West Lothian Heritage

West Lothian Heritage An exploration of West Lothian's past, particularly it's social and industrial history, based on the local collections held by Almond Valley Heritage trust

Histories and old photographs of West Lothian's past, drawing on the local collections of the Almond Valley Heritage Trust

Operating as usual

A Busy Time at Bridge TwelveThere is no footbridge at Uphall Station. To get from one platform to the other, you can wal...
30/08/2021

A Busy Time at Bridge Twelve

There is no footbridge at Uphall Station. To get from one platform to the other, you can walk eastward to Pumpherston road, turn and pass the two storey building that formed the entrance to the station during steam days, before returning uphill again. Or else you can head west and cross beneath the railway through a gloomy underpass that has the number “12” painted on the stonework, in old-style lettering.

No.12 bridge was installed when the Edinburgh and Bathgate rail was first built, presumably the twelfth bridge west from “Bathgate junction” near Ratho. In 1849, when the railway first opened, the area was open countryside, and the underbridge will have been used only by the occasional cart moving from field to field. This all changed when, in about 1865, the Uphall shale oil works were built immediately to the north of the railway. As these were extended, more railway sidings were installed to deliver shale and raw materials and to despatch oil products. The only road access into the works was by the little bridge 12, when opened directly into a small yard, lined with stores and offices. When workers' houses were built immediately south of the railway, the small bridge underbridge must have been chock-a-block at times, particularly when the oil workers clocked on at the start of their shift, or shuffled home afterwards.

Uphall closed as a shale works in 1926, but continued to refine imported crude oils until about 1938. During the shale days, mineral railways often served as convenient, albeit slightly dangerous, footpaths. Once oil works closed and rails were lifted, many old routes often remained in use and some were officially recognised. A route from Uphall to Uphall station via the old mineral railway, and across the site of Uphall oil works, was sufficiently established by the 1960's to warrent the formation of an underpass when the M8 was constructed.

Today bridge 12 lies at the crossroads of paths running north to south from Uphall to East Calder, and west to east from Uphall station to Roman Camp. It's a busy place once more on a sunny Sunday morning, with a constant stream of dogwalkers and trail trekers, cyclists, tandem riders, and the occassional horse.

Pumping from a Peaceful PlaceClose to where the infant River Almond converges with the Foulshiels burn, the collective w...
17/05/2021

Pumping from a Peaceful Place

Close to where the infant River Almond converges with the Foulshiels burn, the collective waters are detained for a moment by a low weir set between weather-worn brick walls. Cascading over this small step, the water bubbles down a shallow race before flowing between the circular piers of an old bridge, now almost hidden among the trees and bushes.

It is a quiet and peaceful place, increasingly separated from outside world by woodlands that have been planted along the north bank of the river. It’s clear however that this was once a place of industry, from where the modest flow of the little river was diverted to serve a very important purpose.

The small building just south of the river was once the “Almond pump house” that supplied water to the great Westwood oil works. The structure was built from the distinctive shale bricks made by Scottish Oils Ltd at Pumpherston. These often had the unfortunate habit of crumbling away with repeated frosts, and the decaying walls of the derelict pump house now clearly display the scars of almost eighty winters

Westwood was the last and the largest of Scotland’s shale oil works, built at the start of world war two to provide the country with a secure home-produced source of oil. Large volumes of water were used throughout the oil production process, consequently much of the flow of the Almond had to be drawn up by electrically-powered pumps and piped to Westwood works, just over a mile to the south. Here the water was re-used and recycled, through a string of processes in which it was evaporated and condensed. Having worked hard, it was finally treated and released into the Briech water immediate to the south of the works. The flow in the Almond was fickle and sometimes terribly polluted by the coal industry upstream, and extensive filtration and chemical treatment was needed before the water was fit for industrial use. At times of drought the oil works were forced to extract cooling water from the Briech Water upstream of the works, or else buy the pure but expensive water piped-in from Cobbinshaw Loch.

When the shale industry closed in 1962, the pump house, (along with nearby Breich No.1 & 2 pit) was allowed to fall gradually into a quiet dereliction. It remains as a tiny memorial to a big thirsty industry.

