Sir George Thomas Beilby

(17 November 1850 – 1 August 1924) was a British chemist. He was born in Edinburgh, the son of a famous doctor and educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University. In 1869, he joined the Oakbank Oil Company to work in the oil shale industry. During his time there he and his colleague William Young were able to increase the yield of oil, ammonia, and other useful materials from the shale by retorting and fractional distillation improvements. This was called the 'Young and Beilby retort'. This meant that Scottish production of the product was able to compete with their foreign rivals. By 1889, half of all 5,000 retorts in Scotland were of the Young & Beilby type. He later designed an ammonia still and, after leaving the shale oil industry, became a major authority on fuel economy and smoke prevention.
He was made a knight in 1916 a great honour for a very great chemist and scientist.

Robert Bell

(1824-1894). Born in Wishaw in 1824, where his father was a farmer, Mr Bell commenced business as a wood merchant. In 1851, however, he leased a coalfield on the Wishaw estate, and, gradually extending his operations, became one of the leading coal masters in that district of Scotland. In the year 1856 he began there a business plan which brought him wealth and fame. While James Young had previously succeeded in distilling oil from a bituminous coal, Robert Bell was famed for being the first to distil oil from shale and helped to lay the foundations of the industry. Mr Bell not only exploited the shale, but also discovered the ammonia which is found within it. This later became a successful industry. In 1884 he bought the mansion-house of Clifton Hall and in Broxburn and the local area he was known for his generosity. For example he presented a fever hospital, and established a library and a town clock.

William Black

(?-1908) William Black was a well known Scottish coal and iron master. His father had been involved in mining land in Airdrie and was also a successful farmer. William was a very successful businessman and did so well that he leased 32 pits across the Central Belt including in Lanark, Stirling, Renfrew and Ayr.
After this he focused his attention on the Mauricewood Pit in Penicuik. The 32 collieries that he once owned then became owned by an American businessman.


James Bryson

(1853-1930) James Bryson was General Works Manager of the Scottish Oils Company. He had originally trained as an engineer at Coatbridge and was made manager of the Pumpherston Oil Works in 1887 and eventually became joint Managing Director of the Pumpherston Oil Company. Later in his career he was made a director of Scottish Oils. In 1894 he designed the very successful Bryson retort which greatly increased production rates and reduced the costs by about half. After his death in 1930 he was remembered for his tireless efforts to stimulate and enhance the Scottish shale industry.

Robert Crichton

(1882-1966) Robert Crichton, a former mining engineer, became the first General Mining Manager of the newly formed Scottish Oils Ltd in 1919. He was also General Manager and a member of the Board before becoming Managing Director in 1941.
He worked in the shale oil industry for 58 years! Robert was also actively involved in his local community and was Convenor of West Lothian County Council in 1945. Robert also received a CBE from the Queen in 1955 for his work in shale oil and for the Council.

William Fraser (William Fraser Senior)

(1852-1915) William Fraser was heavily involved in the Scottish mineral oil industry, he formed and was managing director of the Pumpherston Oil Company. He began his career working at Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company, When the shale oil industry was struggling with foreign competition and many people thought the entire industry would fail in Scotland William continued to have faith in shale oil. William always believed in continuing to work to extract the valuable by-products of crude shale oil and was successful. It was this determination to find better more efficient ways to extract the by-products through the refining process. His hard work was very important in perfecting the refining process. In his relations with the workers he was exceedingly happy, and disputes were of rare occurrence. The workers of the Pumpherston Company could have been described as living under model conditions.


Sir William Fraser (William Fraser Junior)

(1888-1970) William Fraser's father (William Fraser Senior) and uncle (Archibald Fraser) started the Pumpherston Oil Company. William Jr. moved from the position of assistant managing director of the Company to that of managing director following his father's death in 1915. During World War One he acted on behalf of the oil industry in relations with the government. He was awarded a CBE in 1918. He played a prominent part in negotiations leading to the formation of Scottish Oils Ltd and was appointed as managing director of the new Company. In 1923, Fraser became a director of the Anglo Persian Oil Company and in 1941 became chairman. He kept this job when Anglo-Persian became BP in 1954. He was knighted in 1939.

John Fyfe

(1834-1915) John Fyfe was managing director of Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company. John, who was from Glasgow started work for the Caledonian Railway Company when he was just a boy and rose to the position of stores superintendent.
In 1873 he was appointed general manager of Young's Company, and ultimately became managing director. His daughter Georgie Fyfe was well known for taking part in ambulance work during the war. A very unusual position for a woman of the time. She even received an award from the King of Belgium for her work!

Norman Macfarlane Henderson

(1839-1917) Norman Henderson was a pioneer of the Scottish Oil industry and was the manager of the Broxburn Oil Works. He was born in Bathgate on 3rd December, 1839 and went to school as a boy there. In his early life he showed promise in mechanics and decided to follow a career in engineering. In 1869 he entered the service of the Oakbank Oil Company Ltd. In 1873, Mr Henderson invented and patented a retort by which he used the old shale as fuel. There was less loss in refining the crude oil, and a larger proportion of the more valuable products including lubricating oil and solid paraffin was left. The methods used to gather the old shale into the furnace were ingenious. This retort was very successful, and was ultimately adopted by ALL the Scottish Oil Companies. Improvements in retorts erected at Broxburn gave a great increase in the yield of ammonia. He also invented a very perfect method of saving gas which had always been lost before. In 1896 his eyesight began to fail, and eventually he became totally blind however he continued to work for many years.

