Scottish shale Scottish shale

Avonhead Oil Works

Former parish and county:
Parish of New Monkland, County of Lanark
Local authority:
North Lanarkshire
M & J Kelt
Presumably built c.1865
Site presumably cleared during 1870's
Current status of site:
Peat bog
Regional overview:


The Slamannan Railway, opened in 1840, cut through many remoter parts of the Monklands and enabled their mineral riches to be exploited and transported to the markets of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The railway passed through the lands of Avonhead, an area of bleak exposed moorland about five miles north east of Airdrie. The mineral rights to these lands were advertised for let in 1857 by the landowner, John Thomson, however little mining activity appears to have taken place by 1859 when the area was surveyed for the first edition Ordnance Survey map. Subsequent to that, more than a dozen pits were sunk at Avonhead, each linked by tramways to the Moss Lye siding of the Slamannan Railway.

Redwood notes that the Avonhead oil works were operated by Douglas & Boag between 1864 and 1871, however valuation records suggest a more complicated history in which a number of separate oil businesses operated at Avonhead.

Available evidence suggests that at least two oil works were established at Avonhead during 1865 or 66, operated by the firms of Douglas & Boag, and M. & J. Kelt. In 1868 the firm of Douglas and Boag were taken to court by the Avonhead Coal Company for breach of agreement when they refused to take delivery of shales; presumably oil production had ceased some time earlier. The firm of M. & J. Kelt was sequestered in July 1867. The sale of oil works plant including 15 retorts, advertised in October 1867, presumably related to one or other of these business.

In 1867 or earlier, the Avonhead Coal Company was formed; partners including Colin Campbell "a former miner" who was resident on site and oversaw operations, also James Gray and members of the Wylie family who were partners in the Clifton Ironworks in Coatbridge. The concern was often described as "Gray and Wylie".

An advertisement placed by the Avonhead Coal Company in November 1867 promoted sale of their "Johnstone shale" for oil production, and offered ground at Avonhead to firms wishing to set up oil retorts there.

Valuation rolls record William Black (perhaps the Stanrigg coalmaster who was principal of the Stanrigg Oil Co. ?) as occupier of Avonhead oil works during 1868, and the established firm of oilmasters, Robinson, Donald & Co. as occupiers between 1869 and 1874, although entries suggest that the oil works were not in production throughout that period.

In 1878 the Avonhead Coal Company were still described as "Coal and Shale Masters and Oil Distillers", despite any evidence that the firm ever operated oil works on their own account. The Avonhead Coal Co. Ltd, formed in 1911 to take forward the business, continued to list "oil shale" among it products, although it is unclear for what purpose it was used.

  • Rateable value by year
    • Date Rateable Value Owner Occupier Notes
      1868 £50 Colville & Gray William Black
      1869 £50 (£220) Robinson, Donald & Company Robinson, Donald & Company Reduced on appeal
      1870 £50 Robinson, Donald & Company Robinson, Donald & Company
      1871-74 £1000 Robinson, Donald & Company Robinson, Donald & Company
      1866 £90 Douglas & Bogae Douglas & Bogae
      1867 £60 Douglas & Bogae Douglas & Bogae
      1866 £72 M & J Kelt M & J Kelt
      1867 £48 M & J Kelt M & J Kelt
  • Location map
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  • Newspaper references

      THE Whole SEAMS of COAL and IRONSTONE in the LANDS of AVONHEAD, in the Parish of New Monkland, and County of Lanark, comprehending about 300 Acres, situated about four miles to the east of Airdrie, will be Let, with immediate entry, for such a terms of year as may be agreed on. The Coal is known to be of the first quality, and commands the highest price in the markets. It is well suited for both Locomotive and Steamboat purposes, as well as for House Fuel. There is a valuable Seam of Gas Coal and Ironstone, which can be wrought along with the Upper Seam of Coal to great advantage; and the Monkland Blackband Ironstone is being, and has been, wrought within a few yards of the North and South Marches. There is, therefore, every probability that a the Lands contain the Blackband ; and besides, other Seams of Ironstone, of excellent quality, are now put out to a great extent in the immediate neighbourhood. Avonhead is intersected by the Monkland Railways, which afford ready transit for the Minerals to the east and west markets. If necessary, a Steam Engine and relative Machinery on the Lands can be had at a Valuation. Intending Offerers will please communicate with the Proprietor, John Thomson, Uppertown, by Airdrie; or William M'Creath, Mining Engineer, Glasgow. Uppertown, 11th February, 1857.

      Glasgow Herald, 6th March 1857



      The COAL in the LANDS of AVONHEAD

      In the Parish of New Monkland. From recent boring for the Slateyband Ironstone, the Roughrigg Locomotive Coal, of excellent quality, is found to extend through the Lands. Also Seams of valuable House Coal, well adapted for the Edinburgh markets. The Slamannan Railways intersect the Lands, and afford easy access to the East and West Markets. For further particulars, apply to John Thornton, at Avonhead. by Airdrie, Avonhead, 19th September, 1864.

