Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry

Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry Custodians of a nationally-significant museum collection from Scotland's shale oil industry giving an insight into West Lothians fascinating history.

The Scottish shale oil industry has an interesting and important history. Bathgate works, established in 1851, was perhaps the first site in the world where mineral oils were processed on an industrial scale. From this blossomed an extensive oil industry that competed successfully against cheaper imported petroleum for many years, and continued in operation until 1962. Such fierce competition bred

The Scottish shale oil industry has an interesting and important history. Bathgate works, established in 1851, was perhaps the first site in the world where mineral oils were processed on an industrial scale. From this blossomed an extensive oil industry that competed successfully against cheaper imported petroleum for many years, and continued in operation until 1962. Such fierce competition bred

Operating as usual

With summer upon us we thought it would be fitting to have some recreational based objects as our first ‘Object of the M...
01/07/2021

With summer upon us we thought it would be fitting to have some recreational based objects as our first ‘Object of the Month’. Sport was a popular pastime for the miners, and would include golf, billiards, quoting, and also outdoor bowls. We have a number of sporting badges within our collection, and we have picked out two that perfectly combine the social and industrial aspects of the Shale Oil Industry.

The first badge is from Middleton Hall Bowling Club, c. 1964, and features a bowler mid shot in the foreground and three shale bings in the background. The bowling club is located in Uphall, Broxburn, where of course the Uphall Oil Works could be found. The Uphall Oil Works were formed in 1865, and the proprietors were a local landowner Peter McLaggan, Coalmaster George Simpson, and Edward Meldrum, a previous partner of James ‘Paraffin’ Young. The company evolved to the Uphall Mineral Oil Company Ltd in 1871, and then to the Uphall Oil Co Ltd in 1876, before being amalgamated with Young’s Paraffin Light & Mineral Oil Company Ltd in 1883, then ceasing operation in 1937.

The second badge is for Deans Bowling Club, Livingston Station, commemorating their Jubilee year. Again the design of the badge combines both the bowling motifs of bowls and a jack, whilst factory chimneys and a shale bing feature in the background. In 1883 the West Lothian Oil Co Ltd formed and constructed an oil works at Deans. It was not entirely successful and after a period of disuse the site and mineral leases were acquired by the Pumpherston Oil Company Ltd, who constructed new works and developed new mines. Deans works eventually closed in 1951.

The Deans Bowling Badge belonged to John Stein, who started in the shale industry as an Apprentice in 1910 with Young’s Paraffin Light & Mineral Oil Company Ltd. He moved up to Chief Surveyor, and then became a Mining Agent and General Mining Manager as Young’s amalgamated with other companies to become Scottish Oils Ltd.

Objects like these are a great addition to our collection as they give us information regarding the industrial workings of these areas, but also the social history as well, and so provide a valuable representation of the Shale Oil Industry as a whole. The bowling clubs they represent and the iconic images of the industry they feature, especially the shale bings, connect us to the present day, when these very bowling clubs are still in existence and the shale bings are a significant part of our everyday landscape.

You can see more examples of badges and recreational activities in our museum, and of course you can search our collections database on our website for more objects that may spark your interest: https://www.scottishshale.co.uk/

Share the Creative Energy of a Shale Bing.....!This photography project will engage Young People in the West Lothian are...
30/06/2021

Share the Creative Energy of a Shale Bing.....!

This photography project will engage Young People in the West Lothian area to develop a new body of photographic and artistic work relating to the (post-)industrial landscape of their local area- most notablythe Five Sisters Bings.

We are now looking to recruit Young People aged 14-18 years of age to take part in these art and photography workshops. It would appeal to Young People living in West Lothian with an interest in local history, art or photography.

Covid-regs permitting, there will be four half-day workshops (Wednesday July 7, Friday July 9, Wednesday July 14, and Friday July 16) with at least two taking place at the Five Sisters bings
themselves involving walking and taking photographs- visualising the past and contextualising it with our modern-day tools.
We will also experiment with older photographic printing techniques such as cyanotypes and anthotypes using the flora and fauna from around the bings. Participants will have the opportunity to learn how to use a DSLR camera and improve their photographic skills.

There will also be a fieldtrip to Almond Valley Heritage Centre at Mill Farm to meet with an archivist and director to learn more about the shale oil industry in West Lothian, including objects and photographs. We will be considering these questions:

 How can we use photography to visualise the history of the bings and their transformation over
time?
 How do the legacies of the industrial past continue to resonate in the social, cultural, and natural
landscapes?
 How has nature reclaimed these man-made spaces?
 How do images of and ideas about the industrial past shape how we think about the region and how do we engage with these ideas in creative ways?

