Some may think when they see Livingston (New Town) articles celebrating it’s 50th anniversary that there can’t be much history in the town and area. But you would be wrong. History dates back to the 11th century.
King David I of Scotland regularly visted Livingston during the hunting season. A royal hunting lodge was situated just North of Livingston Village.
David I and other monarchs who stayed at Livingston couldn’t escape their royal duties. The tradition in Livingston back then was royal touch which was said to be effective in curing various skin conditions such as Scrofula. The royal touch was administered on the morning of the New Year and involved the king taking water from the local spring and pouring it over the skin.
Over the years some have debated if this would or wouldn’t work. A point to think about here though is centuries after the royal touch ceremony was carried out was the discovery of oil under the whole of Livingston. We also now know that the treatment for skin conditions including Scrofula is oil based. So knowing this it is very possible the royal touch did work to some extent.
At the start of the 12th century during the peaceful Norman Conquest of Scotland King David I granted the lands of Livingston to a Flemish nobleman called De Leving who built a stone tower castle.
As a nobleman De Leving acquired many servants so over time many small cottages and living quarters grew up around the castle. This small settlement would be now be known as Levingstoun and later become what we know as LivingstonThe De Levings, or the Livingstons as they became known prospered over the years and would soon go onto and become the Earls of Linlithgow “ The keeper of Linlithgow Palace”.
Even though the Livingstons nolonger lived in Livingston which they had founded it still managed to go on and flourish as fertile farmland and then later as the first discovery of oil in the world.
Some may not be aware that the Royal Botanic Garden started in Livingston. When Sir Patrick Murray became the Laired of Livingston, being an enthusiastic horticulturist he transformed part of his estate into a garden containing many flowers, shrubs and trees that had never been seen in Scotland before. Sir Patrick was known to travel the Continent to gather rare and new flowers and shrubs, It is has been said that on one trip to Italy he was impressed by a water garden which contained fountains, pools and waterfalls that he recreated this in Livingston but sadly over time there now remains no trace of this.
While on one of his trips Sir Patrick Murray became ill and died from fever. His friends in Scotland including Sir Andrew Balfour also a keen Botanist and Doctor travelled to Livingston with Sir Robert Sibbald and together they carefully transplanted over a thousand specimens from Murrays garden. These specimens where replanted in Edinburgh on a site at the Watergate at the east end of the old Nor Loch. We now know this site as the Waverly Train Station. Over the years it would eventually outgrow this site and when it did it was again moved and become the origins of Edinburgh’s famous Royal Botanic Gardens.
In the very early 1900’s oil was discovered by James Pariffin Young. Livingston had three shale mines, Alderstane, New Farm at Dedridge and Deans at Livingston Station. All the shale was brought to the surface by a elaborate overhead aerial railway system running from Dedridge to Oakbank Works. This railway system was a well known local landmark in its time. It was built in 1910 designed and built in Germany. Four years later war broke out in 1914 and management of the oil company gave orders for all the makers name plates be discreetly removed so it didn’t cause any hostility amoungst the workers. As well as the Oakbank oil works Livingston also had its own crude Oil Works in Deans next to the Deans Shale Mine at Livingston Station. This was opened in 1884 by the West Lothian oil Company and was run until 1892 when it became cheaper to import crude oil from America forcing its closure.
Later prices increased in importing and it became economical to produce oil at the Deans oil Works again so ex Royal Engineers officer James Henry Cowan successfully ran the Livingston Station site until he sold it to the Pumpherstone Oil Company. They would completely redesign the site and brought in new more upto date equipment. The Deans site would continue to operate until it was closed down in 1953. In 1956 the site was finally demolished and inturn Livingston lost a very familiar landmark. Although now in the past much of this history has bee saved and preserved and can be viewed at Mill Farm in Livingston Village where there is a shale Museum.
Although with all this history Livingston is still referred to as a New Town. This is true in some way as in 1962 Livingston was picked to become one of four new town projects ( East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Cumbernauld and Livingston) to help with the Glasgow overspill which had built up and densely populated Glasgow City Centre in the years following the second world war. Not surprisingly considering the history for growth Livingston has gone on to become the Biggest and most successful of the new towns projects.
Run by what was know as the LDC ( Livingston Development Council ) they successfully attracted modern industries to the town. In 1962 the first of the big names was to arrive, An American owned company Camron Iron Works open in Houston Industrial Estate. Companys from many field later arrived. These ranged from Manufactors of Oakcakes and Shortbread to North Sea Oil Pipes and even the Pharmaceutical industry arrived. With all these new companies came the work force so new house where needed and as a result Livingston began to grow and grow.
Then came the Microchip and before long Japaese owned companies also moved to Livingston and because of the large numbers of workforce these companies employed Livingston became refered to as Silicon Glen rivalling Californa’s Silicon Valley in manufacturing importance. All this growth has made Livingston population grow from around 200 pre 1962 to over 60,000 now.
Some of these large companies have now moved but again with Livingstons history of adapting it has still managed to continue to grow. Instead of the Oil Industry or the Electronics Industry or even the Pharmaceutical Industry now we have retail. At the heart of Livingston is a massive shopping complex where people from Glasgow and Edinburgh now come to shop. The complex started back in 1974 and has continued to expand into a three phase shopping centre and a Designer Discount Shopping Centre ontop of this there are now three retail parks And a multiplex Cinema.
Livingston’s history is still evolving and looking back at what has come and gone from the 11th century to present day we can only wonder what the future holds for the growth of Livingston. As Livingston celebrates its 50th anniversary as a new town what will it be classed as when it celebrates its 100th anniversary of even it’s 150th will it still be a town or going for city status.