Steaming home to AddiewellWhen James Young built his great oil-works at Addiewell, it was one of the largest chemical wo...
03/05/2021

Steaming home to Addiewell

When James Young built his great oil-works at Addiewell, it was one of the largest chemical works in Britain. An account written in May 1865 describes a visit to Addiewell at a time when it was still a huge building site; a seemingly chaotic muddy mess of holes, huts, smoking chimney stalks and huge piles of shale and coal. Young’s bought their first two railway locomotives in that year, and these little pugs will have been kept hard at work moving around the masses of brick, iron castings and other material required in the construction of the mighty works.

The account comments on the importance of railways in future plans for this great industrial complex
“The works are to be divided into two almost equal parts by a broad open way running like a street down the centre. Down this street a branch line of railway will be led, upon which a small steam locomotive will be placed. This line, laid down so as to form direct communication with the coal-pits, will afford the means of conveying the shale to the retorts with little trouble”

By 1870, the railway had spread its tentacles eastward to transport shale from Young’s new pits in the lands of Polbeth, and those at Gavieside once owned by its failed rival the West Calder Oil Co. A branch from Young’s Addiewell to Gavieside “main line” also headed north on a spindly viaduct across the Breich water to pits on the Westwood estate. Other routes headed south to the shale and coal pits at Baads and Muirhouse. This network of private railways continued to grow in the early 20th century, extending as far east as Alderstone, and southward to Burngrange and the distant Baads No. 42 coal mine.

The engine shed at Addiewell lay at the heart of this network, and within a stone’s throw (literally) of the rows of homes in Addiewell village. No fences separated Addiewell’s rows from its railways and industry, and the clatter and s**t of the little shunting engines would have been part of everyday life in the village; even on wash day. The local weans would have been familiar with the personality and eccentricities of each of the half dozen or so pug engines that were active at any time. Pug drivers were also well-kent faces, and in the reminiscences of John Fairley, published in 1949, he recalls the names of some of them: Jock Caldwell, Jim Cowe, Frank Cowe, Mickie Lee, and Wullie Robertson. John also recalled that old drivers occasionally staged pug-races, delighting the crowds of cheering children.

Our two postcards seem to be of the same train on the same day, in the very early years of the 20th century. The star of these pictures is little Addiewell No.5, built by the Kilmarnock firm of Andrew Barclay & Sons in 1869, at the time when the railway to Polbeth and Gavieside was being built. She had already put in thirty years hard service and was less powerful that many of her younger sisters then in service. Behind the little wooden tender that extended her coal supply are a rake of small, low-sided tipper wagons which seems to have been skilfully loaded by hand. This may already have seemed a little old-fashioned by the time the photo was taken, as the larger pug engines could easier haul the heavier high-sided mineral wagons, that were loaded and unloaded by machine.

Land renewal and the passage of time have obliterated most traces of Young’s private railway between Addiewell and Gavieside. The only significant relic is a short length of embankment overlooking the Breich Water within which are set solid stone abutments. These once supported a small bridge beneath which the old drove road from West Calder descended to the ford across the river. John Fairley’s article records that when Miss Brown, who had taught at Addiewell, was appointed as headmistress at Gavieside school, she chose not to move home but instead travelled to and from work each day on the footplate of the pug. Miss Brown will have been very familiar with the little bridge over the old drove road and, (it would be hoped) she might have shared a friendly wave with any children near the trackside as she went steaming home.

The Zombies of BreichdykesIn 2015, thirteen young people endured a horrifying ordeal as they sought shelter from terror ...
19/04/2021

The Zombies of Breichdykes

In 2015, thirteen young people endured a horrifying ordeal as they sought shelter from terror among the abandoned remains of Munro (or Freeport) shopping village. It was said that a new type of 5G phone signal caused the genetic mutations that spawned a worldwide pandemic of a terrifying new virus. Once infected, its victims underwent a slow and painful zombification, their broken and decaying bodies condemned to a miserable existence in their daily quest for human flesh. A sorry hoard of flesh-eating zombies had assembled in the sinister misty boglands that surrounded the shopping village, awaiting opportunity to break their way through the barricades and enjoy their gory feast. Only four of thirteen survived to the final episode of BBC3’s reality TV game show, and were able to claim that “I survived the Zombie Apocalypse”.

