Among the oil works of Scotland—No. II., 1872

type: Locations - individual

The Petroleum Monthly,
Unique Code:
Source date:
01/02/1872 (approximate)
Related places:

AMONG THE OIL WORKS OF SCOTLAND—NO. II. Young's paraffin oil company's works, Addiewell.

AFTER a run from Glasgow of about thirty miles, and an easy walk, let our reader imagine himself perched about half-way up on one of the numerous chimney-stacks in the vicinity of the candle warehouses at Addiewell, and he has around him a bird's-eye view of probably the largest oil works in the world. On either side—behind and before—there are objects connected with these works which, both as to extent and importance, might furnish material for half a dozen interesting pictures.
But as it is impossible to compress about seventy acres of buildings, retorts, condensers, store-tanks, pits, railways and workmen's cottages into a single sketch, our readers must be content with the selection of what we consider the most interesting points that can be compassed in one view. By the courtesy of Mr. Hill, the highly esteemed general manager of the company, we were introduced to the various departments, both at Addiewell and Bathgate, and were privileged to witness the manufacture of paraffin oil and the various products connected with it, upon a scale of extent and regularity of which none but those who have seen for themselves can form any adequate conception. As, however, we are at present giving a series of articles upon oil-making, which will convey a tol- erably good general idea of the various processes of manufacture, it would be little else than superfluous repetition to describe in detail the perfected arrangements which these works presented ; but it would be an act of singular injustice to say that both Addiewell and Bathgate works do not possess novelties peculiar to themselves. At the same time it would be equally unfair to make patent to the world any special results of labor and skill, which in these days of keen competition it is desirable to keep back as long as they contain any elements of commercial advantage. Anyhow, the limited space at our disposal for this notice will not allow us to enter upon the description of elaborate details which constitute either the mechanical or chemical points of difference.
We may, however, mention one novelty without having the least fear that we are committing a breach of confidence—the enormous extent and producing power of the works of this company. In this respect Young's Paraffin Light Company out-distance all their rivals, and it is not too much to say that the extent of their operations, their command of capital, and their excellent management have greatly contributed to give to the various products of their manufacture a fame for quality and regularity which appears to be well deserved. The burning oil especially—which has, perhaps, more than any other product contributed to the reputation of this company—has for many years past been held in high esteem, on account of its reliable uniformity and safety; and the company are always anxious to impress upon dealers that it requires no license.
At Addiewell (which is under the able superintendence of Mr. R. Scott) we have followed the shale from the railway wagons and seen the huge blocks crumble into pieces between the ponderous wheels of the crusher, performing its task with the regularity of clockwork to the tune of 3,000 tons per week ; we have watched the retorts charged and emptied, and examined the multifarious processes of distillation and treatment till the ugly irony shale blocks were converted into beautiful, limpid burning oil, into lubricating oil or into delicate, wax-like candles—some as white as alabaster, others tinted in the most beautiful colors—all ready for the various markets ; and yet, amidst the complicated system of pipes and conductors (some underground, some over)—amid tanks innumerable—smoke that almost could be felt—flaring gas and hissing steam — apparatus for heating, cooling and freezing—amidst all this apparently bewildering complexity there was no confusion. Every man appeared to know his work thoroughly; could tell where every pipe led to, and what every cistern contained, and (as directly as it was possible to obtain an instant reply from a Scotchman) was able to give the why and the wherefore to every question. To any one of our readers who may be fortunate enough to obtain the opportunity of a ramble through the works at Addiewell, we say, do not miss so rare a treat.
It will perhaps be remembered that the present Limited Company came into possession of these works—and also those of Bathgate—in January, 1866, having purchased them from Mr. James Young, the original patentee of paraffin oil. The capital of the company is £600,000. The directorate presents a rare combination of shrewd mercantile experience and scientific knowledge ; and doubtless the energy and tact with which the management in chief has been thus supplied have brought this company to its present prosperous condition, notwithstanding that since its formation many depressing circumstances have assailed the trade generally.
The mineral fields of this company are said to extend over a large tract of country, and to give evidence of an abundant supply of shale for many years to come. At present there are some fourteen or fifteen pits open, and the proceeds of these are conveyed, by a system of branch lines, into the very center of the works, and from one works to the other, as required. At Addiewell there are 354 retorts, with the capacity to extract the products from over 3,000 tons per week. This is equal to a weekly yield in crude oil of 120,000 gallons. The capacity of the refining department is of corresponding extent, and is capable of turning out in burning oil alone about 70,000 gallons per week. To this we may add some 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of lubricating oil, about thirty tons of re- fined parrafin, and some twelve tons of sulphate of ammonia.
These figures present a tolerable sum total for one refinery to produce in a single week, and convey some idea of the importance of this mineral industry to Scotland. The total number of workpeople employed at Addiewell is 1,600, of whom 850 are shale miners—men and boys—and the aggregate of persons dependent on the company is about 3,500. The wages paid by this company in one year are said to reach very nearly £100,000. The works at Bathgate being near to the village, at least partial accommodation for the workmen was at hand, though, since the manufacture of paraffin oil began in earnest, it is interesting to note the rapid increase in population. At Addiewell some 500 houses—a whole village—had to be erected by Young's Company for the convenience of workmen and their families. And it is to their credit that while the fathers are toiling away down in the dark vaults of the earth, where Nature has so long hid her shale, the company have not left the rising miners and refiners to wander wild and uncared for on the cheerless heath. They have erected an excellent school, superintended by a master and mistress, two assistants, and four pupil teachers, and attended by about 250 children. There is also a capital store which it is our pleasure to note is not conducted upon the truck system—so common in Scotland; and over it a large hall capable of holding some 600 people. With all these facilities for comfort and improvement, it is not surprising that Young's Company should gather around them a class of skilled workmen, so conducive to the success of any establishment. The works at Bathgate are under the management of Mr. Robert Lavender, lately of the Belvidere Works, Kent. They have 240 retorts, and refining power considerably beyond what these produce in crude oil, so that while they can distil into crude oil somewhat over 1,500 tons of shale per week, they can turn out of refined products about 50 per cent, more than this quantity of shale would yield. At these works is produced the popular burning oil known as the "White Horse" brand, in addition to the company's usual qualities. In every other respect the products are the same as at Addiewell, excepting that no candles or mixed lubricating oils are made at Bathgate Works. The number of employees is 550, and, as no mining is done here, these are all engaged in the manufacture of oils and paraffin. The works being older, and constructed as the various departments of the manufacture were developed, are scarcely so well arranged as at Addiewell. They are, nevertheless, interesting as marking off the most important epochs of this wonderful trade from its infancy ; yet, while retaining these characteristics, they give evidence of having been brought to a high state of efficiency under the present management. Altogether, our visit to these works afforded us a rare pleasure, viewing them either as objects of scientific interest or as large producers of commercial products of the class in which we are specially interested. It is almost needless to remark that this company is well represented in our most important commercial centers, having no less than nine branch establishments — viz., London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Dublin—besides resident agents in France, Denmark, and Scandinavia; the whole being under the control of the Registered Office, St. George's place, Glasgow.

The Petroleum Monthly, published oil city PA, February 1872