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Lewis Chemical Works

The remains of a Victorian industrial experiment located to the west of the A859 road, immediately to the southwest of Marybank and 1¼ miles (2 km) west of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides, the short-lived Lewis Chemical Works was a bold scheme instituted in 1852 at a cost of 33,000 by Sir James Matheson to produce lamp oil (paraffin) from peat. Matheson had bought the Isle of Lewis in 1844 and set about trying to improve the lot of the people through the development of new industries.

Matheson brought in industrial chemist Dr Benjamin Horatio Paul to perfect the process of distilling tar from the peat. The peat was heated in a retort, with the flammable gas which was one of the products being used in the heating. The tar produced was used directly (for example as an anti-fouling paint for ships or as a sheep-dip) but also refined to produced lamp-oil, candle-wax and pitch for roofing. Paul left and his successor brought the scheme to its knees due to mismanagement and embezzlement. The plant closed in 1874.

Marked by a monument and an interpretative panel, the site of the plant can be identified at the end of the route of a former tramway which brought the peat from extensive cuttings to the west. A small canal was also built to bring peat from the interior by barge, and a section of this canal can still be seen.


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