Benhar Farm was swept away due to open cast mining in the recent 1970's-1980's. It was once the abode of a Covenanter called John Thomson who fought at Bothwell. He was also a survivor of the Orkney shipwreck, the only one of seven Shotts men who were on the ship.
He had acknowledged the rising at Bothwell as rebellion but denied the death of Sharp to be sinful. His descendants tenanted the farm (according to tradition) for three centuries. To the south of the farm on the west bank of a small burn, tradition points to a large boulder of whinstone that has been known since Covenanting days as Peden's Stone.
The tradition is most likely true (as the descendants of those who attended Conventicles at the time still reside on this spot) as reported about a century ago.
PEDEN'S STANE (STONE) WEST BENHAR
Benhar Farm was tenanted in (and long before) the Covenanting period by a family called Thomson. Their descendants lived there for many years later and have brought down an unbroken chain of evidence from the time of Covenanter, Alexander Peden, to the present day.
A cast iron pillar was erected on top of the boulder in 1866 to Peden's memory by local iron mine workers. Uniquely, this is the only cast iron Covenanters' memorial in Scotland.
To add a little flavour and give a little insight into what this stone meant to the locals of a few generations ago, here is an extract from a conversation which took place at the stone in 1880. A woman, Ellen Jane Guthrie, visiting the site and another local woman who happened to appear at the scene at the same time, entered into a conversation. Their little chat offers us a little glimpse of something that might otherwise have been lost in history. While Ellen J. Guthrie was standing musing at the sight and sound of the Benhar burn by the boulder she was joined by another traveller who engaged here on the subject of Peden's Stone.
Ellen Guthrie having satisfied the curiosity of the stranger proceeded to make some reflections about Peden. This was evidently to the delight of the antiquated looking stranger who seized her by the arm and exclaimed with kindly eyes:
"Oh, Mam, it does my old heart good to meet with one in these degenerate days who profess an interest in the old Covenanting stock; for, alas! new-fangled notions are taking possession of people's minds, old customs are abolished, a love for those sacred rites so revered by our forefathers, is entertained now but by a few, and (a deep sigh) times are changing in Scotland."
"What!" I said, "Do you not esteem it an unspeakable blessing that in these days each one is permitted, nay, invited to enter the House of God, there to worship Him without incurring the risk of imprisonment, ay, even death for doing so?"
The old woman shook her head as she replied, "Ye say truly, liberty is indeed granted to all who choose to accept the gracious invitation to hear the Word of God, but few, few there are who avail themselves of the gracious privilege afforded them. Look at your mighty cities, see the multitudes there who never enter a church door; and of those who attend, not the very few attracted thither by sentiments of real devotion. No, no, the old spirit of religion is fast dying in Scotland, and when it becomes extinct, then may we weep for our country."
"Far different it was thirty years ago," continued the old woman, "Oh, well do I mind one bonnie summer's morning, when the sky was without a cloud, an' the caller air cam' blithely over the heather while the lark was singing sae cheerily aboon oor heads, as if it too was joining in the hymn of praise, at that instant ascending from the lips of three thousand people assembled on this very spot to hear a sermon preached in remembrance of Peden."
"Oh, that was indeed a glorious sight, and one never to be forgotten. There was the minister, the soul tears trickling down his cheeks as he spoke of him in honour of whose memory they were that day gathered together... of the zeal, and his love for the might cause he had espoused; and there were the hearers, so absorbed in listening to his pious exhortations, that a pin might have been heard to fall in that vast assemblage."
Here the old woman paused for an instant, and then continued:
"Ay, ay, there was mair religion on ones thoughts when seated on the bonnie hillside, or aneath the shade o' a noddin beech imbibing the pure Gospel truths as given them by some persecuted servant of God, than when seated between the four walls of stone and lime; the perishable work o' men's hands."
(Source: 'Guthrie's Tales of the Covenanters’)
PEDEN AT PRAYER
According to tradition, it was here that Peden prayed for protection from the dragoons, although this must have been a regular occurrence in Peden's life as a fugitive. The locals of the area believe this is how 'Benhar' got its name: 'Ben'', meaning hill, and 'Har', meaning mist; 'Benhar' - Hill of the Mist.
Peden and some followers were being pursued by the dragoons. He stopped, saying, "Let us pray here, for if the Lord here not our prayers and save us we are all dead men."
Then he began praying, "Lord, it is Thy enemies’ day, hour and power. They may not be idle, but hast Thou no other work for them, to whom Thou wilt give strength to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill, Lord, and cast the lap o' Thy cloak ower auld Sandy and thir' poor things and save us this one time."
His prayer was heard since there fell between them and their enemy a blanket of mist. In the meantime, the dragoons received word to go in quest of Renwick, and a great company with him, and so passed the mist while the faithful few lay in the hollow of the hillside undiscovered.
This was typical of Peden's escapes; indeed, he was not only known as the 'Prophet of the Covenant,' but also a the 'Phantom' of hairbreadth escapes.
(Source: 'The Covenanters; The Fifty Years Struggle' by Mr. David Roy, a former member of Benhar Evangelical Church)
Benhar village is in Whitburn parish, Linlithgowshire, about two miles distant from Fauldhouse Station. The moss or moor on which the conventicles were held extends into Lanarkshire.
As stated, (p.231), a conventicle was held nigh to Peden's Stone on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Peden's death. The place, though externally unlovely, is sacred ground.
The Shotts people were stout Covenanters, not a few of them being concerned in the Pentland rising.
It was here that Cargill preached Cameron’s funeral sermon, and that Renwick commenced his ministry.
The Russells of Fala Hill and the Marshalls of Starryshaw are names to be held in remembrance. And at the present time the heroes of the Covenant are not forgotten.
(Source: 'The Prophet of the Covenant' by John C. Johnston; published in 1902)
THE EAST BENHAR EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION & PEDEN'S STONE
Peden's 'stone' is pre-eminently that on Benhar, which can be reached from Shotts, or either of the adjoining stations.
For long there has been nothing to be seen but a bare boulder on the heath, a big rough stone in a hollow, but in 1866 local friends of the cause set their hearts on something better. And now we have an iron pillar erected upon the block of stone, and the whole protected by an iron railing.
Unfortunately, the monument is not seen till you come upon it, by the bank of a tiny rill. Not very long ago the district was all waste moor; now it is alive with iron-pits, with the clank of machinery, and the hum of honest industry.
The inscription is fourfold, as follows:
'PEDEN'S STONE. - This spot, according to tradition, is one of the places where Peden and others preached to the Covenanters.'
'Of whom the world was not worthy.'
'They wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.'
'Erected by a Committee from proceeds of sermons, 1866.'
In various ways the interest is here kept up. A great gathering took place at Peden's Stone in July 1885, under the auspices of the 'East Benhar Evangelistic Association'.
Two thousand people were present, and addresses were delivered by Mr. Ronaldson, of Longridge, Mr. Crawford, of Fauldhouse, and others.
A somewhat novel idea the writer was made aware of on a recent visit to the place, to wit, a local place for the benefit of some afflicted brother:
'Special promotion, The Covenanters, or the killing times in Scotland; supported by the entire strength of the century; depicting the persecution of the Covenanters of Benhar Moor, the banishment of Peden; also scenes in the infamous career of Claverhouse.
The details of this work have been collected from the history of Shotts and district, the author of which desires that the memory of such events may not pass into oblivion.'
(Source: 'The Prophet of the Covenant' by John C. Johnston; published in 1902)
- Benhar Evangelical Church
- Covenanter Road
- Eastfield, Harthill
- North Lanarkshire
- ML7 5PB