Scottish shale Scottish shale

West Calder Oil Co.

Company number:
Not known
Share capital:
July 1862
c.1872 on formation of the West Calder Oil Co. Ltd.
Registered office:

c/o Merrow & Fell, 9, Howard St. Glasgow

Oil works:

One of the earliest shale oil companies.

In December 1861 Alexander Morrison Fell (in association with Robert Russel) acquired a lease to the minerals at Gavieside. In July 1862, A.M. Fell entered into partnership with his brother John Wilson Fell, Lewis Thorpe Merrow, and John Findlay to form the West Calder Oil Company.

L.T. Merrow and J.W. Fell were partners in the Merrow & Fell, Glasgow shipping agents and insurance brokers. John Findlay was a member of a prominent Glasgow merchant family involved with trade to the far east. A.M Fell (born c.1826) had followed a varied career and was listed in the 1861 census as a papermaker at Westfield mill, Torphichen.

A.M. Fell assigned the mineral lease to the partnership in lieu of capital and was appointed to a salaried position of works manager. The operation was often referred to as Fell's oil works and listed in directories under the name of A.F. Fell, although all of the financial affairs appear to have been handled through the offices of Merrow & Fell.

Concerns over the performance of the company led to action to remove A.M. Fell from his position, and in 1870 he accepted payment of £400 to leave the company. Shortly afterwards his brother James resigned from West Calder Oil Company, and also as a partner of Merrow & Fell, which continued as Lewis Thorpe Merrow & Co. Thereafter L.T. Merrow appear to have played a more active role in operation of the West Calder Oil Co., for instance, representing the company in face-to-face talks with miner's leaders. A new limited company, the West Calder Oil Co. Ltd was formed in 1872 to take forward the business.

Following the publication of the prospectus for the limited A.M. Fell sued the original partners claiming that they misrepresented the financial position of the company at the time when he accepted £400 to leave the partnership (see transcript). When this case failed he was declared bankrupt, an account of the hearing in 1873 (see below) telling of the string of misfortunes that befell him and his family of eight children. A.M. Fell and family were later to emigrate to Australia, where in 1876 he obtained a position as manager of an oil works at Wollongong, New South Wales. The Fell family went on to play a major role in the development of the oil industry in New South Wales, and the Scots emigree community associated with it.


  • Alexander Morrison Fell (retired 1870)
  • Lewis Thorpe Merrow
  • James Wilson Fell (retired 1870)
  • John Findlay

  • Transcript of 'The Bankruptcy of Alexander Morrison Fell'
    • The Bankruptcy of Alexander Morrison Fell

      Glasgow Bankruptcy Court

      On Tuesday, at the Glasgow Bankruptcy Court— Sheriff Dickson—Alex. Morrison Fell, oil manufacturer, residing at 86 Buccleuch Street, appeared for examination bankruptcy. Sederunt— Mr J.A. Wink, C.A., trustee on the estate; Mr John Gill, writer, law agent, in the sequestration; and Mr T. G. Wright, who appeared for creditors..

      The Bankrupt, examined by Mr Gill, deposed; The statement my affairs which is now produced is a correct one. It represents my liabilities to be £1,975 12s, and my assets £57. I have against the West Calder Oil Company, which value £5,000, and which is the subject of litigation in the Court of. Session. The judgment of the Lord Ordinary was against me, but I have reclaimed the Inner House. I was formerly a partner the West Calder Oil Company. I remained a partner until June, 1870, when I retired from, the concern, on receiving £400 from the other partners. This sum was expended by me in removing to Glasgow, maintaining myself and family for nine months, and paying off debts amounting to about £250. After leaving West Calder I had no employment for nine or ten months. During that time entered intopartnership with Donald Munro, by which lost £440. I supplied him means to go to India for the purpose purchasing in certain parts the interior, where railways had been newly opened, up, horns, buffaloes' horns, and seeds, to be sent into the home markets. Mr Munro represented that business to be very profitable, but found it to be quite the reverse. He returned from India in bad health. His estate was sequestrated, and I obtained no dividend. I got clear discharge from him so far as the partnership was concerned, and he gave me a bill for £250 which was not honoured.

      I did nothing until about May, 1871, when I started as an oil commission agent and grease manufacturer in Saracen Lane: I continued in that business until April 1872, I found that business be the reverse of profitable. I had very little capital, except what was borrowed.. Since April, 1872 have acted as manager Joseph Townsend's Oilworks in Glasgow. My salary has been £300 per year. I require the whole of that sum for household expenses, having a wife and a family of eight to maintain.

      It was in January or February, 1872, that I began to think that I had claim, against the West Calder Oil Company. I thought so in consequence of statements contained in prospectus issued by the company, and brought an action against the former partners in the company. I incurred very heavy expenses by that action. I account for my insolvency by the loss sustained by partnership with Munro, which amounted to £440, the expense incurred maintaining my family for nearly two years without earning anything; and the expenses of the litigation with the West Calder Oil Company. Mr Joseph Townsend became security, for the payment of these expenses, but, in the event Mr Townsend paying these expenses, has a claim against me.

