Linlithgow (surveyed in 1855)


Linlithgow is situated between Edinburgh and Glasgow, to the south of the Firth of Forth and on the edge of Linlithgow Loch. At the time of this survey it was in Linlithgowshire, but would now be in West Lothian. The name Linlithgow means 'the place by the lake in the moist hollow'. It is derived from llyn, a Brythonic-Celtic word meaning 'lake' and two Brythonic words, lleith meaning 'moist' and cau meaning 'hollow'. Brythonic was the language of the Britons who inhabited Strathclyde in the sixth century AD.

The town was made into a royal burgh by 1153. It was the site of a royal castle from an early period, probably since the twelfth century. The patronage of the royal court was an important element on the town development. Linlithgow Palace was the favourite home of Mary de Guise, the French wife of King James V. Her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots was born in Linlithgow in 1542 and succeeded to the throne at a few days old. The palace was the scene of many plots and intrigues in the stormy years that followed. The building was largely was destroyed in 1746. Government soldiers under the command of General Hawley had retreated to the castle after being defeated by the Jacobites at the battle of Falkirk. When they lit fires to dry themselves, they accidentally set fire to the castle.

The population of the town in 1851 was 4,071, a moderate increase on the total of 3,187 in 1831.

Town Planning

The core of the town at this time lay on either side of the High Street, which extended east to west. The townhouse and court formed a focus in a small square, about halfway along the High Street. Behind and above this, on the Peel, was the palace. To the south of the High Street and roughly parallel to it, there were both the railway and the canal. By the time of the survey, the land in this area had been largely filled in with industrial property.


The townhouse was built in 1668 and held the court rooms, the jail and the town hall. Beside it stood the Cross-well an ornamental well with thirteen water spouts which had been carved in 1805 as a replica of an earlier well. The parish church of St Michael was a fine medieval church, built in 1242 on the site of an earlier church. Most of the structure visible in the nineteenth century was of fifteenth-century date.

Linlithgow palace as it survived in the mid-nineteenth century comprised a range of buildings around a courtyard. It had largely been rebuilt in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but it incorporated many earlier phases.

Trade and Industry

Linlithgow had very good transport links. It was not only on the Edinburgh to Glasgow road, but also on the Forth-Clyde Canal. The canal, which had been built in the eighteenth century, carried both freight and passenger traffic but by the mid-nineteenth century, Wilson (1857) wrote that it 'used to be the scene of some traffic'. The railway was clearly beginning to compete with the canal for business by the time of the survey. The main trade in the town in the eighteenth century had been the tanning of leather and shoe-making, but by the mid-nineteenth century this was in decline, although at least one tannery can be seen (sheet 3). Similarly, various forms of textile industry, which had earlier been profitable in the town, had declined. A distillery can be seen on the east side of the town (sheet 4).

Religious Life

At the time of survey there was the Church of Scotland Parish Church of St Michael (sheet 1), a Free Church, two United Presbyterian churches (sheet 3) and an Independent chapel. In the medieval period there had been a Carmelite convent to the south of the town. Only a well called 'Friars’ well' and the name 'Friar’s Brae' remained by the mid-nineteenth century. To the east of the town there had been a Dominican monastery and a pilgrim house dedicated to Mary Magdalene; no buildings were in existence at the time of the survey, but names such as 'Pilgrim’s Hill' remained.


There were a number of educational establishments in the town including the burgh grammar school, a charity schools for girls and seven private schools.

Culture and Society

In the nineteenth century there was still a traditional 'riding' of the parish bounds every year.