William Kennedy

(1836-1899) William Kennedy was a native of Biggar and came to Glasgow in 1853.
In 1861 he became connected with the manufacture of mineral oil at the works of the West Calder Oil Company and seven years later he was appointed manager of the Oakbank Oil Company. In 1877 William took an active role in the formation of the Broxburn Oil Company and held the position of Managing Director for 22 years. As a skilled and shrewd businessman a great deal of the company's success was believed to be down to William Kennedy.

John James Patison

(1828-1905) John James Patison was born in Leith in 1828. He lived in Airdrie as a young man and began experiments with shale. His first experiments were carried out by grinding the shale, putting it in the bowl of a common clay pipe, covering the charge with wet clay, and then heating the bowl in a fire - collecting the oil that came off from the end of the stem. Patison was one of the earliest practical workers in the commercial development of the Scotch shale oil industry. It is known that shale and similar material, has, like coal, been carbonised from the earliest times. All his life Patison remained keenly interested in the shale oil industry. He carried on the Whiterigg Chemical Works along with his son until 1886, when he retired from active business and he died in Fife in 1905.

Daniel Rankin Steuart

(1848-1925) He was born at Bogside, Lanarkshire in 1848. In early life he studied chemistry in Edinburgh and later continued his studies in Glasgow. He also spent six months studying at Munich. For a few years he worked under the Sir George Beilby as oil-works chemist at Oakbank, and in 1877 was appointed chief chemist of the newly started Broxburn Oil Company, in which capacity he remained for over 40 years. He took an important role in the development of the works at Broxburn.
He did much original work in shale oils, and many papers and journals on the topic of chemistry. He was called one of the world's greatest petroleum technologists
Mr Steuart also made many efforts to have the laws altered to prevent the use of dangerous lamp oils however they were unsuccessful. However he did live to see the oils made safe through the extraction of the dangerous lighter fractions which are now required for motor spirit. A member of the Church, he devoted himself throughout his life to many kinds of social life, and contributed generously to charitable institutions. He was especially interested in work among children.

William Young

(1842-1907) Mr William Young was born in 1842 and became a well known oil and gas expert and scientist. He was at one time manager of the Clippens Oil Company, and was the inventor (along with Mr George Beilby) of the Young and Beilby retort, which had such an influence for good on the Scottish oil trade, and which is the prototype of the oil retorts now in use in almost all the works in Scotland. On resigning as manager of the Clippens Oil Company William devoted himself to his profession as a consulting adviser on all matters connected with the oil and gas industry. His name was known all over Great Britain and the Continent, and even in the United States of America, as an authority on these subjects.

Dr James Young

(1811-1883) James "Paraffin" Young was one of Victorian Scotland's great heroes and is the name most people associate with the shale oil industry. In 1850 his Bathgate Chemical Works was arguably the first in the world to refine mineral oil on a commercial scale. Young's success laid the foundations for a Scottish oil industry that operated for over a century based on the oil shales of East Central Scotland.

He was the son of a working cabinet maker who lived in the Drygate of Glasgow in the year 1811. At the age of 19 he began to attend evening classes at the nearby Anderson's College (now Strathclyde University) and in 1832 became assistant to Professor Thomas Graham and followed him to University College, London in 1837.
He joined the chemical works of James Muspratt in 1838 and Tennants, Clow & Co. in 1844. In 1848, he established a small business refining a natural oil seepage in a Derbyshire Colliery at Alfreton, with James Oake and in 1850 he patented a process of extracting oil from cannel coal. As the seepage gradually dried up, Young looked around for other sources of oil and he found what he wanted in a special coal from Bathgate in West Lothian. He entered into a partnership with Edward Binney and Edward Meldrum for the manufacture of oils from Boghead cannel coal at Bathgate.
This coal, Torbanite by name, gave a remarkable yield of crude oil when distilled in simple apparatus. After experiments with shale and bituminous coal Young found that by slow distillation he could obtain paraffin oil and paraffin wax, both of which were in universal demand, not only for lighting and heating but for many industrial processes.
Young quickly patented the process, and established the first truly commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851. His fortune was quickly made selling paraffin oil, lubricants for all kinds of industries, wax, naptha and even fertilisers. When the reserves of Torbanite eventually gave out he moved on to oil-shale which was near at hand, abundant and cheap, but not so rich in oil as Torbanite. In 1862 the distillation plants began production and for over half a century 3,000,000 tons of shale and coal each year were mined and treated. In 1864 Young's patent expired. In 1865 he bought out his business partners and a year later formed Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company with new works at Addiewell, near Bathgate. The company continued to grow and expanded its operations, selling paraffin oil and paraffin lamps all over the world and earning for its founder the nickname 'Paraffin' Young.

The first decade of the 20th century was a period of great prosperity for the Scottish oil-shale industry. This was due to a growing market for oil, and for the ammonium sulphate fertiliser produced as a lucrative by-product of the retorting process, but their fortunes changed rapidly during the first world war. The import of cheap crude oil from the Persian Gulf undermined the viability of the Scottish industry. Following the Second World War most of the older oilworks were gradually closed.
In 1861 James Young was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. From 1868-1877 he was President of Anderson's College and founded the Young Chair of Technical Chemistry at the College. In 1873 Young was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1879 he was awarded an Honorary LI.D of St. Andrews University.
Young retired from the operation of the company in 1870, and died at age 71 in his home Kelly, near Wemyss Bay, on May 13 1883, and was buried at Inverkip.
Statues of his old professor, Thomas Graham, and of his fellow student and lifelong friend, David Livingstone, which stand respectively in George Square, Glasgow, and at Glasgow Cathedral, were erected by him.