Dale Tales

Updated 30 October 2011

NEW DEVELOPMENT: this page now also includes tales from ex-pat Armadalians!

During my time in Armadale, I have enjoyed hearing Dale tales, and so I thought it was time to publish some to share with the website's readers!  If you have a story to tell, or if you have information about any of the stories that will appear here, please  e-mail Rosie

A postcard from Jim Gibson who told us that, although there is no date on the postmark, judging by the stamp it is between 1902 - 1911.  It has pictures of

The postcard's sender commented:

We went to this dead-alive little conglomeration of all the odds and ends of houses of sorts on Saturday and asked for some pp.c.s of the dear little place- "I'm awfu' sorry Sir we huvna gotten ony --. Whit wis it ye wir efter wantin. Na we hivne gotten ony - no the noo ony wey"

Two poems on the website also conjure up entertaining pictures: Big Hastie's The Man from Atlantis! at the bottom of this page and Davie Kerr's updated Heatherfield Roondaboot and Legacy o the Last Lum on the Dale Poetry page. 

You may also enjoy the escapades and reminiscences captured in the poetry and short tales of Alex Hastings in his The Tales of Hastie Fae the Dale, which has recently been published by Rossendale Books

You may also enjoy Alex's videos about Armadale and area on You Tube, such as Hastie9s` tour of Armadale, part 1

Other website links that may interest you:

Publications (fiction and non-fiction)

History of Armadale Association for a list of their publications

Scots Language and Literature

A tale from Down Under...

"First, a little about Jeanie and Bill McLaughlin: Jeanie lived with her Mum and Dad in Townhead Gardens Whitburn until we got married in 1957. I, Wullie McLaughlin, was born in 41 Brown Street Armadale, a good long time ago. We have moved around a bit and now live in Queensland Oz. The weather is nice here and we are cracking on a bit now.. That's the commercial over with, now to the story.

Now and again nature gives me cause to remember that we no longer live in the UK and odd things happen in Queensland. Such an occasion arose last Saturday, 17th Sept. Our neighbour, Mavis, rang to say she had a python in her garden. With the camera at the ready I went next door and the snake was on the run with me in pursuit, camera forgotten. I'm not sure if Mavis was simply hiding or if she was really having trouble contacting somebody to come to our help, but I was on my own with a python thicker than my forearm and over two metres long (they seem to come in a fairly standard sizes to Mavis's garden). I was trying to contain it in the synthetic grass area of the lawn rather than lose it. This of course meant hauling it back by the tail (the non-action end unless it decided to s... all over me), but of course the python didn't care much for my game.

Eventually Mavis turned up saying she couldn't contact anybody, what were we to do? I had a few suggestions in mind but she is a nice lady so I asked for a large bag. She brought me a plastic shopping bag.  Now plastic shopping bags have their place in life, but this is not a small snake. I am also multi-tasking at this stage and the snake thinks I am no charmer. Emma, Mavis's dog is going mad, tempting me to put her back on the menu and eventually I got a bag thrown at me from a safe distance. I picked the snake up by the scruff of the neck and it promptly wrapped itself around my arm and was hanging on for dear life, my fingers were panting for breathe, and I had to persuade Mavis that I didn't have enough hands and she would have to hold the bag. She was not impressed, but  what was I supposed to do, I didn't invite the thing into the garden.

Eventually got it into the bag, which of course had no locking device, and I had to carry it into our house to get a zip up holdall. I will not bore you too much with Mavis's entreaties, now that the action stage was over, to find it a proper home, and Jean's wanting to come with me, but I was going to war on where the snake was going to be located in the car while we were looking for a good home. I went on my own and got rid of the b... thing. Mavis is quite happy because she now believes it has gone to a heavenly place..., Jean is happy because I still have all my fingers. Me? I am knackered, snakes are easy, God help me from caring women.

Just for the record, the photo was taken 8 October 2011. When I was doing the snake charming bit I quite forgot to stop and take pictures, I must have been preoccupied or something. I have since found out that carpet pythons are territorial and the 3kms I travelled to dump it was not far enough and it returned. This time Mavis called a Game Ranger. She would rather pay the $40 dollar removal fee than assist a new boy in the field. I didn't mind one wee bit.


Bill McLaughlin


Armadale Postcard (1940s?)

Updated 9 March 2009

Mrs Emily Burgess Lamb nee Henderson has many happy memories of being Archie and Cecelia Walker's 'wee evacuee' in Lower Bathville, Armadale at the start of World War Two.

