Winchburgh has a rich history with early records going back to 1189. The name Winchburgh is thought to have come from the old English for “Winca Fort” and suggests the village may have stood since being founded by someone called Winca during the period of Anglian or Northumberland dominance of the area in the 600s.
Winchburgh’s history stretches back over a thousand years, with the first reference to the settlement at "Wincelburgh" appearing in 1169 when the land is confirmed to Philip de Setune (Seton) by William the Lion, Kings of Scots. It is likely that, at that time, the village was situated near where Niddry Castle is now.
The village played its part in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. After the battle, Lord Douglas pursued the English army to Winchburgh where both armies camped overnight. Douglas had insufficient men to engage the Scottish soldiers in combat.
Mary Queen of Scots, paid a visit to Winchburgh in 1568 following her escape from Loch Leven Castle. Lord Seton gave her sanctuary at the recently completed Niddry Castle.
Another interesting fact about Winchburgh is that it’s where one of the earliest ever books on gardening was written. The Scots Gard’ner was published in 1683, written by John Reid, who was the son of the head gardener at Niddry Castle.
From the mid-18th Century the village grew as a small rural farming settlement, as the owners of the Hopetoun Estate reorganised its farmlands around Winchburgh. The population was about 150. The landscape was transformed with farmhouses and labourers’ cottages. An annual agricultural fair/market was held at Winchburgh near where the Tally Ho Hotel is situated.
Winchburgh’s population increased with the arrival of the canal and railway as well as employment at Dougal’s Brickworks. Like other West Lothian towns and villages, Winchburgh flourished from the late 19th century to the mid 20th Century with a thriving shale oil mining industry. There were several shale mines and 2 oil works. This rich mining past is still evident today with the iconic red shale bings still clear to see towering over the West Lothian landscape.
Winchburgh’s shale bings are now important natural habitats, supporting a variety of flora and fauna, including orchids, stag horned moss, heather, naturally seeded birch and pine, rabbits and roe deer. Buzzards and kestrels are commonly seen and badgers have taken over some of the mine areas.
Other clues to Winchburgh’s industrial heritage can also be seen in the shale miners’ rows. These red brick cottages, built for mine workers are unique to West Lothian. The beautifully preserved cottages in Winchburgh are an important and fitting reminder of the village’s past. They are built from local brick. The layout of the streets and style of accommodation supported a really strong community spirit.
Like many of the West Lothian villages, Winchburgh had a vibrant economy with many shops and a large range of afterwork activities. But unlike other villages, after the oil industry finished, Winchburgh workers quickly found employment at the Grangemouth refinery or in new industrial estates in Edinburgh and Broxburn.
Fast forward to 2012, and a new Winchburgh masterplan, worth an estimated £1 billion, was granted outline planning permission by West Lothian Council, and the next chapter in Winchburgh’s story can start to be written.
Niddry Castle was completed about 1550 by the Seton family. It was bought by the Hope family before Hopetoun House was built. It lay in ruin for 200 years. It has rich history.
Millgate, Bells Mill Terrace, Millcraig Mews and Bells Mill Wharf are all named after Bell’s Mill, an old water powered corn mill. Who was Bell? The Seton family (Niddry Castle) leased the mill to a tenant, William Bell, in 1622 – nearly 400 years ago!
The Union Canal was built to link the coal fields in the west with Edinburgh. It links with the Forth and Clyde canal at Falkirk.
Winchburgh Rail Disaster
Scotland's first head-on rail collision. 17 passengers were killed.
Niddry Castle Shale Works brought employment to the village and led to the building of the iconic miners’ rows. They were built from Winchburgh brick from Dougals Brickworks. The brickworks were down the brick surfaced lane beside the canal bridge.
Scotland's first successful electric railway! The Loccie was the narrow gauge electric railway that brought the shale from the Totleywells and Duddingston mines to the Niddry Castle Oil Works.
A big year for Winchburgh!
We imagine that the new construction works are amazing but at the start of the 20th century, Winchburgh was being tripled in size! See what happened in 1902
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