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Oakbank Oil Works

Location 55.877983, -3.475879, show in map
Former parish and county Parish of Kirknewton, Edinburghshire
Current local authority area West Lothian
Construction history First buildings c.1863
Ownership history Oakbank Oil Co.,, Midcalder Mineral Oil Company Ltd, Oakbank Oil Company Ltd (Old), Oakbank Oil Company Ltd (New)
Demolition history Works demolished c.1932
Current status of site Waste ground; being redeveloped as an industrial estate


Redwood noted:

"In 1860 Sir James Simpson started a work a Oakbank, Mid Calder, Midlothian, and after receiving fairly good returns on his investment for three years, he formed a private company which was very successful, and led to the oil work and mineral fields finally becoming the property of a limited liability company which was floated in 1869".

This is not wholly accurate. In 1864 Hare, Simpson & McKinlay, presumed partners in the Oakbank Oil Co. formed a limited company, the Midcalder Mineral Oil Co. Ltd. to take forward operations at Oakbank. This proved shortlived and in 1869 the Oakbank Oil Co. Ltd (1869), a new limited company with a new board of directors, was formed to take forward the business

Redwood continued:

"The Oakbank company was very successful at the start, but the constantly decreasing prices for finished products, and the adoption of a bad form of retort, brought it to the verge of bankruptcy in 1886, and necessitated its reorganisation. The extension of the works and general reorganisation were completed in May 1887, after which an expenditure of £30,236, and the company was then placed on a more equal footing with its competitors."

Oakbank Paraffin Oil Works, (as it was originally known), was one of the earliest shale oil works. Sited strategically beside the Caledonian Railway's Edinburgh to Glasgow route, the works were initially served by small-scale shale workings in Calder Wood, then, from c.1868, by Oakbank No.1 & 2 pits, lying a mile north of the works and linked by the company's mineral railway. Oakbank No.1 and 2 pits remained the major source of shale for the works throughout the 19th century, but as the isolated Oakbank shale-field became exhausted the company had to look elsewhere for supplies. Newfarm No.3 &.4 mines, lying almost a mile to the west of Oakbank supplied shale between, c.1909 and c.1919, linked by a spectacular aerial ropeway. Shale was probably also transported from Westwood pit. The Oakbank Oil Company also established Niddry Castle Oil Works in about 1902, producing crude oil that was sent to Oakbank for refining. The workforce was accommodated in company housing in Oakbank village.

The works were demolished c.1932.

Valuation Records

Entries between 1863 and 1938. Download details


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

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Drawings and Plans

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TO BE SOLD. THE OAKBANK OIL WORKS, belonging to the Mid-Calder Mineral Oil Company (Limited), together with the company's interest in the lease of the adjoining Mineral Field. The works are situated in Mid-Lothian, near the Junction of the Cleland and Midcalder and Caledonian Railways, and are connected therewith by a private line. For further details apply to Messrs MACONOCHIE, DUNCAN, & HARE, W.S.,10 Hill St Edinburgh. The Scotsman 12th February 1868