Mrs Lamb remembered her initial encounter with the Walkers.  'There was some to-ing and fro-ing because Mrs Walker said she had not had anything to do with girls. After a while I was taken into the house and I remember someone gave me a pie and then I was taken for a walk round the garden where I fell. This resulted in my bursting into tears. This must have made their minds up to keep me. I was very lucky to be with this family.'

'I was evacuated to Armadale, West Lothian, at the beginning of the Second World War.  I was given to Archie and Cecelia Walker of Lower Bathville and looked after very well.  They had two sons Jack and Alex.  Jack was in the Air Force and Alex was three months older than myself.  Their house was situated opposite the field with the chimney stacks that belonged to the Brick Works.  There was a Lodge house nearby and the man kept a load of greyhounds.  The upstairs neighbours bred budgies and I was very happy.  They treated me as one of the family.  I went to the local school where I was made to drink milk and I became ill with jaundice.  I think I lived with them about nine months.  I remember it was Christmas one year because I remember asking for a train set and my two elder brothers used to cycle out from Edinburgh to visit me.  I was then taken home.  I think I was missed.  I used to go back for holidays up until I was a teenager.  When I was working, the visits became less frequent upon my marriage and with child rearing.  I did cycle out there once when it was a straight-through main road and after that no more contact.  I never forgot my second family and the joy they gave me.  The family moved from Lower Bathville to 5 Wardrop Crescent and my daughter-in-law drove me around the cul-de-sac recently when we were visiting my granddaughter who now lives in Armadale.

Mr Walker worked in the Co-operative on West Main Street and during the War years they had lodgers from eastern countries.  When their son and daughter-in-law married they lived in Bathgate and opened a butcher's shop in Blackburn.  The chip shop at the top of the hill near the level crossing on the right-hand side going up the hill was owned by one of Alex's aunts.  The name was Edzy. [Ezzi, RosieI do not know if that is the correct spelling, but they lived in the houses off the East Main Street about 50 yards before The Cross.

Later on in the War, Mr Walker had to do ammunition work in Paisley.  He took us all there to meet the people he lodged with and in peacetime he bought a small grocer's business but I do not think it worked out very well.

When we lived in Lower Bathville, we used to go along the railway track to the kilns after crossing some fields where I learnt to my dismay to beware of where I was walking.  The cows had left their calling cards!  We as children used to plead for some soft clay to play with.  We also used to go down the Glen.  That was when it was country paths and just as Robert Wilson sang about.  Grass and a soft brook that one could dapple one's feet in.

When we visited as teenagers,  the dancing* was in a hall at the top of the left-hand side of the road and it had its winching corner and there was no hanging around between dances.  It was great.  The only thing about Armadale was the lack of street lighting and being from the city it was like going back to the War blackout.

Happy, happy memories.......    At 75 years........   Emily Burgess Lamb nee Henderson.'

*After seeing the old Town Hall in the Armadale in Minutes book, it was probably within there.

See her story 'Evacuation' in 'West Side Stories'.  If you would like to be in touch with her, please let me know.

 Interested in other Armadale evacuees?  See Evacuees , which welcomes additional information.

'The White Lady'

Debbie Jamieson  told me a story concerning the Northrigg Road, which she said was a big part of her childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Looking towards houses on the Harestanes Road from Northrigg Road

She wrote to me because she is writing a story based on the journey she and her brother made 'along the road the summer I was 6. I've been unable to find out much about the Northrigg Road although it appears on the old maps of Armadale. We used to play in the remains of a coal mine there and spent many a summer day doun the burn. Harestanes Road children knew of a story of the White Lady who supposedly killed her baby and hung it on the foot long rusty nail that was driven into one of the trees at the top of the big hill. The tree was burned down during a thunderstorm so I was told. What I am wondering is...... if it based on fact or just a story to try to keep wandering children close at hand...... For me the road has fond memories and there's a whole untapped well of stories and information there from the Northrigg cottages to the school house that ended up being a cow byre.'

So was this a story to keep children from wandering, or is there some truth to the tale?

Northrigg School

One of my favourite stories about Northrigg appeared in Jimmy Borrowman's Blackridge (A Miscellany) where he tells a Dunk Meechan anecdote about a teacher's geography lesson at Northrigg School:

"Dunk had two wee sisters in the class and finally one of them responded to the teacher's question 'where is America?' by pointing her finger at the right spot.  Later in the lesson the teacher asked a further question 'who discovered America?' and with lightning reflex the other wee sister replied.  'Please miss oor wee Annie.' "

'Bella in the Attic'

Mrs McAlpine told us this sad story.

