Dechmont is a village located near Uphall, West Lothian in Scotland, with a population of around 1,000.
Bangour Village Hospital is located to the west of Dechmont. Nearby Dechmont Law is the highest hill in the area at 217m, offering views on a clear day over to Arthur's Seat, Pentland Hills, Forth bridges and the new Queensferry Crossing, and down through the Almond valley. The Law is part of a wider expanse of grassland, mixed woodland and footpaths.
The area is perhaps most well-known for a UFO incident in 1979 where a forestry worker claimed to have been assaulted by unexplained spherical objects within a woodland clearing. In spite of wide-ranging official investigations, the 'Livingston Incident', remains a mystery to this day. It's unlikely that you will witness an extraterrestrial encounter on your visit to Dechmont Law, but you might just spot some wildlife including roe deer.
HISTORY OF DECHMONT
By Sybil Cavanagh - Former West Lothian Council Local History Librarian 1990-2016
The earliest mention of Dechmont is found in a document of 1336. The spelling varied wildly: Deghmethe, Dechmete, Dechment, Dychment and Dichmont, and eventually Dechmont from about 1600. The meaning of the name is ‘good hill’ – probably meaning a good viewpoint, and referring of course to Dechmont Law.
The name Dechmont was originally associated with an area to the west of the present village. This area comprised Dechmont Law and the estate of Dechmont with its mansion house on what has now become Woodlands Park, Deans. There was no settlement on the site of what is now Dechmont village until the early decades of the nineteenth century. Dechmont estate was an agricultural landscape, with a few farms – (Dechmont, Over and Nether Dechmont), farm cottages, and not much else.
Adjoining Dechmont estate to the north, was the estate of Bangour. Lying in the fertile lands of central Scotland, on a major route linking the capital, Edinburgh, with Glasgow and Stirling, Dechmont and Bangour were not remote from the centre of life in the old days. They were valuable lands, lying in an accessible position, close enough to the capital to make them desirable properties, and linked to east and west by an early main road.
Dechmont Estate and its Owners
The Dechmont estate was not a large one, but would certainly have boasted some sort of castle or tower house from about 1600. No details of it are known, and by the start of the nineteenth century, the mansion house was a modest affair, more of a large farmhouse than a country house, with large farm steadings built close by in the form of a square courtyard. It stood where Woodlands Park in Deans now stands.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Dechmont estate was owned by John Hamilton of Pencaitland in East Lothian. In 1802, he put up for sale some of his land in East Lothian, Lanarkshire and West Lothian, with a view to use the money from their sale to buy land ‘as near to Pencaitland as can be got’. In other words, he hoped to rationalise his landholdings around his main residence at Pencaitland. He describes the land for sale as ‘the lands and barony of Dechmont’. There is no mention of Dechmont being a barony in the Register of the Great Seal; perhaps it was a barony, or perhaps he was just talking up the price!
A barony, incidentally, was land held direct of the Crown, with a ‘caput’ on it – a castle or mansion house. Possession of both the land and the caput gave the right to call yourself the Baron of ---. Until 1747, barons had the right to hold courts and administer justice in their baronies, and could also sell their title and these privileges along with their land. The lost farm name of Caputhall near the Royston roundabout at Deans does not seem to have any connection with Dechmont’s caput; it’s believed to mean a ‘capped or peaked farmhouse’.
The new owner of Dechmont estate was one James Campbell, about whom nothing is known at the moment. In 1815, it was presumably this James Campbell who advertised the sale of all the stock of the barony – two or three hundred head of fine cattle and thirty horses – sold by public roup (auction) at Meikle Dechmont.
A dishonest publican?
At about this same time, a Dechmont man was in trouble with the law. James Hamilton, who kept a changehouse (a small public house for travellers) at Dechmont, was imprisoned in the Tolbooth in Edinburgh, ‘charged with stealing and pilfering from the carts of the Glasgow and Edinburgh carriers’. At his trial in July 1811, various carters gave evidence that Hamilton habitually helped himself from the goods that they were transporting: in one case when three puncheons (large barrels) of rum arrived at Leith from Glasgow, two gallons were found to be missing. Hamilton had bored into the cask with a gimlet, drained the rum into a can and plugged up the hole, disguising it with dirt. On another occasion, he opened a carrier’s box with a hammer and chisel and stole two shirts and a pair of grey breeches; and another time, he stole a parcel of tea from each of several tea chests. The carters, who seem to have permitted, if not colluded in the thefts, were in the habit of drinking heavily on their long, cold journeys. One of their regular stops was Armadale Inn, and the next was Hamilton’s house at Dechmont Park. The journey from Armadale to Dechmont took six hours, as they travelled at only two and a half miles an hour; in fact, the whole journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh took ‘two nights and a day’. Despite plenty of evidence from eyewitnesses, the charge against Hamilton was found Not Proven and he was set free.