      Glasgow Herald, 21st September 1864



      THE UNWROUGHT MINERALS in the LANDS of AVONHEAD, consisting of 40 Acres, or thereby, of Shale, House, and Locomotive Coals, and the Mussel Band Section, with all its Connections. The Blackband Ironstone is found in a considerable proportion of the lands, and the Slaty Band is found in the adjoining property and is expected to extend through the whole Field which consists of about 300 Acres. The Shale and Coal are of excellent quality and is expected to be lying dry, and can be wrought to great advantage. The quality can be seen at the Pits on another Section of the Field. Avonhead lies about 5 miles east of Airdrie. and is intersected by the Monkland Section of the North British Railway. Apply to the Proprietor. John Thomson. Avonhead, 16th July. 1867.

      Glasgow Herald, 17th July 1867



      • 15 RETORTS, with Condensers and Connections;
      • 5 FURNACES, 6 Spare RETORT DOORS.
      • 57 FURNACE BARS. BRICKS, 20 CASKS with OIL, SHED, &c.,

      (Under Warrant from the Sheriff of Lanarkshire.)

      ROBERT M'TEAR will Sell the above (all as contained in Schedule of Poinding), at Avonhead, near Airdrie, on Tuesday, 22d October, at Twelve o'clock. St. Mary's Hall, Glasgow, 19th October, 1867.

      Glasgow Herald, Saturday 12th October 1867


      SHALE – THE AVONHEAD COAL COMPANY is prepared to receive Offers for their Johnstone SHALE, yielding 30 gallons per Ton, or thereby. There are above 3000 Tons in stock, with an output of 20 Tons per day, which can be greatly increased if required. The above can be loaded in Trucks, or if preferred, Ground will be given for the erection of Retorts. For further particulars apply at Clifton Ironworks, Coatbridge, or at the colliery office, Avonhead.

      Glasgow Herald, 16th November 1867


      PRESENTATION. — A few friends met in the house of Mr Colin Campbell, manager, Avonhead, recently, and presented Mr John H. Irvine, clerk there, with purse of sovereigns, subscribed the workmen, on the occasion of his leaving them to fill a similar and more lucrative situation, a token of their esteem and respect for him, and for the kind and obliging manner in which he had discharged the duties entrusted to him while amongst them. The above was presented with a suitable address, and responded to in very touching and grateful manner.

      Falkirk Herald, 5th February 1869


      THE AVONHEAD COLLIERY, five miles East of airdrie, on the Slamannan Branch of the North British Railway; 18 years of lease to run. The minerals extend to about 170 acres, and include the following seams; The Johnston or Virtuewell Coal with Six Inches Shale in connect to which two pits are sunk; the Musselband Shale, to which one pit has been sunk, the Steam Coal, so well known in the district extends over the whole field. For further particulars, apply to Colville & Gray, Coatbridge, or to Colin Campbell, Manager, at the Colliery.

      Glasgow Herald, 4th March 1870


      AIRDRIE.- Engine House Burned.-The engine house attached to No. 3 coal pit, Avonhead, was burned to the ground on Saturday eveming, It was suspected that the fire had arisen through a rent in the boilerhouse having allowed the flames to come in contact with the flooring of the engine-house. The building, which was of wood, was the property of Mesre Grey & Wyllie.

      Glasgow Herald, 4th April 1871


      TO SELL OR LET, the LEASE of a Valuable GOING COLLIERY, with WORKING PLANT and HOUSES connected therewith on the LANDS of AVONHEAD, near AIRDRIE, with a Railway Siding on the Slamannan Railway. The Lease contains about 100 Acres of First-Class House Coal – Virtuewell Seam, 2ft 6in thick, and about 150 Acres of the Lady Grange Seam of Coal, about 2ft thick, and any other Seam of Common Coal found. Also about 250 Acres of the Mussel Band Seam of Shale and Ball Ironstone. The present Lease had 9 years to run. Orders to view the working and further particulars will be furnished on application to W.R. BUCHAN, 112 West Regent Street, Glasgow.

      Scotsman, 9th October 1875



      ~TO LET, The STEAM COAL in the LANDS of AVONHEAD. as also the other MINERALS therein still unlet. The Lands, which extend to about 200 Acres, or thereby, lie about 5 miles East of Airdrie, are supposed to Contain all the Seams of Minerals found in the district, and they are Intersected by the Slamannan Branch of the North British Railway, There are between 30 and 40 Workmen 's houses, a Manager's House, and Stores on the ground, which, along with the Machinery, can be had at a Valuation. For further particulars. reply to the Proprietor., Mr John Thomson of Avonhead, by Airdrie.

      Glasgow Herald, 27th June 1877


      James Gray, Potato Merchant, Glasgow, has, with consent of the other Subscribers and remaining Partners, retired as a Partner from the Company or Firm carrying on business as Coal and Shale Master and Oil Distillers at Avonhead and elsewhere, under the firm of the Avonhead Coal Company, as upon the date thereof 7th January 1878.

      Edinburgh Gazette, 8th January 1878



      Operations have been commenced by the Avonhead Coal Company for the sinking of a new pit at Avonhead, which will be in communication with their present colliery. Railway-siding accommodation is to be laid. A machine for the purpose of washing dross is also being erected at one of the Avonhead pits.

      Dundee Courier, 13th August 1896