Scottish shale Scottish shale

John Braithwaite & Co.

Oil works:

An enigmatic organisation, arguable the first firm in Britain to attempt to produce oil from shale on an industrial scale.

The initial ownership of Weymouth oil works, remains uncertain. The renowned mechanical and civil engineer John Braithwaite was described as " part-proprietor" of Weymouth Oil Works, suggesting that he was one of a number of partners in the enterprise. Braitwaite's 1871 obituary in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers states:

"Mr. Braithwaite had, in 1844, a share in a patent for extracting oil from bituminous shale, and works were erected near Weymouth, which, but for his difficulties, might have been successful. Up to this time Mr. Braithwaite had assisted Captain Ericsson in many costly experiments at the manufactory."

This suggests that John Ericsson (1803-1889) played a major role in development of the oil works. Braithwaite and Ericsson had worked together in many engineering projects, most notably in entering the locomotive "Novelty" in the famous 1829 Rainhill Trials, and various experiments in screw propulsion. From 1839 however, Ericsson was based in the USA , becoming an American citizen in 1848, and going on to work with the American navy on the development of screw-propelled warships. No evidence has yet been found that Ericsson returned to the UK during the late 1840's.

Following Braithwaite's bankruptcy, three trustees were appointed to take charge of his affairs

  • Charles Fredrick Cheffins, a civil engineer who specialised in survey and plan work. His obituary noted: "The career of Mr. Cheffins presents no feature of extraordinary interest save the example of the persevering industry of an honest man - one of those whose lot it has been to carry out the plans of others, without endeavouring to attribute to himself the merit appertaining to those who employed him. "
  • John Anstell Deacon Cox , a printer
  • Edward Fiske Brown, a civil engineer

The partnership appointed William C. Homersham to manage the works, but little effort seems to have been invested in this enterprise and operations were soon abandon after failing to find buyers for the oil that was produced. The partnership remained owners of the disused works in 1860. The property was sold off in 1862..

  • References
    • THIS is to give notice, that by indentures bearing date respectively the 4th and 5th days of January 1849, John Braithwaite, of No. 39, Bedford-square, in the county of Middlesex, Civil Engineer, hath conveyed and assigned all his real and personal estate and effects whatsoever to Edward Fiske Browne, of Springfield, Chelmsford, in the county of Essex, Civil Engineer, John Astell Deacon Cox, of Great Queen-street, in the said county of Middlesex, Printer, and Charles Frederick Cheffins, of Southampton buildings, Holborn, in the said county of Middlesex, Surveyor, as trustees upon trust for the benefit of all the creditors of him the said John Braithwaite; and that the said indentures were duly executed by the said John Braithwaite, John Astell Deacon Cox, and Charles Frederick Cheffins, on the said 4th and 5th days of January, and by the said Edward Fiske Browne on the 8th day of January aforesaid; and which indentures are witnessed as to the execution thereof by the said John Braithwaite, John Astell Deacon Cox, and Charles Frederick Cheffins, by Sydney Douglas Hamilton, of No. 3, Bedford-row, in the county of Middlesex, Gentleman, and as to the execution thereof by the said Edward Fiske Browne are witnessed by William Thorpe, of Thome, in the county of York, Gentleman.

      The London Gazette, 26 January 1849



      The following PRISONERS. whose States and Effects have been vested in the Provisional Assignee by Order of the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors, and whose Petitions and Schedules, duly filed, have been severally referred and transmitted to the County Courts hereinafter mentioned, pursuant to the Statute in that behalf, are ordered to be brought up before the Judges of the said Courts respectively, as herein set forth, to be dealt with according to Law :

      Before the Judge of the County Court of Kent, holden at Canterbury, on Wednesday the 16th day of December, 1857. at Eleven o'clock in the Forenoon precisely, John Braithwaite, formerly of Hare-hall, Romford, Essex, then of Bedford-square, Bloomsbury, Middlesex, and for a part of the time also of Weymouth, Dorsetshire, Civil Engineer, part Proprietor of the Shale Works, at Weymouth, part Proprietor of the Oakes Level and Church Way Colliery, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, and at the same time Engineer to the Eastern Counties Railway Company, also part Proprietor of a Patent for making Buckles, also part Proprietor of a Patent Gas Burner for heating, lighting, and ventilating, also part Proprietor of a Patent called the American Excavator, also part Proprietor of the Railway Times Newspaper, having an, office, at No. 122, Fleet-street, London, then of No. 42, Gower-street, Bedford-square, then of No. 2, Clifton gardens, Maida-hill, both in Middlesex, having offices at No. 18, Great George-street, Westminster, Civil and Mechanical Engineer and then and late of No. 16, High street, Canterbury, Kent, Civil and Mechanical Engineer

      The London Gazette, 1st December, 1857