The shale collection has a wide variety of political material in our collection, mostly newspaper clippings, and information relating to industrial action. These date back into the 19th century and include the personal notes of heralded local trades union organiser John Wilson.
We also have two leaflets produced by the Midlothian and West Lothian Labour Party candidates standing for Westminster in 1959.
Both men, James M. Hill, standing in Midlothian, and John Taylor, standing in West Lothian, mention shale in their leaflets. Hill effusively promotes the industry, and both note the need to abolish the duty on shale oil. Both Hill and Taylor won their seats comfortably, but with the Conservatives regaining power, the duty on shale oil was never abolished. Two years later the last remnants of the industry (its workforce had reduced from 12,000 to 2,500) would end as cheap imported oil became more attractive.
Taylor would die in office in 1962, leading to the election of Tam Dalyell. Hill would step down at the 1966 election, but would die within months. His replacement was another long-serving MP, Alex Eadie.
James Balfour Sneddon, mine manager at Winchburgh, had a weekly routine. Each Friday he would withdraw around £2,000 from the Mid Calder branch of the Clydesdale Bank, and a chauffeur, a man called William McQuiston, would drive him to Winchburgh where he would pay his workers their weekly wage.
In August 1921 the two men were following their usual routine when they were forced to stop as a cyclist was sprawled across the road, in an apparent accident. On stepping out the car to give assistance the two men were immediately assaulted by the ‘injured’ cyclist and two companions. The attack was clearly planned as one of the men went straight for Sneddon’s bag of money.
Sneddon and McQuiston gave chase, picking up the discarded bag of money on the way, but were forced to turn around and head for the nearest police station when shots were fired at them from a revolver. The police soon picked up two of the men, with the third being arrested in the following days. Clearly this group – Irishmen from Deans – were not the Wild Bunch.
By November the three men were in the Edinburgh High Court awaiting trial. The three accused – William Coleman, Thomas Ruddy, and Patrick Dempsey – were jailed for seven, five, and three years respectively.
Sneddon would work in the shale industry for some years, having a distinguished career. He was also heavily involved with community groups, and in 1935 was awarded an OBE for public service.