"There is a new quarter of the town towards the north west , bearing the euphonious title of "The Happy Land", applied to it be the wits of the place. The houses are in rows, one behind another, about ten yards apart like lines of soldiers in the form of an oblong square. The houses have no gardens, but apparently were built with more regard to the utilization of the feu ground than to the health and comfort of the tenants."
"Silvester Sprightly" writing in the West Lothian Courier, June 30th 1877
" These houses belong to Young's Mineral Oil Company, and consist of 95 single- and 64 double-apartment houses. The rent is 1s. 9d. and 2s. 3d. per week for single- and double-apartment houses respectively. They are old houses and of a very poor type. Single-apartment houses have bricked floors. Where wood floors are substituted, the tenants have to remove the clay and dirt, and 1d. per week is added to the rent. There are no coal-cellars, wash houses, or sculleries. Privies are provided, but the conditions are anything but satisfactory. There are four stand-pipes for 159 houses. Refuse is removed daily by the Company."
Theodore K. Irvine, Report on the Housing Conditions in the Scottish Shale Field, 1914.
CHARACTERS OF OTHER DAYS
" Happy Land " Memories
On the site of Northfield Cottages, these trim and modern additions to West Calder's houses, there used to stand the historic " Happy Land." The old "Happy Land," remembered well by two generations of Calder people, was a "rush" job, in the boom period of the shale oil industry when houses were desperately needed to accommodate the men and their families who came here to work.
The streets were all named after Scottish rivers and were Forth Street. Clyde Street Annan Street. Dee Street. and Tay Street. Now not a vestige of this bustling little of streets remains. From these streets have come in their day many well-known chargcters, among them being Geordie study, the Maltese soldier Jock Vickers, the old shale miner. "Chumpy" McLauchlan, Old Mick Grimley, the keen Irish wit. Sandy Watson, who was "Gurrie's" famous pal. Then there were " Gad Wull." the man who could read a newspaper upside down, Bob Jones all the way from Wales. Wull Rae, the " craw-picker." from the local shale mines. Sandy McKinnon, who was the companion of " Craw Jock," and the unforgettable Jamie Carr. whom West Calder will ever remember as " Follow me in the meantime, boys."
Happy Land men have distinguished themselves in other spheres too. Somewhere in Dee Street was born the present Speaker in the New Zealand Parliament, Mr McKeen. M.P., while in the double rows of Clyde Street and Forth Street, James Balfour Sneddon, who passed away recently, the well-known Scottish mining engineer and educationalist, spent his childhood.
The roadway and paths leading from Main Street to Northfield Cottages now cover the site of the old Happy Land Square, which was the scene of many stirring events. Handball used to be extensively played here and two of the local lads were real experts at the handba' game. They were the late Andrew Cairns and Tommy Sneddon. Indeed Andrew Cairns was the winner of the Scottish Handball Championship, which carried with it prize money of £100. In that same square the father of Will Fyfe erected his travelling theatre, or "gaff," and so opened West Calder's theatre season. The lad who was to become one of the greatest character comedians in the world, attended school in the district and was friendly with a number of the Happy Land boys of the day. To the end of his days Will Fyfe's ambition was to be a great actor, although he succeeded as a comedian, and no doubt his ambition for 'straight" acting was fired in the days when he played juvenile parts in his father's travelling " gaff." The plays presented were on the lines of Maria Martin," or " The Murder at the Red Barn," " Jeanie Deans," "Rob Roy." "The Face at the Window." and " East Lynne." During one of the West Calder seasons, Fyfe, senior, was lodging above what was later Mr McOwat's shop at the West End. Somehow the place went on fire, and the promoter lost practically his all, including some valuable manuscripts. He did not return to West Calder again
The story is told that during the fire a couple of barrels were standing at the rear of the shop, filled with paraffin oil. Ardent firefighters arrived on the scene, and believing the barrels contained water, began to fling pailfuls of paraffin on the blaze with startling results. It is also told that a woman on the top story, alarmed by the fire carefully packed all her self in a clothes basket and then threw it out of the upstairs window
TAY STREET MISSION
Just off the Happy Land Square stood Tay Street Mission Sabbath School, which was conducted by two life long friends, the late Robert Sneddon and wee Jimmy Morgan. The two were, as David and Jonathan. The mission was familiar to most of the children who grew up in the Happy Land, and who can still remember it well. These were great days indeed, when there used to be long and earnest discussion on every single topic under the sun, and when all the affairs of state were settled by the lads who gathered nightly in the Happy Land Square.
Midlothian Advertiser - Friday 11 March 1949