What a Waste! Disposing of Broxburn’s Sewage.

In the 19th century Scotland’s cities and towns were breeding grounds for disease and poverty. This was exacerbated, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, by manufacturers disposing of waste products. With few regulations in place to govern such disposal, factories chose the cheapest methods available to them. In many cases this simply meant dumping waste into local rivers.

Death caused by poverty and disease was commonplace throughout 19th century Scotland
Death caused by poverty and disease was commonplace throughout 19th century Scotland

And Linlithgowshire was no stranger to such issues. In the late-19th century newspaper articles abound about rivers becoming polluted due to the shale industry’s  reckless disposal of its waste products. The number of fish swimming in the rivers was reducing, and in some cases were found to be covered in fungus.


Plan of Broxburn Sewage Works
Plan of Broxburn Sewage Works, 1914

What was needed was a works which could sanitise the sewage before disposal. The answer came in the form of sewage works. Such places began to emerge in Linlithgowshire around the turn of the century, in towns such as Bathgate and Linlithgow. By the 1910s the Linlithgow County Council was aware that numerous drainage districts around Broxburn and Uphall were emptying their effluence into the Brox Burn. To remedy this they determined to build a works to treat local sewage.

Tanks at Broxburn Sewage Works
Tanks at Broxburn Sewage Works, 1914

And so, on 14th April 1914, a sewage works was opened to the south-east of Broxburn. The cost was £9,000, and this provided a number of tanks, each undertaking its own part of the sanitation process, and six spray beds (filter beds). The spray beds were 77 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep, and land was set aside for expansion, although this never came to pass. Up to 450,000 gallons of sewage could pass through the works each day. The Broxburn Sewage Works, as it was to be known, would serve around 12,500 local inhabitants.

Spray beds at the Broxburn Oil Works, 1914
Spray beds, or filter beds, at the Broxburn Oil Works, 1914. In the background is the rarely photographed East Mains Pumping Station.

Robert Hastie, chairman of the Uphall Parish Council, declared the works open, being presented with a rose bowl as thanks. The gathered group of VIPs then proceeded to the Masonic Hall in Broxburn for tea.

Robert Hastie
Robert Hastie, chairman of the Uphall Parish Council











The Broxburn Sewage Works remained in place for at least the next 40 years, and the site now hosts Keyline Civils and Drainage.

John Wilson: A Striking Personality

For many years the West Lothian shale miners, and later the coal miners also, were represented by an Uphall man called John Wilson. Wilson was said to look like Napoleon, and the way he took the miners’ fight to the employers, where he ‘held his ground pugnaciously, and would seldom submit to compromise,’ only further enhanced this comparison.

John Wilson
John Wilson, shale miners’ agent. BP Archive 215305.











In his early life John Wilson considered entering the ministry. However, on passing a miners’ meeting in the mid-1880s he suggested a course of action they should take. Impressed by his eloquence the miners quickly appointed him their agent. On the creation of a Shale Miners’ Association he immediately set out to put the organisation on a sound footing, creating branching across the shale fields. The result of this action quickly proved effective and he won concessions and later a compromise in two strikes in 1887. His writing about these strikes can be seen in his diary.
Aware that his ‘eloquence and power of reasoning’ was proving beneficial to the lives of the shale miners, the coal miners appointed him as their agent also. The following years saw him take an interest in all levels of politics. He was elected to Uphall School Board, but failed in bids to become a councillor on Glasgow Town Council and an MP for Edinburgh Central.
John Wilson died in April 1912 aged 50 years. As the funeral cortege passed through Uphall on the way to the cemetery the streets were lined with hundreds of miners, businesses closed and blinds were drawn, as a mark of respect.

And the miners need someone to fight for them. As an example, in 1926 the miners went on strike and the West Calder Parish Council decreed that no benefits be given to those on strike. This prompted a local activist called Sarah Moore, known as Ma Moore, to stage a protest, along with many other miners’ wives, outside the offices of the council. It was ended by a police baton charge.

Ma Moore at the West Calder protest
Ma Moore (far right) and a number of miners’ wives at the West Calder protest in 1926. Rights: John Kelly.







Miners' wives at the West Calder protest
A number of miners’ wives at the West Calder protest in 1926. Rights: John Kelly.

