Hawick Cornets :
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1800-1849, 1850-1899

1868 William Inglis and the Hawick Oil Refinery

William Inglis was the son of another father and son Cornet pairing: William senior in 1827, and William junior in 1868, so there was quite a time between them – 41 years.

William senior, merchant, didn’t get married until late – in 1841 he was a 40 year old grocer at 64 High Street, unmarried and with only a 25 year old Mary Harkness for company.
But of course, she was only a servant, and not that type of girl [except that maybe she was – 10 years later she had moved to 72 High Street, still an unmarried woollen shirt seamstress, with her teenage daughter]

Moving on – by 1851 William was still at 64 High Street, but had married [and gave his age now as 54] to 42 year old Jessie Best from a hotel which she ran with her widowed mother at 16 Buccleuch Street, and they had a two year old William Inglis – a Cornet’s son and future Cornet.

William senior was now a “Grocer and Spirit Dealer” and during this period 64 High Street developed into the Half Moon Hotel – this card was found around 1996 during alterations to the British Heart Foundation, at the bottom of O’Connell Street

The card was found with a handwritten weekly menu


Breakfast : tea, 3 cups; Fried Smoked Haddock, Toast (Brown Bread), Toast and Marmalade
2.00 pm: tea, 1 cup; 1 cake (Chocolate Shortcake)
Tea: tea, 3 cups; Steamed White Fish and Sweet Corn, 1 Soda Scone and Plum Jam, Sponge Cake
Supper: tea, 3 cups; Poached egg and Toast, Cookie with Jam, 1 cake (Chocolate Shortcake)
10.00pm: coffee

You’d be glad of a coffee after all those cups of tea.

Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last long – William died in May 1851, when he would have been 64ish; and Jessie moved as a widow along to 78 High Street [where the Green Cafe is now] where she lived with unmarried 30 year old John Inglis – a carter and farmer of 10 acres, and 9 year John Taylor, the son of her sister Elizabeth. John Inglis is a bit of a mystery – Jessie is described as his mother, but I can’t find any other trace of him.
But importantly for the Cornet’s story, her 11 year old son William Inglis wasn’t there – he was living in Kirkton Schoolhouse as a scholar and a boarder.

William Little had been the schoolmaster at the school , with his wife Mary, for 20 years or more. It is highly probable that sending William to school at Kirkton was Jessie’s way of ensuring that William had a good education, and a healthy upbringing.

I tend to drive past without looking, on the way to Bonchester Bridge and the Carter Bar, but the group of houses can’t have echanged much since the 1860’s.

By 1881 William was back at 64 High Street as a Hotelkeeper; three servants with him but no wife and no children – I need to follow him up to 1891, to see what happened to him

What was Hawick like in 1868? What was going on?

One big story was the closure of the oil refinery in the Haugh, after a short but contested life. I have found no pictures of the refinery, and it was shortlived, so does not appear on maps – except that its site was soon occupied by the Gas Works, as in the 1877 map.

[ Except that there is a plan in the National Archives of Scotland , Register House, Edinburgh which would be worth a look at in the Search Room – the reference is 
RHP20423 Plan of Teviotside Oil Works in Hawick 1876 ]

This was the first development of the “Bleachfields” section of the Under Haugh on the Wilton side of the river – there was no development of Commercial Road until 1871-74.

The owner John Wield from Blacketlees, Annan was an unmarried 23 year old Chemist & Druggist in 1861, lodging at 4 Bridge Street with a widow and 2 daughters aged 25 and 23; but by 1871 he had built and run and failed and been bankrupted and sold his Oil Refinery but had salvaged enough to be living at Wilton Grove – handily situated as you can see from the map, just across the road from the Refinery / Gas Works.

This was an exciting time to be in the Scottish Oil Industry – Paraffin Young was building the West Lothian shale oil industry

In 1848 Scottish chemist James Young experimented with oil discovered seeping in a coal mine as a source of lubricating oil and illuminating fuel. When the seep became exhausted he experimented with the dry distillation of coal, especially the resinous “Boghead coal” (Torbanite). He extracted a number of useful liquids from it, one of which he named “paraffine oil” because at low temperatures it congealed into a substance resembling paraffin wax. Young took out a patent on his process and the resulting products in 1850, and built the first truly commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851, using oil extracted from locally mined Torbanite, shale, and bituminous coal.

