West Lothian Council seeking private sector landlords with properties to let

West Lothian Council is looking to procure a mix of private let properties which are available to let The Private Sector Landlord Service sees the council working with landlords and agents to use private let accommodation as a means of accommodating those on the council housing waiting list until a permanent home can be sourced. West Lothian Council can currently offer guaranteed rental with the potential of no void rent loss periods for a minimum 12 month period. The rent will match the local housing allowance rate. Where both the landlord/agent and West Lothian Council are happy with the property and service, the agreement can be rolled over for another 12 months. A deposit guarantee is available to the amount of two months’ rent which will be given to cover any discrepancies at the end of the tenancy, which are out with fair wear and tear. Executive Councillor for services for the community, George Paul said: “I would encourage all landlords who have properties available and who may be interested in the scheme to contact the council today. “As lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted this is an opportunity for a landlord to work with the local authority and help provide a home for people during this uncertain period all while ensuring they receive rent on their property for a minimum of 12 months.” Full details and conditions are available from WLC and can be sourced by emailing Private.LettingServices@westlothian.gov.uk

Broxburn and Uphall Traders’ Association Announce COVID-19 Support Scheme for Local Shops

Broxburn and Uphall Traders’ Association (BUTA) have announced that with the support of the Broxburn and Uphall Town Centre Management Group they are jointly funding a new scheme to help support the local COVID-19 response. The scheme will not just be open to their own members, but also to other small independent retailers in Broxburn and Uphall who had to close during the lockdown. The key item of this support is in the provision of a kit of essential PPE and signage for shopkeepers, designed to help them open up and operate post-lockdown in accordance with Government guidelines and make it safer for their staff and customers alike.  This will be backed up at a later date with a Shop Local – Shop Safer campaign. This scheme is designed to support small businesses operating in Broxburn and Uphall who were forced to close during the Pandemic Lockdown and remained closed until at least 16th June 2020. The contents of the kits range from hand sanitiser, to face masks and also signage. The area supported by the scheme includes East Main Street, Goschen Place, Greendykes Road, Station Road and West Main Street, Broxburn also East Main Street and West Main Street, Uphall. Applications are welcomed from small independent traders who are not part of a multi-national or chain of businesses. Further details of the scheme and conditions available on the BUTA website.  

Armadale man taking on accumulator challenge that will see him run 496 miles throughout July.

An Armadale man is taking on an accumulator challenge that will see him run 496 miles throughout 31 days this month. Paul Brown will be completing an exhausting accumulator running challenge to raise funds for the charities Held In Our Hearts and Neil’s Hugs Foundation. Each day he will run the mileage that corresponds with the date, i.e. a mile on July 1st, 2 miles on July 2nd and so on, completing a monthly total of 496 miles. He will be running for 31 consecutive days and completing 196 miles in the last 7 days which equate to more than 7 marathons in 7 days.
Held In Our Hearts is a local charity providing baby loss counselling and support to families. Formerly known as SANDS Lothians, they have 40 years’ experience of offering compassionate bereavement care in the community. Neil’s Hugs Foundation was founded by Donna Paterson-Harvie who lost her only son, Neil to suicide in September 2011. The aim of the charity is to help raise awareness of suicide in the local community and support families who have been affected by suicide. You can follow Paul’s challenge and donate through the following link: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/paul-brown-79

