Almond Valley Heritage Trust

West Lothian was at the heart of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry for over 100 years.  Shale oil was an important component of Scotland’s heavy industries, and pioneered processes and practices that were subsequently adopted throughout the world.  The Bathgate Chemical Works, established in 1851 by James Young and partners, arguably represented the first industrial-scale processing of mineral oils anywhere in the world.  This gave rise to an industry based on coal oil that briefly operated at sites throughout the Scottish coalfields and, more significantly, the shale oil industry that operated between 1860 and 1962.

The Scottish Shale Oil Industry collection held by the museum illustrates all significant technical processes and commercial practices of the industry as well as its social and environmental influences.  The collection also contains material from all periods in the history of the industry and covers most geographical areas of activity including West Lothian, Midlothian, Edinburgh, Fife, Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire.

The mining of shale is represented by a wide range of miner’s tools, helmets, lamps, explosive tins, tokens and other graith and by a fine collection of mine and estate plans.  The retorting process for extracting crude oil from shale is illustrated by models, technical drawings, lantern slides and production records.  A wide range of oil samples and products illustrate the refining of oils, while a range of tools, packaging and products relate to the processing of by-products including candles, waxes, detergents and bricks. 

Distribution and marketing is illustrated through a range of barrels, cans, packaging, advertising material, catalogues, pamphlets and sales correspondence; also by oil lamps manufactured by Young’s Company.  The business functions of the oil companies are reflected in a variety of legal and financial records and by company seals and awards.  The roles of oil companies as landowners, landlords and employers are represented through plans and agreements, drawing office equipment, rent books, employment records and other paperwork, whilst the working lives of company staff are recorded through personal records, mementoes and oral history recordings.

(Sketch plan and elevation of houses erected in Livingston Station 
by the Pumpherston Oil Co.) 

The museum collection is supported by a wealth of paper records and ephemera, maps, a substantial photographic collection and a reference library.

The Scottish Shale Oil Industry collection accounts for 80% of the museum’s holdings.  The remaining material held by Almond Valley illustrates the agricultural, industrial and social history of West Lothian, plus a modest holding illustrating the domestic use of paraffin oils.  Notable amongst these is an impressive collection of heavy spade forge machinery and tools, products and documentation from the Bathgate Chieftain Forge.

For more information please contact the STICK representative at Almond Valley Heritage Trust, Sarah Cartwright, Collection & Digital Resources Officer or visit our websites,,