When the hunt for black gold came to Paulsgrove

Drilling for oil on Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth, in 1936
Drilling for oil on Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth, in 1936

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This unusual photograph shows the attempts that were made more than 70 years ago to find black gold in Portsmouth.

It was 1936 and drilling for oil at Paulsgrove on Portsdown Hill was well under way by the D’Arcy Exploration Company.

It was the first well sunk by the company, which went on to explore all over the country.

At the end of the First World War oil supplies from abroad became available again and exploration in the UK was virtually abandoned.

However one lasting result was that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company suggested to the British government that the legal and administrative aspects for prospecting should be simplified.

The resulting Petroleum Production Act of 1934 vested Crown ownership of all mineral oil not discovered up to that date and made it possible for a company to acquire exploration licences in the UK for the first time.

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, working through its subsidiary the D’Arcy Exploration Co Ltd, launched a major drilling programme and the first well was sunk at Paulsgrove in January 1936.

This well penetrated 6,556 feet through the Jurassic rocks and into the Triassic rocks finding a small quantity of oil at one level only.

Several other sites in Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex were also tried but only a little oil was found and they were all abandoned before the operations moved to the midlands and the north.