Below is one of John Wilson’s letters, highlighting his eloquence, as well as his desire to defend those with few rights:

June 26th 1886

Shale Miners Agitation

Sir,   Would you be kind enough to give me a small space in your valuable paper, to inform the public regarding the Shale Miners Agitation, as we think the time has come when they ought to know and consider the various grievances from which they suffer, and from which they see deliverance.  The Shale Miners are, many of them, like miners in general and other tradesmen.  Many of them spend part of what they earn upon that which satisfieth not profiteth less, and thus rendering those of them who do this, less able to work for their rights.  But the folly and helplessness of an individual or company of individuals, furnishes no legitimate reason or cause for them being taken advantage of, by those who may happen to have them in their power, but ought rather to awaken their sympathy, and lead them to push forward a helping hand, to induce their workmen to be wise in the spending of their earnings.  This latter, however, is not the case, for the present state of matters abundantly shows that these oil Companies use the poverty and helplessness of many of their miners as a means at least to attain these two ends, 1st to keep them silent regarding their affairs or the sort of treatment they receive; and 2nd, to obtain the labour of the men directly and individually and at the lowest price in order that they may have the greatest possible profits, and it is perhaps, one of the saddest sights that can be witnessed in a civilized country, to see hundreds of working men with their families entirely at the mercy of companies of men, many of them already wealthy, and seeking to add to it, while others of them are pushing their fortune as hard as they can, regardless of the means by which it is achieved.  Now, we wish it to be distinctly understood that it is not with the prosperity or success of the Broxburn Mining Company or any other Company that we miners have to do, or have any right to interfere with, as success or prosperity in life is what every sane man ought to aim at, and what men in general do aim at.  But with the means used to attain this success, we are concerned and we intend to make it our business to see that only honest and honourable means are used, let the end or profits be what they may.  And the Company or Companies that will in any way hinder us from doing this in a lawful and honourable manner, plainly indicate that they wish to use dishonest means; that they are making dishonest profits; and that is obnoxious and detrimental to their interests that the means they use be known to the public, submitted to arbitration, or in any way interfered with.  To show the necessity for this action on our part, all that requires it be done, is to refer the public to Mr Steel’s address, and the 9th annual meeting of the Broxburn Oil Company, from which we quote the following facts:‐ A Balance at the credit of the profit and loss account of £57,040 1s 9d. They paid a dividend of 25 per cent, with £49,939.  They added £300 to their reserve fund, making it £25,000, and they carried forward a balance of £4,100 to next year.  Mr Steel said that the sum they had at the disposal of the profit and loss account was larger than that of any previous year, notwithstanding very heavy expenditure in connection with improvements and extensions of the works.  He also said that the directors last year estimated the savings from the decreased cost of manufacture during the then cur‐ rent year, through improvements that were introduced into the works, at something like £30,000, and he had pleasure in telling them that that sum had been more than realized.  Nor what we miners have to say regarding this large saving is this, that improvements in the works outside of the mines may account for a good deal, but we are positively certain that the conduct of the mining manager and the oversman, in taking advantage of the helplessness of the miners, and making them do their deficient work for nothing, or for a quarter, and the half of the payment they should receive, and did formerly; the conduct of the Crawpicker, through the manager, in helping a whole hutch of shale off a miner, because there may be from ½ to 2 cwts. Of unproductive materials in it, as they always do, and in such a wholesale fashion that it is a daily occurrence, at two of the mines inclusive, for from 10 to 40 hutches, and some days more, to be kept off the men collectively, and all the satisfaction they get is to be shown a piece of shale or other material, as the case may be, about the size of their two hands and a number upon it.  The rest of their materials are almost uniformly put into the retorts, and they have to be con‐ tent with the state of matters or leave the work.  We have previously referred to the weight, which is from 1 to over 2 cwts. Less for the same quantity of shale in their hutch as compared with 12, 18 months and 2 years ago.  This, we are bound to say, accounts for a good part of this large sum of over £30,000, and we leave it to the public to judge regarding the morality of the means which, if a miner says a word about it in public, he is dismissed from the work.  If we are not mistaken, Mr Steel, in a previous address some years ago, and upon a similar occasion, told the shareholders that they need not expect their profits to remain at the then present high rate, as the cost of producing the shale would necessarily be increased, as the miners would have longer roads to draw, which is absolute truth; but there is a fact of still greater meaning for them, the miners having to leave three and four times the amount of shale for stoops or pillars to support the surface; at least this is the reason the employers assign, but a very important reason is that they afterwards get the shale wrought for 4d per ton less, and compared with 9, 10, 11 +12 years ago, the miners have to leave from 30 to 40, and in many cases over 55 times more.  The figures are for 9, 10, 11 + 12 years ago the number of square feet was 12 x 6=72, and sometimes less, whereas now, and since that time, the figures are – 15×6=90; 40×30=1200; 80×50=4000 square feet.  These products be height of working will give number of cubic feet in the whole stoop, which meant a reduction to the average miner to a ton a day, and a great deal harder work besides.  Mr Steel, however, has changed since that time. Notwithstanding these disadvantageous conditions, he is for decreasing instead of increasing the cost of manufacture, which means for the miner a great deal harder work and a great deal less wages.  For he expresses himself thus, that notwithstanding a universal depression in trade generally, American, Russian, and home competition, stronger than ever before existed to contend against, he ventured to express the hope that by the exercise of the most rigid economy, and a further reduction in the cost of manufacture, the company would maintain its proud position on the future.  We thank Mr Steel for the timely notice he has given us, although we neither admit nor appreciate the moral means the Company are using and intend to use for the purpose of maintaining their proud position in the future.  We ask the world to take cognizance of these means, and every miner to unite with his fellow‐ workmen to consider and speak their minds about a fair days work done in proper time and for a fair days wage and consider the best means for redressing present grievances and resisting future injustice as these Companied have no thought but for how they can make money, and what is the most efficient method for purchasing the labour of the working man at the cheapest possible prices

