Here’s a short video of a Little Egret that I filmed on a trip to Skye in 2011.
Copyright © Scots Roots Research 2013
Filed under: Photographs, Scottish History | Tags: Eilean Donan, Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish castles
I’ve added some photos of Eilean Donan Castle to my “Scottish Castles” collection on Flickr.
To see more, please click on Scottish Castles.
Situated on an island in Loch Duich at a point where three sea lochs meet, Eilean Donan Castle was built in the mid 13th century to stand guard over the lands of Kintail. The castle was a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae and has been built and re-built several times over the years. It was almost destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719 and lay in ruins for almost 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and started to restore the castle to its former glory. The castle was re-opened in 1932.
Filed under: Family History Profiles, Genealogy, Scottish History, West Lothian | Tags: Armadale, Gillon, James Gillon, Scottish mining
Born at Gartsherrie in Old Monklands in September 1842, James Gillon was the son of a miner and by the time he reached his 9th birthday he himself was working under ground, his first job being to pump water from a pit, at which he worked from 6 in the morning until 6 at night for the princely sum of 6d a day. He later became the custodian of pit ponies and when he got a little older he became a coal miner at Cambusnethan, joining his elder brother William (who was noted on the 1851 Census as a coal miner at the age of 10) and his father, Alexander Gillon.
Around 1862, the whole family (that’s Alex Gillon, wife Janet and 6 children) moved to Armadale. Shortly before the move, James had accepted the precentorship at Shotts Kirk, but he was so enthusiastic in fulfilling his duties that he tramped the road between Armadale and Shotts (about 8 miles each way) at least twice a week and even after a long shift in the mines, he thought nothing of facing a lengthy hike to attend a choir practice. Music was his great hobby, and on many occasions this relaxation helped him greatly in his many duties for, as he said himself, music “chased away all the ills of the day as with a magic wand”.
He served three years at Shotts Kirk as precentor and then accepted a similar appointment at Whitburn Free Church until, in August 1865, he was appointed precentor at Armadale Free Church (succeeding his brother William) where he continued in office for the following 32 years.
On 5th June 1863, he married Margaret Esson at Cambusnethan and moved to Whitburn.
Having gained a wealth of experience in the mines from a young age he used it to his advantage and became a contractor in the Shotts Iron Works ironstone mines around Armadale Railway Station, and later was a pit foreman, becoming subsequently manager of No. 2 Pit, Barbauchlaw, when it was taken over by Youngs Paraffin Light Co. He continued in this capacity for many years until the pit stopped, when he retired from underground activities.
In 1874, James and Margaret Gillon and their family of six children took up residence in Armadale and around 1877 he bought the property at the east side of Armadale Cross, comprising a draper’s shop and a dwelling-house. Around this time he retired from the mining industry and set up a grocery and provision business, firstly in West Main Street, and later in East Main Street, his wife, Margaret, mainly attending to the business, with the aid of her sons, until they left and started their own businesses elsewhere.
The business was a success and James was able to invest in property. The 1884-1885 Valuation Roll records him as the owner of two houses in Bathgate and a cottage in Armadale, where his mother is the tenant, as well as his shop and house in Armadale.
James played an important role in the religious and civic affairs of Armadale. In addition to his long service as precentor, he was Superintendent of the Sabbath School for seven years, and for many years he conducted a young women’s Bible Class. In politics he was an ardent LiberaI, and for some time president of the local Liberal Association. He served for ten years in Armadale Town Council and three years on Bathgate Parochial Board. He completed 23 years service on Bathgate Parish School Board and for more than 10 years he acted as chairman. He became a Baillie and was also a Justice of the Peace for the County. In 1905, James and his son Charles, now a councillor, were involved in setting up Armadale’s new sewage purification scheme.
The West Lothian Courier describes James as having “a fine, genial presence; a kindly, pawky humour; a cheerful countenance, …wherever the Baillie went he smoothed away all difficulties”.
On June 5th 1913, James and Margaret celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with many of their friends but, sadly, Margaret died three months later at the age of 71. The West Lothian Courier reported that she had been apparently hale and hearty the previous evening and going about her ordinary duties in characteristically cheery style.
The following year, James had a serious illness and was taken to a nursing home in Edinburgh suffering from a severe pain in his foot, which resulted in the leg being amputated above the knee. In view of his advanced years, and handicapped as he thus was, he was forced to give up his public positions but never failed to take a keen interest in all that was going on. When the weather was suitable he was to be seen either sitting at his front door in a bath chair or being pushed about the streets, where he was cheered by meeting and talking with his many friends.
James died in Armadale on 8th September 1917 at the age of 75.