The show ran for only one season, (perhaps the idea of a global pandemic of a terrifying new virus seemed a little too far fetched?), but was compelling television. Much of its impact was the result of the gloomy post-apocalyptic landscape which featured throughout and created a constant sense of unease and foreboding. And where else but in West Lothian could you find an abandoned shopping centre, set within a watery mire and overshadow by the looming mass of five giant bings?

The strange case of the flesh-eating zombies was just one small episode in the strange story of what became known as Freeport leisure village – an out of town shopping mall built in the middle of nowhere which enjoyed only a brief life. Opened with all due razzmatazz in 1996, it failed to become established as a designer shopping outlet, and never realised the ambition to become the heart of an ambitious leisure complex. The doors of the village closed in 2004, but it remains guarded and largely intact, visited only by the occasional zombie.

More strangeness surrounds the land on which the shopping village was built. One might think that this wet expanse of reeds and tussock grass was a wilderness that had never been tamed by man. In truth this was once the rich pasture and arable lands of Briechdykes farm, and home to a small community. Why the lands were allowed to revert back to wilderness remains strangely unclear, but where dairy cattle once grazed is now home only to wild birds, deer and the restless zombies.

250 years prior to the zombie apocalypse, the lands of Briechdykes, and most of the rest of Livingston parish, remained the property of the local Baron, Sir David Cunynghame. In 1764 Sir David advertised for parties to work coal at Briech (most likely at Breichdykes) describing the seam as “between an ell and forty inches thick” with a “shank in the middle of the streek about eight fathoms deep” (don’t you love the language?). These would have been one of the earliest significant coal workings in this part of the county, but seem to have been abandoned by about 1830. The first detailed Ordnance Survey map, printed in 1855 shows only a number of disused shafts, and only faintest of humps and dimples in the ground now remain at the sites where men would have been lowered into the underworld

Sir David sold the lands of Briechdykes in 1791, and it is perhaps at this time that the land was fenced, fertilised and drained as part of the agricultural improvements that were then transforming the countryside. William Forrest’s map of 1818 shows the layout at that time. Breichdykes farm is schematically shown as cluster of buildings with a number of kitchen gardens associated with them. Accounts describe this as an “excellent steading of houses” which was probably home to several families. Other accounts confirm that the land had been thoroughly drained with a small part under arable cultivation and the rest under pasture. The nearby coal pits are clearly marked. The road serving the farm continued southwards, zig-zagging down the steep valley side, passing a small building at the hairpin before fording the Breich water close to Briech corn mill, and joining the Addiewell road

Strangely no trace of this through road appeared on the 1855 Ordnance Survey map, although it showed solid farm buildings at Briechdykes, including a circular horse gin to power a mill, and a series of well laid out fields. The lands of Breichdykes and Westwood were bought in about 1844 by the Steuart family, who had previously worked the coal reserves beneath their estate at Carfin. It was probably Captain Robert Steuart of Westwood who was the driving force behind exploiting the mineral wealth of Breichdykes. After failing to obtain worthwhile offers to lease the mineral rights, he chose to work the oil shale on his own account and build his own oil works somewhere in the area of Briechdykes farm.

The precise location of this first Westwood oil works is another mystery, as the buildings, and the mineral railway that linked them to the Caledonian railway, are not marked on any known map. The route of this mineral railway can be faintly made out on old aerial photographs, although much of the evidence on the ground was obliterated with the construction of Freeport. On the steep valley sides of the Briech water, fused blocks of red blaes still protrude through undergrowth marking tipping points, radiating our like the fingers of a hand, where spend shale from the oil works was dumped into the valley.
The oil works surely lay somewhere between the railway and the tip, but there is no evidence on the ground or on maps to suggest it’s precise location. Similarly it’s not know which of the little pits and diggings scattered around Breichdykes supplied oilshale to the works.