I am, &C.,

John Wilson, Secretary

Linlithgowshire Miners Association

From Mine to Lamp, by Rail and Road

The arrival of the railway in Scotland in the 1830s was an important step forward in the movement of people, a driver for the advance of democracy, and an essential ingredient in country’s industrialisation. For West Lothian, sitting between Glasgow and Edinburgh, it was to prove critical in the explosion and success of the soon-to-be-formed shale oil industry.

The shale oil industry, still in its infancy, began to use the new rail system to move crude oil from mines to refineries, where it would be processed for wider use. It would then be transported to depots where it would be distributed across Scotland.

Young's rail wagon
Possibly the first rail wagon used by Young’s Paraffin Light & Mineral Oil Co. (R10-00192)


Young's rail wagon
A 10 ton tank wagon. built around 1903, and used by Young’s Paraffin Light & Mineral Oil Co. (R11-00017)
A 40 ton bogie tank wagon built around 1903, and used by the Oakbank Oil Co. Ltd (R11-00013)


Once the ever-expanding rail network had transported the oil to stations across the country the industry took to the roads, using horse-drawn and, later, motorised transport to distribute it throughout the cities, towns, and villages of Scotland. By the time the industry reached its end in the 1960s the preferred mode of transport to refineries and depots was still rail, but further distribution was now achieved through large tankers.

Horse drawn lamp oil tanker
Horse drawn lamp oil tanker at Culross village, Fife, 1910 (LVSAV1998.023.005)
Believed to be the first Pumpherston Oil Company tanker, c.1916 (LVSAV1998.047)
Scottish Oil and Shell Mex tanker
Scottish Oil and Shell Mex tanker, after 1918, probably converted from an old army truck (R15-00005)
BP Road Tanker
BP Road Tanker (BP Archive 217411-009)
BP Oil Tanker
BP Oil Tanker no.58189 (LVSAV1998.023.002)


From the Japanese Embassy to the Duke of Kent – Famous Visitors to the Shalefields

Through the years the shale industry has hosted many, many visitors. From local societies to schools, from foreign to homegrown royalty, the red carpet was well used throughout the shale era. Here’s a quick dip in to some of the most interesting visits, as detailed in the local newspapers.

1872 was a busy year, with visits from one, but two sets of VIPs. First up, in April came the Duke of Sutherland:

On Saturday His Grace the Duke of Sutherland, accompanied by Lord John Hay and Mr Cowan, formerly M.P. For Edinburgh, paid a visit to the Addiewell Works of Young’s Company (Limited), near West Calder. They were attended by Mr Patterson, writer, Edinburgh, and Mr McCrae, secretary of the Patent Fuel Company (Limited), as well as by other gentlemen interested in the latter company. Mr John Orr Ewing, chairman of Young’s Company, and several other directors received them, and showed them over the works, under the guidance of Mr John Calderwood, the manager, after which His Grace and party proceeded to examine the new fuel works now being erected at Seafield, near Bathgate.

