Police and Crime

A History

13 September 2009

Robbery and hanging Murder
See also Dale Tales

29 January 1855: Matthew BOYD tried at High Court Edinburgh, for assault and robbery  between Armadale, Edinburgh and Glasgow turnpike road.  NAS ref ref: JC26/1855/300

24 June 1861: Daniel McGRATH tried for assault near Armadale. 18 months' imprisonment. NAS ref no: JC8/67

Formation of a Police Burgh 1857: Armadale's 1st policemen

The Police Station  was in West Main Street - '4 in 1' is now there - you can still see the bars of the cell up the lane next to SemiChem.'    (Thanks, Jim!)

The First Fifty Years of Police Presence in Armadale.

  • 1795:  John Russell, the joiner, built a single storey building, which eventually became the first police station.  (It had two rooms, one for the policeman, his wife and children and the other was divided to provide an office as well as two prisoner cells.)

  • Pre-1857: The baton-man was responsible for bringing law-breakers to justice.  His baton was decorated with the initials 'V.R.' and a crown as well as "Linlithgow County".  Before the coming of the first "Bobby", the baton-man was the local blacksmith, Thomas Forsyth.

  • 1857: The first PC was Thomas Wood, swiftly followed by PC William Robertson from Bathgate.  When PC Robertson transferred to Blackburn, he was replaced by two men, PCs Douglas and Gordon, who were kept busy keeping order in a rapidly growing town of young men who were drawn by the availability of work and high wages.  Later, PC Douglas was transferred to Blackburn.

  • 1869: PC Robertson returned to Armadale.  The police station was enlarged by adding a second storey where PC Robertson lived while PC Calton lived downstairs.

  • 1875: PC Robertson retired on half-pay and he was replaced by PC Robert Chalmers from Crofthead who remained in Armadale until his promotion to Sergeant (later rising to Inspector) and his transfer to Bo'ness.

  • 1885: The police station had be remodelled to provide larger accommodation for PC Alex Neil and his junior PC Robert Brown. 

  • 1888: The latter was replaced by PC James Simpson, shortly afterwards joined by PC John Thom whose time in the town was cut short as a result of his death following an operation. 

  • 1892: PC Simpson was promoted to the rank of Sergeant (later rising to Inspector) and transferred to Uphall. from where PC Malcolm Corsie came to replace him in Armadale.

  • 1900: PC Corsie was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to Linlithgow; replaced by PC Charles Watt who rose to Sergeant and moved to Whitburn; replaced by his junior, PC Robert Duthie, with PC John Moir as junior. 

  • 1904: PC Duthie followed the sergeant pattern, moving to Bo'ness while PC Moir replaced him, assisted by PC David Anderson.

  • 1900: PC Thomas Stenhouse was the first policeman to be stationed at Bathville (whose recent growth had encouraged James Wood to canvas for its own police presence).  Two years later he moved to the management of the newly opened Model Lodging House and was succeeded by PC John Lees who remained in charge for three years until his removal to Stoneyburn. 

  • 1905: PC Robert Swan came from East Lothian to take charge.

For a West Lothian historical overview see: Jails, Clinks and lock-ups: Crime and punishment in West Lothian, Text of the Bennie Museum Spring Lecture, May 1998

Here is an indication of its coverage:

List of types of crime:

  1. Crimes against God: blasphemy, profanity, witchcraft (persecution of witches 1563 - 1736: over 1,000 witches executed in Scotland).  Last public execution in West Lothian was in Linlithgow in 1857 - a rare event as the previous scaffold had been sold to a baker for firewood and the scaffold had to be borrowed from Edinburgh..

  2. Crimes against our fellow men: i.e. violence, e.g 1570 first political assassination by firearm in Linlithgow High Street when Regent Moray (half brother of Mary Queen of Scots) was shot by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. Assault (by 1700s mainly lower classes as upper classes resorted to court cases to settle disputes), hamesucken (assault in someone's home), riots, etc.

  3. Crimes against property: theft, burglary, fraud etc, eg 1787 robbery 4 miles east of Linlithgow of the post boy carrying mail from Edinburgh.  Debtors were confined in prison for a month (creditors paying for their keep if necessary) before being freed if they allowed their goods to go to creditors. (A relatively humane system compared to the English system where no one had to pay for the debtors' needs and debtors were confined until the debt was paid.  Without any means of outside support hundreds died in prison.)  Theft was not a capital offence, unless the accused was an habitual offender, and penalties were not fixed, thereby allowing leniency where appropriate.

List of types of punishment:

  1. Medieval and some up to 1800: thumbscrew, boot, rack, fines dismemberment.

  2. Transportation, commonly used for Covenanters, where the individual was sent to the West Indies as a bond-servant on a plantation.  Others to America up to 1783 and then to Australia.

  3. Execution by hanging or beheading or maiden (guillotine) first used in 1500s, rarely used especially when compared to English practice, but as punishment for murder, treason, witchcraft, etc.

  4. Lesser punishments: a day in the jougs (iron rings round neck attached to building eg Strathbrock church, Uphall) or stocks; banishment; scourging/whipping; horrible physical punishments, mostly gone by 1700.

  5. Prison - up to 1800 generally only for short confinement until trial.

Court system:

From medieval times to 1747, the owner of an estate, large or small, often the baron (later laird) applied the law and administered justice.  After 1747, only minor crimes and disputes could be overseen by the laird, via an official called a Baron Baillie.  Lter Burgh and Sheriff Courts took over for lesser crimes and the high Court for major crimes.


Linlithgow had a jail from the 1600s and Bathgate from about 1760.  The latter was replaced in 1828 (demolished 1923).  Debtors' accommodation was in a separate part with better facilities but high security as the jailer and sentencing magistrate were responsible for the debts of any debtor escapee.

1839 Prisons (Scotland) Act: the burghs' responsibility for prisons transferred to County Prison Boards, which ran one main prison per county.  Thus Armadale and Bathgate had burgh lock-ups for temporary confinement.  If further action was necessary, prisoners were taken to the county jail in Linlithgow. 

1840 - 1859:The first high security prison was built in Perth with 680 cells, 100 of them for women, as well as a lunatic department. Until 1898, prisoners' work in the new prison was often repetitive and unpleasant, eg the treadmill in Linlithgow prison.

1877:  Prison (Scotland) Act: County Prison Boards were abolished and central government took overall control.  The numbers of small jails were being closed around this time.

1886: Linlithgow Jail was closed.

1880s: Barlinnie and Peterhead Prisons were built.

1900s: Saughton Prison replaced Edinburgh's Calton Jail; Shotts and Cornton Vale were also among the new prisons built during the 20th century.