Drying up of Private Wells - Formation of the Village into a Police Burgh - The First Water Works - Introduction at Gas-Light - Dissolution of the Gas-Light Company - Town Council rejects the Works - Street Lighting Improvements, etc.
The fast increasing population at the beginning of the sixties were suffering greatly for want of a proper water supply. Hitherto water for domestic purposes had been obtained from draw-wells, which in all cases were private property, but the sinking of pits so near to them soon had the effect of drying up that source, so that a spout at Barbauchlaw Mill that carried the water out of one of Mr. Harvie's old mines, known as "THE LEVEL," became the chief water supply, while Mr. Waugh of Birkenshaw kindly allowed those desirous of doing so to take the water required by them from the spring known as the "TREE WELL," on the farm. All the little streamlets coming out of the field drains around the district were utilised, but still the demand was greater than the supply, and an hour or two's wait had to be experienced at any of these places before one's wants could be supplied. The sinking of the Monkland Iron and Steel Company's pits in and around the village being the cause of the drying of the wells, that company set about to mend matters in that direction by making a pond at their No. 2 Pit, into which the water out of the pit was pumped, and thereafter led to the toll through pipes. But this means had little effect in supplying the wants of a rapidly-growing village, which soon grew into a deplorably insanitary condition. The infantile mortality was increasing at such an alarming rate that the leading men of the place came to the conclusion that something must be done. Various proposals were put forward, and ultimately it was, in 1863, decided to adopt the Lindsay Act, and form a Police Burgh under its provisions. The leaders of the scheme were Messrs Matthew Wilson, grocer; George Brown, shoemaker; John Simpson, joiner; James Clark, colliery manager; Thomas Harvie, farmer; Robert Thomson, baker; and the Rev. Hudson Teape, of St Paul's. The two prime movers were Matthew Wilson and George Brown. Mr. Wilson was strong on raising the village to the dignity of a burgh, and met with considerable opposition, but not content with his vocal arguments, he wrote, under a nom de plume, some smart articles in favour of the project, and the opposition soon vanished. Mr. George Sinclair, solicitor, acted as agent for the promoters, defined the boundaries, and obtained the necessary sanction of the Sheriff, and acted also as Clerk to the Commissioners for the first year.
Mr Robert Thomson was duly elected Provost, or Chief Commissioner, as the title was then, and the newly-made Burgh Commission of Armadale set to work, with power to make improvements and impose rates.
A supply of water was the first subject that engaged their attention, and soon a large staff of men were employed excavating a reservoir on the south side of the moss on the southern boundary of the estate, and also on the north side of the moss. Two ponds were soon made, and a small filter of two chambers built opposite Mount Pleasant Row, close beside the colliery railway. A pipe track was laid to the four quarters of the newly-made burgh and hydrants placed at intervals.
The supply of water, coming as it did out of a moss, and filtered through a few carts of sand, which was seldom changed, if it was more convenient, did not give entire satisfaction. It was said to have two advantages. It was a tea saver, since the colour was light brown, and from the fact that it swarmed with animalcule, it was said to be both food and drink.
It was at this time that Armadale was taken notice of by a number of speculative gentlemen, who put their heads and purses together for the purpose of introducing the gas-light, although the scheme had been first proposed by Mr. Wm. Motherwell, of Airdrie, three years before.
Mr James Beveridge, who had come from Airdrie, and built the Buckshead Tavern in 1858, had engaged Mr. Motherwell, a master joiner, to put attics to his tavern a year later. Mr. Motherwell, writing to Mr. Beveridge on the subject, inquired of him how he was getting on in Armadale without the gas-light, and put the question to him if he did not think that a gas work would pay in Armadale. "You have a rising town," he wrote, "with a large new school, and the prospect of a Free Church soon," and he offered, if they would start a Joint Stock Gas Company, that he would take shares in it, along with a few more that he knew in Airdrie who were interested in the Airdrie Gaslight Company.