Falkirk Herald, 26th April 1872

The Duke of Sutherland
The Duke of Sutherland











Six months later came a visit from the Japanese Embassy, known as the Iwakura Mission, who were touring Europe and the United States and which would, ultimately, aid in the modernisation of the Japan:

The Embassy, accompanied by Mr Brunton, C.E., visited the Addiewell Works of Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company (Limited) at West Calder. They were met by Mr John Orr Ewing (chairman of the company), Messrs James King, John P. Kidston, and D.J. Kennelly, directors of the company; and Mr O.T.B. Gardner, secretary, and Mr Calderwood, manager. Their Excellencies inspected the works and the various processes of manufacture, in all of which they appeared deeply interested. The members of the Embassy were afterwards entertained to luncheon in the offices of the company, when Mr Orr Ewing, in proposing the health of the chief Ambassador, took the opportunity of expressing the pleasure the directors had in receiving the Embassy, and in showing them what was in their power. His Excellency the Chief Ambassador, through his secretary, responded, thanking the directors for the kindness which had been shown to them. Several of the distinguished visitors returned to Edinburgh, and the others came on to Glasgow in the afternoon, the Caledonian Railway Company having kindly arranged to stop the trains at Addiewell Works to set down and take up the Embassy.

Falkirk Herald, 19th October 1872

The Japanese Embassy
The Japanese Embassy during a visit to the UK in 1872

In the late-19th century one of the most recognisable political faces was William Ewart Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party. By 1890 he was leader of the official opposition, when he visited Pumpherston Oil Works:

Mr Gladstone yesterday lunched with Mr M’Lagan, M.P., at Calder Hall, and subsequently visited Pumpherston Oil Works, receiving a hearty reception from several thousand of the workmen and their families. A box containing specimen of shale and its products was presented to the right hon. gentlemen, while two busts of paraffin wax manufactured at the works were handed over to Mrs Gladstone. An address was presented on behalf of the workmen at these and neighbouring works, wishing Mr Gladstone long life and consummation of his policy of conciliation to Ireland. Mr Gladstone, in reply, said the presents handed them cast his thoughts back to the year 1841, when the country set to work to reform its productive system under circumstances which were thought likely to lead in its destruction, but those doleful anticipations were not realised, for the trade of the country had multiplied five times, the population had enormously increased, and great progress had been made in the social, political, and moral condition of the people. The manufacture of wax and sperm candles, the cost of which had fallen in his time from 5s to 5d per 1b, was a case in point.

Dundee Courier and Argus, 29th October 1890

William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone, leader of the opposition

Perhaps almost as prominent as Gladstone were the Rechabites, central to the move to curb the consumption of alcohol:

Under the guidance and through the kindness of Bro. Thorburn, P.D.C.R., a number of the members of the Grand Encampment, and their friends paid a visit to the shale mines at Broxburn on Saturday. They were conducted down two of these, and through the workings, the details of which were fully explained. After the visit the party were hospitably entertained.

Edinburgh Evening News, 29th April 1901

One of the most well known visits, due to the large number of professional photographs taken was that of the Duke of Kent in 1940:

The Duke of Kent yesterday visited the oilworks and shale mines of Scottish Oils Ltd, in the Lothians. The Duke, who was accompanied by Mr Robert Crichton, general manager, and Mr William Caldwell, deputy manager, motored to the oilworks. The party inspected the power station, and afterwards went to a shale pit.  The Duke was given a set of overalls and went down the pit. He was interested in seeing the workmen mining the shale, and he spoke to several. The pit is one of the most modern, and is electrically equipped throughout. The Duke was informed of the boring operations, and he first saw a hand-drill being employed, and then an electrical drill, which he afterwards used himself. Continuing his tour, the Duke inspected A.R.P. Units at a recreation centre. His Royal Highness later visited oilworks, and after luncheon he was shown over engineering works and joiners’ workshops. A fire-fighting unit was inspected by the Duke. In the engineering works the Duke chatted with the workmen. The programme for the afternoon included a visit to another oilworks, where various processes of refining were explained. The plant for making bricks for the company’s use and for Scottish housing schemes was also inspected. The Duke expressed his thanks to Mr Crichton, telling him that the tour had been of the greatest interest to him.