All work created by participants will be available for them to keep and contribute towards a portfolio.
Transport, lunch and refreshments will be provided. This workshop forms part of a larger project sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Dr Victoria Donovan ([email protected]) at the University of St Andrews. The project explores visual representations of industrial regions and community identities in the UK and Ukraine.
Selected artwork from this workshop will be incorporated into an exhibition that will be shown in Wales, England, and Scotland, and will travel to Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine. Videos and artworks may
also be hosted permanently on the Shale Trail website (https://shaletrail.co.uk).
If you are interested in joining us or curious to know more about the workshops please contact Victoria
Donovan ([email protected]) or Lisa Flemming ([email protected]) for more deta

Share the Creative Energy of a Shale Bing.....!

This photography project will engage Young People in the West Lothian area to develop a new body of photographic and artistic work relating to the (post-)industrial landscape of their local area- most notablythe Five Sisters Bings.

We are now looking to recruit Young People aged 14-18 years of age to take part in these art and photography workshops. It would appeal to Young People living in West Lothian with an interest in local history, art or photography.

Covid-regs permitting, there will be four half-day workshops (Wednesday July 7, Friday July 9, Wednesday July 14, and Friday July 16) with at least two taking place at the Five Sisters bings
themselves involving walking and taking photographs- visualising the past and contextualising it with our modern-day tools.
We will also experiment with older photographic printing techniques such as cyanotypes and anthotypes using the flora and fauna from around the bings. Participants will have the opportunity to learn how to use a DSLR camera and improve their photographic skills.

There will also be a fieldtrip to Almond Valley Heritage Centre at Mill Farm to meet with an archivist and director to learn more about the shale oil industry in West Lothian, including objects and photographs. We will be considering these questions:

 How can we use photography to visualise the history of the bings and their transformation over
time?
 How do the legacies of the industrial past continue to resonate in the social, cultural, and natural
landscapes?
 How has nature reclaimed these man-made spaces?
 How do images of and ideas about the industrial past shape how we think about the region and how do we engage with these ideas in creative ways?

All work created by participants will be available for them to keep and contribute towards a portfolio.
Transport, lunch and refreshments will be provided. This workshop forms part of a larger project sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Dr Victoria Donovan ([email protected]) at the University of St Andrews. The project explores visual representations of industrial regions and community identities in the UK and Ukraine.
Selected artwork from this workshop will be incorporated into an exhibition that will be shown in Wales, England, and Scotland, and will travel to Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine. Videos and artworks may
also be hosted permanently on the Shale Trail website (https://shaletrail.co.uk).
If you are interested in joining us or curious to know more about the workshops please contact Victoria
Donovan ([email protected]) or Lisa Flemming ([email protected]) for more deta

Check out this review of fossil collections in Scotland conducted by National Museums Scotland, featuring fossils from o...
14/05/2021
The Scottish fossil record, or what lies beneath

Check out this review of fossil collections in Scotland conducted by National Museums Scotland, featuring fossils from our collection, and many more!

Funded by John Ellerman Foundation, Sue Beardmore reviewed fossil collections in museums across Scotland, documenting over a quarter of a million specimens. Scotland’s geology has played a key role in the understanding of the development of our planet over millions of years. Sue explores what ou...

The Big Rock of DrumshorelandWe received a phone call today from the lovely people at the Edinburgh Society of Model Eng...
22/04/2021

The Big Rock of Drumshoreland

We received a phone call today from the lovely people at the Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers. Their volunteer members are doing wonderful things among the pines of Drumshoreland Muir as they create a fantastic miniature railway layout at their Almondell Model Engineering Centre.

Work in laying one line had come to a sudden halt as an enormous rock was uncovered right in the centre of where they planned to lay the rails. The massive stone created a lot of worry and concern – had it been put there deliberately to block an old mineshaft? Might their little trains disappear into a massive void?

We’re not experts and we’ve access only to a limited range of plans, but we were able to provide reassurance that none of our records indicate that there were ever shale workings in that immediate area, and that we’d never come across any instance in which a large natural rock had been used to block a mine shaft.

The big rock looks like many other big rocks that occur in our local glacial soils. It’s a big chunk of volcanic basalt whose sharp edges had been knocked off and then ground almost round as it was carried along beneath glaciers. It's fractured surface is evidence of freezing temperatures. There is no waste rock or blaes around the stone that would suggest human activity, just the natural clay. It seems likely therefore that the culprit was a glacier rather than a shale miner.

The railway builders are now faced with the decision of whether to go around it, go over it, or else dig a very very deep hole.

From a Bolshevik prison to a field on SloughLow temperature carbonisation was all the rage in the late 1920’s. Many were...
22/01/2021

From a Bolshevik prison to a field on Slough

Low temperature carbonisation was all the rage in the late 1920’s. Many were tempted to invest in optimistic business enterprises that promised great returns on the sale of oils and smokeless fuels manufactured from worthless colliery waste. This clever technology promised employment to thousands in coalfield areas, while removing Britain’s dependence on oil resources “from outside the empire”.

