Our Own Town
A short history of Shotts
By John Loudon. M .A
Know ye the land where the dark herbless whinstone
In hillocks, not hills, rears its desolate head?
Where poverty chains down the nose to the grindstone,
Till the heart and the soul are as heavy as lead?
Where the crops never ripen, the roses cannot blow,
And the sunshine of summer scarce melteth the snow?
Tis the parish of Shotts, a place which the sun,
Cannot bless with his beams; which he hates to shine on
Old parish map Circa 1790
Some cheerless poet of long ago wailed this dreary dirge over the place where we were born. And indeed The Shotts has been called many hard names in its day. Cold bleak, and damp; ugly and dreary; rough and backward; asthmatic and bing-y. Such are the typical slanders cast at our home town; and naturally we rebel at such libelous labels for Shotts with all thy faults, we love the still! Away in the wilds we may be, and lacking the airs and graces of some pretentious towns; but it is noticeable that incomers soon take to the warm-hearted people of Shotts and to their children also; and more than one visitor has been heard to exclaim:- For a town of its size, Shotts has more life and activities than most of her neighbours, burghs though they be
What, then, is the history of a place which has inspired such lively and conflicting comment?
Roman legions marched across our moors and built a road over it which passed near the Kirk o Shotts. This was the start of the Great Road between Glasgow and Edinburgh- a road which gave our district its early repute.
In later days Shotts was known as a dreary moorland place, with Kirk o Shotts as its centre. The Kirk was founded in the reign of James III, in 1476, and was called St. Catherines Chapel. The present church- the wee kirk without a steeple, and wi the wee doo-cote belfry- was erected between 1819 and 1821. The Kirk pad from Carluke was a path well worn by our forefathers as they wended their way to Kirk o Shotts from all over North Lanarkshire.
Kirk o’ Shotts with Staging Post and Shotts Inn in foreground
There was no Shotts then, as we know it- only some scattered farms whose dour heroic owners wrested from the moors a hard living. The fair was the great day for them. It was 1685 that the Duke of Hamilton obtained warrant to hold two markets annually at Kirk o Shotts; and great must have been the goings-on as farmers and dealers, farm servants and merchants, packmen and pedlars came from a airts and pairts over the Great Road and the drove roads to Kirk o Shotts. The summer fair was held on the third Tuesday in June and it survived into the 90s. In fact, another and still surviving institution, the Cattle Show, was always held on the day after the fair, on a Wednesday.
THE CATTLE SHOW
Which brings us to our Cattle Show, one of the oldest in Scotland. It was established in1819, just four years after the Battle of Waterloo. It, too, was a great and glorious day commemorated by the old rhyme:-
The cocks will craw, the hens will lay;
The drums will beat, and the fiddles will play;
For the morns the Cattle Show day!
Houses got their second spring-cleaning; walls were whitewashed anew; window frames and doors were repainted. The bairns got new frocks and peenies; and seats were placed at every door where, in all their finery, our ancestors sat, seeing and being seen by the strangers as they passed on their way to the Show.
Early Shotts, we have seen, was known as a dreary moorland place on the Great Road. Not only was it dreary, in the 15th century it also became highly dangerous because of the exploits of a giant highwayman called Bertram Shotts, from whom Shotts is said, with much probability, to derive its name. Bertram was probably seven or eight feet high, and his hide-out was around Shotts Kirk, where he held up packmen and pedlars as they journeyed along the Great Road. So successful was our outlaw that James IV., King of Scotland, offered a substantial reward for his capture, dead or alive.
A gripping tale is told how a young man John Gilchrist, Laird of Muirhead, with cunning patience ambushed Bertram Shotts, ham-strung him as he lay down to drink at Kates Well, then cut off his head to carry to the King. As Scott has it in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border:-
Kirk o’ Shotts
Afore the King in order stood,
The stout Laird of Muirhead,
I that same twa-handed sword,
That Bertram felled, stark dead.
The Laird was afterward killed in 1513 at Flodden.
A relic of Bertrams exploits is still to be seen in one of his hide-outs, Laws Castle, known to old residents as the Giants Cup and Saucer. Huge stones they are, standing sentinel in a desolate moorland bowl, in an unutterable silence, brooding and age old.
