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Alderstone: Plague-watching duties, muster and civil war

A time-travelling resident of the Livingston area from the 15th century would recognise almost nothing if they visited today; it would be a disorientating experience. (There are some who visit from Edinburgh today who would argue the same!)

On spotting Alderstone Road however they would know they were in the right place. Alderstone Road cuts through Livingston north to south, from the roundabout on Houston Road at Deans, past the College and into Murieston. The name is deeply rooted in the history of the area.

Originally an estate within the ancient Barony of Calder Comitis, Alderstone developed into one of the largest estates in the area and eventually became a free barony in its own right.

Our time-travelling guest would find the lairds’ seat, Alderstone House, tucked behind Klondykes in the remains of its mature parkland, about half way between Dedridge and Livingston Village. It was renovated in 2010 as a commercial premises.

Here are some glimpses we have into what was the Barony of Alderstone.

Alderstone House today
Alderstone House today (2020)

The estate boundaries broadly encompassed the tract of land from Livingston Village out to the south west, taking in Crofthead Farm, Howatston, Over and Nether Alderston, Brucefield and Gavieside, where Five Sisters Zoo is. Acquired by the Kinloch family in the mid 1500s, it was in their hands for a few generations, and the laird’s seat at Alderstone House was originally a simple rectangular tower, probably build by the first Kinloch laird, Henry.

Henry’s son Peter was described in his will, on his death in 1621, “Mr Peter Kinloch of Alderstoun, writer and indweller in Edinburgh,” so he possibly lived mostly in Edinburgh, at least latterly. Peter was required, along with other vassels of the Baron of Calder (James Sandilands) to present himself at a wappinschaw held on the 4th August I586. A wappinschaw was a “weapon-showing” - a compulsory muster of men presenting themselves for an exhibition of arms. After the establishment of Protestantism, the government was still jumpy about potential attack from “papists” and barons were required by law to see that every vassal was armed according to his rank. Peter Kinloch had to present “a horse, a jak-speir and steil bonat, plait slewis, sword and pistolet.”

Peter’s son Patrick, an advocate, inherited the estate. He married the next year, then his brother died in 1625 and Patrick inherited his brother’s rental income from Howatston and Gavieside that their father had left him. Perhaps the extra cash was the deciding factor in his 1626 conversion of the old tower into Alderstone House, a more palatial residence. A doo’cote was built around the same time and is also still in the grounds.

Sketch of Alderstone House, from The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Mid Calder, by Hardy Bertram M'Call. Published 1894.
Sketch of Alderstone House, from The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Mid Calder, by Hardy Bertram M'Call. Published 1894.

Patrick and Agnes’s eldest son James was laird of Alderstone when an outbreak of plague hit Scotland from 1644 – 1649. Along with the lairds of Linhouse and Charlesfield, James was on plague-watching duty at Kirk of Calder on Sundays and preaching days; they made sure that “no strangers nor persons suspected of the pestilence came within the church.” Scotland’s measures to control epidemics were generally well in advance of England’s, although still shrouded in superstition and misunderstanding. It didn’t help that a different kind of plague – a civil war – was going on at the time; there is evidence that the plague spread along roads often linked to military operations through rural districts.

“Scotland’s measures to control epidemics were generally well in advance of England’s, although still shrouded in superstition and misunderstanding.”

The civil war had started over an argument about a prayer book, and pitched Scottish Royalists - supporters of Charles I and his religious policies (under James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose) against the Covenanters, who were allied with the English Parliament.

On 13th July 1645 all men within the Mid Calder parish above the age of twelve years were ordered to present themselves on Alderstoun Muire (this must have been a moor in the Livingston area) on the following Wednesday. The republican minister of the Kirk of Calder, Hew Kennedie, wanted to do a little recruiting for the Covenanters in the civil war.

James must have fallen under suspicion of having Royalist sympathies. He was interrogated by the parish minister the following year regarding his links with Montrose, along with James Sandilands and others. They all declared they had never had anything to do with the Marquis of Montrose. They denied being Royalists - as you would when, the way things are going, the king is shortly to lose his head.

James appears to have had financial issues and was at risk of losing Alderstone. There are several Letters of Inhibition against him, one in 1657 "under the signet of Oliver Cromwell." In the turbulent political times where winners, losers and allegiances swapped frequently, perhaps he was targetted due to his suspected royalist views. (Mid Calder’s minister Hew Kennedie ended up losing his job in Mid Calder in 1660 due to his covenanting views; such was the changing wind of political fortune).

In any case, Alderstone changed hands several times and in 1692 was purchased by a Mr John Mitchell, a writer from Edinburgh. He set about getting a charter from King William to create “the Barony of Aldingstoun,” a free barony. The Charter mentions the “tenants, tenandries and service of free tenants,” as well as “with mills, multures, hawkings, buntings, and fishings,” and more ominously the “infangthief, outfangthief, pitt, stocks, and gallows” over which the new baron had jurisdiction. This charter is dated in Edinburgh, 14th February 1696.

John subsequently expanded it westwards, adding Wester Dressilrig (Westfield), Cairns Easter and Wester, Baadpark, Wester Colzium, all of which “by Crown charter disjoined from the barony of Calder and all other baronies to which they were previously annexed, and united to the barony of Alderston.” He built a mill at Adambrae, "the miln of Alderstoun," to which the vassals and their tenants had to send their grain.

Patrick and Agnes’ doo’cote at Alderstone today
Patrick and Agnes’ doo’cote at Alderstone today

Over the next 300 years Alderston House itself was extended and remodeled by different owners and the barony gradually split up. By 1894 an author of parish history referring to Adambrae Mill wrote: “the baronial jurisdiction thus erected has been gradually alienated and abandoned; it is long since the sound of the grinding was hushed in Alderstoun; and of any special powers or dignities which the lands once possessed the sole remaining privilege consists in that undeniable charter of respectability - the right to keep a dove-cot.”


Article published in Konect March 2020

Author: Helen-Jane Shearer


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