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Home > Family Histories > Occupations & Trades > Stillman (Sulphate of Ammonia Plant)

Stillman - Sulphate of Ammonia Plant

also Still Headman, Assistant Still Headman, Still Foreman

Ammonium Sulphate Plant Pumpherton RefineryP980665 Ammonium Sulphate Plant, Pumpherston Refinery, circa 1950

A stillman worked on the sulphate of ammonia plant at the oil refinery.

The introduction of the Young & Beilby retort in 1882 allowed large quantities of ammoniacal liquor to be extracted from oil shale. When reacted with sulphuric acid this produced ammonium sulphate sold as a valuable agricultural fertiliser or a feedstock for explosive manufacture. Until the invention of nitrogen fixation processes during World War One, ammonium sulphate production accounted for the bulk of profits earned by the shale oil industry.

In the early years of the industry, the ammonia still was a horizontal boiler, heated by a furnace beneath. More modern stills were tall, cylindrical steel vessels heated with currents of steam. The photograph to the right shows part of the ammonium sulphate plant at Pumpherston Refinery in circa 1950. Ammonia from the crude oil works was expelled as vapour from its solution in a still then absorbed in sulphuric acid and water in lead lined vats. This solution was then evaporated to form crystalline ammonium sulphate which was then separated, washed then dried by centrifugation and rotary drier evaporators above and aspirators and centrifugal dryers below. The evaporators are seen at the top of this picture, below which are aspirators and centrifugal dryers.

Wages & Working Hours

In 1958, an Agreement Between the Scottish Shale Oil Companies and the National Union of Shale Miners & Oil Workers records that a sulphate of ammonia stillman earned 29s 3d per shift. Day workers worked an average of 44 hours per week (5 days one week and 5.5 days the next week). Three shift or double shift workers worked a 6 day week of 48 hours.

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