Scottish shale Scottish shale

Kilrenny Oil Works

Former parish and county:
Parish of Kilrenny, Fife
Local authority:
Presumably built c.1866
Presumably dismantled after 1879
Current status of site:
Presumed site now within private garden
Regional overview:


Listed by Redwood as Rowatt & Yooll Works, Anstruther, original proprietor Jas. Spence, and operational between 1865 and 1870.

Mining activity at Pitcorthie, about three mile north of Anstruther, represented the eastern-most working of true oilshale in Scotland. Here a narrow seam of oil shale was mined, along with reserves of ironstone and coal. The ironstone (which was calcinated on-site and shipped out from Anstruther) was first worked by the St Andrews Coal and Iron Company, whose partners Robert Moyes and John Millar were declared bankrupt in 1868. Kilrenny Oil Works, constructed close to the mines at Pitcorthie, began production in 1866.

Alexander Yoole (or Yool, or Yooll, or Youle), who was originally involved in overseeing mining works at Pitcorthie, continued to maintained a private interest in their operation. He also appears to have gone into partnership with Thomas Rowatt, an established Edinburgh-based lamp manufacturer, to operate Kilrenny Oil Works. Despite the collapse in the price of oil, production at Kilrenny works seems to have continued until 1873, when damaged by a serious explosion. Some working of ironstone continued at Pitcorthie through operation of a mine and of Lady Erskine pit. The oil works survived disused until at least 1878.

The location of the oil works is not marked on any known map. The suggested site is an area of rough ground located close to the mine sites, which include mounds that appear to consist of red spent shale waste. Aerial photographs reveal the outline of substantial foundations within this area.

  • Rateable value by year
    • Date Rateable Value Owner Occupier Notes
      1866 £75 Rowatt & Yooll Rowatt & Yooll Partners: Thomas Rowatt Senior, Thomas Rowatt Junior. Lamp Manufacturers.
      1867 £150 Rowatt & Yooll Rowatt & Yooll Graham Yooll
      1868-69 £150 Rowatt & Yooll Rowatt & Yooll
      1870-78 £225 Rowatt & Yooll Rowatt & Yooll
      1879 £100 Rowatt & Yooll Rowatt & Yooll
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  • Newspaper references
    • TO BE LEASED, SHALE suitable for Paraffin Oil, in the Lands of Kellie, in the East of Fife, a short distance from the Shipping Ports of Pittenweem and Anstruther, and the Railway Stations of Kilconquhar and St. Monance. Apply to Messrs. CONNOLLY & JAMIESON, Writers, Anstruther, with whom offers may be lodged against the 28th February 1866.

      Scotsman, 7th February 1866



      The new shale excavation lately commenced at West Pitcorthie, about three miles from Anstruther, may now be said to be in full operation, and so far as the workings have gone, promise to prove a successful speculation. About a dozen of retorts have been erected on the ground, which extends to about five acres, and the yield of shale, and also ironstone, seems to be abundant. A good many hands are now employed at the works, and in a few weeks there will be room for more. At present, however, the men are making a movement for more wages, and threatening a strike, and the effect has been that the works have not gone on with such energy as would otherwise have been the case.

      Fife Herald, 31st May 1866


      The shale works of Pitcorthie – The excavations lately begun on the farm of West Pitcorthie, for the procuring of paraffine shale, iron stone, and coal, seem to be progressing with great spirit. These works are carried on by two companies and the success which has already crowned their efforts would seem to indicate that the present is only the commencement of a branch of trade which has hitherto been wholly unknown or undeveloped in this quarter of Fife. A large quantity of ironstone has during the last week or two been smelted on the ground at Pitcorthie, and the yield of iron is said to be satisfactory. A cargo of it was shipped here within the last two days by the schooner "Speculation," to be taken to Newcastle. This is the first cargo of iron ore that we believe has ever been exported at Anstruther harbour; but present appearances hold out the hope that the shipping of this article, as well as the oil obtained from the shale, will by and by form an important branch of trade in the district. A number of large cast-iron retorts, &c., have been erected at Pitcorthie, and additions are being weekly made to the number, so that the works will soon be of great magnitude, and give employment to a large number of people.

