Celebrating the forgotten villages of Scotland's first oil rush!
The forgotten villages that were at the forefront of Scotland’s first oil rush were celebrated recently during the WAT IF? Heritage Festival, which included a week-long Heritage Exhibition, guided walks, a Farm Tour and a Festival Fun Day!
Tarbrax, Woolfords and Auchengray all played their own important parts in the shale-oil boom which took place across West Lothian and in this part of Lanarkshire for the 60 years between 1866 and 1926, when Tarbrax Oil Works finally closed for good. The area has been through many changes since then, with people moving in and out of the area. Changes are still taking place with the establishment of WAT IF? (Woolfords, Auchengray and Tarbrax Improvement Foundation), the local community development trust which works with the communities who are actively getting involved in improving their futures, as well as appreciating and celebrating the past. The Festival celebrated the rich and diverse history of the villages and communities and the Exhibition focused on the lives of ordinary villagers, how they lived, where they worked and the social lives that kept them going through good and hard times.
There were over 200 visits to the Exhibition over the week, with many visitors travelling from outwith the area; and many with family stories and histories from the villages. Jemma Black, Development Officer from WAT IF? is pleased with the turn out:
“I think the best part of the exhibition was seeing people’s reaction to it, local residents spent hours going through the photos and reminiscing. It was also great to hear new stories from visitors who don’t live in the area but whose grandparents, or great grandparents did. On several occasions, someone would be trying to trace family through the registers or photos we had, and unbeknown to them there was someone else in the hall who had a link to them, and being able to make that connection for them was fantastic!”
Alongside the exhibition, guided walks and a farm tour got people out and about exploring the history around the villages, and giving them new perspectives on the seemingly bleak mosses that dominate the landscape. To wrap up the week there was a Festival Fun Day, which felt like the Gala Day had returned to Tarbrax; with tugs of war and fun races on the Common, carnival games in the hall, and the main event: The Bing Races. The shale bings are large heaps of spoil, the waste material from an industrial process to retort crude oil (paraffin) from mined oil-bearing shale. Young racers enjoyed the obstacle course on the ‘Wee Bing’ while determined racers took on the challenge of racing to the top of the ‘Big Bing’ with a winning time of 7 minutes 47 seconds set by Haydn Ford.
WAT IF? are continuing to collect stories, photos and artefacts from around the area, if you are interested in contributing to, or helping to develop the heritage collection please get in touch with Jemma at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01501 785194.