Limefield House: lawyers, explorers, pig breeders and a bed for the night

Sitting just off a walled and wooded road east of Polbeth is an old mansion house, along the corridors of which, according to folklore, roams the ghost of a black Labrador, perhaps hoping for a pat on the back by a fellow apparition who is looking for ‘the little girl.’

Limefield House
Limefield House, LVSAV2016.141

Limefield House was built around 1805 for Thomas Gloag, a Writer to the Signet. It was one of the finest houses in the region, ‘elegant, commodious and substantially built [with a] dining room, drawing room, parlour and six bedrooms.’ As Gloag sauntered out his front door he would have been welcomed by around 60 acres of surrounding estate ‘well stocked with fruit trees.’

Gloag did not garner much benefit from his new mansion; he died in 1810. The next 40 years saw it become part of the Midlothian (now West Lothian) landscape, but its sheer size and cost of upkeep meant it was frequently on the market for rental. That is until 1855 when a chemist called James Young purchased it.

Young had recently been successful in producing oil from cannel coal. The extent of his success was clear to see in his purchase of Limefield House. But he also set about upgrading it, adding ornate banisters, and installing gas lighting and electricity throughout.

David Livingstone
David Livingstone, Scottish explorer

One regular visitor was the adventurer David Livingstone, who Young knew from his time spent lecturing at Anderson’s College in Glasgow. Years later local people would reminisce about him alighting the train at West Calder, or being driven through the town. One man even recalled handing the trowel to Livingstone as he laid the foundation stone of the Addiewell Oil Works.

Limefield Falls
Limefield Falls, LVSAV2011.135

So close were the pair that Young had a waterfall erected on Harburn Water, a miniature Victoria Falls, in tribute to his friend. Other remnants of Livingstone’s time at Limefield still exist. A sycamore tree planted by him is still flourishing in the grounds. But perhaps the most incredible story is that of a replica African hut built by Livingstone for Young’s children. For years it sat in the grounds of Limefield, but by the early 1990s had been seriously vandalised. A local man asked if he could take it for his garden and it was agreed he could. So, it was dismantled and taken to the garden of a house in Langside Crescent in Polbeth. There it sat for 13 years, replete with pink interior and lace curtains, hosting picnics for the owner’s daughters, until it was worked out exactly what the structure was and returned to Limefield.

In 1891 the house survived the fate of many of its contemporaries when the quick actions of servants helped stop a blaze – ironically caused by hot ashes coming into contact with paraffin oil.

Loudon MacQueen Douglas
Loudon MacQueen Douglas

For some years the property passed to Young’s daughter and her husband, and around 1930 it was lived in by Loudon MacQueen Douglas, an engineer, author and pig breeder. Douglas died in 1944. In the post-war period the house passed into the hands of Young’s grand-daughter, Alice Thom, and in 1955, exactly 100 years after her grandfather acquired it, she bequeathed it to the local Council for the benefit of the people of Polbeth and West Calder. For some years it served as a nursing home, but by 1989 it was in disrepair and a short report was written, possibly by a Community Councillor, calling for it to be converted into sheltered housing or a convalescent home.

There were real fears that it could be demolished, but thankfully it was sold to a private owner who refurbished it and opened it up as a quality bed and breakfast. The monies raised were in part used to fund the opening of the Alice Thom Memorial Suite at the West Calder Community Education Centre.

So Alice Thom’s wishes were adhered to, and West Lothian retained one of its finest buildings. We’re sure the black Lab is pleased he still has a corridor to roam through!


Middleton Hall – from country pile to nursing home

In 1707, as the Union of Parliaments was bringing together Scotland and England, the Rev. George Barclay was utilising the stone from the ruined Strathbrock Castle to build himself an impressive pile in Uphall called Middleton. Over the next 200 years the property changed hands several times, with some of the most notable early inhabitants being David Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan and the Threipland family.

bowling club badge
Middleton Hall Bowling Club badge, bearing a badger on the top right of the shield. The badger represents Strathbrock Castle, brock being a Scots word for badger.

In the early 1840s it was purchased by Robert W. Maxwell, who sought to make good use of the 53 acres of land, leading to it being described as having ‘splendid gardens and hothouses’, as well as utilising the conservatory. When Captain William Hankey bought the house in 1851 he

william hankey
Captain William Hankey (in foreground, seated on horse and turning) living the life of a landed gent in the 19th century

filled it with ‘the choicest plants and flowers’. Even by the end of the century it was still regarded as ‘one of the prettiest glimpses of greenwood in the whole parish … a favourite popular resort on summer Sunday afternoons during the season of fruits and flowers’.

