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History of West Calder
Chapter XVIII. Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company (Limited), and the influence of the Paraffin Oil Industry on the Parish of West Calder


It was once said of West Calder, “this place is entirely destitute of trading establishments.” If the author of that statement were now to revisit the place of which he then so truthfully spoke, he would doubtless be amazed with the wonderful contrast, which would now meet his gaze in the various oil, co-operative, railway, and other trading establishments that have recently sprung into life here, entirely through the influence, of shale.

The largest and most important of these establishments being Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company, whose head-cent-tral establishment is at Addiewell in this parish.

The total authorised capital of this company is £800,000, of which .£605,025 is called up. The total value of their “property and assets” in West Calder and elsewhere now amounts to the enormous sum of £1,067,006 10s, as per abstract balance sheet, the largest of their several establishments being Addie-well, valued at £288,312 6s 10d, although no less a sum than £499,947 12s 2d has been expended upon it since 1st January, 1866 to 30th April, 1885, the difference between these two sums being written off for “depreciation” during the period mentioned.

From these figures some idea may be formed of the vastness of Addiewell, and the important position it occupies in the parish as an earning and spending, trading establishment, giving employment directly and indirectly to thousands of people.

The annual balance sheet of ‘prolit and loss at 30th April 1885 showed a gross profit of £72,925 6s 4d, earned by the company for the year, against £51,892 last year; and the amount proposed for distribution amongst the shareholders is £48,450 against £30,577 in the previous year; and that although the prices of heavy oil, scale, candles, and sulphate of ammonia were lower than in any previous year.

Notwithstanding the highly gratifying report of the last year’s trading of this extensive firm, it is to be regreted that Addiewell itself is playing a waning part in the other wise satisfactory result, two of the pits—Nos. 2 and 15—having recently been closed owing to a superior and more profitable shale being now obtained at Newliston and Broxburn, which is brought by rail to be manufactured into the various products by the improved and more economical machinery lately erected at Addiewell; and which can now produce about 6,000,000 gallons of oil, per annum.

The following facts and figures have been supplied to me by one of the managers of Young’s Company; and I cannot do better than give the statement in his own words, as exemplyfying and proving the importance as well as “The Influence of the Paraffin Oil Industry in the Parish of Wrest Calder.”

“About the year 1850 the late Dr James Young having had the management of a small natural mineral oil work in Derbyshire, the supply of which oil was very limited, and consequently soon became exhausted. He then turned his attention to extracting oil from cod, and after some experimental trials made in Glasgow and Manchester, and having patented a process for extracting the oil, arranged with other two gentlemen to erect works at Bathgate, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Boghead Mineral Field, for carrying on the destructive distillation of that mineral, and the purification of the products therefrom. These works were carried on until near the completion of the patent in 1864. During the above period it was found that the extent of that most valuable mineral was limited, and no doubt the then firm would be on the outlook for some otker oil yielding material.

The shale discovered on the lands of Muir-hall, Addiewell, and Breichmill, in the Parish of West Calder, after careful experiments, was found to yield the then principal product desired, viz., burning oil. About 1864 a commencement was made by Mr Young in erecting the extensive works at Addiewell on his own account; and, in the latter end of 1865, Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company—Limited—was formed to take over the original Bathgate and the Addiewell Works, together with the various branches throughout the kingdom The Addiewell Works soon became the principal seat of the Paraffin Oil Industry in Scotland; and, in the course of ten years from the erection of the works employment was given to about 1,300 men.

In 1864, when Mr Young’s Patent lapsed, a number of paraffin oil works, throughout the then known shale district, were started; and, the parish of West Calder had a large share of the new industry. Works of considerable extant were erected on Gavieside, Charlesfiekl, Burngrange, and Hermand; and, a small work was also erected near Bellsquarry. These works being all of considerable extent, although we have not been able to gain any data as to the number of men employed, would add greatly to the population, and to the amount of money circulated in the village. At a later period two oil works were erected at Cobbinshaw, one at Leavenseat, one on the estate of Bartwood, and one to the south of West Calder near the Harburn Road. Some of the works named v/ere not very extensive; and, after a few years experience had to be abandoned owing to the enormous supply of petroleum from America, and consequent reduction in the value of paraffin oil.

The crude oil work at Leavenseat has been working until recently ; but all the other oil works in the parish have been abandoned since 1877 with the exception of the Addie-well Work, which, since that period, has been very considerably increased; and, now after 20 years existence, with the shale mines connected therewith, gives employment to about 2,000 men.

