The Riddings Oil Refinery of 1848 – 175 years ago: Britain’s first oil refinery – was it also the world’s first?

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05/04/2024 19:30 - 21:00
St. Mary's Church Hall
Address: Darley Lane, Derby, DE1 3AX

Speaker: Cliff Lea

It was in the 1840s that the Oakes family struck oil whilst sinking one of their coal pits at Riddings near Alfreton. Hear how the technical characteristics of this fluid –  a fluid that was regarded as simply a nuisance at the time -  were researched on site by a truly pioneering Scottish chemist, James Young. How Young found out what could be produced from the oil, how he developed a method of refining and fractionation for production of what were to become extremely useful end products. This was to lead to the invention of paraffin wax candles, and the isolation and use of what we now call “paraffin oil”, allowing the very start of use of paraffin lamps; both inventions were so useful for revolutionising domestic lighting from the 1850s on. Before this the very poor sputtering light of tallow wicks was the usual form of lighting in most households. Following his early work in Derbyshire it was James Young who was globally the very first to take out a patent to define the oil refining process.  When mineral oil was shortly afterwards to be discovered in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the early oil pioneers in USA were to pay vast royalties to Young in those very early manic days of the rise of the world’s most lucrative industry.

Cliff Lea is a chemist who had spent his career in the oil industry. He discovered only when moving to Derbyshire in 1980, that this county is perhaps the most important of all in Britain’s mineral oil industry history. He has given talks on the subject at both international and national conferences on history of the oil industry. Cliff is a founder member and currently chair of the North East Derbyshire Industrial Archaeology Society.

Organised by the Industrial Archaeology Section

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