Mr Motherwell's suggestion to Mr. Beveridge resulted in a meeting being held in the Crown Hotel on the 22nd April, 1863, when it was agreed to form a Company, and the following were elected directors:- Messrs Wm. Motherwell, President; Matthew Wilson, Vice-President; Thomas Wilson, Treasurer; William Forrester, Clerk; Thomas Russell, Jas. Beveridge, sen., James Clark, and John Thomson. Mr. George Sinclair, solicitor, who was present, was requested by the directors to apply to the Trustees of the roads in the village for liberty to lay pipes under the roads where necessary, as well as other material required for the work, the Company binding themselves to leave the roads in proper order.
Mr Boyd M'Crae was appointed engineer of the works, and he recommended the feuing of a piece of ground about three hundred yards below the toll, on the west side of the road leading to Linlithgow (the present site of the works), and this was approved of, and the ground staked off.
Offers for the different departments of the works were then solicited, and the result laid before the directors, at a meeting held in Mr. Wm. Edward's Inn (Armadale Inn) on the 22nd May of the same year.
Having gone over all the estimates for the various departments, the contracts were set as follows:- Iron department, Martin and Stevenson, Glasgow; pipes, John Hamilton, Glasgow; tubes and saddles, John Spence, Airdrie; excavating and pipe laying, Robertson, Scott, and Alexander, Bathgate; brick work, John Dodds, Glasgow; joiner work, Shanks and Motherwell, Airdrie ; slater and plumber work, Matthew Thorn, Airdrie.
George Niven, Airdrie, was then appointed to be manager of the works, to commence his duties with the contractors, his wage being fixed at £1 a week, with free house, coal, and gaslight.
The work was rapidly pushed forward, and by the autumn - to be correct, the 2nd August - the directors were in a position to fix the price of gas, when it was made 7s 6d per thousand cubic feet, and Mr. Forrester was appointed collector.
The works office was now ready to receive its furniture, and at the last-mentioned meeting, which was held in the Buckshead Tavern, arrangements were made for this, and the meetings were thereafter held in the Company's Registered Office.
By the month of May in 1864, the directors were highly pleased with the results, and reduced the price of gas to 6s 8d. At the same time, by agreement with the manager of the Monkland Iron and Steel Company's Works, that the gas accounts would be stopped off in the office, the directors agreed to put gas-fittings into all the kitchens in Buttries Rows, free of charge.
At the end of the first financial year, when the accounts were balanced and the result made known on the 2nd June, 1865, it was resolved to declare a dividend of ten per cent., and give Mr. Niven, the manager, a present of .£5, in recognition of his good management.
Although paraffin oil was being extensively manufactured in the locality and giving employment to a large number of people, the new luminant was most popular, and was soon in almost every house in the town. The Episcopalian Church being built at the south-east corner of the estate, was a considerable distance away from the main track of gas pipes, but the Rev. Hudson Teape, by approaching the directors of the Company in November, 1865, succeeded in getting them to lay a service pipe up Gillespie Street, now known as "The Marches," in order that the church might be supplied with gaslight, and also a number of houses that were in course of erection.
By 1866, the manager, who was provided with a house in Buttries Row, found that the increasing consumpt of gas required him to be in closer attendance at the works than he was able to be living apart from it, and so he requested the directors to build him a house close by the works, a request that was readily acceded to. Mr. Niven, however, did not long enjoy the pleasures of his new house, as he was, soon after entering into it, appointed manager of the Airdrie Gas Works. Mr. Robert Hutchison was appointed from Airdrie to succeed Mr. Niven, in January, 1867, and in the following year earned the gratitude of the directors and £5 for his good management - a grant that was followed yearly, and became a recognised part of the manager's pay, until a new arrangement was come to.
In 1870 Mr. Forrester resigned the secretaryship, and Mr. Wilson his position as treasurer; and Mr. James Beveridge, jun., was appointed Secretary, Treasurer, and collector, at £13 per annum, with £50 lodged as security.
The gas consumers about this time began to decrease. The quality and the price of the gas was unsatisfactory, the rate fluctuating from 6s 8d to 7s 6d per 1000 cubic feet. The dividend had dwindled down from 10 per cent to nothing at all, and by July, 1880, as an incentive to the inhabitants to use the gaslight, the price was reduced to 5s 10d. Mr. Hutcheson was called upon to resign, and he was succeeded in the management by Mr. James Reid, also from Airdrie.