      By Mr Wright—At the time I retired from the West Calder Oil Company, the books of the company showed that I was indebted to them. I cannot give particulars, I never received a final statement. The books showed that I had drawn, out all capital. I got discharge from the company of the debt I was owing them, besides receiving £400 for retiring. My late partners brought, action against me to assign certain leases, in implement of an agreement entered into with them. These actions were conjoined, and the Lord Ordinary, afterwards decided against me, with costs. The expenses of this action amounted to £908, 17s. 9d" which is included in the statement of my liabilities.

      After these cases were decided against me, I applied for sequestration of my estate. The immediate cause of my taking this step was that Wm. Roger, grocer, Crosshill, took proceedings against me on a bill for £18 which I had granted to him for groceries. Mr Roger gave me charge on that bill early in August. There was also a small account Messrs Ross, of Edinburgh, in connection with Munro's bankruptcy. They got a decree against me for £4 6s.

      (Q.) Did you intimate to the agent the West Calder Oil Company before applying sequestration that unless you were paid in full your claim against the company, you would apply for sequestration, of your estate?—

      (A.) I authorised no one to make such statement my behalf. It depends upon circumstances whether the action against the West Calder Oil Company will be carried further. I have no power present in the matter; it rests with the creditors. I have made offer to my creditors of 3d in the £1, payable six months.

      (Q.) If your offer is accepted, do you intend to carry on the action against the West Calder Oil Company.—

      (A.) I cannot say, but I do not think there is much liklihood of it. The expenses the case included in my statement are only those incurred by my law-agent. The amount of business debts included in my liabilities is, I think, about £40. The remainder of my liabilities represent household expenses and borrowed money.

      The statutory oath was then administered to the bankrupt.

      The Falkirk Herald 20th September 1873

  • Newspaper references
    • NOTICE OF RETIREMENT. The Subscriber, Alexander Morrison Fell, retired from the Concern carrying on business as Shale Oil Manufacturers at Gavieside, under the Firm of The WEST CALDER OIL COMPANY. as at the 15th day of June 1870; since which date the business has continued and will in future continue to be carried on as formerly by the other Subscribers; Lewis Thorpe Merrow, John Wilson Fell, and John Findlay of Easterhill; the sole remaining partners. Glasgow, July 1, 1870.

      ALEXR. M. FELL,
      JOHN W. FELL.

      Edinburgh Gazette, 5th July 1870


      THE Subscriber, John Wilson Fell, retired from the Concern carrying on business as Shale Oil Manufacturers at Gavieside, under the Firm of THE WEST CALDER OIL COMPANY, as at the 15th day of June 1870, since which date the business has continued, and will in future continue to be carried on as formerly by the other Subscribers, Lewis Thorpe Merrow and John Findlay of Easterhill, the sole remaining Partners. - Glasgow, July 27, 1870.

      Edinburgh Gazette, 5th August 1870


      It is announced that arrangements are now being made in Glasgow for the formation of a Limited Liability Company, to take over the West Calder Oil Works, and carry them on with considerable extensions. The capital is fixed £160,000, of which about £80,000 are to be allotted for the purchase of the existing works, plant, £c. ; while the remainder will be applied to the extension the works, so far as nearly to double their limit of production.

      Falkirk Herald, 14th March, 1872


      The Sequestrated Estates of LEWIS THORPE MERROW, an Individual Partner of LEWIS T. MERROW & COMPANY, of 65 Great Clyde Street, Glasgow, late Managers of the State Line Steam Ship Company, as such Partner, and as an Individual, and also as a Partner of the WEST CALDER OIL COMPANY, West Calder. BY virtue of an Order of the Sheriff-Substitute of Lanarkshire, Lewis T. Merrow hereby intimates that he has presented a Petition to the Sheriff of Lanarkshire at Glasgow, to be finally discharged of all debts contracted by him before the date of the Sequestration of his Estates, in terms of the Statutes. W., J. B., & J. KIDSTON, Agents. Glasgow, 22nd December 1875.

      Edinburgh Gazette, 24th December 1875

  • Related file records
    • 195291 - Lease Minute of Agreement, Letter of Consent and Acknowledgement and Declaration between John Storry, Esquire and the West Calder Oil Company Limited - Lease Minute of Agreement, Letter of Consent and Acknowledgment and Declaration between John Storry, Esquire and the West Calder Oil Company Limited assigned by deed of Assignation and Conveyance, dated 20th, 21st and 23rd September, 14th October and 25th November 1880 to Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Limited. And Minute of Agreement between latter and Trustee of late John Storry, in modification of Lordships etc, in original lease dated 2nd and 12th March 1883 of the Coal, Shale, Fire Clay, Ironstone and Limestone in Gavieside, also minute of agreement between Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company Limited and Glaud Storry of Wayleave over Gavieside dated 2nd and 12th March 1883. Commencing 11th November 1861, terminating 11th November 1892. Extended for an additional 12 years, finally terminating 11th November 1904. Printed version of the documents.