On the day when the McAlpines took possession of their new home, the Manse, they found packed boxes in the hallway.  They heard a sound upstairs and, on investigation, they found an elderly lady sitting in an attic room surrounded by her few belongings.  When asked why she was there, she replied that she was Bella, the housekeeper.  She had worked at the house for fifty years.  After the house had been sold, Bella remained there, waiting....

A taxi was duly summoned and Bella and her few belongings were despatched to her home town of Fraserbrugh.  One wonders how long she had been away from 'home' and what reception (if any) she received on her return!

If anyone knows more about Bella and her circumstances, please e-mail Rosie

'The Great Armadale Stage Robbery'


Image from the Blackridge Community Museum Exhibition: The Craig Inn and stagecoach travel

Here a true highway story that I have encountered a number of times, in various versions.

In 1831, when coaches travelled between Edinburgh and Glasgow, a local man, George Gilchrist, owner of Hillend Inn and the stables at the bottom of Engine Street, Bathgate, was sorely tempted by the news that a large amount of money was to be carried on his coach, the Prince Regent.

He met James Brown at Mid Callendar Fair and together they formed their robbery plans.  They decided that Gilchrist’s brother, William, accompanied by Brown, would signal the coach on the road near Airdrie.  They would sit on outside seats with the driver, Jock MacMillan, and the Commercial Bank of Glasgow porter, James Smith, and they decided to provide a distraction by busily ‘cleaning’ chains that they would bring with them.  Shortly afterwards, near Forrestfield Loch, George Gilchrist would join them, accompanied by a ‘lady’, played by George Davidson whose slender build was more suitable to the role than that of his substantial, burly conspirators. 

At 12 o’clock on the 31st March, the Prince Regent coach defied strong, cold winds in Glasgow ND to set off punctually for Edinburgh.  In the heavily protected box in the foreboot of the coach was a tin box containing £5,712 - 6 shillings in notes, gold and silver. Near Airdrie, the first passengers, William Gilchrist and James Brown, posing as a pair of workmen, joined the coach. Having paid for outside seats, they joined the driver and Smith.

Shortly afterwards, two more passengers, namely George Gilchrist and George Davidson, clerk to the Sheriff-substitute of Glasgow [elsewhere Robert Simpson, a cooper from Falkirk], the latter in dress, snow boots, ermine mantle and thick veil, joined the coach and they took their positions inside.  Once underway, the conspirators outside began their ploy of distraction with rattling chains while the ‘insiders’ tore open the cloth covering, and, using their concealed tools, bored holes through the wood, and gained access to the tin box by using a chisel to force the lock.

An hour later, the ‘insiders’ had secreted the money inside their clothing, and so they indicated their wish to alight at Armadale Toll.  On alighting, they gave the driver the generous tip of a silver half-crown and sped down the Linlithgow road until they reached the old drove road where they turned left towards West Craigs.

Shortly afterwards, they were joined by Gilchrist’s brother and Davidson who had alighted from the coach at the Royal Hotel in Bathgate's Steel Yard.  The money was wrapped in handkerchiefs before it and the incriminating lady’s clothing were buried in a hole at the side of the road. {According to The Scotsman report, Simpson's evidence reported that the couple alighted from the coach a mile and a half after Airdrie.  The money was wrapped in a silk handkerchief, and the woman's clothing was thrown in an old pit.  After questioning, Simpson led the police to the pit where the clothes were duly recovered.]

In the meantime, the coach had left Bathgate, taking the Engine Street (now George Street) route to High Hopetoun Street, up the steep hill past Drumcross and along the hill crests towards Bangour.  After passing Dechmont and Houston House, the Prince Regent arrived at the Oatridge Inn in  Uphall, where the driver would swap coaches with John McMillan, the driver of the 12 o'clock coach from Edinburgh and then head back to Glasgow.  The horses were also changed at Uphall where Smith was to meet Robert Laurie, the porter of the Edinburgh branch, who would escort the valuable cargo on the remainder of its journey to Edinburgh.  Before departure, the cargo was checked.  MacMillan, Smith and Laurie were most astonished and alarmed when they discovered the damaged tin box, containing only a remittance slip and fragment of a £1 note.

