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West Kirk of Calder

History of The West Kirk


The current church building is not the original West Kirk. The original building still stands today in the Kirkgate, a ruin, preserved as a listed building.  It was a small, unpretentious, barn-like building with thick walls of rough stone, and for much of its lifetime probably a thatched roof, but for over two hundred years it was the centre of religious life in a community which grew and prospered around it, a true ‘Kirktown’

The history of the Church in West Calder can be traced back as far as 1160.  At that time the whole area was known as Calder, “Cauther”, which according to some, means ‘wooded stream’.  The woods would originally have been oak, revered by the Druids of the time, and removed by the Romans in their attempts to subdue the Pictish tribes.  East Calder was known as ‘Calder Clere’, being owned by a family of that name, while Mid Calder together with West Calder were ‘Calder Comitis’, or “Earl’s” Calder, since the Barony of Calder belonged then to the Thane of Fife. The ancient gothic Church of Calder stood at East Calder. In pre-Reformation days, there was a chapel of ease in Polbeth, but its history has not survived except in the name - Chapelton.


Remnants of the Old Kirk in winter


By 1543, the Calder Church was under the patronage of the First Lord of Torphichen.  He was a strong Protestant and a supporter of John Knox, who had his residence for a while after the Reformation at Calder House in Mid Calder.  Some claim that in its hall John Knox conducted the very first Sacrament of the Supper to be held in Scotland after the Reformation.  This is probably an exaggeration, but the sacrament he dispensed there, as commemorated in a contemporary painting, would certainly have been one of the first Protestant sacraments in Scotland.

In 1643, the same year that the Scottish army went off to fight with the Parliamentarians in England, Calder Comitis was divided into two districts, Mid Calder and West Calder. The old Church remained in Mid Calder, and the new one was planted in the heath and moorland which then characterised the area around West Calder.

The West Kirk was established by an Act of Parliament, which even laid down its name – “An act for establishing a new kirk at Calder to be called in time coming the West Kirk of Calder”.

The disjunction of the new church from its mother church took place in 1647, the delay probably due to the unrest of the Civil War, during which the Kirk Session supported Cromwell’s side.  It is said his soldiers used the local church buildings to stable their horses, as in those times there were no pews.  The village grew up fast around its Kirk, and the land began to be feud in 1660.  The allegiance of the session remained strongly Presbyterian, although the Scots declared Charles II King following the beheading of Charles I in 1649.  It is even recorded that a fine of £2,958 16s 8d, which must have amounted to a huge fortune in those days, was imposed on the Church and its members for adherence to the Covenant.  In 1685, when civil war was again being fought over King James II’s attempts to impose Episcopacy on Scotland, two local men, Peter Gillies and John Bryce, who was a weaver in West Calder, were accused of nonconformity by the parish curate. They were taken by soldiers from John Bryce’s home, brought before an assize court in Mauchline and hanged the following day.

The last minister to serve in the old Kirk was the Reverend J D Grant who started his ministry in 1870. Concerned about the sad state of disrepair and in particular the state of the roof, he had a meeting called of the Heritors to decide what could be done.  Estimates were received: £900 to carry out repairs, and £1300 for a new building of the same capacity.  Presbytery made it quite plain that they would settle for nothing less than a new building seating at least double the old one, which the congregation had more than outgrown.

The result is the current building, built in 1880 at a cost of £3520 and on record as seating 600. The Reverend Grant was thus the last minister in the old Kirk and the first minister in the new one.



The Current Church

This was in the heyday of Victorian church building, when people came to expect to be seated in Church, and to be able to see the pulpit, the focal point of the service.  The United Presbyterian congregation built anew church in 1874, seating up to 800 although its roll was then 342, and the Free Church of Scotland had a church built in 1883, seating 450 and with a roll of 335.  The present West Kirk building was inaugurated on the 7 September 1880: its roll was then 751.  At this time the estimated population of West Calder was 7,900.