The oil works opened in about 1866 but closed just five years later Like many other early oil works it was the victim of falling oil prices. When Breichdykes farm was offered for let in 1874, it was described as “specially adapted as a dairy farm” and “thoroughly tile drained”, with a dwelling house and steading refurbished only two years previously. It also offered the amenity of a private railway siding – presumably the branch line that had served the oilworks. It’s hard to imagine that milk produced on the farm would have been considered sufficient traffic to retain the railway for long.

Following the collapse of Robert Steuart’s dream of becoming an oil tycoon, he let the rights to the minerals beneath his estate to the Young’s Paraffin Light & Mineral Oil Co. Ltd. Young’s worked the Fells shale that lay beneath Briechdykes from pits in the eastern part of the Westwood estate. These were exhausted and abandoned by about 1881.

It is perhaps these workings from Westwood No.12 and 13 pits that explain Breichdykes farm’s return to wildness. The workings lay little more than 20 metres beneath the surface, and only a small amount of subsidence would have been sufficient to disrupt land drains and undo all the good work achieved by earlier generations who had improved the land. It seems that the farmers finally gave up on the ongoing struggle to repair drains and abandoned the area to agriculture. By 1914 only one small part of the farmhouse remained habitable. Since then, a century of moss and reed have built up to obscure many traces of the past

It’s hard to imagine what the future holds for the lands of Breichdykes. As the fortunes of the shopping centre waned there were bold plans for an indoor ski centre, a golf course, an ornamental lochan and much more besides, but these have come to nothing. It’s as if sadness and failure in ingrained in the land; a strange place of grand schemes, broken dreams and marauding zombies.

Gladstone visits PumpherstonWilliam Ewart Gladstone is the only person ever to have served as British Prime Minister on ...
02/04/2021

Gladstone visits Pumpherston

William Ewart Gladstone is the only person ever to have served as British Prime Minister on four occasions. Of Scottish descent, he was MP for Midlothian from 1880 until 1895. Gladstone is credited as one of the first to appreciate the value of political campaigning; travelling around the country entrancing crowds with fiery, dramatic, speeches than went on for hours and hours. Affectionately known as the Grand Old Man, he was a showman who relished attention and played to the crowd.

In 1890, while leader of the opposition, Gladstone chose to share his words and wisdom with the staff and management of Pumpherston oil works. On the 28th October 1890, he set off from his Edinburgh home acknowledging the cheering crowd that had assembled on the pavement outside.

The streets of Dalry were lined with well-wishers as his carriage sped past, heading for the village of East Calder where homes were decorated with colourful swags and garlands. The word “welcome” had been picked out in greenery above the entrance to Calder Hall where they were met by the great and good of the area, including senior figures from the shale oil industry. After a fine lunch, the party headed to Pumpherston, where the workforce of the oil works had been granted a day’s holiday. Many occupied themselves creating triumphal arches, banners, mottos, and other colourful decorations displayed around the village and oil works.

The party toured the pithead of one of the shale mines, followed a lavishly decorated route through the oil works, and arrived at the refinery where a large stage had been constructed. In front of a cheering crowd of workmen, Gladstone was formally welcomed to Pumpherston, with additional greetings presented by three members of the workforce; John King, an engineer, David Greig, a miner, and David Shaw, a bricklayer.

William Fraser, Managing Director of the Pumpherston Oil Co., then presented Mr Gladstone with a case containing a collection of products manufactured at the works. Mrs Gladstone was presented with a case of the company’s “laundrine” washing powder (a gift both thoughtful and practical) and two busts of Gladstone manufactured from white paraffin.

Once the cheering subsided, Gladstone addressed the crowd. Pointing at Mrs Gladstone’s busts he proclaimed “I see here a beautiful work of art”:…..” and I see you rise to the production of art out of the rudest of all materials of which the earth is composed”. He went on to speak about the superiority of paraffin candles, then rejoiced that the body of Scottish workmen before him had the vote; a privilege that their fathers and grandfathers never enjoyed. It was an area of progress, he said, that he had a hand in bringing about. After a long and lively speech covering many political issues of the day, he finished by again referring to the gifts that he had been presented with; “Gentlemen, I thank you again for these specimens of British Industry”.