The Scotsman, 11th January 1940

The Duke of Kent
The Duke of Kent with Robert Crichton, William Caldwell and unknown. More photographs of this visit are available in the BP Archive, 198000.

Our Evolving Collection: From Pumpherston to the Wolgan Valley

In 2015 we put up a short story about a Pumpherston man called William Findlay.

The story began in June 1907 when William Findlay, a retort bricklayer, left his home in School Row, Pumpherston, to undertake a one year contract for the Commonwealth Oil Corporation to build the Bryson patent ‘Pumpherston’ retort at Newnes in the Wolgan Valley near Sydney. Findlay was paid £300 per annum, with his passage to and from Australia paid.

William Findlay
On the extreme left of this 1908 photograph is Pumpherston man, William Findlay. (R10-00385)

Retoring began at Newnes in 1911, but soon stopped due to financial and technical issues. The latter related to the inability of the retort to cope with the rich Australian shale. The retort was replaced in 1913 and operations began again, under a new company, and continued successfully for many years.

Share certificate
Share certificate relating to shale mining operation at Newnes in Australia (LVSAV2011.101)
Pumpherston Retort at Newnes
A 1908 photograph of the bench of Bryson patent ‘Pumpherston” retorts built at the foot of ‘shale mountain’ at Newnes, in the Wolgan Valley. The shale was hewn from the mountainside and brought out from shafts to be taken directly to the adjacent retorts. (R10-00370)

And there the story ended because we knew nothing more of William Findlay. So, imagine our surprise when his daughter and grandson walked into the Museum with a collection of photographs (originals of the copies we already had) and documents belonging to William.

William had returned home, continued working in the West Lothian shale fields, and lived to be a good old age.

William Findlay
William Findlay, aged 90, at Pumpherston Bowling Club (LVSAV2018.079)

This is just one example of how our collection evolves over time, when local people bring in objects and items that augment what we already have.

The Dalmeny Battery

In 1896 an agreement was reached between Lord Rosebery and the Dalmeny Oil Company for the latter to lease, for 31 years, the mineral rights beneath a relatively small geographic area of land stretching from their current workings to the Firth of Forth. Leases of this type were a common occurrence in West Lothian, and it was in no way contentious.

Dalmeny Oil Company lease
The 1896 lease between Lord Rosebery and the Dalmeny Oil Company for lands stretching to the Firth of Forth. BP Archive 129046.













Lease map
Map highlighting the new area leased from Lord Rosebery, 1896. BP Archive 129046.

In 1912 the Dalmeny Oil Company was actively working shale in this new area, gradually moving north, to a point just south of the Forth Bridge. But in this area was a gun emplacement, erected by the War Office around 1903, called the Dalmeny Battery. James Jones, director of the Dalmeny Oil Company, wrote to the War Office, informing it of the advancing works. Jones believed that the War Office had leased the land from Lord Rosebery.

Alarm bells immediately rang within the halls of the War Office – underground working may cause buildings above to shift, and even a miniscule move would have an impact on the accuracy of a gun battery. A reply was quickly sent to Jones noting that ‘the stability of these defences should in no way be interfered with.’ It then asked the Dalmeny Oil Company to relinquish rights to the shale.

Ordnance Survey map, 1917, depicting the area in dispute. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.



ordnance survey ma
Detail of Ordnance Survey map, 1917, depicting the area in dispute. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.












Although Dalmeny Battery has now largely disappeared, one nearby at Hound Point is still relatively intact. With thanks to Dunfermline Dave for allowing us of his photograph. His Flickr page has additional images of the Hound Point site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/david_love/








Jones quickly replied that should rights be relinquished then his Company would expect compensation. He then dropped the bombshell that shale workings had already moved to within 25 yards of the site boundary.

What followed was months of legal wrangling by letter, with James Jones claiming that because the War Office only lease the land, and not what lies beneath, they have no right to erect new buildings after the signing of that lease that may inhibit the working of shale.

In early June Jones’ patience breaks, and in a letter to the War Office he notes ‘there is no use negotiating on the basis of the legal view you express.’

The following month saw a lull in hostilities due to the War Office failing to reply to letters. Jones had clearly had enough of this procrastination by the War Office and wrote a letter telling them that if no reply was received within one week then his Company would continue to work the shale. He also offered the War Office the opportunity to compensate them for any unworked shale at 1/3- per ton.

