Tracks Through the Forest

Looking for the site of North Cobbinshaw oil works.

F17033, first published 17th September 2017

In September 1872 prominent advertisements appeared on the front page of national newspapers offering shares in the grand-sounding Scottish Mineral Oil and Coal Company Ltd. The prospectus aimed to raise £180,000 to purchase shale works at North Cobbinshaw, established about two years previously by West Calder merchant John Mungle, and James Thornton; a coalmaster with various shale interests.

North Cobbinshaw paraffin oil works seems to have been sited close to the Caledonian Railway, overlooking Cobbinshaw Loch, and was linked by rail to mine workings in the Fells shale on the remote hillside over half a mile to the north. A row of eight “huts” were constructed at Kipsyke to house the mineworkers, while a row of twelve houses, a manager's cottage and a store were built to serve the oil works. Shale mining encountered geological problems, the share issue failed, and the whole enterprise was abandoned by 1875. Mungle and Thornton continued to farm the lands of North Cobbinshaw, and won many prizes for their blackface sheep.

All traces of the oil works buildings and workers houses had disappeared by the time of the 1896 ordnance survey map, which provides very few clues to where they may have been located. A stub of the railway that served the works remained in use for agricultural produce well into the 20th century, still referred to as “Mungle's siding”

The planting of conifers has transformed the bleak boggy hillside at North Cobbinshaw,. The well-engineered course of the railway that linked the mine and the oilworks for a mere couple of years now provides a solid trackway though the forest, and a great route for the peaceful and contemplative walk.

  • Newspaper references