History project uncovers life in Bridgend during shale mining era

Shale history project launch
Shale history project launch

School pupils found history coming to life at the launch of the Bridgend Shale History Project.

A miner’s lamp, a ‘piece’ box, helmet, chunks of spent shale and some of the miners’ personal tokens were just some of the artefacts on display at the event last Thursday, October 8 in Bridgend Primary School.

People from Linlithgow, Winchburgh and Uphall, as well as Bridgend, attended to get a better idea of what life was like during the peak of the shale mining era in Bridgend. The youngsters even had a chance to hold the items used by their forefathers.

Helen Mein, treasurer of Bridgend Bulletin Group, said: “Everyone poured over old maps of Bridgend and the surrounding area, recognising where their own homes are now, but also just how different it was when Bridgend was simply six rows of miners’ cottages where the Bridgend park is now.”

Bridgend Rows were built to serve Champfleurie Oil Works and some still exist today.

“The pupils enjoyed recounting lots of stories they had been told about life in the mines, especially that the ‘piece’ boxes needed to have really tight fitting lids otherwise the mines’ resident mice and rats would have the lunch before the miners did,” said Helen.

“It wasn’t just the children who were buzzing, a couple of adults could tell of life in the cottages and others found people who had known their relatives in their youth. Someone else had tales of Winchburgh and its connections with Bridgend.

“Everyone was excited knowing this is a year long journey to discover the history of the village and surrounding area.”

The project was awarded £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Find and sees a partnership between the Bridgend Bulletin Group and the primary school to establish a lasting memento for the people of the Bridgend whose lives were entwined with that of the shale oil industry in the area.

Pupils from primary six and seven at the Bridgend school are heavily involved with the project and during the launch, were able to show off their photographs and drawings of the shale related artefacts.

The aim is for shale history to become part of the school syllabus in future so that descendants of mining families can “reclaim their heritage”.

Colin McLean, head of Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland, said: “Bridgend Shale History Project is a fine example of HLF’s Sharing Heritage programme that, thanks to National Lottery players, makes it possible for local people to choose what is important to them, what they want to save, and how they want to spread the word throughout their community.”

The project continues on Thursday, October 15 with an exploration of how the site of the old Linlithgow Oil Company works turned into a golf course 90 years later.

On Monday, November 23 there will be an illustrated presentation of life in Kingscavil, Bridgend and Philpstoun during the shale years. All are welcome to attend from 7pm-9pm at Bridgend Community Centre.