And then, just as it seemed the saga was drawing to a close, James Jones died, unaware that he was one letter away from a solution. His son, James Reid Jones, took over his role in the Company.

Soon after, a letter arrived from the War Office noting that they had acquired the land from Lord Rosebery through Compulsory Purchase Order and, as such, the shale under it belonged to them, albeit tenanted by the Dalmeny Oil Company. The saga had ended after six months. But one has to ask why this information could not have been conveyed at the outset of negotiations? Surely someone in the War Office was aware of the purchase. Or why did Lord Rosebery not intervene? He was aware of the dispute. We will likely never know.

Note from the Dalmeny Oil Company minute book transcribing the letter from the War Office that settled the dispute. BP Archive 213069

An aside to this story is that due to the dispute the Forth Bridge Company, owners of the rail bridge carrying trains across the Firth of Forth between the Lothians and Fife, became aware of the potentially detrimental impact that underground working too close to the bridge might have on the integrity of the bridge. However, with no claim to the land the bridge was built on the Forth Bridge Company agreed to compensate the Dalmeny Oil Company for any shale not worked, presumably at 1/3- per ton.

Forth Bridge
The Forth Bridge, c1920. LVSAV2011.090


Limefield House: lawyers, explorers, pig breeders and a bed for the night

Sitting just off a walled and wooded road east of Polbeth is an old mansion house, along the corridors of which, according to folklore, roams the ghost of a black Labrador, perhaps hoping for a pat on the back by a fellow apparition who is looking for ‘the little girl.’

Limefield House
Limefield House, LVSAV2016.141

Limefield House was built around 1805 for Thomas Gloag, a Writer to the Signet. It was one of the finest houses in the region, ‘elegant, commodious and substantially built [with a] dining room, drawing room, parlour and six bedrooms.’ As Gloag sauntered out his front door he would have been welcomed by around 60 acres of surrounding estate ‘well stocked with fruit trees.’

Gloag did not garner much benefit from his new mansion; he died in 1810. The next 40 years saw it become part of the Midlothian (now West Lothian) landscape, but its sheer size and cost of upkeep meant it was frequently on the market for rental. That is until 1855 when a chemist called James Young purchased it.

Young had recently been successful in producing oil from cannel coal. The extent of his success was clear to see in his purchase of Limefield House. But he also set about upgrading it, adding ornate banisters, and installing gas lighting and electricity throughout.

David Livingstone
David Livingstone, Scottish explorer

One regular visitor was the adventurer David Livingstone, who Young knew from his time spent lecturing at Anderson’s College in Glasgow. Years later local people would reminisce about him alighting the train at West Calder, or being driven through the town. One man even recalled handing the trowel to Livingstone as he laid the foundation stone of the Addiewell Oil Works.

Limefield Falls
Limefield Falls, LVSAV2011.135

So close were the pair that Young had a waterfall erected on Harburn Water, a miniature Victoria Falls, in tribute to his friend. Other remnants of Livingstone’s time at Limefield still exist. A sycamore tree planted by him is still flourishing in the grounds. But perhaps the most incredible story is that of a replica African hut built by Livingstone for Young’s children. For years it sat in the grounds of Limefield, but by the early 1990s had been seriously vandalised. A local man asked if he could take it for his garden and it was agreed he could. So, it was dismantled and taken to the garden of a house in Langside Crescent in Polbeth. There it sat for 13 years, replete with pink interior and lace curtains, hosting picnics for the owner’s daughters, until it was worked out exactly what the structure was and returned to Limefield.

In 1891 the house survived the fate of many of its contemporaries when the quick actions of servants helped stop a blaze – ironically caused by hot ashes coming into contact with paraffin oil.

Loudon MacQueen Douglas
Loudon MacQueen Douglas

For some years the property passed to Young’s daughter and her husband, and around 1930 it was lived in by Loudon MacQueen Douglas, an engineer, author and pig breeder. Douglas died in 1944. In the post-war period the house passed into the hands of Young’s grand-daughter, Alice Thom, and in 1955, exactly 100 years after her grandfather acquired it, she bequeathed it to the local Council for the benefit of the people of Polbeth and West Calder. For some years it served as a nursing home, but by 1989 it was in disrepair and a short report was written, possibly by a Community Councillor, calling for it to be converted into sheltered housing or a convalescent home.