During the time that Young’s Patent existed, burning oil was the most important product. Sulphate of ammonia, heavy oil for lubricating purposes, and paraffin wars were not so much thought of as they have since become. With the reduced prices for burning oil, other products from the shale had to be more carefully looked after, and a short time after the Addiewell Works were in operation, when it was found that the shales were richer in nitrogen than the Boghead mineral: experiments were made for recovering it in the form of sulphate of ammonia; and we believe that a practical method of making sulphate of ammonia was first introduced at the Addiewell Works. More recently, heavy mineral oil for lubricating purposes has become an important product. The Boghead mineral, although yielding a large percentage of oil, was poor in paraffin scale as compared with some of $10 shales which have been worked within the past few years. A paraffin wax refinery formed part of the works at Bathgate, and the refined wax was sold to candle-makers, principally in London. A candle making house at Addiewell formed part of the original plan; and, although for a number of years the trade was not very extensive, it has up till now increased in a greater ratio than any of the other departments of the works, and from statements in the public prints 4,000 tons of candles per annum can now be turned out.

Young’s Company, while giving employment to so large a number of men, are also the highest ratepayers in the parish. The rateable value of their property in 1884 was upwards of .£11,000, the whole rateable value of property in the parish being £51,615.

With such an addition to the population, Young’s Company found it necessary to build houses for their workmen; and, these are situated in three principal groups, viz., at Addle well and Muirhall (362 houses) for the men employed in the works, and at Happy Land—West Calder—and Mossend (320 houses) for the men employed in the mining department. In 1879 they purchased the West Calder Oil Works—including the workmen’s houses known as the Gavieside Hows (108 houses)—and also their shale fields at South Cobbinshaw. Since then they have purchased a group of 59 houses at Cobbinshaw, which belonged to the Cobbinshaw Oil and Brick Works.

It may be fair to assume that the parish of West Calder has been most materially benefited by the discovery of the Shale and the Paraffin Industry. In 1851 the parish is described as abounding in coal and ironstone, and as having some quarries of limestone: the parish town being a small village on the road from Edinburgh to Lanark; and, the population of tho parish being 2,120. In 1884 the estimated population was 7,900.

There is no doubt but that the rush to erect oil works from 18G5 to 1868 led to the Caledonian Railway Company making their Clelland and Mid Calder Branch Line, which presses through the parish and has greatly added to its prosperity. That railway company is the second highest ratepayer in the parish, the rateable value of their property in 1884 being £9,725.

The great change and increase that have taken place on the village of West Calder during the past twenty years are due to the Paraffin Oil Industry, as no other local industry has been introduced; and, if the prosperity of any place is in any way measured by the increase of the places of worship, it may be said that few places have been so ‘prosperous as West Calder; as within the last ten years it has been found necessary to build new churches—for the United Presbyterian with 700 sittings, the Established Church with 600 sittings, and the Free Church with 500 sittings. A chapel has also been built by the Roman Catholics with 500 sittings. These are all handsome and commodious structures which add much to the appearance of the village. At the village of Addiewell a large iron church with 350 sittings was put down as a mission church in connection with the Free Church cf West Calder; and, last year a church seated for 500 has been erected in connection with the Parish Church. The number of seatings provided is thus 3,150 or say two for each family in the parish, taking the usual average of live persons in each family.

Before the Education Act came into force the sum of twopence per man per week was deducted from the wages of each workman employed by Young’s Company, which provided education for the children of the workmen, the company providing school accommodation when necessary. After the Education Act came into operation, the workmen applied to the directors of the company to continue the deduction of twopence per week as one of the conditions of service, the money to be paid into the bank, to be dealt with by a committee representing the general body of the workmen, which committee pays the school fees for each child attending the various schools. The number of children paid for, during the year ending 30th April 1885, was 1,135 : the amount paid for school fees to the school board of the parish being £551 16s 1d, to the managers of the Roman Catholic School £I02 11s 6d, and to other schools not in the parish but in the neighbourhood £33 7s 6d. In addition to these sums paid for attendance at day schools, there was also paid for pupils attending evening classes £34 7s 6d, making a total of £722 5s 7d disbursed for school fees. Hitherto the income has exceeded the expenditure; and, donations have been made for the purpose of maintaining reading rooms in Addiewell, West Calder, and Mossend.”


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