His funeral at Bathgate Cemetery was attended by a large number of friends, colleagues and relations, including his son James, who was in the Royal Flying Corps, and reached home from France on the day of the funeral.
Copyright © Scots Roots Research 2013
Filed under: Photographs, Scottish History | Tags: Edinburgh Castle, Scottish castles
I’ve added some photos of Edinburgh Castle to my “Scottish Castles” collection on Flickr.
To see more, please click on Scottish Castles.
Here’s a short video of an otter that I filmed on a recent trip to Skye.
Copyright © Scots Roots Research 2013
Filed under: Genealogy, West Lothian | Tags: archives, family history, family history resources, local history, Scots roots, Scottish ancestors, West Lothian, West Lothian family history
Do you have ancestors who lived in West Lothian? What sort of work did they do?
West Lothian, the second smallest mainland county in Scotland, is located on the southern shore of the River Forth, centrally between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and is made up from what was for many centuries most of Linlithgowshire and part of Edinburghshire.
Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, was once the principal county town but has now been surpassed by Livingston, a new town which started to be built in 1965 and is now the second biggest town in the Lothians after Edinburgh.
Coal, limestone and ironstone were mined in West Lothian for many centuries but it was primarily a farming county, mainly arable, until the mid 19th century. The landscape and population of West Lothian changed dramatically after 1850 when James Young, a Glasgow born and educated chemist, patented a method for producing oil from coal and opened the world’s first oil refinery near Bathgate. Young later discovered that shale was also oil bearing so he bought up the mineral rights to vast reserves of oil shale throughout West Lothian and, although mining finally ceased in the 1960s, large heaps of spent shale can still be seen dotted around the county. (See Shale Mining in West Lothian for further information.)
Also in the 19th Century, the railways came to West Lothian and the Union Canal passed through on its way from Edinburgh to Falkirk. The building of these took a number of years and many men, often local but also from the Highlands and from Ireland, laboured on their construction.
Recent years have seen a demise in the old mining industries and a rise in electronics, pharmaceuticals, communications and light industry.
If you have ancestors who lived in West Lothian, what sort of work did they do? You can be sure that they will have worked from an early age for long hours and for many years because State pensions and a national retirement age didn’t appear until the 20th century.
There is a wealth of information both locally and nationally to help you discover your West Lothian family history. Here is a selection:
ScotlandsPeople Centre, General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY. Based in Edinburgh, this is the main centre for researching births, deaths and marriages in Scotland.
West Lothian Local History Library, County Buildings, High Street, Linlithgow EH49 7EZ. Tel: 01506 282491. Books, photographs, maps, newspapers, cencuses, old parish records, valuation and voters’ rolls, exhibitions relating to West Lothian and beyond.
West Lothian Archives and Records Centre, 9 Dunlop Square, Deans Industrial Estate, Livingston EH54 8SB. Tel: 01506 773770. Holds records reflecting the history of local government and the wider community – including minutes, reports, registers, drawings, photographs and plans.
Almond Valley Heritage Trust, Millfield, Livingston, West Lothian, EH54 7AR. Tel 01506 414957. Restored 18th century Livingston Mill and farm together with the Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry.
Annet House Museum, 143 High Street, Linlithgow, EH49 7EJ. Tel: 01506 670677. Exhibitions on the history of Linlithgow including a Victorian garden.
Linlithgow Canal Centre, Manse Road Basin, Linlithgow EH49 6AJ. Tel: 01506 671215. Canal Museum housed in a former stable exhibiting records, photographs and artefacts associated mainly with the Union Canal. Boat trips available.
Bennie Museum, 9/11 Mansfield Street, Bathgate EH48 4HU. Tel: 01506 634944. Provides a flavour of the history of Bathgate, a typical small Scottish Burgh.
West Lothian Family History Society. Holds regular meetings and assists with local family history research.
Scots Roots Research is based in West Lothian and will be happy to search local archives, take photos etc. Please click Scots Family History Research above for further details.
Copyright © Scots Roots Research 2012
Filed under: Genealogy, Scottish History, West Lothian | Tags: oil shale, oil shale mining, Scotland’s oils, Scots roots, Scottish ancestors, Scottish oils, shale mining, shale oil, West Lothian
James ‘Paraffin’ Young patented a method for producing oil from coal and shale and, in 1851, he opened the world’s first oil refinery near Bathgate in West Lothian. The shale oil industry lasted for just over a century and it’s estimated that 164 million tons of oil shale was mined in the life of the industry.
The industrial revolution in the late 18th century led to the demand for oil to lubricate the machines in the mills and factories. The supply of whale oil couldn’t keep up with the increasing demand and the search began to find an alternative mineral source.