Captain John Pender took over the property in 1868 and almost immediately the surrounding lands began to divulge their worth – when workmen were boring for water, natural gas was discovered. On being exposed to a flame, it blazed up and remained lit until it was extinguished the following day. Pender was also instrumental in testing the geology of his new lands, discovering, for example, blackband ironstone in 1868.

james pender
James Pender, owner of Middleton at the beginning of the 20th century

When Pender died in 1896 the property passed to his son, James, who, in 1899, sold the property to the Broxburn Oil Company. For 21 years the property was let out, first as a ‘lunatic asylum’ and later to house convalescing First World War soldiers.

Upon the amalgamation of the six major shale oil companies into Scottish Oils Ltd in 1920, the property was taken over for use as the headquarters of this company, with a third storey being added in 1939. It housed office space and a laboratory, as well as being a training centre for non-mining apprentices.

middleton hall 1924
Middleton Hall soon after Scottish Oils Ltd began to utilise it as office space, 1924
middleton hall extension
The third storey being added to Middleton Hall, September 1939
middleton hall
Middleton Hall after the addition of its extension
middleton hall lab
The laboratory at Middleton Hall
middleton hall staff
Staff outside Middleton Hall, 1950

It remained as such until 1967 when it was taken over by Motherwell Bridge Thermal Ltd for use as office space. Twenty years later it became a nursing home and has remained so ever since.

I wonder if the residents know of their home’s rich history?

Crossgreen Model Lodging House

The rise and fall of markets, the boom and bust of business, led to great variation in the demand for labour in the shale oil industry. During the good years, an army of itinerant general labourers was called upon to carry out much of the dirty work around the mines and refineries. A few put down roots in West Lothian, but most would move on at times when trade declined, tramping the country and following the work.
In the early days of the shale oil industry, a shortage of accommodation often required many single working men to board with families, where they might share a humble home of one or two rooms with husband, wife and a cohort of children. While such “boarders” often had a trade and were in steady employment, itinerant labourers might be “lodgers”, staying in common lodging houses paid for by the night, and offering the most basic of accommodation.

The 1891 census for the parish of Uphall (which included both the Uphall and Broxburn oil works) lists 846 of the 8,644 residents as “boarders” or “lodgers”. 86 were listed as residents of the Crossgreen common lodging house in Uphall. On the night of the census, residents of the Crossgreen lodging house ranged in age between 17 and 80, the majority being in their thirties. 36 listed their place of birth as Ireland, many others came from rural Scotland.

On the 1896 OS map, the most sizeable building in the small hamlet of Crossgreen lay immediately west of the Ecclesmachan road. It might be presumed that this was the original Crossgreen farm house, and that it later served as the common lodging house. Thomson Court, Uphall now stands on this site. A court case of 1891 records that the common lodging house could accommodate 90 residents in four rooms, there being 45 beds, each shared by two men, at a charge of 4d. each per night.

Throughout the 1890’s Crossgreen lodgers featured regularly in the courts. On several occasions men were charged for assaulting the lodging house keeper; there were frequent bloody fights, many petty thefts, incidents of drunken and disorderly conduct, and on one occasion, the malicious trampling of carrots in a neighbouring garden. In 1899, Linlithgowshire Council Council voted not to renew the licence of the lodging house.

Soon after the turn of the century, the Uphall Lodging House Company was formed to construct a new model lodging house at a site in Crossgreen a little to the north of the old lodging house, described as “not far from the centre of the village, yet sufficiently retired for the purposes” The model lodging house, opened in 1903, had a hundred beds in two main dormitories, separated into cubicles in the manner of an army barracks. There was a dining hall and kitchen, in which lodgers could could their own meals, a smoking room and a reading room “provided with literature and other aids to amusement”.

This enlightened provision seems to have deterred unruly behaviour as many fewer reports of misdoings by Crossgreen lodgers subsequently appeared in the press. The “model” continued in business until 1946, and when plans to the sell to the local authority fell through, remaining residents were moved to accommodation in Broxburn. The building then became the Crossgreen works of Hunter and Foulis, printers of educational books. Following closure of the printing works (in the 1970’s?), the spacious building now serves the community once again as Strathbrock church hall.

Tracing Your House at the Shale Museum

At the Shale Museum we hold dozens of dispositions – legal documents detailing the sale of property. The majority of the dispositions we hold date from the tail end of the shale industry (and the years immediately after the closure of the last pits) and show the houses, formerly owned by the shale companies, being sold off to private individuals.

We are currently scanning these documents and are uploading about 20 per week. They are on the Museum’s website. You’ll notice that the names are blacked out, or redacted, and that’s because the individuals named are protected by data protection laws. We can release the names within the documents, but you’ll have to prove that they are either, dead, or related to you. Continue reading “Tracing Your House at the Shale Museum”