What’s in a name? Northfield Cottages was known as Happy Land until just after the second world war. But the quality of the houses built here for workers at Addiewell Oil Works meant that it was anything but a happy place.
"The houses are in rows, one behind the other, about ten years apart, like lines of soldiers in the form of an oblong square."
Like many of the houses built by Young’s Mineral Oil Company, which owned the huge Addiewell Oil Works, Happy Land provided very basic amenities for the residents. Stand pipes for water, communal dry toilets and no wash houses or sculleries, these were described as ‘of a very poor type’ in 1914.
Typical rows of houses, at Seafield rather than Happy Land. Source: Almond Valley Heritage Trust
Given the living and working conditions there is little surprise that women ‘s lives were hard. Women were also very active in the few times of industrial action in the shale works. As the oil companies owned everything it was a difficult time to strike, as the companies would try to evict miners from their homes, as happened at Broxburn in 1877. The ‘first recorded dispute’ was at Addiewell in 1870. From this time there are accounts of 200 women throwing stones at strike breaking miners – called ‘blacknebs’ rather than ‘blacklegs’ at four pits.
Uphall women oil workers. Source: Almond Valley Heritage Trust
Women didn’t usually work in the oil works until the First World War, when labour was scarce. Then women were employed, and campaigned for equal pay as well, in many of the surface jobs. This included heavy work tipping hutches, filling oil drums and in the candle works.
Strikes, sit-ins and strife
A peaceful sit-in in West Calder 1926, with Ma Moore. Source: Addiewell Heritage Trust
A West Calder heroine of the 1926 miner’s strike was Sarah Moore from Addiewell. When it was decided to stop payments to strikers’ dependants, she organised a march and sit in of women and children. It was a peaceful protest until the police were called to quell the ‘riotous mob’. Some ‘over enthusiastic’ pushing by the police escalated a peaceful event into a riot with vehicles turned over and police batons been used. After this the payments were restored. Ma’ Moore served as a local councillor for 31 years and part of Addiewell is called Moore-lands after her.
Ma Moore with her grandchildren. Source: Addiewell Heritage Trust