Sport in the shale villages

In the late 19th and early 20th century people began to spend more of their spare time taking part in sporting and social events. And the arrival of the railway from the mid-19th century onwards meant that teams could travel to neighbouring towns and villages, or the length and breadth of the country, to test themselves in sporting extravaganzas. Local and women, seeing an opportunity for an away day, often travelled with them in great numbers to offer up vocal support.

The most popular sports, certainly amongst the working classes, tended to be those that required little outlay to take part – football, athletics, bowling and quoits. But others such as tennis, golf and cycling were also popular.

In the Museum’s shale oil collections we have numerous examples of men and women from the shale villages taking part in all manner of sports. Here are a few examples.



Football, in various forms, has been around since man could stitch leather over a pig’s bladder, with the world’s oldest football, dating back to the 1540s, having been found at Stirling Castle. In 1872 Scotland played out a 0-0 draw with England (they won 10 of the next 15 games, losing only two).

Nowadays we fill Panini albums with pictures of world stars like Ronaldo and Messi, but a century ago the stars were the local men who played a game and then came home and headed down the mine. Local teams sprouted up throughout West Lothian. Here is one celebrating a West Calder team.












The most popular sports tended to be those with no cost attached. As such, athletics was universally popular, with events happening most summer weekends throughout West Lothian. This programme, from West Calder, is typical. A full range of events usually took place, but only men were allowed to compete.



Quoits (pronounced ‘koits’) required players to thrown a heavy iron or steel ring towards a pin placed in the ground 21 yards away. It reached peak popularity in the mining communities of West Lothian between the two world wars. It has very much fallen out of favour, and is rarely played.

There is, however, a quoits green at Almond Valley Heritage Centre and ask at reception if you fancy yourself as a quoiter.













Golf has, since the 19th century, been a staple of Scottish sporting life, with the two main centres of golf being St Andrews and Musselburgh. But it soon began to spread and clubs emerged throughout Scotland. This photograph depicts the Gilbert family playing on Tarbrax’s nine-hole course in 1920.



In recent years snooker and pool have gained great popularity, and billiards has declined in tandem. But in the first half of the 20th century it was incredibly popular. This medal was awarded to Thomas Dunn of Philpstoun for second place in a competition in 1923-24.

















Another favourite in the mining towns was bowling, and virtually every town had at least one bowling green. In this photograph John Stein, a mining official, opens the season at Livingston Station bowling green around 1952.


Other sports

Miners and their families tried to find their fun in whatever ways they found enjoyable. Here are a selection of other sporting photographs from our collection showing cyclists, tennis players and pigeon racers.