In 1866 Young’s patents ran out – and an exhibition at Penicuik in 2008 illustrated the sort of developments which occurred in towns in the South of Scotland. It is likely that Wield used his chemical knowledge and his business drive to set up a refinery to produce paraffin for lighting and heating; or possibly even gas as those patents ran out.

The plant and equipment was considerable -this was no small undertaking for a young man  of 28: 12000 gallons of oil, “large numbers” of boilers, two 9ft by 5 ft stills, a “very large” quantity of lead and iron pipes up to 6 inches; 166 casks of tar, 400 thirty gallon Paraffin casks etc etc – and the capital required to set this up must have been equally great.

But there had been problems since the outset in August 1866, with a very suspicious Council

and in a very short space of time , Wield was bankrupt and out of business

So that was it -bankrupt in February 1868, and plant and equipment sold off in December 1868.

In November 1868 the land and buildings were up for sale …..

HAWICK- VALUABLE PROPERTY FOR SALE. To be SOLD by Private Bargain, ALL and WHOLE that Portion of the UNDER COMMON-HAUGH OF HAWICK, extending 1 acre 2 Roods 21 Poles 7 yards, or thereby, with the BUILDINGS and other HERITABLE OBJECTS thereon, lately occupied by Mr. John Wield, as a Paraffin Manufactory……… The Plan will be shown, and several Portions of Ground pointed out by Mr. YOUNG, the Manager of Hawick Gasworks. The Scotsman, 18th November 1868.

… with Mr Young of the Hawick Gasworks showing people around. I have no evidence at all, but the Penicuik exhibition includes the story of the Selkirk Gasworks which had been in existence since the 1840’s

[and on 11 November 1869, Joseph Smith Manager of Gas Works, Hawick was still advertising eqyipment for sale “To Oil Refiners, For Sale 2 Stills of 1500 gallons, 2 superheaters, 2 pumps, 12 oil retorts

How much would be got from the sale? A – probably similar – refinery in Kirkintilloch was reported in the Glasgow Herald as being for sale on 3 September 1868 for £5,000 [about £200,000 at today’s value – but comparing values is very tricky]

*Speculation alert* So maybe the Hawick Gas Works  – possibly under the management of the Young family from Selkirk – had responded to John Wield’s proposal for a paraffin refinery on some sort of “shared services” or downstream processing basis. I need a chemical engineer to sort this out – but I can imagine that the gas works heated coal to drive off the gas , and were left with coke [I remember coke being collected from the gas works in Mansfield Road] and various oils and chemicals [as in coal tar soap]. John Wield could have offered to distill their oil/tar waste products – maybe using the coke to heat his stills – and produce the lighter paraffin oil. The “boiling” of the oil/tar would probably produce vapours, and various sticky residues which the Sanitary Committee would be concerned about. However, a report to the Police Committee in 1870 on factory discharges to the Teviot says of the Gasworks “there is nothing discharged from these works into the River, Gas Tar and other refuse is collected and sold”. So maybe John Wield did try to refine this Gas Tar on site, rather than transport it elsewhere.

Where did his capital come from? One clue might be that he had married Christina Mary Turnbull aged 20 in 1866 – the only daughter of James Turnbull of 11 High Street, General Draper, employing 2 men, 2 boys and 5 women. A big draper might have accumulated enough capital, or enough credit, to support a son-in-law in what was a dot.com venture of its day. If the Kirkintilloch works were sold for £5000, and Hawick was similar in scale, then £5000 is worth aproximately 40 times more nowadays – father in law might well have been able to pay the equivalent of a mortgage on a house for his son-in-law. *speculation alert finishes*

Update – the Hawick Gas Works go back to at least 1838.