Gladstone’s return journey passed through the shale village of Oakbank where again the route was lined with colourful decorations and cheering workmen. Given the lateness of the hour, all had to be content with a short address rather than the planned tour of the Oakbank oil works. After further tea at Calder Hall, the carriage sped home “with the greatest amount of speed”.

It’s not known whether Gladstone ever thoughtfully toyed with the vials of coloured oil, the blocks of wax, and jars of powdered chemicals contained within his presentation case. We can only guess whether Mrs Gladstone ever opened her case to lovingly caressed the wax busts of her husband, or ever thought of Pumpherston while washing his socks.

It seems that these contents have been lost through the course of an uncharted history, but the presentation cases, with their engraved commemorative plaque have at least survived. While the exteriors are scuffed and warped, the satin-lined interior is as bright and colourful as the day that it first cradled “some fine specimens of British industry

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Hello, does anyone have photos of the old railway at Standhill, Bathgate they could share? I think the line went up to Bents. Thanks
Wonderful image of Patrick Sonny D"Alton from Winchburgh. One of West Lothian's last shale miners.
West Calder is a grand gateway to the Shale Trail.
The forthcoming Kid's Shale Trail.
My late Mother,Elizabeth Douglas McGonigal, was from the Raws,Seafield.She worked as a nurse at Bangour.Here is her wedding.
Hello folks, I am trying to find information on the Braeheads Brickworks and the Eastfield Brickworks at Fauldhouse and in particular to track down any bricks that were manufactured there. The attached photo of a broken brick stamped Turner is likely stamped 'Turner's' and may be a product of these works. Can anyone point me in the direction of any whole bricks! https://www.scottishbrickhistory.co.uk/braehead-brickworks-fauldhouse-west-lothian/
Good morning folks. I am looking at compiling some areas to search for bricks in the near future, for a Scottish brick collection. scottishbrickhistory.co.uk Can anyone tell me the name of the farm just behind Park View, Fauldhouse and a possible name or contact for the owner. Looking at the maps There does not appear to be much left at Eastfield Brickworks but the nearby Crofthead Colliery looks like there may be still debris and bricks lying about there. Does anyone know that particular area. Many thanks in advance. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side/#zoom=17&lat=55.83541&lon=-3.70432&layers=6&right=BingHyb
Three broken but very interesting firebricks were found on the edge of the Etna Brickworks site at Armadale, West Lothian. Two of them are BRITANNIA brand which are claimed on quite good evidence to have been made at Rawyards Brickworks in Airdrie, Lanarkshire. However, this is second Britannia brick to have been found at or near to the Armadale brickworks and this one doesn't have any of the screw/rivet marks on the rear that the Rawyards made bricks had. So, there remains a possibility that Britannia firebricks were made (possibly for export) at more than one Scottish brickworks. One of them has the partial stamp SBESTOS which you've got to assume was ASBESTOS. A good trade name for a brick i'd say and one that hasn't been recorded before. I'm going to suggest that this could be a product of the Asbestic Sand Brick Company of Bathgate which was in production from c.1904 to c.1910 although it might be added that the 1914 OS map appears to show the brickworks still in use. Anyway, Asbestic bricks were made from "a mixture of crushed chrysotile-bearing serpentine rock, heretofore a waste product in asbestos mining, and a small proportion of lime, with a sufficient quantity of water" and the process was patented by Feodor Boas in 1896. An almost forgotten bit of West Lothian history there.
Walking up Greendykes bing today and spent sometime uncovering this. The other wheel is about six feet up so looks like the whole cart could still be under the shale.
KNIGHTS HOSPITALLER OF THE ORDER OF St JOHN OF JERUSALEM IN SCOTLAND Historical Notes on the Knights Hospitaller and Torphichen Preceptory
I would like to appeal to any would be historians of folk interested in genealogy in the area. I am looking for some information on a house called "Powder Magazine Cottage" in Calder area. Has anyone heard of it? It is listed as the birthplace of twins James and Ann McNab in 1876. Any info would be appreciated or any contact from McNabs that may be connected. thanks.
A distant relative in Australia has discovered some information about a football team called Standburn Rangers anyone have any info please? Thanks