A tour of Addiewell Oil Works in 1902

How the shale was mined and processed

By Sybil Cavanagh

The document attached at the foot of this page gives a detailed description of the Addiewell Oil Works in 1902.  At that date, Young’s company employed 600 men there, and another 400 in the surrounding shale mines that supplied the oil works.

The article appeared in the West Lothian Courier of 5 December 1902, and is the report of a visit to the Oil Works.  The writer describes the processes that turned hard black shale into oil, sulphate ammonia, naphtha, candles and many other products:

  • Shale is mined
  • Shale is taken by mineral railway to the oil works  
  • Shale is crushed in the ‘breakers' into fist-sized pieces
  • Crushed shale is put into hutches (small wagons) 
  • Shale is taken to the top of the retorts    
  • Shale is tipped into the retorts (furnaces)   
  • Shale is heated up to high temperature until the crude oil, ammonia water and gases run off 
  • Spent (waste) shale, now turned red by the heat, is tipped onto the bing
  • The crude oil is refined (cleaned of impurities) by repeated distillations
  • By-products such as sulphate of ammonia are processed Paraffin wax is made into candles


Mention is made in the article of an earlier article describing the retorting and refining process.  This was in a similar article on the Broxburn Oil Works, which appeared in the Courier of 21 November 1902.  This article can be seen at or ordered from the Local History Library, County Buildings, High Street, Linlithgow, EH49 7HE.  Tel. 01506 282491.  localhistory@westlothian.gov.uk.uk .


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Photo:part of Addiewell Oil Works

part of Addiewell Oil Works

John Kelly. Adam Prentice. All Rights Reserved. S1. 86.

Photo:The joiners employed at Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company, Addiewell Oil Works.

The joiners employed at Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company, Addiewell Oil Works.

John Kelly. Adam Prentice. All Rights Reserved. S1. 83

Photo:Addiewell Oil Works, 1922

Addiewell Oil Works, 1922

Ordnance Survey, 1922 edition.

Site of Addiewell Oil Works

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This page was added by Sybil Cavanagh on 21/04/2012.