once upon a time, and many of them burned. An old author relates that the Scottish witch was a vulgar monster, confining herself to injuring the health of parties against whom she had a grudge, drawing the milk from the cows, changing herself into a hare, a cat, or a dog. Another relates that the witches took hands and danced a reel to Geilie Duncan’s music singing in one voice:—-

“Cummer, go ye before; cummer, go ye;
Gif ye will not 'o before, cummer, let me.”

The following rhyme relates the diresome effects of witchcraft as performed by one Alison Gross:—

O, Alison Gross that lives in yon tower—
The ugliest witch in the north country—
Has trysted me ae day till her bower,
And mony fair speech she made to me.

She sliow’d me a cup o’ the guid red gowd,
Weel set wi’ jewels sae fair to see;
Says, ‘Gin ye will be my leman sae true,
This guidly gift I will you gie.’

'Awa’, awa’, ye ugly witch,
Haud far awa’ and let me be;
For I widna ance kiss your ugty mouth
For a’ the gifts that you could gie.

She turned her richt and round about,
And thrice she blew on a grass-green horn,
And she sware by the moon and the stars aboon
That she’d gare me rue the day I was born.

Then out has she ta’en a silver wand,
And she’s turned her three times round ard round,
She uttered sic words that my strength it fail’d,
And I fell down senseless on the ground.

She’s turned me into an ugly worm,
And gar’d me toddle about the tree,
And aye on ilka Saturday’s night
Auld Alison Gross she came to rue.

But as it fell out on last Hallowe’en,
When the Fairy Court was riding by,
The Queen lighted down on a go wan bank
Nat far frae the tree wh«re I wont to li«.

She took me up in her milk-white hand,
And she straiked me three times o’er her knee,
And changed me again to my ain proper shape,
And I nae mair maun toddle about the tree.

Beside those witches who haunted these woods and waters, there were other spirits of greater antiquity and romance; for, while the eastern portion of this parish has been reclaimed to something like its ancient fertility and beauty, the western and southern portions are to a great extent the wild wastes the Romans left them, and who that has trod the weary wild of Muldron and Badds, or ventured to penetrate the romantic vales of the Cairn Hills, past Crosswood to Graigingar between which and the Maidenhill, where Garval Syke and Raven Cleugh burns meet to form the boundary of three shires and three parishes, but must have felt the spirit of awe and loneliness that reign supreme over this once happy hunting ground of former ages the wild joy of the merry fearless Moss—Trooper of a latter date. Contrast this with the beauties of the woods and glens from Harburn to Polbeth, aud the picture is complete. Fit haunts of Rory, Spunky, and Kelpy—gods of the woods, waters, and moorlands, children of Woden and Thor—who crossed the mighty Faem from Vaterland with the Goth, Scandas and Saxon. Long brave Rory, Spunky, and Kelpy haunted these vales if they do not now, whom methinks I have either seen, heard, or communed with. Yes, I have seen the spark from Spunky’s heel frightening the evry moor-fowl, the timid lark and hare, with their enemies the hawk, fox and weasle, and driving dread to my own heart as he leapt o’er Muldron and Badds

To dance on the Witches Knowe,
Where grass would never grow—
O’er-looking the sainted Or!dies Well,
Now the shrine of his brightest spell.

Have I not heard Rory’s footsteps, stealthy as a mouse, on whose approach the old wild man, who dwelt in the manse cot, prayed for mercy and forgiveness in tones of distracted devotion, while great drops fell from his steaming temples such as I had never seen fall from my father’s brow although it was often said he preached and prayed loud enough for the whole parish to hear him. The wild deer, too, heard Rory, and, startled at his approach, bounded from the Hartwood and fled through the open glades of Broadshaw (once the Braid Forest, and den of the wolf) nor rested till the deep dells of Limefield were reached, where the mated doves cooed at even, and all the birds of the wood joined the enchanting chorus.

Though the Herd’s in the fields,
Did quake in their beilds,
From Hermon to the Liston Shields.
Nor ventured forth that solemn night,
(Though morning found their sheep aright,)
For Rory did the wolf afright
And seldom harmed the good,
Though he chased the deer of Holyrood
For planting a Cross on the Hill of the Wood.
While Kelpy sped along the stream
That murmured like a midnight dream,
Bedecking all in silver sheen
As if to spite the fairy queen,
For purer jewels ne’er were seen
Than hung on flower, or grass, or tree, I ween!
When morning woke
The silence broke,
In clarion notes,
From a thousand throats !
(So glad to see and hear,)
It ealmed the fear Of the startled deer.

And what shall I say of Rome. In the heyday of her power her legions came, saw, and conquered, planting one of the numerous camps above Hartburn, (but in Mid Calder parish) as an out post between the Prcetoriums of Koria (Currie) and Caer, (Carstairs) bringing their gods with them, so that the gods of Rome have been worshiped in Calder, (as well as the gods of Druids or Saxons), with all their numerous progeny; for religon is natural to man, of every clime and coast ; natural as food or sleep. It is a craving, a felt want, that all seek to gratify.

Rome, Greece, and Heathendom all tried and all failed, for the decree had gone forth: “The world, by wisdom, knew not God.”

Still Mythology is a sad and bulky tale, and seems but dying hard.

Perhaps I have lingered too long on this theme, for the compass of a preface, and thereby provoked some impatient reader to say pshaw! this is not history. True, quite true, is my humble reply. It is not exactly history, but it is tradition and history combined. And what would history be without tradition? There is tradition in every land; in every church; in every state. Family tradition, tribal tradition, and national. Shall there, then, be no tradition related in the history of a parish, or place, envolved in the very mystery of tradition, oral, if unwritten? Go to the Falls of Clyde, and admire as you may, the elevating nature of their grandure and beauty, but what would Corry Linn be without its Wallace? were not his spirit there! Or what of Bmnookburn! without its Bruce of deathless renown? Learned he not to:—

"Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Libertys in every blow!”

When watching a spider?

Have we not been told the Carpenter’s Son was himself a Carpenter, or how know we that St. Peter died such an awful death at Rome, but from tradition, well supported tradition.

History, indeed, would be but a poor skeleton, without its traditions, which make it so portly and interesting. And life itself, a misera cordis when robbed of the Tales of Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s, or youth forbid to sit at their knees. Loved we not to hear tales, when young? Shall we not relate them in mid-life as well as old age? No one is compelled to listen; no one compelled to read a book like this, if they have no pleasure in it; but if excuse were needed for the writer, he has one at hand, which he trusts will suffice, viz.:—The pleasure it has given him, personally, to hunt up the history and lore of his native place, where the happy days of child-hood were spent, which somehow seem to be lived over again, while writing, with their real joys and real sorrows, for children’s joys and sorrows are real. Would that parents, teachers, masters, and mistresses, remembered this. Then would the world be happier; less censorious; society cheered and improved; the well spring of life filled to overflowing: and the very dawn of the Millennium appear producing a kindlier feeling in all the relationships of life, as well as amongst those who receive and those who labour for the welfare of others; and likewise between the reader and

The Author.

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