It was at the beginning of 1881 that the Burgh Commissioners took it into their heads to have street lamps erected, and when Mr. Duncan M'Dougal, the Chief Commissioner, waited upon the directors of the gaslight company on the 25th February to ascertain what would be the charge for supplying gas to the lamps, the price was fixed at 4s 2d per 1000 cubic feet. The measuring of the quantity of gas consumed by the street lamps appeared an obstacle in the way, and at a later conference between the directors and the Chief Commissioner the price was fixed at ten shillings per lamp for the lighting season.
The contract of erecting the street lamps was entrusted to Mr. Alex. Hutton, gasfitter, who had them in readiness for the winter of 1881-82, when the town came out of darkness into light. The following year the company paid a dividend of 2½ per cent.
The company struggled on through many ups and downs. Mr. Reid resigned, and Mr. John Gordon, from Portobello, succeeded him as manager. Gradually the old stock wore out and had to be renewed; the original shareholders were dying out and new ones taking their places, until none of those who first appeared on the list remained.
Continuing with varying success until 1896, the company resolved to offer the works to the Town Council in the interests of the burgh for the sum of £350, but at a ratepayers' meeting, held to consider the advisability of purchasing the works, the project was defeated. Few attended the meeting except pessimists, and those of the Council who were strongly in favour of acquiring the works for the burgh gave up the idea in disgust. The following year the works were put up for sale by public auction, when they were bought for Mr. James Wood, of Bathville. Mr. Wood immediately set to work to renew and extend the plant, and generally gave such facilities to householders that in a remarkably short time the consumpt of gas for lighting, heating, and motor purposes was greatly increased. Mr. Wood, in his endeavour to make his gas works up-to-date, had the experience of several managers, until at last he found in Mr. Andrew Johnston a manager with all the qualities necessary to give satisfaction to all concerned, and under his management the consumpt has risen from two to six million cubic feet per annum.
From 5s 10d per 1000, with 2s 6d per year for meter hire, the price of gas has been reduced to 4s 7d for lighting purposes and 4s 2d for heating and motor use, and the meter hire charge been abolished.
Mr Wood, having purchased Wallhouse estate and removed there to reside in 1903, became desirous of giving the burgh of Armadale the chance of purchasing the gas works, but was apparently injudicious in approaching the Town Council on the matter. The subject was first raised in the Town Council by Provost Wilson and Bailie Smith, who were alone aware of the conditions upon which Mr. Wood was prepared to part with the Works in favour of the burgh. Some suspicion, mixed, perhaps, with jealousy, was engendered among the members of the Council, and when the offer came to be considered it was rejected, and Mr. Wood has been content to retain the works, which yield him a good return for his money.
Mr Wood, unfortunately for Armadale, offered the gas works at a time when a company was being floated to lay an electric cable through the county, and the belief got into the minds of many that within a few years gas would entirely be a thing of the past for lighting and motor purposes, and the burden of the gas works, if purchased by the burgh, would be thrown upon the ratepayers. Such a pessimistic view was readily accepted; but the electric company has not yet appeared, and coal gas is in greater demand than ever and growing year by year, and there is not the least doubt now, had the Town Council acquired the works when first offered them in 1895, it would have proved a valuable asset, and the ratepayer, at least, might have been relieved of the cost of street lighting.
Many lamps have been added to the original number in the streets, until some sixty in all require to be lighted on the winter nights. On Mr. Wood coming into possession of the works the Council were offered a special low rate per 1000 cubic feet, which they accepted, and fitted three meters to ascertain the average consumpt. Incandescent burners were introduced in 1902, but did not become general until 1905, at which time the burners, hitherto giving no end of trouble through the breaking .of mantles, had been greatly improved, and a new lamp top, known as the anti-vibrating burners, had been introduced to all the lamps. Bye passes were fitted to each burner, but, after two years’ experience, proved too expensive, and were removed in 1905, reducing the cost per lamp one half. The burgh of Armadale is now considered well lighted at an average cost of 8s a year per lamp. The lighting of the street lamps in former years was let yearly to the one who offered to do the work at the least cost, but the Town Council this year have engaged a burgh officer whose duty henceforth will be to look after the Public Park, the sewage filters, and lighting the street lamps in the winter months.