The robbery had been effectively planned, but the aftermath did not run smoothly.  George Gilchrist was already under suspicion as he was the only other person aware of the movement of money by means of his coach.  Although Gilchrist owned the successful business at Hillend Inn, near Caldercruix, and he owned 50 excellent horses, which later sold for £1,400, he also had a gambling problem that led to his downfall.  Foolishly, while ‘in his cups’, he had boasted of his gang’s plan to a former horse-dealing ally and rival Bathgate stagecoach owner, James Morrison.

In expectation of a reward, Morrison reported Gilchrist to the authorities.  On 6th April, Gilchrist, and a little later, his accomplice were arrested and transferred into custody.  Accounts differ about ensuing events. One states that the gang of four was brought before the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh [elsewhere, Glasgow] on the 13th or 14th July 1831.  Another account told how William Gilchrist and James Brown were arrested, but later released because of a lack of corroborating evidence linking them to the crime. 

Returning at 11.35am after deliberations lasting an hour and ten minutes, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty against George Gilchrist [elsewhere, and George Davidson]. He was [They were] sentenced to be hanged on the morning of the 3rd August. Lord Mackenzie explained that the crime warranted the death sentence because it "was raised into a capital crime by the enormous extent of the property stolen, and the means by which the act was committed.  A sum of many thousand pounds was abstracted by the exertion of a wicked skill, and a boldness of execution rarely equalled - such a sum as seldom forms the reward of vast number of offences of this description".

[Elsewhere: The two companions were placed in the dungeon-like cells, at the rear of the Tolbooth of Glasgow, at the corner of High Street and Trongate.  Davidson's arrest was particularly controversial as he had been clerk to the Sheriff-substitute of Glasgow, John McGregor. It was established in court that Gilchrist had been heavily disguised to play the part of the travelling gentleman and Davidson had agreed to assist him as he was had forged a money bond in the name of the Sheriff-substitute and was desperate to repay it before his crime was discovered. ]

A significant petition was raised in support of Gilchrist, but his life was not spared.  His fate was sealed as he had been the Prince Regent’s owner, thereby breaking a position of trust, and there was proof that the robbery was not a hastily conceived plan, but a long-calculated plot to steal. Gilchrist was hanged in public on the 3rd August 1831.

Davidson also faced the death penalty, but he did not remain in captivity for long.  His parents persuaded the authorities to allow a service of supplication in his cell, to which the guards were also invited.  As they knelt, they were overpowered and their keys taken from them.  Davidson was released and rushed to Broomielaw where he boarded a departing ship bound for Australia.  From there he moved on to New York, where he remained, living fearfully in semi-isolation in rented rooms, until his death in 1904. His escape caused great controversy as there was suspicion that his former work colleagues had played some sort of role in securing his release, but no proof for that theory was ever discovered.

According to Anna Douglas's article in Volume 8, Number 4 of West Lothian Life magazine, the Commercial Bank published an article about the case in its staff magazine: "The vital evidence in the case was supplied by two men who had played a part in the robbery, but who had been assured that no proceedings would be raised against them.  James Morrison, a Falkirk horse dealer, dcescribed how the plot was hatched by george Gilchrist and himself in a private room in Kippen's Inn.  Morrison, who was to have travelled inside the coach, refused to do so and Robert Simpson, a cooper in Falkirk, took his place."

And what of the money?  Here the story varies: gold was found stowed in a gun barrel; or, the money was found at Hillend Inn; or money was hidden in another cache beside the road, perhaps by Lily Loch; the money was buried on bog land between Armadale and Blackridge; the money was hidden in a dry-stone dyke in the area.  Unless you know of another ending?

And, finally, here is the Lamentation of George Gilchrist published as a broadside ballad by George Craig of Edinburgh for the entertainment of an eager public who enjoyed tales of high drama.

'The Case of the Missing Pug'

According to Andrew MacDonald (cited in the HAA's Your Magazine No 2: Industry in Armadale) there was a problem with the change-over 'from the old steam Pug to the new diesel loco....It seems that the carefully timed change-over, (to avoid disruption to the flow of materials and castings,) gaed badly agley when the new engine failed to arrive at the appointed time. After a few frantic phone calls the whereabouts of the missing pug was finally traced to the ferry just about to dock at the pier at Armadale on the Island of Skye.'

