Philanthropy of the Oil Companies

We often look back at the international oil companies and see them as uncaring behemoths whose sole priority was profit, and should the shale miners and their families get in the way of this goal then they would just have to accept the consequences.

And in many ways this view is correct. Workers were killed and injured down the mines and in the oil works in huge numbers, as can be seen on our accidents page. Those working with paraffin wax often fell victim to cancerous growths, as can be seen in this blog post.

But this is not a wholly accurate picture. In many ways the shale companies were quite philanthropic, paying out sums of money, both small and large, to improve the lives of their employees.

One of thousands of letters sent by the Broxburn Oil Company concerning the day-today-running of the Company. (Extracted from BP Collection: 213311)

The Shale Museum holds many folders of letters sent out by the shale companies, some over 1,000 pages long. These mainly detail the mundane daily happenings within the companies, such as requesting rents, paying for damaged land, and the sale of property. But occasionally they throw up other interesting snippets, including highlighting company philanthropy.

gala day
Tarbrax Gala Day, 1933 (Museum Collection: LVSAV1998.027)

Looking at 1942 and 1943 throws up many examples. Gala Day Committees would apply for funds, usually around £2, and were often successful. Pumpherston Oil Company (POC) funded the Seafield and Breich Gala Days, Oakbank Oil Company (OOC) the East Calder and District Gala Day, and the Broxburn Oil Company (BOC) the Broxburn Gala Day. Small payments to public bands were also commonplace, two payments of 5 guineas being made by the BOC to the Broxburn Public Band in 1942.

pipe band
Pumpherston Pipe Band, 1949 (Reference Collection: R10-00687)

Schools were also beneficiaries. For many years up to 1942 the OOC presented watches to the boy and girl dux of the Oakbank Public School. In 1942 this practice was ended, but that year the two winners were given copies of Shakespeare’s Works.

Watch presented to Robert Hay, dux of Pumpherston Public School, 1901-02

All manner of other local organisations would apply for funding, from Sabbath Schools to Garden and Allotment Associations.

But the biggest payouts were reserved for the District Nursing Associations. In 1943 the POC paid £50 to the Livingston and District Nursing Association. Each December the Broxburn and District Nursing Association would receive £50 to hire two nurses, whilst the OOC would pay £25 each to the Mid Calder & Kirknewton Nursing Association, and the Winchburgh, Niddry & District Nursing Association.

nurses at bangour
Nurses at Bangour Hospital, much like those that were funded by the oil companies (Museum Collection: LVSAV2012.046)

So while there are many negative aspects to the working practices of the oil companies, we should bear in mind that they did give some monies to local communities. This money helped build community spirit, and created a foundation upon which today’s towns and villages are built.