Raymond Archer has lived in Winchburgh for the best part of 80 years. In celebration of the community’s rich heritage, he shares his story, which has been shaped by the land, people and industry of the area.
I was born in 1944 in Winchburgh and was the second eldest of seven children.
When dad came back from the second world war, he got jobs working on farms in Wigtownshire, as a dairyman.
(That meant we could have our breakfast porridge with full cream milk straight from the cooler!)
I also have fond memories of my brother and I helping out at harvest time. Dad had a tractor and trailer. He tossed the stooks (bundles of hay) up to us and we stacked them until they were quite high. We sat on the top until we got back to the farmyard where the harvester was and we threw them all off again.
The last farm he worked on was in Newton Stewart and in 1956 he moved us all to Philipstoun, east of Linlithgow, to a miners cottage. We had only one bedroom, a small kitchen and a living room between all of us.
Dad had got a job at the Scottish Oil Works at Winchburgh working on the retorts. These were tall, metal box-like structures where they burnt the shale to extract the oil. The ashes that were left were put on a conveyor belt and tipped out, making what we now know as the bings.
I was at school for some of this time and left Linlithgow Academy when I was fifteen. Around this time, we moved to Winchburgh itself to a bigger house.
My brother was an apprentice joiner with the Scottish Oil Company and he got me a job in the green shale working with the hutches. The hutches were used to transport shale. They were filled at Toteley Wells and shunted by a small locomotive to Hawkhill. My job was to grease the wheels of the hutches. Each wheel had a small box above the wheel to put grease in. It was a messy job.
I then became a snibbler. My job was to stop the hutches running into a big chain that carried the hutches up the hill to the retorts. I had an iron rod 60cm long that I had to push into the spokes of the wheels to stop them turning when they were moving. That was very scary. I had to then push one hutch at a time to the chainer who then connected the hutch to the chain that pulled it up the hill.
The works closed in 1961 when I was sixteen. I got a job as an apprentice joiner for James Harrison the builder from Pardovan. I started at the buildings at Friars Brae, Linlithgow and my first job was making tea for all the workers, using an old syrup tin with a wire for a handle. I also had to go to the shops for messages for the men and have the right change for them or else!
I eventually became a joiner cutting roof trusses, it was hard work but I enjoyed it. I remained a joiner until I retired in 2010 with the exception of 9 months when the building trade was shut down in 1974 and I worked in the BMC factory in Bathgate on the tractor assembly line.
I met my wife Patricia when on holiday in Magaluf in 1976 and we married in Dublin two years later. We bought a house in Winchburgh and I still live there, although Pat passed away in 2020. We both used to play golf, along with our son, at Niddry Castle Golf Club.
We’d like to thank Raymond for sharing his story. Community is the foundation of Winchburgh. It is the people who have shaped its past and now help to inform the future. The locals are kept involved in the plans for the development, such as the designs for Auldcathie Park, and Winchburgh continues to grow with the community. Testimonials such as Raymond’s capture the local’s spirit and highlight the true value of investing in the area. The story of Winchburgh began in the 12th century and continues to be written to this day.