New Pumping Machinery at Oakbank Oil Works - A number gentlemen from Edinburgh and Glasgow, who are interested in mining, paid a visit on Thursday to the works of the Oakbank Oil Company, near Mid-Calder, for the purpose of inspecting some new pumping machinery lately erected there. Among those present were - Messrs A.C. Kirk, engineer, Glasgow; R. Hell, of Broxburn; Thomas Grant, engineer, Kilmarnock; A.G. Simpson, of John Fyffe, general manager, Young's Oil Company; G.H. Geddes, mining engineer, Edinburgh; James C. Simpson, Hamilton Colliery; Wm Kennedy, general manager, Oakbank Oil Company; Norman Henderson, Walter Stoddart, C.E.; Mr George T. Beilby, chemist, &c. The Oakbank Oil Company have worked the Calder shale field for seven years, and the works for distillation of oil, &c., cover an area of 26 acres. 60,000 tons of shale are distilled per, annum, and two million gallons crude oil are refined and manufactured into burning and lubricating oils, naptha, and paraffin wax, from which candles are made; while a valuable product from the shale, sulphate of ammonia is also extensively manufactured. One of the most extensive of the shale pits belonging to the company is on the hanks of tributary to the Almond, near the village of Mid-Calder. it forty-three fathoms in depth, and when it was deemed advisable a few months ago to work the lowest seam of shale, which is four and a half feet thick, it was found necessary to erect new pumping machinery in order to keep the workings dry. This machinery, which is efficient in operation as novel in construction, was made by Messrs A. Barclay & Son, engineers, Kilmarnock. The engine, which is the overhanging beam class, high pressure and condensing, has a steam cylinder 62 inches in diameter, with a stroke 8 feet, which gives a stroke 10 feet in the pumps. The beam is made of solid wrought iron plates, 30 feet long, made of two plates 1¼ inch thick thoroughly bound together. The pump rods are hung between these plates at the pit end, and the steam cylinder is just within these rods, the back end of the beam being supported by a vibrating column. By this arrangement the pithead is kept perfectly accessible, and unencumbered by machinery, point of the greatest moment. engine is fitted with the most improved system valve gear, working two Corinth valves in the one steam chest, with the equilibrium valve between. The condenser is of blow-through type, so successfully applied by Mr Barclay to the largest pumping engines. This form of condenser has no working parts to go wrong or keep in repair, and at all times gives a steady vacuum in the cylinder. The pump which the engine works is of the plunger class, the plunger being 27 inches in diameter, working a 10 feet stroke, and weighing 8½ tons. The rods to which the plunger is attached are made of pitch pine 14 inches square, in lengths of 40 feet, bolted together at each joint by four malleable iron plates 20 feet long. The column of pipes from pit bottom to the surface are 22 inches in diameter. All the pipes, clack pieces, and working barrel were tested in Messrs Barclay's works to a pressure of 450lb to the square inch before being sent out. The heavy weights that had to be lowered down the pit necessitated the use of a very powerful crane. This was also made by Messrs Barclay & Son, and is fixed permanently on a stone seat, to be made use of as occasion requires in the pit. This crane is capable of lifting 20 tons as a working load, but has been tested much above that strength. It is driven by a single 8 inch cylinder, working with screw and worm wheel on the first motion, and reduced with spar gearing to the drum. The drum is six feet diameter, supported on three strong cast iron rings and covered with wood cleading. The rope has been tested severely in lowering the heavy weights down the pit, and has worked very satisfactorily. The total weight of the material in connection with the pumps in the pit is about 150 tons, and of the engines above ground 70 tons. The great power of the engine and pumps may be imagined from the fact that 1500 gallons of water can be discharged per minute from the pit into the adjoining stream. Besides the gentlemen already named, there was a considerable assemblage round the pit-head on Thursday afternoon, when the new machinery was set agoing for the first time. The engine having been christened "Maggie" by a young lady breaking a bottle of champagne over the beam, steam was put on, and the engine from the start worked with beautiful smoothness and to the satisfaction of everyone present. On the call of Mr Kennedy, general manager of the works, three cheers were given for the success of "Maggie". Falkirk Herald, 3rd February 1876

OILWORKS TO BE DISMANTLED. A BLOW TO CALDER VILLAGES. Any hope which may have existed in the Oakbank and Calders villages with regard to the oil works at Oakbank, recently closed, has been quenched the fact that operations for the complete dismantling of the plant commenced to-day. Since the closing of the works July last year, rumours have been circulated frequently that the works site was to be utilised for various purposes—paper mills, soap works, and chemical manufactures being mentioned in this connection - but the rumours have proved unfounded, and the villagers East and Mid-Calder, Oakbank and Kirknewton, are now faced with the prospect of evacuating their homes in search of employment, the shale industry having been the chief source of employment in the district. Meantime the operations of dismantling will provide employment for about 50 workmen for some time, but 200 men, already unemployed, will require to find work outwith the Calders district. Edinburgh Evening News 10th May 1932

FIRE AT OAKBANK WORKS. The Managing Director reported that a serious fire had taken place at Oakbank Works early in the morning of Thursday 19th inst [October 1916]. The paraffin Wax Cooling Houses numbering six distinct buildings, and ranging from Nos. 50 to 55 on the plan of the Works were completely gutted entailing a considerable loss to plant and stock in process. There was also a considerable quantity of Assam Crude Paraffin and same refined wax (destroyed) lying in the open adjacent to the Cooling Houses, destroyed by the fire. The Loss is covered by the Coy's. [Company's] Insurance Policies, and energetic steps have been taken to have the buildings rebuilt, and new plant installed with as little delay as possible. FIRE AT OAKBANK WORKS. The Managing Director reported that the loss in connection with the fire which destroyed the Paraffin Wax Cooling Houses at Oakbank Works on 19th Oct last [1916] had been assessed under the Coy's [Company's] policies of Insurance at £7289:14/- and that of this amount the Company bears a proportion of the loss amounting to £584:5.5. Oakbank Oil Company Limited, Directors' Minute Book, No.8, 1916-1919, pp26-27 and p35



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