The Steeple and Bellower have been landmarks to the surrounding area since the church was built.  The bell which replaced the old Kirk Bell, called Neil Gow, and now in the possession of the Smith family of Baads Mains Farm, has rung out over the village except during the Second World War years when it remained silent.  The new bell used to ring at 10.00 a.m. every Sunday to warn the parishioners that it was time to get ready for church - a custom long since stopped.  The bell heralded VE day in 1945, has welcomed many brides to the church over the years, and was rung to welcome the start of the new millennium.  

Throughout the church there are a number of items of interest gifted to the church over the years.

The baptismal font was gifted in 1891 by William Cochrane Learmonth in memory of his parents, the Rev. William Lear month and Mrs Helen Learmonth.  Dr. Learmonth was minister of the West Kirk from 1835-1870. The font is fashioned from 3 stones – that of the basin identical to the font in Durham Cathedral.



The beautiful stained glass windows behind the pulpit were given by Mrs Christina Barr of Harburn at the turn of the century, in memory of her husband Thomas Barr, who died in 1899 and their son Thomas, who died in 1900.



Some twenty years later, in 1923, Mrs Barr also presented the beautifully carved Communion table.  The minister’s chair which usually stands behind the Communion Table was gifted in memory of Mrs Jean Meikle Milne.



The two small stained glass windows on the east side of the church, were donated by Dr. James Anderson, minister from 1894-1927, in memory of his two small sons; Andrew, aged two, who died in 1895 and Maurice, aged four, who died in 1896.



The splendid pipe organ was built in 1902 at a cost of £500, £250 of which was donated by Andrew Carnegie. Originally, the organ was situated in front of the pulpit before being moved, first to the west side of the pulpit, then in 1968 to its present position. At that time it was "rebuilt with electric action" in memory of Mr. Archibald Russell, organist at the church for thirty-five years.

Another minister of the West Kirk, the Rev. Donald J. Ross, is remembered in the gift of the present pulpit bible, presented by his family. The pulpit lantern was presented by Mr and Mrs David Calder when the church was refurbished in 1968. Mr Calder was a former Church Officer and Senior Elder of the congregation.

The lectern which stands on the Chancel was gifted, in 1952, by Mrs Annie Russell in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs John Wilson. The lectern bible was presented by the Woman’s Guild to commemorate their centenary in February 1989.

Depending on the ecclesiastical season, you can see and admire one of three beautiful pulpit falls presented in 2000 by two of our church families. Mr and Mrs Angus Pyatt presented the Easter fall and Mrs Elizabeth Dyer and her family presented the falls for Christmas and Pentecost.

The Chancel flower stand was gifted by the Woman’s Guild in 1977, in fond remembrance of Mrs Anne Dundas, President of the Guild from 1969-1977, who was the wife of the Rev.T. B. S. Dundas, minister of the West Kirk from 1969-1996.

Mr John Moffat, a member of our congregation, turned and crafted the beautiful wooden candle stand and table which you see on the Chancel. Both gifts were presented to the church in 2001.

In the summer of 2001, the Chancel itself was extended and refurbished. This was made possible thanks to a donation from Miss Ann Drummond who also presented the excellent new piano which has been much appreciated by performers and audience alike during the Encore Concert Series.

The Millennium Cross dedicated on 19 May 2002 by Rev Mary Dilbey. This project was conceived by the ladies of the West Kirk Guild to mark the Millennium, and made possible through their fundraising efforts.



The cross was crafted by John Moffat and Robert  Spence.The tapestries in the cross depict the life of the church and the community which West Kirk of Calder has served faithfully since 1843 and still serves. The carving in elm at the centre of the cross depicts a dove in flight. The dove is the most important bird in the Bible – the symbol of hope and renewal. The tapestries show the Old Church, the Baptismal Font, the Communion Vessels, the Bible, the New Church Building, the Five Sisters, the Limefield Falls, the Farming Life, and the Pit Head.