Memories of Archie McGeachy, shotfirer, and of Drumlemble by Betty McSporran

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Archie McGeachy, shot-firer at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Betty McSporran ©

My Dad, Archie McGeachy, was born on 11th September 1924. As we grew up, Dad often spoke in detail about his times at the coal mine in Machrihanish and of the camaraderie between the men. He worked as a shot firer.

There were mine shafts which extended to the Aros Farm, north of Machrihanish, and out under the sea. I recall there was actually flooding in the mine before the fires [and total extraction] eventually closed it down.

One of the things I remember is my Mum and aunts talking about the time a Clydesdale horse was turned out into the field, above Coalhill, between there and Trochoillean Farm. In the morning it had fallen down a hole which appeared in the field. The horse was called Jacopa (I hope that is the correct spelling of its name). It was a sore loss to the farmer concerned.

In the heavy snowfall of February 1963 my Dad and I got stranded at Westport cottage and spent from the Tuesday till the Friday with a retired teacher, Miss McDougall, and her brother. There was quite a number of us including two policemen who divided all of us into two groups and the remainder went to Low Balevain Farm to enjoy the hospitality of the Binnie family. Drifts were above the Telegraph poles but Mr Binnie walked through the snow every day bringing baking, milk and potatoes to help feed us. We had the Jacobs Biscuits traveller with us too but his only samples were coconut mallows to help supplement our diet. I have never been able to eat one from that day till this! Hughie Anderson from Machrihanish was stranded as well. He drove the pit lorry and it was loaded with coal. Craig’s coal lorry was stranded likewise. Miss McDougall’s coal bunker was well filled .

Hughie, Dad and I set off on the Friday and walked the shore line to the Backs Water where we parted company. Dad and I stopped off at West Trodigal farm where Mrs Armour fed us with a bowl of homemade soup. We then stopped off at the miners’ canteen at Argyll Colliery where Dad bought some cigarettes – he hadn’t smoked for days. When we reached home we had to call the police station and let them know that we had made it! The  Campbeltown Courier reported the story. I was the only female stranded but they obviously thought I didn’t merit consideration as they made no mention of that fact. I may add that I was the only person who went back in person to thank Miss McDougall. Dad and I were so grateful and felt we were lucky to be alive as we wouldn’t have stood a chance against the snow.

I remember playing in the houses in Drumlemble that ran along from the hall to where the bus shelter now stands. The roofs were off the houses by then and the windows were covered by corrugated iron. The side row houses’ ruins were really only an outline of where the houses had been, as were the ruins next to Coalhill cottage. On the left hand side down the side row there were a few allotments and some had wee sheds standing on them.

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Postcard of Drumlemble Main Street showing the now demolished miners’ houses on the RHS. Courtesy of Charlie McMillan.

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Drumlemble Mission Hall, now a private residence, and where a row of miners’ houses used to stand on the Campbeltown – Machrihanish road. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

There was a miners’ bus transporting the men from town out to the pit at Machrihanish to suit the shift times. We used to walk from Drumlemble to Campbeltown on a Sunday and catch a lift home with the miners’ bus.

Miners’ gala days and Christmas parties were always so exciting for us as we grew up. The Miners’ Welfare Hall in Bolgam Street in Campbeltown was where the parties were held. The picnics were huge family outings and are well remembered for such happy times.

My Dad developed a lung disorder due to the coal dust and spent a year in the sanatorium in Oban due to that. He was never able to do mine work after that and actually never able to do any manual work. He passed away as a young man aged 43 on 8th January 1968.

In 1982, when part of the playing field collapsed in Drumlemble, the whole of Rhudal cottages were decanted but the four houses in Burnbank were left. We were literally over the fence from this gaping hole. My brother, Leslie, worked with McFadyen Contractors then and he had a Coal Board official on the bucket of his JCB, with arm extended, in the shaft that ran between numbers 19 and 30 Rhudal cottages. I also recall where a mound appeared further along the playing field and the water spouted out of it like a fountain. Many years later the National Coal Board had to backfill underneath the self same Burnbank homes as one of the houses was sinking.

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Katrina, Cameron, Betty McSporran (née McGeachy), Betty’s sister, Margaret Blaylock and Alice McMurchy. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The bard of Kintyre is an ancestor of ours (James McMurchy). Interestingly enough his art has passed down through the generations. I myself have been published on six occasions and have written some lyrics for songs. At present I am working with Charlie McMillan who had written a pipe tune and I have added the words. We are at present in the process of trying to get it recorded to a CD. My brother, Leslie McGeachy, and my sister, Margaret Blaylock, are both prolific in the poetry genre as well.

