''Here the pulse of life beat strong at one time, here large bands of young men were wont to assemble of a summer's evening to take part in the old fashioned game of handball, and here troops of young maidens, who made the air ring with their cheerful laughter and song, could be seen going and coming from the village well carrying their wooden stoups’’.
This extract from the West Lothian Courier written in 1921 describes the Camps, East Calder, during its heyday in the 1880s.
The bustling vibrant community was based on the limestone industry. This was one of the earliest industries in West Lothian – limestone deposits were widespread in the area, and there may have been quarrying activity here at the Camps as early as 1760.
The peak of the industry here however was in the 1880s, when the quarries were owned by the Coltness Iron Company. The largest limestone quarry in Scotland was found here, and the Courier article goes on to say, “At that time, the Camps was a household word in Scotland – known far and near.”
The limestone extracted from the quarries was crushed and heated in large limekilns on site to produce lime for use in agriculture, construction and as whitewash. The limekilns at Raw Camps were said to be the best in the country. Lime mortar from Raw Camps was used to build Edinburgh New Town.
''The whirr of engines and the clink of hammers issued from half a dozen large quarries, and the smoke ascended continually from as many kilns. A strong service of carts plied between the quarries and Linn's Mill on the Union Canal (for the railways had not yet touched the Camps). Work carried on night and day in some of the quarries. The supply of labour from half-a-dozen surrounding villages was not sufficient to meet the demand. Even passing tramps were readily offered jobs.” Later on, the North British Railway was used to transport the Camps lime all over the country.
As with any industrial activity, the quarrying caused accidents and death. The following story was recounted to the West Lothian Courier in 1921 by a resident who remembered an accident at the Camps:
''The Coltness Company had driven a mine frae yin o' their quarries through below the toll road. Noo, they werena near as strict then wi' mines as they are noo. Well, early yae October mornin', a big hole was fund in the fitpath, jest this side o' the Camps Station. Sine the cry got up that Owen Sweeney, a married man, was missing. It was kent that he left East Cauther the nicht afore for hame; but he hadna turned up. After working constantly for twa nichts and days at the fa' in the mine, his body was gotten. In consequence of this subsidence, a new road had tae be made, and that's the reason why the Toll Road taks sic a bend between the Camps Station and Coxydene ferm''
The vast quarries and kilns ceased working in 1913, being displaced by cheaper stone from elsewhere. By 1920, the community at the Camps was deserted and derelict, some of the quarries were flooded and others used by the Edinburgh Corporation as a refuse dump.
So the bend in the road and some of the street names in East Calder are all that endure today of this once huge industry at the Camps.
First published in Konect July 2009
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer