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Memories of Dean Street, Livingston Station and its Occupants

by Elaine Gathercole and Sarah Shanks (née Syme) - January 2012

Sarah Shanks (née Syme) lived in Livingston Station from her birth in 1925 until she married in 1952. Her parents, Elaine Gathercole's grandparents, (David and Helen "Nellie" Syme) continued to live there until circa 1978.

Dean Street was one of several rows of houses owned by the shale oil company – latterly BP. My grandparents lived at 14 Dean Street as my grandfather had worked for the company. I have attempted to draw a plan of the house from memory as I visited it regularly as a child. I also have several family snaps of varying quality which show parts of the outside of the houses. The plan isn't drawn to scale, but I've tried to indicate the furniture contained in the rooms to give an idea of size.

The houses were L shaped. From the pavement, you entered an unfenced concrete yard area. The only entrance to 14 Dean Street was in the corner on the left, with the neighbour's door directly opposite. Two pictures show glimpses of this area. The first of these shows my grandmother at her door (in her very typical apron) and also reminded me that there was what I think was a coal store leading off the yard (see left of the picture). The pictures show that there was a narrow window to the left of the door (facing across the yard) and a wider window to its right, facing the road. The little boy is my brother and the other woman is my aunt. My brother was born in 1953 and I'm guessing that the picture therefore dates from around 1956.

You entered straight into the kitchen and then turned right (possibly up a step) through a door into the main living room. This had the one window which looked over the yard and across the road. On the right hand wall as you went in was the fire place. It was large, black and made of metal. It had at least one oven built in to the side as well as the main grate. I seem to remember there were also stands for sitting a kettle or iron to warm. The mantle piece was quite high – perhaps half the height of the room.

On the far wall as you entered the room was a door to the bedroom beyond. However, to the right of this door and still in the living room was a built in double bed. The head of the bed was on the same wall as the fire and the side opened into the room. It may have been curtained off and I think it was closed in at the foot, but I'm not certain about either of these facts. I do remember sleeping in it and it was very cosy sleeping in the same room as the warm fire – though perhaps my granny's cure of cotton wool soaked in whisky to help my toothache also induced a feeling of warmth!

I can't remember the size of the room, but I know my grandmother had a three piece suite in front of the fire, a large chiffonier along the left hand wall after you went in the door and a square table (which could extend) with four dining chairs round it beyond that. I think that to the left of the table there was an under stairs cupboard which you entered by a little door – but I'm not sure – it may have been open. It is even possible that there may at one time have been a second built in bed on this side – but if there was, it had been removed by the time I remember the house. Latterly, there was also a television in this room – in the corner near the window I think.

The door to the downstairs bedroom led off the back wall of the living room as mentioned above. This room was kept as the best bedroom and always seemed chilly. The (free standing) double bed was to the left as you entered and on the right hand wall there was again a fireplace. I can't remember the design of this fireplace. Unlike the living room, the fire here was rarely lit – though I did sleep here too sometimes and the fire was lit then. The bed was warmed by heating a brick in the oven against the living room fire and wrapping it in a blanket. On the far wall a window of similar size to the living room window looked straight out onto the drying green of the row behind. I seem to remember there was sufficient room for a large wardrobe on one side of the window and a large dresser on the other. The room seemed spacious with perhaps a small table and chair near the fire too – but I'm not certain.

Returning to the kitchen, there was another door on the left side of wall on your right as you entered the house, further along than the living room door. It opened out into the kitchen to show a narrow flight of stairs upwards. I think there was a small skylight above it at the top – but it still seemed dark and perhaps a little scary to a small child. At the top, there was a right turn into another bedroom. This was the one my grandparents used when I knew the house. It had a dormer window looking out towards the road. It looked out onto the flat roof of the kitchen area which was surrounded by what looked like battlements! I always fancied climbing out onto it – but wasn't allowed. The room itself was big enough to hold a double bed and also a single bed. I think there was also a wardrobe and dressing table. Latterly, my grandfather also kept an old television in this room which still worked. It is possible there may have been built in cupboards – but I'm not sure.

Turning back to the kitchen, this is where my memory is far less certain – perhaps due to a life long aversion to household chores! I do remember that until 1959 I lived I a house at Spring Grove Bathgate (opposite Kaim Park) which had no bath. However, if we wanted a proper bath we could visit my granny as she had one. I believe it would have been a fairly recent acquisition sometime in the 50's maybe. The bathroom, sink and WC were in a little room built in to the kitchen – in the left hand far corner I think as you went in the door of the house. There will have been a sink and cooker in the kitchen itself (I can't remember the fire in the living room being used for much cooking) but I can't remember the layout at all. The sink may have been under the window looking across the yard, as there seems to be a drain showing on the first picture of the yard. There may have been black and white lino tiles on the floor. I'm not sure if there was room for a table or cupboards – but I think there probably was – maybe a small drop leaf table. In trying to draw the plan, it seems difficult to see how everything fitted in to this front area of the house.

Turning to the outside of the house, directly across the road from the yard was a shared wash house. I think it was shared between two houses – but might have been between four. I think it contained a fireplace under a tub to heat hot water (but not sure), a sink and a large mangle for wringing them out. There certainly was a fire of some sort as I think there was a tall chimney on the outside. I think there might also have been a drying pulley. I seem to remember that my grandmother had an allocated day when she had the use of it. It was still in use in the 1960s.