      Fife Herald, 21st June 1866


      PARAFFINE LAMPS WITHOUT CHIMNEYS. - THE PATENT ANUCUPNIC LAMP gives the Whitest Flame and Most Brilliant Light of any Lamp known. No Chimney, Smoke, nor Smell. The No. 9 Burner gives the light of eight sperm candles, at a cost of One Penny, for five hours. The PATENT SAFETY STABLE LAMP is the Best Lantern in use. No Farmer should allow any other light to be used about his Steading. No straw or any combustible matter can reach the flame. Manufactured by T. ROWATT & SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON, May be had through any respectable Ironmonger. WHITE NON-EXPLOSIVE OIL manufactured by ROWATTS & YOOLL, Kilrenny Oil Works.

      Falkirk Herald , 10th October 1867



      At the Sheriff Criminal Court on Tuesday, before Sheriff Taylor, Thomas Baxter, residing at Pitcorthie, was charged with an offence under the meaning of the Act 23 and 24 Victoria, cap. 151, in so far as he, being agent or mining manager of the coal mine or iron stone mine at the work called Pitcorthie Shale Work, in the parish of Kilrenny, did unlawfully fail or neglect to report an accident which happened to George Guthrie, a labourer, working in No. 2 shale or iron stone pit, on the 26th November last, within twenty-four hours hereafter, to the Right Hon. the Lord Advocate of Scotland, whereby he had rendered himself liable to a penalty not exceeding £20. Mr Morrison, Procurator-Fiscal, conducted the case for the Crown, and Mr J. M. Douglas, writer, Cupar, appeared for the accused. William M'Intyre, Crail, deponed that he was clerk to the Pitcorthie Shale Works, which were worked by the St Andrews Coal and Iron Company, the proprietors of which were Messrs Moyes and Miller. There were two mines which might be 400 or 500 yards apart from each other. No.2 was stopped for some time last summer up to which time Mr Baxter was manager. It was set a going a week or so before Guthrie, and looked after his workings himself. Baxter did not employ Fraser, but he understood Mr Moyes did so. Baxter did not look after No. 2 pit after Fraser came, but continued to look after No. 1. When the accident happened to Guthrie he wrote a letter to the inspector of mines by Baxter's orders.

      Fife Herald, 23rd January 1868



      Another of those unfortunate hitches which have only been too frequent in the brief and seemingly unprosperous progress of the Pitcorthie shale mines and the Kilrenny oil works has again taken place. During the past fortnight the mines have not been in operation, and from what we can learn, some time is likely to elapse before they will be resumed. The real cause of the stoppage is, of course, easily traceable to the remarkable dullness which has for some time affected the mineral market, so that no improvement can be hoped for until a change in the trade takes place.

      Fife Herald, 20th February 1868


      There opening on Monday of the Pitcorthie shale and iron mines is in itself and important gain, as besides the hands employed at the mines there will also be an increase at the Kilrenny Oil Works, and already it is said there is about eighty men at work at the two concerns, with every prospect of a rapid and largely multiplied extension. The mines are under the direction of A. G. Yool, Esq., the managing partner of the Oil Works, whose scientific acquirements, especially in the higher walks of chemistry, are widely recognised, and as was to be expected, a new and promising experiment is being adopted, calcining of the iron stone which passed through the retort with the view of draining off the oil, the undue proportion of which was one of the chief causes of its non market value when wrought by the bankrupt St Andrews Coal and Iron Company.

      Fife Herald, 18th November 1869


      The Pitcorthie Mines – The shale mines at Pitcorthie are at present the scene of busy and interesting operations. A shaft is being sunk in the centre of the mineral field, which is there about fifteen fathoms from the surface, and in connection with which an engine of forty horse power has been erected in order to drain and work the mines. A row of neat cottages with large gardens is also being built by Mr Wallace, builder, Anstruther, for the accommodation of the miners. They are ten in number, and have a pleasant situation on the south side of the road leading to Airdrie gate. It is truly pleasant to see this lonely part of the district brightening up with busy life and industry, and the popular feeling of gratitude to the esteemed and public spirited director of the shale and oil works, A. G. Yoole, Esq., has led, we understand, to the new colony being christened "Yoolton," than which no name can be more appropriate.