There were real fears that it could be demolished, but thankfully it was sold to a private owner who refurbished it and opened it up as a quality bed and breakfast. The monies raised were in part used to fund the opening of the Alice Thom Memorial Suite at the West Calder Community Education Centre.

So Alice Thom’s wishes were adhered to, and West Lothian retained one of its finest buildings. We’re sure the black Lab is pleased he still has a corridor to roam through!


Dr George Grant: The Chemistry of Oil and Milk

One of our volunteers, Alexei, has spent the last few months transcribing a fascinating document. The transcribed version should be available in the next few days. It was so interesting that we asked him to write a blog. He very kindly agreed. Over to Alexei:

This latest transcription from the BP Archive is a rather unusual and incredibly interesting one. It is George Grant’s Process Book No.2. Sadly we don’t hold book No.1.

George Grant worked as a chemist at the Pumpherston Oil Works laboratory as early as 1911, and became Chief Chemist sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. His book is dated July 1911, so he must have been employed by the company for some time before that, in order to fill Process Book No.1 (which we sadly don’t have in the Archive).

Pumpherston chemists
Male and female chemists in the laboratory at Pumpherston Oil Refinery, c1970s

It has proven exceedingly difficult to track down information about George Grant. We don’t even have a photograph of him. Normally we would expect to find a few articles in local newspapers, but there are none. In our collection there is a single document, besides his process book.

Scheme of Distillation of Shale Oil in Connected Boiler Stills, October 1913 – a single sheet sign by George Grant. BP Archive 215940

And he is occasionally mentioned in the oral histories. Thankfully, one of these provides an interesting insight into the type of person he was:

Mr Grant and I used to have a kind of row now and again … an argument, you know, he was an awful man, he was a right Tory! Of course, I was a great Socialist! Well, it was something about the Tate Lyle shares had went up, I was reading in the paper that they had went up, and there had been a leak in the Government, and of course, all the boys that had plenty of money were buying Tate and Lyle shares! They went up a good bit too! I went up to Mr Grant the next morning and I was telling him all about it, and he got me by the back of the neck and he ran me out of the office, and he says, “Don’t you come back in here, we’re not wanting you back in here!” He says, “Stay out and don’t come back again!” I said, “You won’t get any samples!” He said, “Well, it won’t matter, stay out!” he says. Oh well, he came round the work that same day and he says, “Listen, you come back as usual with your samples, but we don’t want to hear any more about politics up in that office, from you!” He says, “Mind that!” But he was nice about it, you know, he was quite nice about it!

The book itself is numbered very oddly. It appears that when George Grant first started to keep this record, he went through the volume using only the right hand pages, numbering those with Roman numerals. At some point he tired of these and switched to Arabic numerals. Then he reached the end of the book and went back through it again, this time using the left hand pages, many of which are not numbered at all. Where they are numbered, they just take the number of the facing page followed with a lower case ‘a’ in brackets. Watch out for this – we have presented our version strictly in the order in which the pages appear in the book, so beware!

What the book contains is a large number of tests and processes for analysing materials of all sorts. George Grant didn’t confine himself solely to processes necessary for his professional duties at the oil works, although those are certainly there. Scattered among the tests involving oil, wax, ammonia, and so on, there are processes for a wide array of other substances, some of them quite exotic. There is, for example, tests for ‘Estimation of Uranium’ and ‘Analysis of Milk or Cream Chocolate’, which could hardly have been much use at the Pumpherston Oil Works. Some highlights include a fully worked analysis of beeswax from all over the world, and one of typical beers. Also interesting are the tests to detect adulterations in food, drink, oils and so forth, chiefly because he tells you exactly what unscrupulous producers were trying to get away with circa 1911, for example, that cod liver oil was frequently adulterated with refined seal oil, or rape oil with cottonseed oil.

Page from George Grant’s book detailing the analysis of milk
Page from George Grant’s book detailing the estimation of nicotine in tobacco using the Kissling Method












Page from George Grant’s book detailing the detection of hydrogen peroxide in milk

A very interesting read. And not just for the scientists among us.