The Rational Carbonisation Syndicate was such a scheme, set up to exploit the discoveries of Dr. Paul Dvorkovitz; credited by some as the “king of petroleum technology”. It was said that the Russian oil expert was a man of wealth and international standing prior to the revolution, but was thrown into prison by the Bolsheviks for his support of the British. After a year in prison “fed only bread mixed with straw” he was taken to Moscow gas works and ordered to conduct research on behalf of the Soviets. The popular story continues that he evaded his captors and escaped to Britain where he devoted the rest of his life to perfecting his low temperaturecarbonisation process.

The Rational Carbonisation Syndicate set up an experimental station at Slough, and in May 1929 invited colliery owners, the press, and potential investors to a grand demonstration of the new Dvorkovitz method of oil production. A couple of brilliant press photographs in our collection record this event and the rather Heath Robinson equipment that was used. Although high yields of oil were claimed, this was no doubt due to feeding the makeshift retort with good quality cannel coal rather than colliery waste. In essence, the process differed little from that patented by James Young almost 80 years previously.

The following decades saw a proliferation of smokeless fuel plants, many of which also produced benzole as a road fuel additive. Little more was heard however of the Rational Carbonisation Syndicate

Shale around the WorldThe Pumpherston Oil Co. Ltd was one of the most prominent of the Scottish shale oil companies. The...
05/01/2021

Shale around the World

The Pumpherston Oil Co. Ltd was one of the most prominent of the Scottish shale oil companies. Their success reflected good commercial judgement, plus a proper regard for the science behind the winning and processing of oil. The Pumpherston design of retort (the heated vessel in which oil was released from shale) was progressively developed through experimentation and improvement, becoming universally adopted in the Scottish industry and widely used overseas.

The Pumpherston company was unique in constructing an experimental retort for the scientific study of the yields and chemistry of products from different sources of shale. Before investing in new mining operations it made sense to test that the seams of shale would be sufficiently productive

The experimental retorts appeared like a slender brick towers, separate but close to one of the commercial retort benches – massive brick-built slabs that contained many dozen retorts. This allowed conditions to be closely controlled and monitored without interence from neighbouring retorts. Shale retorting was a continuous process, with shale bing dropped periodically into the top of the vertical retort, while spent shale was continuously withdrawn at its base. The experimental retort was fed with the usual Pumpherston shale between each experimental session. Each experiment took several weeks, so it seems that 30-40 tons of a sample shale were required to obtain meaningful results

Two log books in our archive record operation of the experimental retort between 1902 and 1913, and from 1922 until 1929. Early experiments study the productivity of seams found in the Pumpherston company's many mines, and occassionally tests carried out on behalf of rival companies. The second record book, following the amalgamation of companies into Scottish Oils Ltd., dealt with sample batches from throughout the Scottish shale field.

Interesting, quite a few sample batches came from outwith Scotland, recognising Pumpherston's role as the world-leading centre for shale research. In June and July 1906 “shale from New Zealand” was fed into the experimental retort, while much of October and November of that year was devoted to analysing shale supplied by the Commonwealth Oil Corporation of New South Wales. In 1907 cauxite shale from France or Spain was tested, batches from New Brunswick in Canada went through in 1908, and Tasmanian shale followed in 1911. Subsequently several batches of shale from Burma and Manchuria were also tested. It might be expected that the Pumpherston Oil Company's investors also had business interests in these overseas operations, including the Paisley-based engineering firm of A &F. Craig, who supplied retort components world-wide.

A couple of experimental sessions also processed batches of Jurassic “Kimmeridge” shale from Dorset. The earliest test, in 1904, seems to have been associated with prospecting for shale at a number of sites north of Weymouth. A larger experiment was backed by the Admirality in 1912. A few years previously it had been decided that Britian's navy should be fueled on oil rather than coal, and as war loomed, the Admirality was anxious to secure ample supplies of home-produced oils. The Kimmeridge shale was rich in oil, but contained a large sulphur content that proved impossible to remove during normal refining processes. When the oil was burned, a smelly, dirty flame formed acid residues that rapidly ate through boilers and piping. Plans were quickly abandoned.

It seems that the Dorset shale also disagreed with the Pumpherston experimental retort which had to be shut down, cleaned out, and then brought back to life with a charge of good clean predictable Pumpherston shale.

How many many men did it take to build a shale retort?After a horde of engineers bolted together the many iron castings ...
01/01/2021

How many many men did it take to build a shale retort?

