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.