Bangour Hospital – West Lothian’s unwanted tourist attraction

The site of the former Bangour Hospital made national news when a surge of visitors to the site forced local authorities to put on extra police, security measures and road closures in an effort to deter unwanted explorers from further damaging the site. But what was compelling visitors to come to the site in their hundreds, turning Bangour into West Lothian’s number one (unwanted) tourist attraction? By James McKean Once tipped to be the future of mental health care, Bangour Village Hospital now lies derelict near the small village of Dechmont, West Lothian. Formally abandoned as a mental health facility in 2004, the site has since garnered a reputation for paranormal activity, which has, in turn, inspired many urban explorers to visit the historic site to survey its ruins. Faced now with demolition, what is it that keeps drawing explorers to this eerie Grade A-Listed building, and what paranormal goings-on are said to occur at this location? History of the Asylum The 960-acre Bangour Estate was originally purchased in 1902 by the Edinburgh District Lunacy Board, who launched a competition for local architects to design a forward-thinking mental asylum to the built on the grounds. The competition was won by Edinburgh-native, Hippolyte Blanc, famed at the time for his gothic-revival style of architecture. The majority of buildings that still stand within the Bangour estate today are those he originally designed. Differing from the traditional mansion-style lunatic asylums prevalent throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Bangour came to represent the changing attitudes towards mental health treatment; the asylum consisted of 32 ‘villa-style’ buildings, with large bay windows, which were built to house the patients, while buildings used for psychiatric facilities were kept separate. These buildings were well spaced out and separated by patches of grass, which allowed for a greater focus on outdoor activity. This set-up was inspired by the approach taken by Alt-Scherbitz, a hospital near Leipzig, Germany, where the ‘Continental Colony’ approach towards psychiatry was first taken, which aimed to improve the well-being of patients through better, more homely living conditions. Although the hospital was formally opened in 1906, patients had been living there since 1904, and by the end of 1905 roughly 200 patients were residing there. A recent discovery found the unmarked graves of 566 former patients within the grounds, indictive of the large number of patients the hospital housed over time. The War Effort In 1915, patients were moved to psychiatric facilities throughout the country, as Bangour was taken over by the army as a place to house wounded servicemen. Marquees were constructed around the ground, expanding the hospitals capacity tenfold with 3,000 servicemen hosted there by 1918. After the war, the village church was constructed as a war memorial, becoming the main focal point of the grounds. Designed by another Scottish architect, H.O Tarbolton, the church is said to have been the largest church in the Lothian district – not including Edinburgh – to be built in the 20th Century. Bangour reopened again as a psychiatric hospital in 1922, only to be turned back into a war hospital in 1939, at the onset of World War Two, during which many additional parts were added to the hospital in order to hold more wounded soldiers. After the war, the extensions were turned into a general hospital for West Lothian residents, while the original buildings resumed psychiatric practices. The Closure The grounds gradually fell into disuse over the course of the century; the construction of St John’s Hospital in Livingston replaced the need for Bangour’s general hospital, which was subsequently demolished, while advances in psychiatry -with a greater focus on community care- reduced the need for such psychiatric facilities as Bangour. The last patient left the facility in 2004, and although the site was immediately used as a filming location for the 2005 Keira Knightly film “the Jacket”, it has since fell into a state of complete disuse. Rumours circulated for over a decade about potential uses in the future for the buildings, however, as of April 2020, the building has been closed off to the public and is awaiting demolition. Paranormal Activity As the site fell into a state of decay and disrepair, former members of staff recounted paranormal happenings during their time working in the hospital, which gained Bangour a reputation for being haunted. Ward 9 is remembered amongst former staff for being where most of the paranormal happenings took place, where cases of hearing unusual voices, doors slamming, and moving furniture were said to have occurred regularly. According to one former employee, these incidents were made more intense by the patients themselves, claiming, ‘there were psychiatric patients having strange conversations and looking like they knew exactly what was going on in that place.’ Bangour’s paranormal reputation is said to be a big incentive for urban explorers keen to experience their own strange occurrences. Recent visitors have claimed to have witnessed shadowy figures traversing the grounds. Urban Exploration Through word-of-mouth on the internet and the ensuing threat of its demolition, urban exploration of Bangour has seen a massive increase during lockdown. At the start of June, a post went viral urging people to visit Bangour now while its buildings still stand. The post also offered advice on how to infiltrate the blocked off site, claiming that it was “illegal” for security guards to stop explorers from entering. In response, a large group, of around 200 people, amassed and entered Bangour, as parked cars stretched the full length of the streets surrounding the village. Some had even travelled from as far away as the Midlands of England. Locals were not only annoyed at the sudden influx of visitors to the site, but also because of the graffiti and destruction that they brought to the area; three visitors were charged with vandalism, while the fire brigade were called out to extinguish fires. Windows were smashed and furniture was hurled from the windows, to the point where three riot vans had to be sent out to defuse the situation. Conclusion It is clear that, because of lockdown restrictions, many young people are turning to off-beat hobbies, such as urban exploration, in order to stay entertained during this period of irregularity. However, it is unfortunate that viral posts inevitably lead many people to the same place at the same time, as shown by the 200 that invaded Bangour, and the vandalism that tends to follow a large groups, especially when left to their own devices in a generally unregulated abandoned site. Although the recent interest in visiting Bangour was sparked by the site’s impending bulldozing, the disruption to the local community, and in turn the strain it has put on emergency services, will have no doubt brought Bangour’s demolition date forward significantly.  

You should not visit the Bangour Hospital site at the present time. Police Scotland have confirmed that the parking is closed and they are actively patrolling the are and ticketing parked cars at the site. Police Scotland stated “We continue to ask potential visitors to the disused site at Bangour Village to stay away from the area. It is not safe and 24 hour security are on site.”

