Wayfarer column- The days when Scotland led the world in oil production

With Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour Party leadership we should perhaps reflect on the history of the party he leads.

James Keir Hardie was born in 1856 at Holytown near Motherwell in Lanarkshire. He went down the mines but lost his job campaigning for better wages and conditions. In 1888 he founded the Scottish Labour Party, the first political party in Britain set up to represent the working classes.

In 1892 he became the first ever Labour Member of Parliament. In 1893 Keir Hardie founded the Independent Labour Party which was the forerunner of the modern Labour Party.

A lot of history is in the formation of the Labour Party as it has to be appreciated that in those days Parliament was in the main run by people who did not have to work for a living, consequently they did not expect the ordinary working class man to be sitting beside them.

Lanarkshire has had its share of famous sons, another being David Livingstone who was born in Blantyre in 1813 the son of a weaver and the first European to see the Victoria Falls when looking for the source of the Nile. He was financed in his expeditions by James ‘Paraffin’ Young a chemist who was determined to find a new fuel from coal and came across the form of coal he was looking for at Boghead Colliery near Bathgate.

Young found that a high yield could be extracted from it producing crude oil, paraffin oil, wax, coke, gas and ammonium sulphate fertilizer, all of which were in high demand and justified investment. Young therefore set up Bathgate Chemical Works, the world’s first oil refinery. But as the coal soon ran out at the Boghead Colliery he found he could extract oil even cheaper from coal shale which was in abundance in West Lothian.

He built a plant at Addiewell and asked his friend David Livingstone to lay the first stone. For a number of years thereafter Scotland and West Lothian became the world’s largest oil producers which made James ‘Paraffin’ Young a very rich man. The company he formed, ‘Young’s Paraffin light and Mineral Oil Company’ eventually became part of BP. Oil from elsewhere was cheaper and easier to obtain thereby undercutting West Lothian oil which fell into decline and eventually the plant closed in 1956. Oil was then discovered in the North Sea, but we must never overlook the industry and inventiveness of men like James ‘Paraffin’ Young.