In 1850, James Young, a Glasgow born and educated chemist, patented a method for producing oil from coal. In 1851, he opened the world’s first oil refinery at Whiteside, near Bathgate, where he developed many new processes to manufacture naptha and lubricating oils and later paraffin. His friend, Hugh Bartholomew had drawn his attention to the ‘cannel’ coal found in the area which was burned in little pans by the people of Bathgate to light their homes.
Young spent two years experimenting with the design of a suitable wick for oil lamps and worked to eliminate the explosions that had given oil lighting a bad name. He was successful and started to market the lamps with the paraffin oil to light them. His name was so closely linked with the product that ‘Paraffin’ became his nickname.
The Scottish oil industry boomed in the years between 1853 and 1863 because Young had patented his extraction method of obtaining oil from coal, so he had no rivals in Britain and there were no foreign rivals until around the 1870s when America’s oil rush got under way.
As supplies of the ‘cannel’ coal started to diminish, Young discovered that shale was also oil bearing although not quite as rich in oil as the coal from his Bathgate mine, so he bought up the mineral rights to vast reserves of oil shale throughout West Lothian.
Shale is a hard sedimentary rock and was found in workable seams stretching in a broad band from the Firth of Forth, between Blackness and South Queensferry, to West Calder and Tarbrax in the south. The rock was baked in huge retorts to extract crude oil which was further distilled or refined to produce a number of products such as paraffin, candles and petrol.
The process of retorting crude oil left huge amounts of waste. On average 10 barrels of oil manufactured required the extraction of 8 tons of shale and left 6 tons of burnt shale waste. The spent shale was tipped on to a spoil heap near the mine which, over the course of the hundred years or so that the works operated, formed enormous shale ‘bings’ or tips all over West Lothian.
In 1864, Young began construction of a major new works at Addiewell to exploit the local supplies of oil shale. It opened in 1866 and by the early 20th century the Addiewell works covered 75 acres.
The foundation stone at Addiewell was laid by David Livingstone, a great friend of James Young’s, when he stayed at Young’s home, Limefield (near West Calder), during a leave from his African explorations – which were largely funded by profits from the Scottish shale oil industry. The two had met when they were students in Glasgow.
Also in 1866, Young launched the Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company and, although he remained in the company, he started to take a less active part in its operation.
Many tried to copy Young’s success and, when his patents ran out, oil works were opened across West Lothian. In the Broxburn area alone in 1864-65, 650 retorts were in operation or being built and men flooded into the area to find work – men from all over Scotland and most of all from Ireland. Broxburn had a population of 661 in 1861 but by 1891 it had increased to around 5,900.
Few of the new oil works were successful and by 1900 only seven major companies remained. These companies were brought under government control during the First World War. After the war, the companies were merged to form Scottish Oils, a subsidiary of the Anglo Persian Oil Co. (which became British Petroleum in 1954) but oil imported from overseas made production from shale uneconomic leading to major closures of mines and oil works.
In 1924, Scottish Oils opened a new oil refinery at Grangemouth on the Forth to process crude oil imported from the Persian Gulf. Because of the competition on its own doorstep, the shale oil industry again suffered badly but started concentrating on other by-products such as detergents.
Government support kept the industry alive and saw it through the Second World War but once wartime shortages were over, works were again run down and closed, the last one surviving until 1962, when the government started charging the same excise duty on home produced oil as it did on foreign oil.
The shale oil industry lasted for just over a century and it’s estimated that 164 million tons of oil shale was mined in the life of the industry.
The Five Sisters bing, near West Calder, is the lasting legacy of the Westwood works which closed in 1962. The bing is now an Industrial Heritage Site.
If you have ancestors in West Lothian, there is a good chance that they will have had some connection with the shale mining industry. If nothing else, they can’t fail to have noticed the enormous shale bings scattered around the countryside.
Housing for the mine workers was provided by the oil companies and new villages sprang up all over West Lothian. Large families, sleeping three or four to a bed, were expected to live in rows of houses containing little more than a room and kitchen. They often took in lodgers to raise a bit more money. Widows, in particular, might take in up to eight lodgers often sleeping four to a bed in two shifts, the night shift getting into the beds that the day shift had just left. When the sheets were washed is anybody’s guess.
My great grandfather was a clerk at the Addiewell oil works and lived in West Calder. My grandfather was an engineer at the Niddry Castle oil works in Winchburgh and lived in the miners’ rows at Midhope Place in Winchburgh. My father and his eight brothers and sisters were raised there.
Copyright © Scots Roots Research 2012