Local MP Hannah Bardell has also given an update on the situation at Bangour (June 11th)
   

West Lothian’s forgotten LGBT history – the unfortunate case of Gavin Bell

This Pride Month we look at the case of Gavin Bell from Blackridge. Scotland was not unique in executing gay men in medieval times, but the number of recorded cases is astonishingly low. Baron Hume in fact claimed there was just two cases before 1889. He was wrong – records show another case, the case of the unfortunate Gavin Bell from Blackridge. What happened to him and why did Scotland execute so few gay men in comparison to England? In 1889, Scotland became the last jurisdiction in Europe to abolish the death penalty for same-sex sexual intercourse, which reduced the penalty to life imprisonment in a penitentiary. But was Scotland equally as conservative in its approach to bringing prosecutions? Whilst the death sentence for sodomy was abolished in 1889, it seems it was rarely used. In fact, famed Victorian Legal Scholar Baron Hume wrote that “the crime is only mentioned twice in the course of our records”, citing a double prosecution in 1570 and a single prosecution in 1630, all cases being punished by death. However, Baron Hume was wrong. There is another case from right here in West Lothian, the commission for the trial of Gavin Bell in 1645. Gavin was an unfortunate apprentice blacksmith to John Thompson in Blackridge (Blackrig) who was caught having an unfortunate dalliance with another man. He was tried on 28th November 1645, for the ‘flilthy crime of buggery’ by Sir Robert Dummond of Midhope Castle (Medhope), found guilt and imprisoned in Linlithgow (Lythgow), after which he was executed. It is not known whether he was burnt at the stake or hung.
Commission to Sir Robert Drummond of Medhope
”The estates of parliament, haveing tane to thair consideration the motioune and desire made in parliament for granting commission for the tryeing and judging of Gawine Bell, prenteis to Johne Thomsone in Blakrig, wha is committed and imprisoned as guiltie of the vyild and filthie cryme of buggurie, they have given and granted and heirby gives and grantis full power and commission to the provest and baillies of Lythgow and Sir Robert Drumond of Medhope, knyght, (or anie thrie of them, the said Sir Robert Drumond being ane of the thrie) to sit as justiciaries in that pairt within the tolbuith of Lythgow for tryeing, processing and judgeing of the said Gawine Bell anent the committing of the vyild and filthie cryme of buggurie. With power to them to creat and choose ane clerk and uthir memberis of court necessar and to caus warne and sumond ane assyise and inqueist and witnesses and ressave all uthir probatioune necessar and to doe and exerce all uthir thingis requisit concerneing the tryeing, processing and judgeing of the said Gawine Bell for the foresaid filthie and vyild cryme of buggurie alse frielie in all respectis as the justice generall and his deputtis might doe thairin if the said delinquent wer cisted before them; as also with power to the saidis persones abonenamit as justices in that pairt foresaid to put the sentence and doome to be given in the said matter to dew executioune, conforme to the tenor thairof, quhairanent the estates declaires thir presentes salbe a sufficient warrand.”
Today, Midhope Castle is known to Outlander fans as ‘Lallybroch’ and is now remembered for brutality and cruelty of a different kind

Why were there so few executions for homosexuality in Scotland?

In context, Scotland had far fewer capital crimes than neighbour England.  In the early nineteenth century England had over 200. Scotland had less than 50. There was some awareness, and even pride in, Scotland’s lesser use of hanging than their southern neighbours.

Even for crimes with a capital punishment, there seem to have been very few executions, though there is little surviving evidence. If found guilty most men were transported or imprisoned. From 1800 onwards there were no executions for homosexuality. Yet for other capital crimes there was a large increase in executions between 1780 and 1820.

In the first half of the nineteenth century there were, on average, six sodomy trials a year in the High Court. As Scotland’s population grew the trials increased to about twelve a year after the 1860s. In 1872 there were twenty two High Court prosecutions. The sentences given were between one and fifteen years imprisonment. These numbers are quite small compared to other capital crime statistics. This is because the majority of cases of sexual activity between men were tried in the lower Sheriff courts.

In the Scottish legal system the process gave the defendant a better chance of the case being heard in a lower court or a reduction of the charge before the trial started. This was usually on the condition that the accused be either banished from Scotland or transported, thus evading the death penalty. Transportation to Australia stopped in 1868.

In England many prosecutions were for private acts of sodomy. This was very rare in Scottish law because of the need to provide two forms of evidence. Most prosecutions were for public acts.

Attitudes towards homosexuality at the time

We do not know much about popular attitudes to same sex desire in the past. We do know  opinions of some of the lawyers who defined sodomy. They linked it with other serious crimes such as usury, bigamy adultery and incest. Sodomy was also associated by others with heresy and witchcraft. Indeed the two cases of 1570 linked sodomy with witchcraft. To the Scottish medieval mind, if covens of witches could stop a village’s crops growing, they could also stop the village’s menfolk bringing forth heirs.

Scotland has long prided itself on being a tolerant and liberal country. Whether these attitudes were also prevalent in medieval times is open to debate but it can be argued that the Scottish judiciary at least showed a far more lenient approach to sentencing than elsewhere in Britain.

Attitudes today In both 2015 and 2016, Scotland was recognised as the “best country in Europe for LGBTI legal equality”. In June 2018, the Scottish Parliament passed the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Act 2018, a law which issued a formal pardon to men, living and dead, convicted of having consensual sex with other men before it was decriminalised. Maybe it is finally time to lay the ghost of the unfortunate Gavin Bell to rest, and offer him a formal symbolic disregard of his ‘crime’; the crime of loving another man.