Making History: The Missing Covenanter’s Stone near Coatbridge
A mystery could be solved…
In 1892, J. H. Pagan gave a paper to the Bothwell Literary Association on the antiquities of Bothwell [parish]. He recorded a ‘Covenanter’s Stone … a probable memorial of the battle of Bothwell Brig is the old stone which stands among the trees beneath Woodhead.’
The stone is not recorded on the OS maps. Pagan, the original source, possibly recorded local knowledge or tradition about a Covenanter’s Stone at Woodhead, which may lie either near Coatbridge, or Bothwell.
From his book on the antiquities of Bothwell, the Covenanter’s Stone looked like this,
All stones are by their nature ‘old’, but Pagan’s image indicates that it was a natural stone, which was either distinctive, or a prominent boulder. Some form of ancient standing stone is another possibility.
The area in which the stone was said to situated was visited in 1952, however, the official responsible reported that ‘no one seems to have heard of the existence of this stone and no trace of it was found during perambulation of the area (centred NS 6878 6300).’
In an industrial and urban area where the Covenanter’s stone was located, it is not that surprising, and I mean this in the kindest of terms being the product of one in Lanarkshire, that in the 1950s a large segment of the local population were deracinated of their connection to local history and tradition prior to industrialization.
However, it is not clear if the area searched for in 1952 was the right location. Is the stone still awaiting rediscovery? It perhaps is.
Where was the Covenanter’s Stone?
Today, a Woodhead farm lies on the opposite side of the M73 from Newlands farm, both of which lie in Bothwell parish, Lanarkshire.
From Pagan’s description of the location of the Covenanter’s Stone it is possible that it may have been sited somewhere down the slope from the farm, probably in the woods beside the North Calder Water which lie the the north and west of the farm.
This site is the one listed by the RCAHMS Canmore site. See here (and click on the map on the website). However, that may not be the correct location, as will be discussed below. For the moment, let us assume that it is.
What Did The Covenanter’s Stone Commemorate?
It is clear from Pagan’s brief mention of the stone, that locals probably connected it to the Covenanters. Pagan thought that it was ‘a probable memorial of the battle of Bothwell Brig’, as the battle was fought within a few miles of Woodhead in 1679. However, Pagan’s guess is probably wrong. The stone is on the wrong side of the battlefield for any fleeing Covenanter, as the government army, which occupied the Bothwell parish bank of the Clyde, forced its way a cross Bothwell Bridge towards Hamilton during the battle. Anyone in flight from the battle would have fled away from the government forces, rather than through their lines.
In my view, if that location is correct, a better case can be made for a connection between the Covenanter’s Stone and the capture of ‘Alexander Wood in Newlands’, who was tried and executed in Glasgow in October, 1684. The story of Wood was badly recorded in histories of the Covenanters, but, as I’ve posted earlier, a lot more information can now be discovered about him when the fragments of his story are pieced together.
There is no doubt that Alexander Wood was from the Newlands, which lies beside Woodhead. That may suggest that the Covenanter’s Stone may be a lost fragment of Wood’s story. It may mark a location that local people associated with his capture.
The Other Woodhead
However, it is possible that the Canmore website records the wrong Woodhead. When I posted this article. Donald Iain Kerr, who lives locally, suggested a second site may be the right location. His site lies close to Bothwell Bridge in Bothwell parish.
In the mid eighteenth century, that Woodhead looked like this
The shape of the trees on the old OS map correlates with the trees there today, although new houses have been built at Woodhead Avenue. It is entirely possible that the Woodhead by Bothwell Bridge is the Woodhead that Pagan referred to. This is what Pagan recorded on p44 of his book on the Antiquities of Bothwell (1892):
Pagan does not specify a location beyond the name Woodhead. However, a second source, By Bothwell Banks, which is based on Pagan and was published in 1904, does mention the two memorials in a chapter on ‘Orbiston: Its Antiquities’. Orbiston Tower lay to the east of the Bothwell Bridge close to the western bank of the South Calder Water. The other site mentioned in both accounts is Mary Rae’s Well, which now lies in Gordon Place in Bellshill. (Henderson and Waddell, By Bothwell Banks, 187.)
By Bothwell Banks refers to sites located in the combined estate of Orbiston and Douglas Park, or Parkhead, which lay to the the west and south of Bellshill in Bothwell parish. It is not clear if the area of the combined estate included the Woodhead by the North Calder Water, as it lies at the opposite end of the parish from Orbiston.
The evidence of Pagan and By Bothwell Banks suggests that the Woodhead by Bothwell Bridge is a strong possibility for the location of the Covenanter’s Stone. If so, the stone may lie on the slope between Woodhead and the River Clyde. It may be in a back garden of the modern houses. It may be buried below them.
If the stone lay near Bothwell Bridge, the stone would not be connected to the Alexander Wood executed in Glasgow, but may be linked to the battle. Why the Covenanter’s Stone is apparently on the wrong side of the bridge for the Covenanters is not clear. What is known is that the Covenanters defended the bridge, just down stream from the stone. The stone cannot be the grave of John Balfour of Kinloch, aka. of Burley in Walter Scott’s novel Old Mortality, as he survived the battle and probably drowned at sea in 1688.
If Donald Iain Kerr is correct, the official from the RCAHMS was looking for the stone around the wrong Woodhead in 1952. It may still be near Bothwell Bridge.
What Should You Look For?
The image near the top of this post gives a vivid picture of the stone. For examples of similar stones see, Dempster’s Stone, McWhann’s Stone, Smith’s Stone, and the Preaching Stone.
If you are searching for the Covenanter’s Stone at Woodhead by the North Calder Water, you may want to keep your eyes open for a cave of uncertain origin which also lies near Woodhead on the banks of the North Calder Water. It is sited on the opposite bank from the former site of Calderpark Zoo (aka. Glasgow Zoo). A picture and description of it can be found here.
No matter which site you search, if you find the Covenanter’s Stone, please let us know where it is and photograph it. Even if you do not find it, please let us know where you searched.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.