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Leslie McGeachy , Betty’s brother, and Debbie. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 

 

 

 

 

SKDT’s The Road to Drumleman Community Exhibition at Glen Scotia Distillery

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Alex McKinven, former Argyll Colliery worker. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The Road to Drumleman, an exhibition celebrating Kintyre’s coal Mining Heritage  was held at Glen Scotia Distillery in April 2017. This year is the 50th anniversary of Argyll Colliery, Kintyre’s last coal mine.

The exhibition was the gathering together of information and images, which started in October 2016 with drop-in sessions at Campbeltown Library. The information here on the archive/blog was digested into a slideshow of almost 400 slides which can be seen here as a PDF – it may take a wee while to load so please be patient.

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Robert Martin. Cross stitch embroidery portrait by Karen Forbes (née Hunter). Courtesy of Nanette Campbell ©

The project took former miners and coal mining into locals schools and the result of these creative workshops with artist, Jan Nimmo, at Dalintober and Drumlemble primary schools was shown at the exhibition in the form of colourful mining-themed bunting which was reminiscent of Miners’ Gala Days in Kintyre. Campbeltown Grammar School also worked with Jan to recreate a trade union banner for Argyll Colliery which was also prominently displayed at the exhibition.

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Argyll Colliery Trade Union banner recreated by 3rd year art pupils at Campbeltown Grammar School, with artist, Jan Nimmo. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The final component to the exhibition was a series of large framed pencil drawings made by Jan Nimmo. Jan’s father, Neil, was a shot-firer at Argyll Colliery and it was he that inspired her to make the documentary The Road to Drumleman and to continue to explore Kintyre’s coal mining past through this current project with SKDT.

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Portrait of Neil Nimmo, shot-firer at Argyll Colliery. Drawing by Jan Nimmo ©

Part of the project was to give a framed print of the drawings to either the subjects or their families. You can view photos of the exhibition and some of those who attended here.

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Willie McMillan, former Argyll Colliery worker with artist, Jan Nimmo. Photo: Paul Barham ©

We would like to thank everyone who has supported to the project to date and to all of you who came along. A special thanks also to our hosts at Glen Scotia Distillery who worked hard to make the Kiln Room an excellent venue.

Here is an article published about the exhibition and project in the Sunday Herald

There is a forthcoming opportunity to view the trade union banner and the slideshow presentation, including the drawings, at Campbeltown Museum, who will set this up alongside a related display of their own artefacts. This will run from mid-May till the end of August.

The project will end with a community celebration/screening at the beginning of September at Machrihanish so look out for further information here on the blog or the Facebook page for details of that.

In the meantime we are still looking for any information, photos or stories you may have for the archive/blog so please feel free to contact us.

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Jim Kelly, and Margaret Kelly (née Morans) – both their fathers, Jim Kelly and Cawford Morans, worked at Argyll Colliery. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Roberta Lafferty remembers her father, Willie Mitchell.

My father, Willie Mitchell, who was a painter, decorator and sign writer was employed by the N.C.B. as a painter and sign writer at Argyll Colliery. I believe it would be in the 1950s and 60s. The family joke, when he would tell us he was going down the pit, was that he was painting the coal black. My father left the pit when it closed in 1967 and went to work for the M.O.D. at RAF Machrihanish until he retired in 1972.

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Willie Mitchell, left, worked as a painter at Argyll Collier, Machrihanish. Photo courtesy of Roberta Lafferty (née Mitchell) ©

When the coal was being delivered to my mother, Agnes, she always had the delivery men in for a cup of tea; Alex Mason, Neil McIvor – the other person’s name escapes me.

At one point my father was asked to go to the Sailors Grave at Inneans Bay, to paint the cross and I remember him saying it had been a great day out and that he had been privileged.

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L-R: Douglas McMillan, Malcolm McMillan, Kenny McMillan, Charlie Morrison, Donald McPhee and John McPhee, Inneans Bay (South West coast of Kintyre), at the Sailor’s Grave. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family. ©

My brother, who was also called William Mitchell, was employed by the N.C.B. at Argyll Colliery from 1953 to 1956, when he left to join the RAF. While with the N.C.B. he attended various classes at Dungavel, in South Lanarkshire, gaining qualifications which were to his advantage.

I attended picnics and parties, all courtesy of the miners, and I was allowed to bring a friend along. It seems tame in comparison to things they do today but they were really wonderful days out for all who were involved.