CROMWELL AND CHARLIE
In 1650 Oliver Cromwell marched with his conquering army from Glasgow to Linlithgow along the Great Road. A tough job he had, with his heavy guns and cannon, to surmount at Shotts Kirk undulating ridges from 700 to 900 feet high. Probably that was why he encamped near Kirk o Shotts on his way back in the mid summer of 1651. We can picture the scene; flickering camp fires, hungry soldiers, and local farmers fading into the night with all their available livestock!
Cromwell himself also stayed at Allanton House where, a hundred years before, George Wishart had hid at the invitation of the Laird, a close friend of John Knox.
The intervention of the Laird and his men at the Battle of Langside turned the battle against Mary, Queen of Scotland, in 1568. Prince Charlie and his men also encamped at Kirk o Shotts during his retreat from England in the 45. Smuggling, too, was rife in our parish at this time.
Between the visits of Oliver and Charlie clans of Highlanders were quartered in our parish in 1660, by the kings command, to dissuade our forefathers from their Covenanting zeal.
Which brings us to our Covenanting period.
MEN OF THE MOSS HAGS
The seeds had already been sown in 1630, when a great religious revival at Kirk o Shotts and swept the western counties. John Livingston, one of the best preachers of that time, had spoken with great power at Kirk o Shotts on Communion Sunday. So much so that he was invited to preach again on the Monday morning. He agreed, on the condition that his petitioners would spend the night praying that the World be blessed. But when he awoke on the Monday morning he was so overwhelmed with the sense of his incompetence that he attempted to run away. Friends found him on the Great Road, three miles from the Kirk. They compelled him to return, and he went back to speak so compellingly that some five hundred persons saw the errors of their ways and started a new life.
In Covenanting times our forefathers met secretly and often on our moors. Our area abounds in Covenanting place-names, Kirk o Shotts and Fortissat, Starryshaw and Pedens Stane, Darmede and Durie Kirk, where men were hunted like hares frae their hames tae the hills. Several of our forefathers fought at the Pentland Rising, at Drumclog, and at Bothwell Bridge, reminding us of Andersons poem:-
I heard bold Cameron preach the Word
On the side o a Sanquhar brae,
While I sat wi the sword atween ma knees,
As ane who would watch and pray.
I hae lain in hags when the winter nicht
Was bitter, and lang, and cauld;
I hae shared ma plaid wi Renwick
When the winds were snell and bauld.
And Peden, worn wi the fire o the Word,
And thinly clad for the storm,
I hae lain a nicht wi ma back tae the wind
Tae keep puir Sandy warm.
And now we come to the year1802. It is the dividing line in our history. Until now the Great Road was King of Shotts as his throne.
SHOTTS LIGHTS THE WORLD
Awaiting mans discovery, deep in the bowels of our moors, lay iron ore and rich seams of coal, relics of the mighty Caledonian Forest of ancient days. The discovery came during the short breathing space in the Napoleonic Wars in 1802. Iron ore and coal were found on the moors where modern Shotts now stands, and in ensuing coal-rush the centre of population swung from Kirk o Shotts to the new area. The furnaces were the centre of the rush, and until 1947, when their rough familiar roar ceased, our iron works had a long and honourable life, the second oldest in Scotland, next to Carron. They became famous for their delicacy of their castings and were also one of the few places where tinned hollow-ware was made. Hartwoodhill Pit supplied most of the fuel for the furnaces then. Upper Drumgray or Shotts furnace coal as it was called. Shotts lights the world! became the proud boast of our forefathers, for our furnaces made gas-lamp standards which were sent all over the world. The heart of many an exile has leaped to see Shotts printed on a gas-standard base in some far off land.
OLD FATHER VOE
Old Father Voe, the lake of Stane, is a history of Shotts in miniature, showing very clearly the big change-over of 1802. Lying like a water-serpent in the heart of Torbothie country, it was once known as Deer Slunk, a pretty little glen, quiet and shaded, where the shy deer came down from the moors to drink. Probably the Covenanters of the old hamlet of Stane would know this oasis as such, where the little Starry-shaw Burn wimpled clear and sweet down through the little glen to join old man Calder. Then came 1802 and after-which built the village of Shotts Iron Works, poisoned the trout in the Calder, and changed the glen of Deer Slunk into the Voe or reservoir for the furnaces.
