Thieves were strung up!

West Lothian, The Dark Side. By Margaret Hubble
West Lothian, The Dark Side. By Margaret Hubble

A new book about West Lothian delves into the murky crimes committed in the 18th and 19th centuries when theft was treated much more seriously than today.

But other offences detailed in the book show that not much has changed over the years.

Bathgate author Margaret Hubble spent about two years in the search room at the General Registers of Scotland obtaining material for the book.

She spent many hours poring over papers, some of which had been untouched for over 200 years and were still tied up with the original bindings.

Margaret said: “It was a remarkable experience, trawling through all these old files and letters knowing that in some cases I was probably the first person to have read them since they were originally archived in the 1800s.

The book highlights the influence of alcohol on crime and the stories of peoples’ lives.

One of the longer stories is that of the Linlithgow Gypsies, two men who stole from a shop in Kilsyth in December 1769.

They ended up being convicted in Edinburgh in 1770 and hanged at Linlithgow Bridge on a gibbet for their crimes.

But Hubble details the intricate detective work in tracing their theft of fabrics and materials worth £120 back to the pair.

Part of the case depended on sightings of them on horseback between Linlithgow and Kilsyth.

The fact that the Bonny Bridge had collapsed on that day, and was impassable to a horse and cart, proved the explanation used by the pair was a complete fabrication.

The ‘Lithgow Bridge’ Gang as they became known were found to have been there and were eventually caught.

Hubble also highlights the case of Sgt John Kerr, who was mentioned in many cases catching criminals, whose fall from grace ends with him being moved to work in Bo’ness.

His career path was affected by ‘taking a dram’, particularly evident when he appears in public wearing a ‘top coat’ (i.e. not his uniform) and is fined 2s. 6d for the offence.

He was eventually found drunk on duty, charged with that offence and finally dismissed from his post in 1864.

The book which Mrs Hubble self-published is made up of 39 short stories covering Linlithgow Bridge to Torphichen, Broxburn to Bathgate and Kirkliston to Dechmont.

A paperback version is available now on Amazon for £6.99 with a Kindle version priced at £3.99.