After a horde of engineers bolted together the many iron castings and assembled the steel hoppers, a small army of brickies went to work encasing the whole construction in a thick mantle of firebrick. Work paused momentarily for this amazing group photograph during the construction of Roman Camp oil works in 1892. If you've a few minutes to spare you can try and count the workforce – see our new website (still under construction) for a more close up view.
https://shale.avht.co.uk/files/41671/
How many folk can you see?

It's not your usual Christmas card. One side of this card from our museum collection has the usual Christmas greetings a...
24/12/2020

It's not your usual Christmas card.

One side of this card from our museum collection has the usual Christmas greetings and wishes for a joyous Xmas. Turn it over however and you're confronted with a portrait of two proud but particularly grimy shale workers. Perhaps these novelty personalised Christmas cards were the work of an amateur photography enthusiast, but it doesn't seem to be an idea that ever caught on !

Despite many changes, the sentiments expressed in the card remains constant. May you and your family share a most joyous Xmas, and enjoy a much, much better year to come.

Address

Almond Valley Heritage Trust, Millfield
Livingston
EH54 7AR

Opening Hours

Monday 10am - 5pm
Tuesday 10am - 5pm
Wednesday 10am - 5pm
Thursday 10am - 5pm
Friday 10am - 5pm
Saturday 10am - 5pm
Sunday 10am - 5pm

Telephone

01506 414957

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Comments

I hope you don't mind me posting this photo. I'm trying to find out where it was taken. The chap in the middle wearing hat is my great grandfather, Joe Hunter. He was a checkweighman at Balbardie, Bathgate. I think this pic must be around 1900's. It's either somewhere in Bathgate or possibly Durham (gala day, they're all wearing buttonholes) Thanks for help!
The octagonal but irregular fireclay block measures 1' long, 9" wide and 2" thick. It was found near to the site of the Niddry Castle Oil Works at Winchburgh. It says: B&W (a letter or symbol after the W is damaged and can't be read) THISTLE 744 I'd guess that B&W is the customer. Thistle is a brand name used by JG Stein and it was made at Castlecary near Denny. 744 might be an order number. I can't see any mention of B&W in my book about the oil shale industry. Can anyone help?
hi anyone remember a loco called huds well that was used in pumpherston oil works
18th CENTURY MINING TRAGEDY AT BRORA Brora Salt Pans Research Group An account of this sad incident was recorded in 1812 by mineral surveyor John Farey, who was commissioned by the Marquis of Stafford and Countess of Sutherland to assess the mineral assets on their estate. We are fortunate that John Farey included an additional part to his report entitled “History of the Workings and Searching for Coals in Sutherland, prior to the year 1778.” Farey refers to four pits that were dug below the raised beach on the coast at Brora, in an area known as Shean Park. Fifteen men were said to have been killed by a roof fall in one of the pits during this period. The site today, is recognisable as a 15m diameter shallow depression, at the base of the raised beach slope. Farey writes "In an early part of the last century (18th), the Earls of Sutherland appear to have ---- the Inver Brora Coal-Works, and the remains of four pits are still visible (in 1812), in the south eastern sides of Shean Park, which were wrought in this period, in the third of which, reckoning from the south, 15 men lost their lives at one time by the falling of the roof, according to the tradition, and the 2nd of these pits near to the ruins of the Salt-maker’s House…..” (Farey, J. 1812; Bangor-Jones, M. 1995; Aitken, J. 2004) https://goo.gl/maps/bdMt21ocZML2 Brora, Sutherland, Scotland. NC 904 039. Brora Salt Pans Research Group LIKE OUR PAGE AND FOLLOW - THANK YOU.
On the right is my grandad George(dode)Hamilton started off as a blacksmith shoeing pit ponies and retired from Pumpherston oil works This was taken in Polbeth Labour Club around the 80s possibly. The museum now has his gold long service watch
Found this in some old papers of my dad John McBeth who was a fireman in the pit.
Lammie Dickson wedding cake / 16th August 1980.
Just thought you would be interested to know - the John Berry in the article Shale Oil, History of Scottish Shale Oil Industry is my Great Grandfather, I do know quite a bit about his background as he was a remarkable man, I can send details if you like `One day during 1914 a gentleman walking along the foreshore, below Bridgwater Bay, on the Somerset coast. He was a mining engineer recently home from South Africa. In his path was a piece of dark, slate coloured stone. He kicked aside, and then the whim took him to pick up and examine it. From that trivial incident it is hoped that a new industry may grow on this beautiful bit of the Somerset coast. The engineer was Mr John Berry, and the chunk of stuff which chance placed in his way proved to be oil shale, Oil shale is not common product of nature, but is found in Midlothian and Dorset, and elsewhere.`
As a child visiting my great aunt in Pentland View, Pumpherston I used to love the smell of the washing up liquid which I think was called Biprox