Scottish shale Scottish shale

Breich No. 1 & 2 pits

Livingston, Linlithgowshire
Local authority:
West Lothian
Seams worked:
Barracks Shale, Broxburn Shale, Dunnet Shale
Opened c.1912, closed 1927, reopened 1930's, abandoned 1961
Current status of site:
Engine house, substation and other buildings survive as commercial premises.
Regional overview:

Breich 1&2.jpg

Vertical shafts; 21 fathoms to Broxburn, 63 fathoms to Upper Dunnet, 72 fathoms to Dunnet Shale

Serving Seafield Crude Oil Works, and subsequently Westwood Crude Oil Works

The mineral rights of the area, held by the New Hermand Oil Company Ltd until its liquidation in 1903, were eventually purchased by the Pumpherston Oil Company Ltd who developed Breich No. 1 and No. 2 Pits to supply shale to their Seafield Crude Oil Works, about a mile to the north. The Dunnet Shale was worked at a considerable depth, and the pits were notable as being amongst the earliest to employ electricity for winding and ventilation, power being supplied from a generating station at Deans Crude Oil Works. Shale was transported to Seafield by an over-ground haulage.

The pits appear to have ceased production on closure of Seafield works in 1926. Prior to World War Two, the pits were fully reconstructed and a range of innovations introduced including mechanised shale cutters and shaking conveyors. A new haulage was constructed to transport shale to the new Westwood Crude Oil Works, about a mile to the south. The pits, also referred to as Mid Breich, remained in production almost until the closure of the industry.

  • Location & workings at Breich No.1 & 2 pits
    • Show seams:

  • Detailed maps
  • Drawings

  • Production records
    • Year Tons produced
      1916 136,017
      1921 154,335
      1923 170,898
      1926 127,492
      1927 160,914
      1928 165,836
      1929 165,812
      1930 165,983
      1931 162,019
      1932 134,159
      1933 159,372
      1934 159,752
      1935 158,631
      1936 151,355
      1937 142,057
      1938 158,878
      1939 156,686
      1940 154,804
      1941 167,466
      1942 193,981
      1943 198,060
      1944 188,881
      1945 151,168
      1948 64,300
      1949 86,467
      1950 80,367
      1951 87,406
      1952 95,151
      1953 87,233
      1957 68,040
      1958 64,543
      1959 68,581
      1960 65702

    Archive images

    Recent images

  • Newspaper references
    • The Pumpherston Oil Company, one of the principal concerns in the country, having acquired the works of the New Hermand Company, West Calder, are at present sinking a new pit in proximity to the works at Breich, and this promises to give an impetus to industry in the district.

      Edinburgh Evening News, 14th September 1903


      Operations are also proceeding on the Breich properties of the Company, where two shafts are being sunk to the Broxburn and Dunnet seams which are known to underlie the estate and in this way the company is able to obtain an ample supply of high-class shales for their Seafield works. The Breich field has been thoroughly tested by bores, and it is only a question of a few month's time before the bottom or Dunnet shale is reached. Already one of the shafts have pierced the Broxburn seam lying 4 ft thick.

      Glasgow Herald, 18th September 1911


      The sinking of the...two pits to the the Dunnet shale on the company's freehold property at Mid Breich was now completed and the surface plant was well advanced......Powerful generating plant had been installed at Deans Works, and from there the current was to be carried to the new mines at Deans and the new pits on Mid Breich, in addition to supplying power for Deans and Seafield Works.

      Pumpherston Oil Company Ltd AGM reported in the Scotsman, 29th May 1912


      At Mid-Breich pit certain of the workings have become very steep and are therefore difficult to carry on, but otherwise are proceeding normally (February 1924). It has been necessary to drive an upset for ventilation (June 1925).

      From Scottish Oils Ltd, Managing Director's Monthly Report to the Board. (BP Archive No. 215662)


      ...the first electric winding gear in Scotland was installed at No. 1 pit Cobbinshaw, Tarbrax. The plant was designed on the Ilgner System, which has a balancing set supplying current to a 200-h.p. motor directly coupled to the drum shaft ... one of a similar type was installed at Breich Pit, West Calder, in 1912 which is still giving first-rate service.

      Sneddon, Caldwell and Stein, Seventy Five Years of Oil Shale Mining, Institute of Petroleum, 1938

      ....... was decided to try our coal-cutters and conveyors in the Broxburn oil-shale seam at the Breich Pit. The first face was started in August 1941 and the second in December 1943. Both faces were in operation until July 1946, when, as a result of labour shortage, the pit was temporarily stopped, due to the necessity of concentrating output in other openings.

      Caldwell, Stein, and Keddie. Longwall working of the Broxburn Oil-Shale seam with Coal-Cutters and Conveyors, Institute of Petroleum, 1950

  • External references
      • Coal Authority Mine Abandonment Catalogue No. 8940, showing workings in Broxburn Shales from Breich No. 1, 2 & 3, abandoned in 1927.
      • Coal Authority Mine Abandonment Catalogue No. 15105, showing workings in Broxburn and Dunnet Shales from Mid-Breich, abandoned in 1961.
  • Additional resources
      • Oral history transcript: Mr Richard Blake
      • Oral history transcript: Mr James Brown
      • Oral history transcript: Mr David Mackie
      • Oral history transcript: Mr Robert McGechie