A path ran up the side of the wash house to first a garden area then the drying green beyond. The drying greens were lawned. There were poles and you used stretchers to keep the rope taught after hanging out your washing. As has been seen in the description of the bedroom above, the bedroom of the next row of houses looked straight on to your drying green. Two pictures show myself and my brother in the drying green. These were taken around 1961. The rear of the wash house wall can be seen to the left of me in the first picture – and the battlements and first floor of nearby houses. There is a good crop of rhubarb in the garden behind me. I'm fairly sure that the drying greens weren't fenced off from each other but I can't remember if the gardens were fenced off or not. A third garden picture shows my grandfather (wearing his typical "bunnet" but without his usual pipe) against some sort of fence. I think the keener gardeners may have fenced off their gardens to prevent dogs straying onto them.

I can't remember how many houses there were to a block – it may have been about six. The first two garden pictures show gaps in the houses to both sides of the block containing number 14 suggesting there were probably about six in that block. Number 14 itself is not actually shown. The numbering started from the Main Street end and I think number 14 was possibly in the third block along.

The Wider Area

I can't remember a great deal about the rest of Livingston Station. Main Street which ran along the end of the other streets had some shops – all of which I think were parts of the Co-operative – though I'm not sure if it was the West Calder or Bathgate Co-op – possibly the former. There was a shoe shop, draper and general store. There was also a fish van, baker's van and butcher's van which visited. The butcher's van was definitely West Calder Co-op as my [great] Uncle Willie Wallace (my grandmother's brother in law) brought it round.

There was a play ground which had swings, a slide and probably other equipment somewhere to the south east of the houses I think. There was a school, church and a pub (I think) but I remember little of them.

There was a wood we passed through to get to the "Rizzy" or reservoir where I think my grandfather used to fish. I can compare an old OS map I have from the 1970s with today's and believe this is still there – located near Eliburn and about half way between Livingston Station and Livingston Village.

A favourite walk was to walk along eastward of Glen Road. I think this was an old coach road associated with an old house in the area.

The Occupants

My grandfather was David Syme. He was born in 1894 in Bathgate and was one of a family of four. He attended Bathgate Academy and would have been 20 by the outbreak of the 1st World War. At some point he attended what was then Herriot Watt college – possibly in the evening or on day release for training in mechanical engineering. This may have been before the outbreak of war and it is possible that he was working in the shale oil industry as early as this. During the war he was in the Navy (I have a picture of him in his naval uniform) and I believe he was an engineer on board ship. I believe he continued in this trade, working for the oil shale industry – latterly part of BP. I am not aware of him working elsewhere.

Around 1923 or 1924 he married Helen Mair who came from Blackburn. She was more usually called Nelly. She was born in 1901 and was one of a family of 9 who lived in a two roomed house in Main Street, Blackburn – backing on to the River Almond. I believe she worked in a shop in Bathgate prior to her marriage.

They had two children: Sarah (Sadie) born in 1925 and Alexander (Sandy) born in 1929. I believe both were born in Livingston and assume that the family was at 14 Dean Street by then – but no definite evidence.

Sarah Syme is my mother. She married Jimmy Shanks in 1952 – later to become Provost of Bathgate at the time of the Queen's visit in 1955. They had two children – my brother Thomas born in 1953 and myself (Elaine - now Gathercole) born in 1954. We moved to Leeds in England in 1967 as my father moved job. My mother is still alive and lives near my brother in Durham whereas I live near York.

My Uncle Sandy and his wife Betty had one son (David) and moved to Melbourne in Australia in the early 1960s where they all remain.

I'm not sure when my grandfather stopped work. I think I can just about remember him going out to work with his "piece" tin in his haversack slung over his shoulder. That might fit with him retiring in 1959 aged 65 when I would have been 5. I seem to remember he suffered from ill health from time to time. He retained an interest throughout his life in technology. He had a camera and took and developed his own pictures – mainly snaps of the family. He was interested in transistor radios and kept us supplied as children with his home made efforts in the early 1960s. He had a television before we did (i.e. pre 1965) and seemed to be able to fix it if it went wrong. He was also interested in fishing and had a large box of threads for tying flies. He may occasionally have gone on night visits fishing in the Borders – not sure if these were legal or not! I think he kept his garden tidy and used to grow vegetables – though I seem to remember my father taking over the garden to help him in later years and growing roses. He smoked a pipe but never went to pubs as far as I'm aware – though he had the occasional small glass of whisky at home. Neither he nor my grandmother ever drove or had a car.

My grandmother didn't do paid work once she was married. However, she used to give a great deal of help to her elder brother who was a bachelor all his life, living in her old family home in Blackburn. She visited by bus weekly to do his housework and took home all his washing and ironing. He had expected his eldest sister to do this – but she developed a career for herself and moved with another sister to London. Unlike the typical impression of women from that time, she wasn't the least bit interested in baking and was quite happy with cakes and biscuits from the Co-op van. However, she kept her house and family clean and tidy.

My grandparents knew some of the other families in Livingston Station, but they didn't tend to be in and out of each other's houses – more just chatting when they met in the street. They may have had a few people whom they knew better than others. My grandmother would pass the time of day with the lady who lived across the yard. I think a family called Wardrope lived at either number 16 or 17.

Not long after we moved to Leeds in 1967 (maybe early 1970s?), my grandparents had to move house as Dean Street was scheduled for demolition as part of the development of the new town of Livingston. They moved to 31 East Glen Avenue. They lived there until my grandmother died around 1977. Not long afterwards, my parents asked my grandfather to Leeds to live with them and eventually gave up the house in Livingston. He died around 1983.

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