Sport in the shale villages

In the late 19th and early 20th century people began to spend more of their spare time taking part in sporting and social events. And the arrival of the railway from the mid-19th century onwards meant that teams could travel to neighbouring towns and villages, or the length and breadth of the country, to test themselves in sporting extravaganzas. Local and women, seeing an opportunity for an away day, often travelled with them in great numbers to offer up vocal support.

The most popular sports, certainly amongst the working classes, tended to be those that required little outlay to take part – football, athletics, bowling and quoits. But others such as tennis, golf and cycling were also popular.

In the Museum’s shale oil collections we have numerous examples of men and women from the shale villages taking part in all manner of sports. Here are a few examples.



Football, in various forms, has been around since man could stitch leather over a pig’s bladder, with the world’s oldest football, dating back to the 1540s, having been found at Stirling Castle. In 1872 Scotland played out a 0-0 draw with England (they won 10 of the next 15 games, losing only two).

Nowadays we fill Panini albums with pictures of world stars like Ronaldo and Messi, but a century ago the stars were the local men who played a game and then came home and headed down the mine. Local teams sprouted up throughout West Lothian. Here is one celebrating a West Calder team.












The most popular sports tended to be those with no cost attached. As such, athletics was universally popular, with events happening most summer weekends throughout West Lothian. This programme, from West Calder, is typical. A full range of events usually took place, but only men were allowed to compete.



Quoits (pronounced ‘koits’) required players to thrown a heavy iron or steel ring towards a pin placed in the ground 21 yards away. It reached peak popularity in the mining communities of West Lothian between the two world wars. It has very much fallen out of favour, and is rarely played.

There is, however, a quoits green at Almond Valley Heritage Centre and ask at reception if you fancy yourself as a quoiter.













Golf has, since the 19th century, been a staple of Scottish sporting life, with the two main centres of golf being St Andrews and Musselburgh. But it soon began to spread and clubs emerged throughout Scotland. This photograph depicts the Gilbert family playing on Tarbrax’s nine-hole course in 1920.



In recent years snooker and pool have gained great popularity, and billiards has declined in tandem. But in the first half of the 20th century it was incredibly popular. This medal was awarded to Thomas Dunn of Philpstoun for second place in a competition in 1923-24.

















Another favourite in the mining towns was bowling, and virtually every town had at least one bowling green. In this photograph John Stein, a mining official, opens the season at Livingston Station bowling green around 1952.


Other sports

Miners and their families tried to find their fun in whatever ways they found enjoyable. Here are a selection of other sporting photographs from our collection showing cyclists, tennis players and pigeon racers.


Saving the Lives of Shale Workers

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh now resides in a state-of-the-art building at the Inch, Edinburgh. But until the new building was erected it had spent almost 300 years housed in central Edinburgh. Whilst in the earlier location it enjoyed a close relationship with the shale industry.

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh
The old Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh where injured and dying shale workers were often transported. Courtesy of Kim Traynor via Wikipedia Commons.

From the early days of the shale industry in Scotland, miners were regularly injured and killed at work. Local Mine Rescue Teams were, in later years, on-site to help in the events of an accident or disaster. With the National Health Service not yet in place miners contributed a portion of their wages to the hospital. In 1925 this totaled over £12,000. Monies were also regularly raised through the holding of pageants and concerts.

Royal Infirmary Pageant at Broxburn, 1928
Three miners from Westerton attending the Royal Infirmary Pageant in Broxburn, 1928


In 1936, for example, an Infirmary Day was held in West Calder to raise funds. A march through the town by ten bands and several trades displays was watched by large crows. They were then entertained by events such as fancy dress, a massed pipe band, and a display by the Boys’ Brigade. Around 100 collectors worked the streets. Such money raising events helped pay for life-saving equipment such as ambulance waggons to transport injured and dying men to the Infirmary. Newspaper reports of the time regularly end with the phrase ‘the injured man was conveyed in the ambulance waggon to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’.

Ambulance Waggon
An example of a typical early Ambulance Waggon. In later years they would become motorised.


One such tragic accident occurred in 1937. William Dornan worked at Pumpherston Oil Works, and was well known as a former full-back with Hibernian F.C. in Edinburgh. Dornan was standing atop one of the oil tanks when it exploded, throwing him to the ground. Further explosions saw him trapped and badly burned. An ambulance conveyed him to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, but he died of his injuries.

William Dornan
The aftermath of the explosion and fire at Pumpherston Oil Works in 1937 which killed William Dornan. The former Hibs player is inset.