'The White Lady - again'

Armadale Primary School

My thanks to Heather for another tale (although she says she thinks it's more scaremongering for kids to behave): 'When I used to go to Armadale Primary School, there was a tale of a (music?) teacher falling down the stone stairs and dying, and that she now haunts the school.  Don't know if it's true or if anyone has ever researched this story but it did remind me of the White Lady story, lol.'

'The Irish Invasion'

There are also many versions of the tale about the Irish farm workers who came over annually to work on the harvest.  Their Gaelic or southern Irish accents plus their formidably sharp 'weapons' (reaping hooks) caused suspicion and fear in Armadale.  Predictably, fear led to protective behaviour amongst the townsfolk who locked away valuables while the young men sought to warn off the 'invaders' by physical means.  As a result, in 1858, the climate of distrust rose to a climax.  An Armadalian visiting Bathgate had overheard talk of what the 'invaders' would do if their return route via Armadale was blocked.  The observer returned with such inflated descriptions of the potential threat that the townspeople armed themselves with guns and sharp tools and lined both sides of Main Street.  At the arrival of the farm workers at the edge of Armadale, there was a stand-off situation until one Armadalian stepped forward to warn them that they could pass in peace provided that no violence occurred.  The confrontation was over and the workers passed through Armadale without incident.  After that time, that of 'The Irish Invasion' as it was called, there were still jokes played, but no serious incident followed.

'Foul Play at Boghead Bridge' aka 'The Bathgate Murder'

As with all interesting stories, this one has developed as I have discovered more, especially once I read Edward Flint's account of his research entitled The Bathgate Murder (Durhamtown) 1856, published 1996.  The story is fascinating because of the insight it gives into local life of the mid-nineteenth century, and also, for me, because it demonstrates how told stories can change over time.  Below are the facts of the case, but when I was told the story over the last few years, names of 'characters' were different; there was only one victim, the murdered man; a local policeman called White came from Armadale;  all three (no mention of a daughter) were locked and kept in the only available cell, which was said to be in Armadale.  Even Mansfield was allowed to go free in those versions.  Probably the tellers of the tale were trying to give the tale an Armadale flavour, while simplifying the facts, but the actual trial transcripts do establish the locality through the voices of many witnesses, especially local names from Armadale and Bathgate, while building the picture of a gruesome incident.  You may be interested in the broadside ballad based on the murder.

On Saturday, 15 November 1856, after an evening of drinking in Bathgate public houses, such as Bryson's in Hopetoun Street, Wallace's in Gideon Street, Chalmer's and the Railway Tavern, a number of local people were involved in a serious incident that occurred on the Whitburn Road near Boghead Bridge. As a result, John Maxwell was injured, while his brother, 26 year old Thomas Maxwell of Durhamtown aka 'Kellyflat' (now Whiteside) died from his injuries.  A passer-by saw a crowd around the corpse, which had been carried as far as Little Boghead Farm, and alerted local policeman Sergeant John Kerr at 1.15am.  Armed only with a baton, the policeman proceeded to the scene of the death and arrested Peter McLean and his wife, Christina Peters, and their friend, William Mansfield, at their homes. Peters' daughter was also taken into custody, and kept there until she could testify as a witness at the trial. The men were imprisoned in two of Bathgate's three strong cells, and the women in the sergeant's home under his wife's supervision, before being transferred.  At the end of the trial, on the 12th January,  McLean was lodged in Calton jail before being transferred to the New Prison in Linlithgow to await his execution.   Mansfield was sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour. Eventually, because of a lack of evidence, it was decided to release the woman and lodger, but Peter McLean was hanged on the gallows in front of the County Buildings on the 2nd February,1857, at the last public execution in Linlithgow.

'John the Post'

John Easton took over postal deliveries on Bathgate - Armadale - Blackridge route in the 1860s after the decision to introduce an evening post to complement the morning post proved too much for his uncle Nisbet Easton aka The Dasher.  John Easton walked the same route for 25 years, dressed in his red tunic and carrying a horn with which to signal his arrival to local residents. He developed a particular skill in identifying the handwriting of the senders of letters.  As many of his 'clients' were illiterate, he carried verbal messages as well as running errands on his route.  His coverage of his route was so reliable and regularly paced that, one winter, his non-arrival caused Armadalians to search the road to Bathgate.  His red coat was found in the snow and he was soon dug out of the deep snowdrift next to an unfenced stream in the Hardhill - Hopetoun area.  After a bracing bowl of soup, he set off again into the blizzard to complete his round - a loyal employee and public servant indeed!

More to follow!
There's always the story of the crate of whisky and the piano....