4 Faraday Place (Part Two)


By David Toynbee

As the Oil Works slowly shut down and the workforce was reduced, we found that we had the run of the works area. In the old days there were always shift workers around to chase away nosey wee boys, but not now. The retorts still operated but only around the fringes and there were no personnel after the day shift went home. West of the retorts was the condensers; sky-high loops of pipe that were used to cool the vapours from the shale process into liquid. Because the condensers were always warm, the structure was home to thousands of starlings. Generations of birds had colonised the piping and the bird droppings were two to three feet deep under the pipes. We'd take a steel pipe and bang the the loops of the condensers, making a noise that echoed up through the whole structure. The starlings would blacken the sky as they took off in fright. It was quite a sight! But we got tired of dodging the bird droppings and lost interest in that prank.

 The rail yard that ran from The Pond down to the main works was on a slight incline toward the oil works, and we learned to release the brakes on the empty wagons and ride with them slowly down into the works. We even managed to block the level crossing on the Station Road one night. That was the last time we moved the wagons! One evening we went into the engine shed where the long fireplaces were kept alight all night to fire up the little steam locos (pugs) in the morning. At Hallow'e'en we took grease from the wagon axle boxes to add to our firing cans so the cans would burn with a huge flare. But we were getting older and the adventures faded.

When I was 16, Dad got me a summer job at the Oil Works. I worked with Jimmy Walker and the oldest Maxwell brother was our boss. Jimmy was the same age as me and we'd gone through Addiewell school together. Our job was to repair the hutches that took the hot spent shale up the bing for emptying - little steel wagons that led a hard life. Mr Maxwell was a strong guy and the work was heavy duty - welding and riveting - at the bottom of the hot retorts, where the hutches lived. It was summer and the heat would knock you over. During any free time, I wandered all over the retort structure and as everybody knew my Dad, I was just part of the crew. The "green" shale came from Westwood pit by rail and was crushed to size, delivered to the top of the retorts in small hutches where it was manually loaded in to the vertical retort vessel for heating to release the gas. The retort structure had about 50 such vessels so the work was continuous, green shale in the top, spent shale out the bottom then up the bing in the hutches to be tipped and returned empty. Every time the green shale operator up top opened the retort cover for loading there was a big puff of sulphur laden gas as the shale was dumped in. The workers told me that the fumes "cleared their tubes", but as I learned later in life the workers were being poisoned with hydrogen sulphide gas. The smell was everywhere - a hazardous operation!

  I quit High School in autumn of 1956 and Uncle Arthur got me a job as an apprentice electrician down the pit at Westwood. I started at 0610 in the morning and the only way to get there was to cycle the rail line to Westwood. I remember my first time underground. The old hands had a word with the cage operator and he dropped the cage free for about the first 30 or 40 feet. Zero gravity. The guys had played so many tricks on me that when I saw them all watching me I steeled myself for the obvious, so no hysterics. I didn't mind being underground; I'd read somewhere that the Westwood pit shaft was the deepest in Britain, but it just made me curious to see it. Westwood shale galleries were cut through hard rock so it was more dusty and cold than wet. We got to ride the little man- trains that saved a lot of walking. It was a big underground complex. That was the last of my Addiewell days. Dad and I took jobs in Armadale at "The Fireclay" and I went down the braes to a new life.

Dave Toynbee

This page was added by David Toynbee on 30/11/2014.
Comments about this page

These are very interesting stories David.  Pat and May Cassidy are my parents and I grew up in Loganlea.  I come from a long line of Addiewell residents, Tommy Foley was my grandfather, my grandmother was Kate Cassidy (maiden name McMahon) and the McKenna's who lived on the end of Livingstone Street by Kate Carroll's shop were my great grandparents. I never met them but I have been researching all I can to get details about Addiewell and the residents.  I live in Kansas City, USA now so not that easy to research. Keep the stories coming.  Anne Cassidy

By Anne Cassidy Hamilton
On 17/12/2014

Hi David, gave me a thrill reading this. My Dad was "the oldest Maxwell brother".   If you have any more stories I'd love to hear them.

By Jim Maxwell
On 11/12/2016

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