Mansion Buried below a Bing

West Lothian country seat of the wealthy Steuart family, Westwood House, near West Calder, was an opulent Victorian mansion with beautiful manicured grounds and a pond. However, thanks to its location, it would not survive the 20th century.

The house and its lands were acquired by Robert Steuart in the 1850s. He died at Westwood in 1868 and the property passed to his son, also Robert. A Captain in Her Majesty’s Indian Service, he became a prominent figure in West Lothian and, when he died, his widow Alice continued to live at Westwood until the end of the First World War. Thereafter, the property was split into apartments occupied by various tenants until the estate was bought by the Oakbank Oil Company in 1940.

Map of Westwood House 1897

With plentiful supplies of shale oil lying beneath the estate, the company established the Westwood Oil Works, the last Scottish shale oil works to be constructed and the last in production. Operated by Scottish Oils Ltd, Westwood opened in August 1941 to meet a wartime surge in demand for oil and, with the industry producing large amounts of waste, the famous Five Sisters bing was established on the site of the now empty Westwood House.

Over time, the bing grew, waste ferried by wagons from the mine to the tip, and the house, its contents and its grounds, all completely intact, were slowly engulfed by the spoil. In time the property was completely covered, lost to the world under the layers of spoil.

Five Sisters bing under construction. The mansion was located between the two mounds of spoil (BP/Scottish Shale Museum/Almond Valley Heritage Trust)

The mine closed in 1962 when the retorts and some of the buildings were cleared. Others survived and now
form part of an industrial estate lying in the shadow of the Five Sisters bing, which is over 90 metres high, a symbol of West Lothian and a mighty sarcophagus for Westwood House, now forever entombed underground

The name Westwood House has since been bestowed upon an office building on the Five Sisters Business Park, West Calder.

Five Sisters

For walks up the coal and shale bings of Central Scotland – including East Benhar – check out my book Bing Bagging, available in paperback or as an ebook from Amazon. Buying a copy helps support this site!

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