William Wilson of Dechmont
Dechmont estate passed from James Campbell to William Wilson in 1821. This first Wilson died in 1824 at Dechmont, and two months later, his son, William Wilson junior, advertised the estate and mansion house for let: ‘The Lands and Barony of Meikle Dechmont, consisting of 595 acres 2 rood, 31 falls Scotch or thereby... The Mansion-House of Dechmont, consisting of dining-room, parlour, four bed-rooms, two light closets, kitchen, dairy, etc., etc., etc... The house being new and in perfect repair, is well calculated for a genteel family summer residence.’ The convenient location of the estate was emphasised, with ‘the Glasgow road running through it’, and being less than three miles from the Union Canal at ‘Brocksburn’.
Later, Wilson came to live at Dechmont House, and laid out money on improving the pasturage and drainage of the estate. The day to day work of the estate was carried out by the farmer of Dechmont farm, but Wilson took an active interest in it, and enjoyed the shooting, especially woodcock. He sold off some of his land to the north of the Edinburgh-Glasgow road in 1838, but must have acquired other ground, as by 1853 the estate had increased to just over 700 acres. Wilson was one of the shareholders of the Edinburgh and Bathgate Railway company which opened the railway line from the capital to Bathgate via Uphall in 1849. The nearness of the mansion house to Livingston Station was to his advantage for moving goods in and out of his estate.
Wilson of Dechmont was active in public life in the mid nineteenth century. For example, he was the Presbytery elder to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1846; and in 1847 he was one of the gentry and landowners of Linlithgowshire who attended a meeting in Linlithgow to raise funds for the starving poor of the Highlands and Islands in the wake of the potato famine, and he was one of the most active men in Linlithgowshire politics, always in support of the Conservative side. In 1847 he voted for George Dundas of Dundas as the Tory MP for Linlithgowshire. The number of electors at this general election was so small that they all fitted on the hustings, a platform erected in front of the Linlithgow Townhouse (the Burgh Halls); and the vote was taken by a public show of hands – which was hardly necessary, as there was no other candidate!
Another change of ownership
William Wilson, elderly and widowed, moved to another of his properties, and let Dechmont House to William Campbell, the resident engineer on the Edinburgh and Bathgate Railway. Here, in February 1849, Campbell’s wife gave birth, but the child only lived a day. The Scotsman of 14 Feb 1849 carries both the birth notice and the death notice of this infant daughter.
William Wilson senior died about 1850 and the Dechmont estate was inherited by his son, the third William William. He and his wife were among the attendees of the grand Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt Ball in County Hall, Linlithgow (the rear portion of the Burgh Halls) in 1852, attended by 200 of the great and the good of the county. The young laird put Dechmont estate up for sale for in 1853; it did not sell so he advertised it again in 1856, and again, reducing the price by £1,000 to £27,000 the following year. The 711-acre estate formed a ‘compact and desirable property’, and brought in an income of over £1,200 a year – enough for a gentleman to live very comfortably. The good roads and the railway added to its attractions. The estate was mostly pasture, and the woods were ‘in a very thriving condition’. The mansion house had fine gardens and ‘tastefully laid out grounds’ and ‘the views are varied and commanding’.
The most famous Scot
William Wilson eventually succeeded in selling Dechmont estate in 1860, and the buyer was James Watson, who had been a physician in Bath and was a shareholder in the North British Railway Company. Watson did not keep it for long, but put it up for sale again a few years later. This was the point at which James [Paraffin] Young tried to persuade his good friend David Livingstone to buy the estate. Young looked after Livingstone’s business affairs and his family while he was on his missionary travels in Africa, and thought that Dechmont would be a suitable home base for the most famous Scot of his day when he was home on furlough – close to the capital and close to Young himself at Limefield House, Polbeth. However, Livingstone never got round to buying a home in Scotland, and Dechmont estate was sold instead in 1864 to Edward Meldrum.
More information on Dechmont estate, Dechmont village, Bangour estate and hospitals to follow.