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Roberta Lafferty, Pat McIntyre, Jeanette ?, Alison Kelly, Janet McShannon. c.1955. Photo courtesy of Roberta Lafferty (née Michell) ©

Roberta Lafferty, April 2017

 

Memories of my father, Jimmy Fowler – Elaine Haines (née Fowler)

James William Fowler (Jimmy) my father was born in Soberton in Hampshire on 22 April 1927. He was only son to Fred and Winnie Fowler and had an elder sister, Beryl.

At the age of 17 he left England bound for Scotland where he had enlisted himself to the Black Watch regiment and was based in Elgin, from there he was posted to Douglas (Lanark) where he met my mother, Grace Anderson and they married in 1948. My brother Eric was born in 1949 followed by me in 1958.

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Mum and Dad’s weeding in Glespin, 1948, South Lanarkshire. Photo Courtesy of Elaine Haines ©

When he was demobbed, he turned his hand to mining along with my grandfather John MB Anderson and my uncle James McBride Anderson, and later in years my uncle David Gibb Anderson. I believe it was around 1950 that all the Anderson/Fowler families moved to Campbeltown where the three families lived at 97, 99 and 101 Ralston Road. The menfolk were all transferred to work in Argyll Colliery.

My earliest memory of my dad working in the mine was of him going out on the night shift as I was going to bed and on day shift coming home and us having cosy nights round the fire.

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Dad with me as a baby in 1959. Photo courtesy of Elaine Haines ©

I did not know much about my father’s job as a child but I do remember all the fun we had going on miners picnics, the buses were alive with excited families all heading to Westport, Macharioch or Machrihanish beach. We had great fun together as a family and with all our mining family running races, swimming, watching the tug of war and lots more.

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Myself and some of my cousins at miners picnic (if anyone has any idea where this was taken I would love to know). Photo courtesy of Elaine Haines ©

Dad was also in the Miners football team and played in goal. He often told us about the chance he had to become a Rangers FC player but he turned down the offer as he could make far more money working in the pit as he had a family to look after and there was no money to be made in football.

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Dad once mentioned that three of the men standing at the sides had died and he was the last one standing so by process of elimination, he was next. But he survived long after his friends had passed away. (Jimmy Fowler, second left).

Another memory I have is the drama group, NCB Players. My grandfather was producer, director and sometimes acted in the plays. My mother became a pretty good actress and won a few acting awards. I loved to go to the rehearsals in Broom Brae hall. The best part was going to Victoria Hall in February for the drama festival and watching everyone dress in character and have their makeup done. It was quite a transformation. One play which I fail to remember the name of, my mother played a witch and at the end of the scene the character my grandfather played, he stabbed her through the heart with a spear, the hall fell silent as she lay dying and I as a young child shouted out from the audience, “Grandad, you killed my mummy”. I don’t think I was very popular that night.

My dad was a member of the Miners Rescue Team and was very much in the fore front dealing with the big fire, he was given special permission to leave the mine to travel to Glasgow when my mother was giving birth to me. He also looked after the canaries that were a vital part of a miner’s working day and sadly he lost quite a few over the years. But glad to say they helped save many miners lives.

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Argyll Colliery Rescue Team. Jimmy Fowler, second left. Photo form COAL Magazine.

On the closure of the mine, dad was offered jobs in Corby and Sheffield. He deliberated long and hard over this and his deciding factor to stay in the town was when a young girl was murdered on Cannock Chase which was very near to where we would have been living.

He was a very proud English man but he was also a very proud adopted Scotsman and never returned to live over the border. He loved life in Campbeltown where he had made many life- long friends through mining, football, fishing and working on building sites in and around the West Coast and beyond. He took great pride in talking about the times he worked in the mine and was honoured when Jan Nimmo asked him to take part in the making of The Road to Drumleman and always had a tear in his eye as he reminisced. Sadly he never saw the completed documentary. He lived his life in Ralston Road, Campbeltown right up until he died in February 2008.

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Jimmy Fowler 2003. Photo courtesy of Elaine Haines ©

Eliane Haines April 2017

 

That sinking feeling – the evacuation of the Drumlemble.

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Article in the Campbeltown Courier, 2nd April 1982. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

In April 1982, the newspaper headlines confirmed what Drumlemble residents had suspected for many years. The area was seriously undermined by coal workings which went back into history, for which no plans were extant, and whose existence threatened the survival of the village.

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Article in the Campbeltown Courier 1982. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

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Fears of no return: an article about Drumlemble’s problems with subsidence due to serious undermining by coal workings. Campbeltown Courier, 4th June 1982. Courtesy of Elizabeth McTaggart.

