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Shale Villages


A Recognised Collection of National Importance

Home > Companies & Works > Company Housing > Tarbrax


Location 55.779678, -3.554179, about five miles south of West Calder show in map
Former parish and county Parish of Carnwath, Lanarkshire
Current local authority area South Lanarkshire
Construction history First houses built c.1868, last built c.1914
Ownership history Ebeneezer Fernie, William Black, British Oil & Candle Company Ltd, Lanark Oil Company Ltd, Caledonian Mineral Oil Company Ltd (Old), Caledonian Mineral Oil Company Ltd (New), Tarbrax Oil Company Ltd, Pumpherston Oil Company Ltd
Demolition history More than half the houses demolished following closure of works in 1925
Current status of site Surviving houses extended and modernised, site of demolished homes mainly derelict ground


A remote community established to serve Tarbrax Oil Works. The ownership of the works changed hands on many occasions during the latter part of the 19th century, and there were several periods in which the works lay derelict and the population of the village substantially declined.

A sale notice dated 1870 records a manager's house, 12 workman's cottages and a wooden house capable of lodging 30 workmen. When the site was taken over by the Lanark Oil Company Ltd in 1883, 36 additional double houses were built. Further houses were built by the Caledonian Mineral Oil Company Ltd during the 1890's.

The 1897 OS map shows the village under the ownership of the Caledonian Mineral Oil Company Ltd. To the north of the Maidwin Burn, and in the shadow of the bing, there was a row of three two-storey blocks (North Terrace) each with six two-room homes on each level; perhaps the houses built by the Lanark Oil Company Ltdin 1883. A further two-storey building, marked "Public Hall" on the map, later served as the Co-op store. There were also six single-storey rows, each with six two-room homes. All of these buildings appear to have been demolished within a few years of closure of the works, although some of their foundations can still be discerned. To the south of the burn there were a further eleven blocks, of various lengths, all constructed as back-to-back homes. Two of these rows appear to house one-room homes, all others were two-room. A number of these Caledonian Mineral Oil Company Ltd houses survive substantially modernised and extended, now numbered 78-83, 89-102 and 103-106 Crosswood Terrace. A two-storey building, presumably a manager's house, also survives. Some new housing has been constructed on the plots of demolished properties.

The 1911 OS map shows the village under the ownership of the Tarbrax Oil Company Ltd following their construction of 88 new houses in a regular array at right angles, and on either side of, Tarbrax Road. The 11 blocks each contained eight two-room homes with scullery. A row of eight spacious home (Woodside Terrace) were constructed for foremen, and four detached villas for senior officials. An institute was constructed in the centre of the village. Other than Woodside Terrace and the villas, none of the Tarbrax Oil Company Ltd rows survive. The site of some of the rows to the west of Tarbrax Road has been used for new housing; the site of the rows to the west of the road is now planted with trees.

The 1956 OS map shows the six parallel new rows constructed c. 1913, at about the time that the Tarbrax Oil Company Ltd was absorbed by the Pumpherston Oil Company Ltd. Each row contained eight two-room homes with scullery. These survive as 241-248, 259-256, 257-264, 265- 72, 273- 280, and 281-288 Viewfield Road, in varying states of repair and extension.

Closure of Tarbrax Oil Works in 1925 brought enormous hardship to an area with few other sources of employment. Most of those of working age were forced to leave the village, many emigrating to New Zealand. Tarbrax historian John Kenneway (see references) recalls that many homes were sold in the 1930's as but and bens (holiday cottages) to those living in Glasgow or Edinburgh. During World War Two, Tarbrax became home to many families evacuated from the cities, whilst in the 1950's many houses were purchased by American aircrew based at Kirknewton. Even today, much of the frontier spirit lives on in Tarbrax.


Ordnance Survey maps reproduced by kind permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

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Some 126 houses consist of room, kitchen, and scullery, with boiler, sink, and coal- cellar, and a water-closet for each tenant. The rents range from 2/10 to 3/3 weekly. There are also 120 houses consisting of room, attic, kitchen, scullery, with sink and boiler, and a water-closet for every two houses. The rental of this type of house is 4/- per week, inclusive of rates. A great number of the houses have cement pavement between each house. Some have gardens, with clothes poles at each corner, while others have greens surrounded by small wooden railings. There is a good drainage system, but the sewage is disposed of in a field much too near the village, and the prevailing winds carry a most objectionable smell over the village. The main street is lighted by the Company, and refuse is removed by them also. An Institute, with reading room, library, and rooms for games, is provided. The workers pay 1d. per week for its maintenance. Forty new houses have just been completed, which makes a total of 296. The population is 1571. Theodore K. Irvine, Report on the Housing Conditions in the Scottish Shale Field, 1914.

SITUATION AT TARBRAX: FACED WITH STARVATION. As a result of the shutting down of the shale mines and retorts, many people in Tarbrax, one of the remote villages of the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, are faced with starvation. Painful rumours regarding the destitute condition of many people reached Lanark on Saturday night (says a correspondent.) Workers from Tarbrax, to the number of nearly 400, marched in procession to Carnwath, nearly ten miles distant, on Thursday night last for the purpose of asking poor relief. Relief under the emergency clause of the Poor Law Act, which enables people in a state of absolute destitution to get relief, has been given to a number of people in Tarbrax on the recommendation of the doctor there. A meeting of Carnwath Parish Council has been called for today to consider the whole situation. The Scotsman, 7th December 1925


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