And so, with no planning except to tear up the Black Diamonds, modern Shotts grew up as the village of Shotts Iron Works or Calderside, with Stane village nearby in the East End, then later Dykehead in the West End. Three straggling villages, which later amalgamated under the name of Shotts, while still jealously retaining their own particular names to the puzzlement of modern incomers. For many years bitter rivalry existed among the three villages. Fights and drunken brawls were frequent on Saturday nights at Stane Corner, Ironworks Corner, and Dykehead Cross. It was not wise to venture out of your own village into either of the others.
Probably the only time unity was achieved was during the period of the Body Snatchers (up till 1831) when the watch-house at Kirk o Shotts our vigilant forefathers waited in the night to ward off the vulture Resurrectioners.
THE HANGING JUDGE
Even our aristocracy was tough during last century.
Lord Deas (1804-87) was owner of what is now called Hartwoodhill Estate (a convalescent home for wounded soldiers in the 1914-18 war), but which is still better known to old Shottsonians as lord Deass Estate. He was known as the Hanging Judge, so often did he deal out the death sentence to sheep-stealers. This story, vouched for by more than one person, is told of him. One summer night he was driving in his coach through Allanton Woods, when his coachman halted at the old water trough to let the horse drink. Suddenly a shot rang out from across the road. The bullet just missed the judge and lodged in a tree beside the trough. I knew one old man who saw that bullet in the tree.
We have a centenarian, too, in our little town Peggy Liddell (1784-1886), the Grand Old Lady of Stane. She enjoyed excellent health to the end, attributing it to the fact that she took no other medicine but sulphur and infused blackberry leaves. At her centenary she repeated from memory the whole of the Short Catechism, and was often to be seen soopin her lum on top of her wee shop in Stane.
Thus, then, did the pit bings begin to loom over us, with subsidences beneath, and accidents and strikes, and hard grinding toil. Shotts continued to grow. The wings of Torbothie and Springhill added to the winding straggle, then early this century first Hartwood then Allanton arose. Meantime, pre-1802, Shotts still hung on, with the wee Kirk cocket on the hill and the Original Secession Kirk in the dell. Indeed, old Shotts blooms anew in the growth of Salsburgh.
Our population has grown greatly, of course. Until 1802 it was negligible. In 1891 Calderside had a population of 1,431 and Stane 1,017. To-day we can estimate the population as; – (1) Stane (from the Calder), 7,000; (2) Dykehead, 6,700; (3) Allanton (including Hartwood village) 4,000. Shotts is no mere village now! One critic, however, has stated; – For a town of its size Shotts has the worst shopping centre I have ever seen! Although it is improving, we realise the truth of this when we think of Peebles fine shopping centre, yet its population is not half of ours. It would likewise be well if Shotts was a Burgh. Armadale is one, with a population of 5,000. We could be doing with a town hall and a Mayor to receive distinguished citizens returning from spectacular triumphs, as in the case of our Pipe Band, for instance.
And what of to-day and the future? King Coals reign seems to be shortening. Will Shotts return to a dreary moorland place? Or, will she develop, like Hamilton, into a residential and shopping centre?
Time was when I visualized a great aerodrome on our moors. We are well placed, right in the heart of Scotland. A well known Scottish publicist has visualized Shotts as one of the main town- if not the capital of Scotland! But not as she is (he hastens to add). an ugly blot on the beauty of Scotland. For our moors must be drained, forests planted, and farm holdings set up.
Well who knows? I can see our town embracing her old mother Shotts Kirk (and Salsburgh also); reaching out to Hartwood and Allanton; and welcoming Bonnie Bonkle, Fauldhouse, Eastfield, and Harthill. That will take undying vision, patient work, and time. Meanwhile we will do our best for our home town, never forgetting we have a long tradition to uphold. We are citizens of no mean town.