The Shale Trail starts (or finishes) in West Calder, and the impact of the shale oil industry is stamped on the town. West Calder was an industrial hub, surrounded by mines, purpose built villages and adjacent to the largest oil works in the world at Addiewell.To improve their social and moral condition, shale miners and their families founded the West Calder Co-operative Society in 1875.
West Calder Co-Operative Society Bakery Van. Source: West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust
"I remember my dad painting the co-op signs on the side of the vans in the 60's. There was a garage down the side of the main street. The vans would run from the bakery delivering trays of freshly made goodies, apple tarts, doughnuts ...."
People working together to help themselves
Standing here, in Union Square, you have the Burngrange Memorial, a lasting reminder of the cost and risks of mining. Across the road, the old West Calder Co-operative Society (Drapery and Boot department) building is a reminder of what can be done by people working together to help themselves. In 1875, 40 shale miners started the Co-op, partly so they didn’t have to buy over priced goods from shops owned by the mine and oil works owners. West Calder's model spread across the villages of West Lothian and much further afield..
View east down Main Street, the Co-op clock in it's original setting. The large Drapery and Boot building is on the left. c. 1900 Source: West Lothian Museum Service
You could even buy gunpowder
This grew into one of the most successful businesses in West Lothian, branching out into a wide range of different enterprises so you could buy almost anything at the Co-op, including gunpowder for blasting shale underground. It extended into housing, as a counter to the poor housing built by the works' owners, such as that at Happyland. The influence didn’t stop there, as it also supported evening classes and encouraged education and training.
Left: New Drapery and Boots Department c 1900 Source: West Lothian Libraries
Right: Workers: West Calder Cooperative Society c1910. Source: West Lothian Libraries
Cockroaches in the Bakery
It was said that in West Calder Co-op Bakery that the cockroaches would scatter in the morning when the lights were turned on in the bakehouse. The donor of this photo said that during the war her mother was never without bread or cakes regardless of rationing. Her grandfather worked in the bakery (3rd row, far right).
Workers in West Calder's Co-operative Society bakery c 1930. Source: Almond Valley Heritage Trust
The Ambulance Waggon
One area where the West Calder Co-op supported the shale miners was the use of the ‘Ambulance Waggon’. Organised by the Co-op’s Education Committee the ambulance could be summoned to an accident by a doctor at the cost of one shilling (5p) a mile. It is worth remembering that within one mile of the centre of West Calder was Addiewell Oil Works, Oakbank works, mines at Polbeth and numerous other mines.
Early Glasgow Ambulance Waggon Source: Almond Valley Heritage Trust
The first street lighting
Ironically, one of West Calder’s claims to fame is that it was the first village in the UK with electric street lighting, courtesy of the Co-op. As the town’s major employer was producing oil for lighting it was a view of the future where oil was no longer king.
West Calder Residents Source: West Calder Libraries
The oil works and the mines, and some of the villages have disappeared completely now. But shale is never wholly removed. It is in the Five Sisters, it is underfoot at the community garden and it remains in the community of West Calder.
The Five Sisters at sunrise Source: Tom Duffin