      Fife Herald, 13th June 1872


      Kellie Coal Field – We learn with much pleasure that the extensive and valuable coal field of Kellie has been leased this week by Alexander G. Yoole, Esq., of the Kilrenny Oil Works, from the proprietor, Sir Robert Anstruther of Balcaskie. The oldest mining authorities report most favourably of the productive capabilities of the Kellie seams, which have been worked more or less for the last hundred years, but from various causes they have never been thoroughly utilized, though now that the requisite capital, and the no less indispensable scientific skill and energy will be thrown into the concern by Mr Yoole, we may safely anticipate a widely different issue for the future. For some weeks past the mines have been so flooded as to stop operations, but we hear that Mr Yoole is to lose no time in erecting a powerful engine to drain the works, which will be shortly followed by the sinking of another pit, and in the hands of this enterprising lessee, the mineral will be so worked as to prove a great and general benefit to the district. Mr Yoole, either on his own account as in this case, or as the partner in the Kilrenny Oil Works, is now a lessee of the minerals on four of the principal estates in the East of Fife, namely, of Airdrie, Thirdpart, Kellie, and Balcormo.

      Fife Herald, 5th December 1872


      Contemplated close of the Kilrenny Mines and Oil Works. – We understand that the miners and others employed at these works had noticed on Saturday that the mines would be closed at the end of the fortnight, and that it was contemplated to stop the Paraffin Works also as soon as the stock of shale was exhausted, which might be in the course of the next two months. The resolution, we hear, has been come to by the Messrs Rowatts & Yool, in consequence of the high price of labour, and the works will thus be closed till a reduction of wages shall have taken place; but in the meantime it will greatly affect the industrial interests of the east of Fife, as about a hundred men were employed at a rate of wages from 18s to 60s a week.

      Fife Herald, 11th December 1873


      Re-Opening of the Kilrenny Mines. The welcome announcement has just been made that the mines near Kilrenny are at once to be re-opened by the lessees, Messrs Rouatts & Yool. In the meantime we understand the working will be restricted to the ironstone, as the sweeping imports from the petroleum wels of America would entail a loss as we hear, of something like threepence a gallon in the manufacture of Paraffin Oil; but while the shale once so highly prized is thus to be untouched, the ore contract is so extensive that a large staff of miners and others will be once again employed on the ground. The two engines – the one at the "in going eye," to borrow a collier phrase, and the other at the Lady Erskine pit – are under steam at the pumps day and night, and by this effective discharge it is hoped that the workings will be drained on an early day of the New Year for the men to resume their labour. It is now about eighteen months since the works were suspended, and in the interval no little inconvenience, if indeed we are not at liberty to use a sterner word, by those families who were in consequence deprived of work and wages, when such a misfortune was only too general in the country side.

      Fife Herald, 31st December 1874



      A rumour has been in circulation to the effect that the pits and oil works near Kilrenny were to be resumed without delay. We learn with regret, however, that there is no such prospect. Five years have now all but elapsed since they were closed and thousands of pounds invested here, as at Cobongshaw and elsewhere, in mines, refineries, and buildings are thus lying in waste, without yielding a single penny of return; and not only so, it is understood that the rent, public and other burthens, of the Kilrenny works, entail an annual charge of some £300 or more.

      Fife Herald, 8th August 1878


      At Muiredge, near Pitcorthie, 2 miles north of Anstruther, a compound seam of true oil-shale, blackband ironstone and irony parrot coal was exposed for a short period about the year 1870... The shale portion yielded from 20 to 25 galls. of oil of good quality per ton. Work was abandoned owing to the failure of the local supply of cheap fuel.

      Memoirs of the Geological Survey in Scotland Vol XXIV Cannel Coals, Lignite and Mineral Oil in Scotland by W. Gibson, 1922