The building of the new school, which eventually opened in 1975, had been delayed by the discovery that the existing school, about to be replaced, sat on top of old mine workings which were so close to the surface, that building on the existing site was impossible. Meetings were held in the village hall between councillors, Argyll Council architects, and the population of Drumlemble, Machrihanish and surrounding area. One of the proposals at that stage was to close and flatten the school and move the children to schools in Campbeltown. After pretty heated exchanges, this idea was dropped. The Council negotiated a site east of Drumlemble village and work on construction of a new school began.

The question of whether the village was safe for its inhabitants still hung in the air. The houses in Rhudal Cottages had all been built since 1964 and were relatively modern. In the years immediately following the building of the new school, anxieties over possible subsidence diminished and it seemed that life would go on as normal.

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Rhudal Cottages, Drumlemble built in 1964. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

At the start of the 1980s, signs of subsidence in some of Rhudal Cottages dwellings became more acute. Eventually after a period of heavy rain, part of the play area became like a bouncy green trampoline. Those children who managed to sneak in to bounce on its surface were quite thrilled, but their parents were rightly alarmed. A site inspection was conducted and the Council declared the playpark a ‘no-go area’. Police notices and coloured tape were stretched across the entrances. Mining engineers were called in to the village to assess the extent of the damage and prepare reports and recommendations. For the village, these reports were doom laden.

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The play park at Rhudal Cottages, Drumlemble. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

From the Council’s point of view, action needed to be taken quickly, and various proposals were put to the residents in letters and public meetings.

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Local councillors meeting the residents of Drumlemble. Campbeltown Courier 1982. Courtesy of Elizabeth McTaggart.

The options eventually centred round:

  1. Clearing the site and building alternative accommodation elsewhere for 30 families
  2. Shoring up the area by piping thousands of litres of ‘grouting’. This latter option also meant temporary housing outside the village for those affected.

Seen as the lesser of two evils, the tenants acquiesced in the Council’s choice of the latter option.

What an upheaval! Over the summer of 1982, people left Rhudal Cottages. The scene was reminiscent of the departures of the homesteaders in The Grapes of Wrath, albeit with more good humour and an optimism that returning was on the cards.

In the event, not all the tenants returned. Some were given the option of staying in their new Campbeltown homes. They found they had enjoyed the proximity to shops and jobs. Older people welcomed their ability to get out and about without the anxiety of ‘missing the bus’ to get home.

Those of us who returned were all safely back by Christmas 1982, to cold houses and snow on the ground and neglected gardens.

                                                                                                     Elizabeth McTaggart

April 2017

Nannette Campbell (née Martin) remembers her father, Robert Bell Martin

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Robert Martin. Cross stitch embroidery by Karen Forbes (née Hunter). Courtesy of Nanette Campbell.

I remember Dad going away early in the morning to his work at the mine.  He seemed to enjoy his work and got on well with the men he worked with. He was a coalface worker at Argyll Colliery and worked there until it closed. His employee number was 65.

I remember that in the winter of 1963 he had to walk in from the pit with lots of other miners, because the Machrihanish road was blocked after a heavy snowfall. When he came home he was was still black as he hadn’t had a shower and there were icicles in his hair.

My Dad met my Mum, Mary Scott, at Crossiebeg Farm, near Campbeltown, on the east coast of Kintyre. Dad was a farm labourer at that time and Mum was a dairy maid.

They married and had six of a family: Margaret, Charles, Katrina, Nanette, Douglas and Patricia. My Mum and Dad also had a wee baby girl who was still born after Charles, but she was a big part of our family and Mum and Dad often talked about her. We just knew her as Baby Martin.

We lived in Davaar Avenue, Campbeltown, in one of the miners’ houses, and had lots of neighbours who were also miners; George McMillan, Neil Nimmo, Kynamp – John Anderson, Gus McDonald, Mucca’phee – Donald McPhee.

We had good times at Miners’ Gala Days… good times – I went to two or three.  We went on the bus to Southend – there were races, and rounders and we played games on the beach and had a picnic.

Nannette Campbell

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Nannette with Robert’s great grandsons, Alexander, Robert, Kelvin and Riley with a portrait of Robert Martin. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Neil Munro at the Backs Water

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Neil Munro, miner at Argyll Colliery, fishing at the Backs Water (Machrihanish Water), a burn that runs along the north march of where the mine was once situated – now the Machrihanish Holiday Park. Photo courtesy of Dianne Brodie (née Munro) ©