Wooden plaque at Kirk of Calder

The witch hunters

The Calder witch hunt was led by the minister and supported by powerful local lairds and landowners. Three men stand out in the records: Hew Kennedie, Sir William Sandilands and James Sandilands.

Hew Kennedie: Minister of Calder

In April 1643 Hew Kennedie was ordained minister at Kirk of Calder. The new minister was just 22 years old and this was his first post after university. 

Kennedie saw it as his duty to maintain strict moral and religious discipline in the parish and was described as ‘a firebrand among his brethren’. It was reported that ‘acts of discipline during his ministry were four times as numerous as in any other like period of our history and the measures resorted to for the detection of offenders were of a very questionable nature’. 

Physically he was said to have been a man little of stature and was known as Bitter Beard.

Kennedie quickly developed close connections with wealthy and influential people. His second wife, Margaret Douglas, was a great-granddaughter of Lord Torphichen, and he became Heritor {landowner} at Easter Inch, Bathgate. He fathered at least nine children.

In 1690 Kennedie became Moderator {head} of the Church of Scotland, but about a year later he suffered an accident or medical incident while walking on the High Street in Edinburgh. This left him bedridden until his death in April 1692. He is buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard. 

Sir William Sandilands: Tutor of Torphichen 

Sir William Sandilands was Laird of Hilderston near Bathgate. At this time the 5th Lord Torphichen was a child so Sir William, his uncle, represented the young Lord using the title Tutor of Torphichen. This made Sir William extremely powerful.

Sir William and his wife, Dame Elizabeth Cunninghame, were known for their strict presbyterian religious principles and their support for persecuted covenanters. They were instrumental in appointing Kennedie as minister.

James Sandilands: kirk bailie

James Sandilands of Muirhousedykes {now Loganlea, or Dykes, at Addiewell} was the Calder kirk bailie. Another wealthy member of the Sandilands family his role as bailie was similar to a local magistrate. He would have had great power over the day to day lives of the local folks living at Calder.