Hawick in 1846 is described as consisting of “one principal street, and of several smaller streets and lanes diverging from it on both sides; some new streets have been formed, and a handsome range of buildings called Slitrig-crescent, and another named Teviot-crescent. The streets are well paved, and lighted with gas

and going back, the Caledonian Mercury of 1 October 1838 reported that “John Scott Superintendent of Hawick Gas Works has now in his posession a stalk of oats fully seven feet long, bearing one hundred and ninety four ears or pickles”


William Inglis Cornet must have known the oil refinery well – something so big and so modern and so smelly must have had an impact on the town – and his year was the last year that Hawick had an oil refinery.


About Neil Wallace

Born in the Haig Maternity, lived in Dovemount Place, and started school there at Trinity. To Burnfoot Primary then the High School. Moved away from the town to Cardiff, then Edinburgh, and now an exile in Suffolk.


6 thoughts on “1868 William Inglis and the Hawick Oil Refinery

  1. Hi Neil
    I have been researching a BEST family in Hawick and have Jessie BEST dau/o Thomas BEST & Margaret RAE b.c.1811 Crailing marrying William INGLIS 04 May 1846 in Hawick. They had a son William b.c.1849 who may be the boy boarding with the LITTLEs in 1861. William INGLIS must have died before 1855 as there is no possible death 1855-1861 on Scotlandspeople. The 9 year old cousin James Taylor is the son of Jessie’s sister Elizabeth BEST who married James TAYLOR. James snr died 1856 & Elizabeth married again to WIlliam BROWN. In 1861 James aged 9 is missing from the list of Wm BROWN’s stepchn. Not too sure about John INGLIS, “son” of Jessie. Could he be a son from an earlier marriage of William? Regards Jill

    Posted by Jill Larsen | August 16, 2011, 06:25
    • Jill

      This makes a lot more sense – my story was based on some fairly loose reasoning, and I didn’t use Scotlandspeople – and once I had got the Cornets Inglis out of the way, I was distracted by the unlikely oil refinery.

      It would make sense for William Inglis to have married Jessie BEST since she seemed to have been working with her widowed mother Margaret in their hotel in 16 Buccleuch Street, so she would know the life she would be marrying into. [and 15 year old Elizabeth was also there in the 1841 census]

      So all my nonsense about Jessie being Jessie Wilson in Cavers seems to be merely fanciful – and she fitted quite well into the general story, “explaining” quite well how young William Inglis might have ended up in Kirkton.

      All very sloppy!

      [William Inglis the elder died in May 1851 – just after the 31 March census – acording to Wilsons List of Hawick deaths]

      [John Inglis / Ingles I cannot trace at all in the censuses, but he was a carrier so may well have been out of town on census days. Jessie is described in the 1861 census as his mother, so there is presumably some connection between them. Maybe a first marriage, but William is described in the 1841 census as unmarried rather than widower, but that could just be form filling. There is a William Inglis marrying a Betty Harvey from Wilton in 1818 [LDS record for what that is worth] so there would have been a dozen years to produce John Inglis in 1830ish. But Inglis / Ingles is what one would think of as a characteristically Hawick name, though it is more widespread]

      Thanks for putting me right – I will alter my story of William Inglis


      Posted by Neil Wallace | August 16, 2011, 11:42
  2. Neil – This is the first of your Cornet blog entries that I’ve read – very interesting and well researched.
    I have a few comments that might be helpful for you and questions of course!

    John Wield – he may have gone bankrupt, but he soon bounced back. He had a druggist’s shop at 48 High Street and was a Councillor for Teviot Ward, as well as being a Hawick Magistrate in the 1870s. He had business problems again (along with many people in Hawick, as a result of the “Collie failure” of 1875). He died in 1877 and is buried in Wellogate Cemetery.

    Jessie Best – I’m sure you’re right that she ran an inn with her mother on Buccleuch Street. However, there were Bests in the rural areas around Hawick (I have earlier mentions in Bedrule and Hobkirk, as well as Kirkton). So there may have been a family connection for the younger William going to Kirkton school.

