A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2021.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Torphichen (Gael. torr-fithichean, ` the raven's hill '), a village and a parish of W Linlithgowshire. The village stands 1½ mile ENE of Westfield station, 4½ miles SSW of Linlithgow, and 23/8 N by W of Bathgate, under which it has a post office. Pop. (1841) 397,. (1861) 477, (1871) 406, (1881) 358. The parish, containing also Blackridge village, 6½ miles to the SW, is bounded on the N and E by Linlithgow, on the SE by Bathgate, at its SW extremity by Shotts and New Monkland in Lanarkshire, and on the NW by Slamannan and Muiravonside in Stirlingshire. Its- utmost length, from ENE to WSW, is 93/8miles; its breadth varies between ¾ mile and 23/8 miles; and its area is 15½ square miles or 9956¼ acres, of which 17¾ are water. The river Avon or Aven winds 3½ miles east-north-eastward along all the Muiravonside boundary; and its affluent, Polness or Drumtassie Burn, runs 4¾ miles north-eastward along nearly all the Slamannan boundary. Barbauchlaw Burn, coming in from Lanarkshire, runs 73/8 miles north-eastward along the Shotts and Bathgate boundary, until it nnites with Couston or Ballencrieff Water to form Logie Water, which, flowing 6½ furlongs north-north-westward across the narrowest part of the parish, falls into the Avon near Crawhill, and divides the parish into two unequal portions, the smaller to the E, the larger to the SW. Along the Avon the surface declines to 300 feet above sea-level, and thence it rises eastward to 777 at the Torphichen Hills, 749 at Bowden Hill, 912 at CockLerue, and 1016 at Cairn-naple or Cairnpapple; south-westward to 648 feet near Wester Righead, 705 near Canties, 824 at Eastcraigs Hill, and 759 near Bedlormie. Torphichen thus sends up the highest points in West Lothian, and, compared with the general aspect of that Fine champaign county, is markedly tumulated, and boldly hilly at the NE end. The south-western district is naturally moorish; but, making abatements for cold wet moor towards the W, and some little extent of hillpasture on the E, the parish is generally fertile, and has an enclosed, warm, wealthy appearance. A judicious distribution of planted trees has materially served both to shelter and to beautify. The summits of the hills command a most magnificent prospect of the Lothians and Fife, of the Ochils and the frontier Grampians, and generally of the basin of the Forth, from the sources of the river at Ben Lomond to the mouth of the Firth at North Berwick Law. The rocks are partly eruptive, partly carboniferous, and they exhibit in the eastern group of hills a very interesting series of superpositions. Trap, limestone, and sandstone are quarried; coal is mined; ironstone also occurs; and silver ore exists, but in so small a quantity that an attempt to work it was soon abandoned. The soil is very various, and ranges from fertile alluvium to barren moor. Adjacent to the village on the NE are some remains of the hospital or preceptory of Torphichen, from 1153 the principal Scottish residence of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. Of the cruciform church of the preceptory, the chancel and the nave are entirely gone, and there only is left a portion of the transept or ' quier,' which, measuring internally 66 feet by 20, is Early Second Pointed in style. The nave appears to have been 112 feet long; but its site is now occupied by an edifice of very different character from it-the plain modern parish church. The traceried window of the southern transept makes some pretensions to beauty, and the four piers supporting the central tower display some architectural grace; but the other parts which remain of the edifice do not prove it to have been conspicuous either for size or for beauty. The belfry or steeple is ascended by a narrow spiral stair, and has comparative meanness of altitude and aspect. Within the choir are the baptismal font, a curious recess where corpses were laid during the celebration of the burial mass, and the monument (1538) of Sir Walter Lindsay, the last preceptor but one. Fragments of massive old buildings in the village, and the stones in the fences over the face of the adjacent country, indicate how great and magnificent a seat of population once surrounded the church. A stone, resembling a common milestone, but with a cross carved on its top, stands in the churchyard, near the W end of the present church, and is thought to mark the centre of a privileged sanctuaryground attached to the preceptory. Similar stones marked the limits or corners of that ground, each 1 mile distant from the centre; and all the space within the circle drawn round these outlying stones was as much a legal sanctuary as the church at its centre, and afforded protection against the law to every criminal or debtor who entered and remained within its precincts. The knights were introduced to this establishment by David I., and had many possessions conferred on them by him and his successors; and after the suppression of the Knights Templars in 1312, they inherited the extensive property of that great rival Order. In 1291 and 1296, Alexander de Wells, ' prior hospitalis Sancti Johannis Hierusalemitani in Scotia, ' swore fealty to Edward I.; and in 1298 he was slain in the battle of Falkirk. From precepts which Edward issued to the sheriffs to restore the property of the Knights, the preceptory of the Order seems, even at that early period, to have had estates in almost every county except Argyll, Bute, and Orkney. Radulph de Lindsay was preceptor under Robert I. Sir Henry Livingston was preceptor under James II., and died in 1463. Sir Henry Knolls, the next preceptor, governed the Order in Scotland during half a century, and was commonly called Lord St John. Treasurer to James III. from 1468 to 1470, he joined the party who hunted down that monarch to his unhappy end; in 1489 -90 he was appointed to collect the royal revenues in Linlithgowshire; and after being much employed by James IV., he fell fighting by his side on the Field of Flodden. Sir George Dundas, his successor in the preceptorship, was the school-fellow of Hector Boece, and is praised for his learning. Sir Walter Lindsay, the next preceptor, was a ' valient capitane by sea and land,' and rose to be Justice-General of Scotland. Sir James Sandilands, the last on the list, joined the Reformers in 1560; and on his paying down 10,000 crowns and engaging to pay an annual rent of 500 marks, he received the remaining estates of the Order as a temporal barony, and was raised to the peerage under the title of Lord Torphichen. (See Calder -HOUSE.) The civil antiquities, besides those noticed under Bedlormie, Bridge Castle, and Oghface, are the old peel-like mansion of Kipps, fine sites or remains of four hill-forts or camps, and remains of a stone circle in a field adjoining the mansion of Kipps. The parish is traversed by the middle road from Edinburgh to Glasgow, by the road from Bathgate to Falkirk, and by 7½ furlongs of the Blackstone and Bathgate branch of the North British railway. Henry Bell (1767-1830), who introduced steam navigation into Europe, was a native. (See Helensburgh.) Mansions, noticed separately, are Bridge Castle, Cathlaw, Lochcote, and Walihouse; and 6 proprietors held each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 18 of between £100 and £500. Torphichen is in the presbytery of Linlithgow and the synod of Lothian and Tweeddale; the living is worth £192. The parish church, built in 1756, contains about 360 sittings. The Free church is one of the earliest in Scotland; and at Blackridge there is a Free Church preaching station. Three public schools - Blackridge, Torphichen, and Woodend-with respective accommodation for 80, 140, and 120 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 52, 120, and 115, and grants of £47, 2s., £109, 12s., and £102, 2s. 6d. Valuation (1860) £9640, (1885) £11, 325, plus £1524 for railway. Pop. (1801) 1028, (1831) 1307, (1861) 1848, (1871) 1630, (1881) 1526.—Ord. Sur., sh. 31, 1867.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better