Most people think the only medieval structure in Bathgate is the scant remains of the 14th century castle that Walter, High Steward of Scotland was given upon his marriage to Marjorie Bruce, the daughter of King Robert I. The remnants of this castle currently lie under a section of the Bathgate golf course.
However, the Old Parish Church, just opposite Kirkton Park, tucked behind a stone wall, is often overlooked as a place that reflects 900 years of local history.
The earliest records that refer to a church on this site date from around 1160, when King Malcolm IV granted the church and surrounding lands to the Augustinian Canons at the ‘monastery of the Holy Rood,’ or Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. The church is mentioned again in 1372 when its tithes were transferred to the Cistercian monks at Newbattle Abbey in Midlothian, and it continued as a Parish church for several hundred more years until it was eventually abandoned in 1739. This is generally attributed to a new church being constructed in the Bathgate town centre at that time.
Today the church is missing its roof and lies in ruins, and the standing walls contain many tombstones that have been incorporated after it ceased to be in use. Although little is left of the original early-medieval structure, there are a few tantalising hints for those who take the time to visit the church. The main entrance on the north side contains capitals in the doorway dating to around 1200, and the carved stone effigy of a 13th century clergyman lies under the northeast window. A large 16th century cross-slab memorial dedicated to Andrew Crichton of Drumcorse had been on the southern wall of the church, but it and the effigy, have been removed from their original locations by West Lothian Council for conservation purposes. These memorials are now displayed on the grass inside the church during the summer months, and they are covered with protective boxes for the winter.
The church is also surrounded by a small graveyard with memorials covering a range of dates. One of the more interesting markers lying to the south of the church is dedicated to a James Davie who was ‘shot at Blackdub April 1673 by Heron for his adhering to the word of God and Scotlands covenanted work of reformation in opposition to popery prelacy perjury and tyranny.’
The tombstone implies that James Davie was a Covenanter who was murdered by Government forces for his religious beliefs at Black Dub, an illegal preaching location on a farm just to the west of Bathgate. The mystery around this story begins with the stone itself, which is probably not the original marker. The current inscription goes on to say that it ‘was repaired by a few in this Parish,’ which sometimes meant that it was actually replaced, due to damage, and therefore it is possible that the original inscription could have been altered or misinterpreted.
The stone has caught the attention of historical researchers, as the details inscribed on it have yet to be confirmed by contemporary sources. Both the date of the crime, and who actually committed it, have been brought into question. As the name Heron is not contained in any known records linked to the incident, the most commonly implicated name for the perpetrator is actually John Inglis, who was associated with a company of Dragoons based in Mid Calder. The date of the event has been stated by some researchers as 1675, when there were preachings at Black Dubh that were documented in other sources.
The Covenanters struggle for religious independence in the 17th century is still remembered, as evidenced by the inclusion of this stone in several websites relating to the religious martyrs of Scotland, as well as the new stone marker that was recently placed near James Davie’s memorial by the Scottish Covenanters Memorial Association.
Many of our ancient churches and graveyards contain a fascinating glimpse into the stories of Scotland’s distant past, but stone markers are often at risk from erosion due to weather exposure, maintenance issues and even vandalism. It is through the efforts of committed volunteers such as the late Betty Willsher, a recognised expert who surveyed most of central Scotland’s graveyards in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as well as various local community groups, that these grave markers and the information that they contain are being interpreted and preserved for the future.
Published in Konect November 2018
Author: Mindy Lynch