    Oil Refinery – The final end for oil refining in Hawick may have been a little later. There’s a mention of Donaldson running an oil extraction business at the same premises after Wield (but I don’t have dates or any other information).

    There’s no direct link being suggested between William Young and the oil refinery is there?

    Have you found any reports of either of the William Young’s Common Ridings? Before there were Hawick newspapers there were short summaries in the Kelso paper sometimes.


    Posted by Douglas Scott | September 11, 2011, 15:16
    • Douglas

      Time has shot past very quickly this autumn – it started with the run up to our daughter’s wedding in the summer, and things went from bad to worse when I got a 4 days-a-week assignment [I work as an interim manager] which turned into a 5 days a week assignment. The unfortunate thing about this was that it meant a 60 mile drive there and again back every day, so my random walk through Hawick Cornets has had to go on the back burner for a while. Until today – the day after Boxing Day. Tomorrow we are going to Scotland so I’ll be in Hawick!

      The last time I was up I managed to have a look round the Wellogate where they have been tidying up the ivy on the monuments round the mass cholera grave – and there was “John Wield Merchant died 26th June 1877 aged 40 years” tacked rather baldly onto the side of father-in-law draper James Turnbull’s monument. John is also listed on the main front panel as the husband of daughter Christina Mary d 1874.

      I feel that there is an interesting technology/economics story somewhere in the gas works/paraffin oil business of the mid-century. Somehow the impact of gas feels even more advanced than steam power – but there was still a market in refining the coal residues so that paraffin lamps could be used. I will have to keep my eyes open – someone somewhere will have written a “Economic History of the Scottish Gas Industry”! My wife comes from outside Linlithgow in West Lothian, and her family lived amongst the shale miners, and worked in the BP refinery – and with the proposed gasification of the Canadian shale sands, there must be PhD theses in the planning!

      I am limited to what I can get from newspapers – at home I can’t access them, but at work I sometimes can, depending on what subscriptions the library has taken.

      With the Bests, I stand guilty as charged of piling presumption upon assumption upon simplification! Apologies!

      A Guid New Year to you and yours!


      Posted by Neil Wallace | December 27, 2011, 15:28
  3. Just another update

    in 1861 a James Scott is listed in the census as the manager of Hawick Gas Works employing 4 men

    see the 1861 census record at http://www.maxwellancestry.com/census/61transcript.aspx?houseid=78910035

    Posted by tkgafs | December 5, 2011, 13:35
    • Interesting! Not the least because James Scott is born in Kilmallie – and this sets another hare running for me, because I started this blog loking for my Granny’s cousin Tom Girdwood Winning who was the Cornet in 1919. His mother Jemima Girdwood was also born there [though later – in 1853] and she married T G Winning’s solicitor father John Gray Winning and they lived at Branxholme. I have no idea if there is any real Kilmallie conection between them, apart from coincidence! [returning to my hobbyhorse of the Winnings, she wrote parts of the 1914 pageant and a book of poems and songs “Hawick ‘mong the Hills”
      “The fame o’ Hawick’s gallant sons
      Spreads far beyond the vale,
      For Scotia owns no braver men
      Than dwell in Teviotdale.
      The stirring strain o’ “Teribus”
      Their ilka heartstring thrills
      O dear to me the Borderland,
      An’ “Hawick ‘mong the hills”

      James Scott had been in the town since at least 1841 – he is in the census then as a millwright [once again thanks to Graham Maxwell’s census site] and then in 1851 living in Weensland as a Machine Maker. Presumably the sort of highly skilled technician / engineer who could be appointed to look after the gas works.

      [In 1851 the manager had been John Young Scott, and in 1841 what looks like the same man but more simply called John Scott]

      The gas works must have been a tremendous deal for the town, involving quite a bit of construction and advanced engineering for the time. All those pipes and lamp standards in the streets, and then the supplies going into shops and mills – though Wilton Mills had theirt own gas works from the early 1830s! – and even into houses. Dangerous and exciting stuff!

      Posted by Neil Wallace | December 27, 2011, 14:33

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