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.
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.
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
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
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
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.