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Updated: Dec 11, 2023

With the new year I decided it was a good time to look into the meaning of the Livingston place name “Newyearfield.” Does it have anything to do with a new year? The answer is…maybe.

Newyearfield photographed in the snow, Jan 2016

It's not just a name dreamt up by Livingston New Town planners. This little area has been known as Newyearfield for at least 475 years! The earliest mention of the name appears in charters of 1539.

Ploughing at Newyearfield Farm, 1928
Ploughing at Newyearfield Farm in 1928. The farmhouse, still there today, is visible in the background. (Photograph with permission of the West Lothian Local History Library)

Newyearfield Farmhouse today
Newyearfield Farmhouse today

It was probably the site of a royal hunting seat. Although no archaeological evidence of it has been found, there is a written and oral tradition that there was a square tower here, frequented by the kings of Scotland as a hunting lodge when they resided at Linlithgow. The tower disappeared at some point (The Old Statistical Account of Livingstone, written in 1798, says that there was a tower here “til within these few years”) and it became a farm, the farmhouse probably being built on the site of the old tower. The farmhouse is still here, nestled among the new developments adjacent to Newyearfield Farm Community Centre.

The site is associated with the medieval custom of the “healing of the King's Evil”. The King's Evil was a form of tuberculosis of the bones and lymph nodes, and it was widely believed that the monarch had to power to cure you of this disease by touching you, sometimes with water or, later, with a “touch-piece” medallion. The practice was widespread in France, England and Scotland.

OS Map of the area 1856
OS Map of the area 1856

There is little if any solid evidence of this actually taking place here at Newyearfield; but the oral tradition is that the king met his afflicted subjects here before sunrise on New Year's Day. He would sprinkle you with water from a nearby well called the Rose Well. There are no remains of this well now, but it did appear on the Ordnance Survey name book of 1856 and was located in what is now the Ladywell Braes area. Interestingly, Rose was another name for King's Evil, stemming from the plant Rock Rose which was also used as a treatment. This could be another indication that the new year healing tradition may in fact have taken place here, giving rise to the name.

The other theory is that the land was at some point given as a new year's gift. As there is no solid archaeological or written evidence about Newyearfield, the only thing we do know is for sure is that it is an ancient name.

Published in Konect February 2016

Author: Helen-Jane Gisbourne


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