BP Exploration Company Limited

Company Number: SC000792
Date of Incorporation: 6 November 1877
Contact Details: 1 Wellheads Avenue, Dyce, Aberdeen, AB21 7PB
Operating Details: Active (now a subsidiary of BP, see history)
Other names (if known): Broxburn Oil Company Ltd (until 28 November 1963)
Function of Company*: Services to oil and gas extraction (1120), Holding Companies including Head Offices (7415)
Headquarters/Base of Operations Location: Broxburn
Area of Operation: Broxburn shale oil works

*Taken from Standard Industrial Classification 2003, as used by Companies House in 2010


Held By: Split between the BP archive and Almond Heritage Valley Trust. At this time (Jan 2011) most of the BP archive is to be transferred to the Almond Valley Heritage Trust, except those records that relate to BP/Anglo Persian Oil. No reference number for collection.

Scope/type: BP archive c.1880s-1962; annual reports and accounts, Directors minutes, financial information (including account books), documents relating to company housing, legal agreements and leases etc,

Almond Valley Heritage Trust; Plans of mining works, various operational paperwork and artifacts, photographs and negatives

Conditions governing access/use: The BP archive is open to the public for any records up to 1979 by prior appointment. The Almond Valley Heritage Trust is in the middle of an ambitious project to digitise its records, but otherwise they remain open to the public by prior appointment

Related records: See the Scottish Shale Oil Project for further details. Plans of mines and abandoned mines and general articles at West Lothian Council archives and records centre, large collections of photographs at RCAHMS and West Lothian Council Local History Library

Company History

A previous company, the Broxburn Shale Oil Company was formed in 1863 to exploit the Broxburn shale fields, but was wound up in that year and totally dissolved in 1867. This company was incorporated in 6 Nov 1877 from Robert Bell’s operation at Broxburn. Bell had previously built blast furnaces in Wishaw, and had been chairman of Shotts Iron Company.

"In 1877 the famous Broxburn Oil Company, Limited was floated, with a capital of £180,000. This company bought up the oil work and shale fields acquired by Bell in 1862. Bell, besides being a large stock-holder, also took and active interest in the management of the company, which latter has been one of the greater successes in the history of the Scotch oil industry." (A Practical Treatise on Mineral Oils and their By-Products, Iltyd. I. Redwood, 1897)

The company inherited works at Albyn and some other, small, dilapidated works elsewhere. In 1878 it built a much larger site on the Albyn works and concentrated its operations there. In 1892 it opened mines at Roman Camp, and in 1895 built a sulphuric acide plant at Broxburn.

The first oil works to challenge the scale of Young's Addiewell plant, by 1902 Broxburn was an integrated industrial complex equipped to undertake all processes necessary to transform shale into a full range of oil and wax products, including the manufacture of candles. At this time 13 million gallons of oil were refined per year. One factor in the success was Norman H Henderson, works manager and later company director, who had a talent for chemical engineering and improving chemical processes. Henderson patent retorts which provided a major competitive advantage and allowed the company to dominate the industry for early part of the century.

Scottish Oils Limited

Scottish Oils Limited was formed by the merger of the 5 remaining Scottish shale oil companies (Pumpherston, Broxburn, Oakbank, Philpstoun and Youngs) in 1919. This company was a subsidiary of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which became British Petroleum in 1954), although all five companies continued to operate independently within the structure. Based at Middleton Hall, a 1707 mansion house in Uphall, Scottish Oils provided admin, marketing and technical support for the Scottish shale oil industry. Its first Managing Director was William Fraser of Pumpherston Oil. In 1924 Anglo Persian Oil supported the industry by opening the refinery in Grangemouth.

However following the removal of war time controls, soaring wage and price inflation made the oil produced in the Lothians more expensive and unprofitable. By 1932 the remaining shale oil companies were legally absorbed by Scottish Oils, which started to make dramatic cuts on staff and equpment. By 1938 there were five remaining crude oil works (Addiewell, Deans, Roman Camp, Hopetoun and Niddry Castle) and a dozen or so shale mines and pits, and a coal mine at Baads.
The Second World War bought an increase in oil prices and wages (the first real terms increase since the early part of the century), and even the redevelopment of premises. However by 1954 shale oil had again become a loss-making industry in Scotland, and closures began from the 1950s onwards. Broxburn (closed in 1962) and Pumpherston (1964) were the last refineries to close.

Thanks and acknowledgment to The Almond Valley Heritage Centre and The BP Archive for their help and assistance.