On the 15th of November 2016 myself and former collier, Willie McMillan, and I paid a visit to Drumlemble Primary School as part of SKDT’s The Road to Drumleman project. Willie, a Drumlemble born man, remembered going to the previous Drumlemble School which was situated in Coalhill, which was originally a separate parish from Drumlemble. The school that Willie attended educated the children of the village between 1857 and 1975.
The postcard above of Drumlemble and Coalhill shows the three schools which once existed in the village: on the left, the State School, just behind the two storey building, and up on the hill, just left of centre we can see the Free Church School which was attended by the sons of tenant farmers. The third school, the Colliers’ School, also known as the “Slate School” is the building with the pointed gable amongst the miners’ houses on the right-hand side. Our visit was to the current school which is situated at Dalivaddy, east of Drumlemble, on the on the road between Campbeltown and Machrihanish. We will be posting another article about how the school came to be there in the course of the project.
AWillie talked to all the school pupils (28) about his life as a miner and we showed the children a slideshow of images related to Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, and mining. The children were also able to handle mining artefacts, such as helmets lamps and batteries, from Campbeltown Heritage Centre. The children were very attentive and had lots of questions for Willie. Some of the children were especially interested when they heard that explosives were used to blast the coalface!
After Willie’s talk, I showed the class some images of tools and other objects associated with mining and the children and I worked along with the teachers to help the children draw some images to make templates which they then used to make fabric collages. These were applied to “Miners’ Gala Day” bunting which will be a part of The Road to Drumleman Community Exhibition in April 2017.
The children had already done a lot of excellent research with their teachers into coalmining in the area and what it would have been like to work in some of the older mines near Drumlemble, the history of the coal canal and the salt pans at Machrihanish – but they learned some new things from listening to Willie’s personal stories.
We learned they used tokens and if at the end of the day if a token was still there then someone was missing…
The miners kept their sandwiches in “piece” boxes.
The miners used batteries for their helmets.
They brought birds down the mine to warn about gas. If there was gas it would fall off its perch.
The shotfirers made holes in the coal for the explosives.
They used dynamite to blast tunnels.
Every pupil at the school contributed an image to the 5 metres of bunting produced – each flag with a different mining image. It was a busy but successful day.
I’d like to thank Willie for giving us all a first-hand insight into life at the colliery. Thanks also to all the teachers and other staff at Drumlemble Primary School for all their help and for letting us bring the project to them – and of course, many thanks to the children who worked very hard to produce some lovely work! A few weeks after his visit to the school, Willie was delighted to receive some letters from the pupils. I think it fair to say that he was “in great order”.
Here is a selection of the letters from the children.
Jan Nimmo ©