Piecing Things Together

At the Scottish Shale website we list hundreds of accidents that took place in the shale industry. Many of the men were killed, other maimed, whilst a good number were back at work the next day. The types of deaths and injuries are varied, but the most common are being hit by falling shale, and being crushed by waggons and hutches.


To gather this information we go to a range of sources. First, those held by the National Records of Scotland – Fatal Accident Inquiries, and the Register of Accidents. These two sources often list only basic information. We then augment this with information from digitised newspapers. This information can vary in quality, from very basic to incredibly detailed.

We still have lots of newspaper reports to add so please keep coming back to see if we’ve added an ancestor. Or, if you know your ancestor was involved in an accident please let us know the name, date and location, and we’ll try and track it down.

But very occasionally we get lucky and find that little piece of extra information that really rounds out the history of an individual. And that happened recently when a local lady donated a rare book of poetry called Cauther’s Fair, much of it related to West Lothian and the shale industry – the author, Alexander Campbell, worked at Westwood Pit.

westwood pit
Surface buildings at Westwood Pit
miners preparing shot
Miners preparing a ‘shot’ underground at Westwood Pit, c1929

One of the poems, called The Miner, contained this verse:

Though everyone was cheerful there

As they went down below,

Death was waiting there on one

Jim Torrance as you know;

Working away with happy heart

Pursuing his daily toil:

God bless the hardy miner

With his lamp and a wee pickle oil.

So who was this Jim Torrance? Did we have him noted in our list of accidents. A quick check revealed that we did, but only a very short Fatal Accident Inquiry entry:

James Torrance, miner’s drawer, The Place, Livingston, died on 27 March 1920 in No. 1 Westwood Shale Pit, Livingston Parish, Linlithgowshire, when a quantity of shale fell upon him. NAS Reference: SC41/13/1920/8

But surely he would be listed in the local newspaper? A quick check didn’t reveal anything, but on changing the search terms we came across a small article tucked away at the bottom of a page of the Sunday Post:

Note of Jim Torrance’s death in the Sunday Post, 28th March 1920

So there we have it. A little bit of luck and a little research and we have quite a rounded account of Jim Torrance’s death. We’re sure there will be an inquiry noted in the newspaper, but we’ve yet to find it. We also think it’s likely that someone out there will have a photograph of Mr Torrance. We would love to be able to add it to this post, so if you have one please feel free to contact us.