Caputhall today is the site of the busy Deans Industrial Estate – Caputhall Road loops around the estate and there are industrial units off to each side. But a woman was murdered here a couple of hundred years ago, and “Caputhall Bog,” as it was then, entered local legend - the area was said to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate lady.
According to the legend, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army stopped at Boghall House (which was at the site of Boghall Farm Steadings) as he marched across the country with his followers during the Jacobite rising (1745/46). During their brief stay here, a Highlander woman in his entourage was murdered at Caputhall by one of Prince Charlie's soldiers. Her body was dumped about a mile north - under the bridge that takes the road to Drumcross over a little stream. It was found the next morning by a miner - Bob “Golitath” Singleton (he worked the silver mines in the Bathgate Hills which were operational at intervals between 1606 - 1898). Suspicion initially fell on Singleton as he was an odd lonely character, but he passed the “Ordeal of Touch” - a superstition whereby if he were guilty the wound would have bled when he touched her. A striking ring was still on the murdered woman's finger – a large emerald cross with a diamond in centre.
Singleton was always a lone poacher and after the incident he became even more aloof, spending a lot of time hunting to the south of Caputhall with his dog - ranging across the woods and fields of what is now Livingston. One night about a year after the murder he crossed the bridge again for the first time (he had been avoiding it, taking a longer way round to get home near the silver mine). On the bridge his way was blocked by ghostly figure in white filmy robes with the murder mark on her throat, and pointing her forefinger at him with the magnificent ring prominent, she said, “I know you for a fearless man, and entrust you with a message to my kinsfolk. My father has fallen at Culloden in the cause of our rightful king; as well as he who basely murdered me, and placed my body here. I wish to sleep amongst my own people. Give this ring to Ivan MacDonald .... see that my wishes are fulfilled."
Some time later Singleton mysteriously found the ring in his coat pocket, and ghost's words came back to him. But he didn't attempt to take the ring to the MacDonalds; instead he sold it. A few years later he was in the area with some companions, who were joking about his story of the ghost and suggesting he had made the whole thing up. They went across the bridge ahead of him, but on hearing a scream they turned back and found Singleton and his dog dead on the bridge. His death was attributed to the ghost, and so began the legend of the White Lady of Caputhall Bog.
The “white lady,” appeared several more times, each time described as wearing white robes, or having a white haze around her. She appeared to a shady character who traded in dead bodies, stealing them from the Kirkton Old Parish Churchyard for customers in Edinburgh – he had to pass through Caputhall, and she appeared to him warning him to “let the dead slumber.” She appeared to a young man of the Hamilton family of Bangour as he was on his way home from a party to the south of Livingston church – as he passed through the bog he saw a woman walking on the opposite side of road but when approached her and tried to put his arm around her there was nothing there; but he heard a gruesome laugh. And another member of the Hamilton family at Bangour, a young lad who knew nothing of the legend, told his mother she had seen a white lady while out collecting brambles. She appeared to Lady Hamilton and the housekeeper of Bangour mansion as they came up the road leading through the bogs to the main road one day – the housekeeper described the “face o' a lady with a bloody mark on her throat wha stood richt in the road, wringin' her haunds.” Next, a farmer heading home from Edinburgh markets experienced the white lady trying to climb into his cart; she fell off as he crossed the bridge, the site of her usual haunt.
And she appeared to the person who had purchased her ring from Singleton in the first place – an Edmund Pitcairn, and alchemist who lived on the Nether Dechmont estate. His interest in alchemy meant that he spent plenty of time at the silver mines which is how he had come into contact with Singleton. Some time after Singleton's death, Pitcairn was sauntering through his estate, wearing the ring which he was so pleased with, when the white lady appeared and charged him with returning it to her family - “do this, and ail will be well with thee and thine.” Deeply affected by the experience, especially when misfortune started to dog him, he eventually set out to find the MacDonalds of Glencoe, the lady's family, and managed to return the ring to them.
It's impossible at this distance in time to establish how the legend arose. Bonnie Prince Charlie probably did stay here (there are various local “proofs”); a Highlander woman probably was murdered (his army was predominantly made up of Highlanders); but beyond that all was have to go on is a document written long after the event, which concludes, “Travellers through Caputhall Bogs must have noticed the dreary barren fields which stretch from the lands of Boghall east to the lands farmed by Mr Mitchell of Dechmont. Even in the full blush of summer how cheerless they look; a ban seems to have rested on the ground since the perpetration of the accursed deed, as only where it reaches the Drumcross estate, does it begin to bear crops. The bridge which encloses the sluggish stream that steals along stealthily by the roadside, has a dead bush here, a half-dead one there, and wide ugly gaps, partly filled with nettles, rotten branches and rank grass.”
As I re-traced the footsteps of the people mentioned in the story on a bright spring day in March I was dodging through industrial estates, across busy roads, past businesses and houses – a far cry from dreary barrenness!
Article published in Konect April 2015
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer
Information in this article was taken from a document published by the Bathgate Historic Conservation Society