When the Wild West Came to Mid Calder

Three robbers

James Balfour Sneddon, mine manager at Winchburgh, had a weekly routine. Each Friday he would withdraw around £2,000 from the Mid Calder branch of the Clydesdale Bank, and a chauffeur, a man called William McQuiston, would drive him to Winchburgh where he would pay his workers their weekly wage.

In August 1921 the two men were following their usual routine when they were forced to stop as a cyclist was sprawled across the road, in an apparent accident. On stepping out the car to give assistance the two men were immediately assaulted by the ‘injured’ cyclist and two companions. The attack was clearly planned as one of the men went straight for Sneddon’s bag of money.

Sneddon and McQuiston
Two men, believed to be Sneddon and McQuiston, in court to give evidence

Sneddon and McQuiston gave chase, picking up the discarded bag of money on the way, but were forced to turn around and head for the nearest police station when shots were fired at them from a revolver. The police soon picked up two of the men, with the third being arrested in the following days. Clearly this group – Irishmen from Deans – were not the Wild Bunch.

Three robbers
Coleman, Ruddy, and Dempsey in the dock

By November the three men were in the Edinburgh High Court awaiting trial. The three accused – William Coleman, Thomas Ruddy, and Patrick Dempsey – were jailed for seven, five, and three years respectively.

Sneddon would work in the shale industry for some years, having a distinguished career. He was also heavily involved with community groups, and in 1935 was awarded an OBE for public service.