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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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

Fatal Accident – Sad occurance at the Pit

Mr Neil McAllister – Darlochan, in the Cottage Hospital died this morning from injuries sustained whilst working on the surface at the pit at Trodigal [Machrihanish], Campbeltown Coal Company Ltd, Trodigal. Deceased was employed as a joiner and handyman and he was at his duties on Tuesday morning at the pithead. About ten o’clock he was found lying unconscious having apparently fallen from a height of ten feet. He was seriously injured about the head. Removed to the Cottage Hospital he never regained consciousness and passed away this morning. Coming so soon after the recent fatality at the pit this occurrence has created a feeling of profound sadness among the employees of the Coal Coy. and the whole company will deeply sympathise with the sudden and tragically bereaved.

Deceased, who was 43 years of age, leaves a widow and five of a family (2 sons and 3 daughters) to mourn him.

The funeral takes place on Saturday at 2pm from the Hospital to Kilkerran Cemetery. 

From the Campbeltown Courier, 18th December 1926 and the following is from the Births, deaths and marriages section, on the same page:

McALLISTER – Suddendly at the Cottage Hospital (as the result of an accident). on the 16th inst, Neil McAllister, Darlochan, beloved husband of Margaret McKay – Deeply regretted – Funeral on Saturday, at 2pm from the Cottage Hospital to Kilkerran Cemetery. – Friends please accept this intimation and invitation.

Thanks to Angus Martin.

The Campbeltown to Machrihanish Light Railway.

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The Machrihanish Express. Postcard courtesy of Charlie McMillan.

When the Campbeltown – Machrihanish coal canal eventually fell into disrepair in 1856, the Argyll Coal and Canal Co., who took over in 1875, decided to transport the coal from Machrihanish to Campbeltown by train. The construction of the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway began in November 1905 and the line was built by the Association of Argyll Railway Co. Ltd. The track was completed the following year and mainly followed the route of the old coal canal.  It was a narrow gauge railway – 2 ft 3 in (686 mm). The line was used to transport both passengers and coal. The last train ran in 1934.

For more on the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway visit Machrihanish Online.

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“Chevalier” working at the Colliery. Image courtesy of Will Ross, Campbeltown.

On the Opening of the “Kintyre Railway”

Like voice of springtime to the glen,
Like summer to the vale,
So is the news to Campbeltown
That I’m just gaun to tell;
For gloomy winter, bleak and cold,
Nae mair we’ll need to fear;
We’ll get our fuel cheap and good,
Brought by the “Pioneer”.

Hark! there’s she’s coming down the brae,
Along by Crossel Hill,
A train o’ wagons close behind –
I hear the whistle shrill;
Go spread the news a through the town,
Wi’ joy and news they’ll hear;
Our Heilan’ line is open now –
There comes the “Pioneer”.

Her coals will bless the poorest home,
And cheer the humblest hearth,
Although in other parts they’re dear,
No more we’ll dread their dearth.
The coals that come frae other lands
Let them be cheap or dear,
We’ll rather hae our Heilan’ coals,
Brought by the “Pioneer”.

The Frenchman and the Prussian too
Will smile when they are told
As soon’s their cargo they discharge
Wi’ coals we’ll stow the hold.
And when they reach their native hame,
And friends begin to speer
Where did they get their coals, they’ll say –
“Twas by the Pioneer”.

The coals that come frae “Auld Coalhill”
Are cheap as coals can be,
They’re just eight shillings for the ton,
When left in at the ree.
Twill make the Laggan flourish yet,
We’ll gie a hearty cheer –
Success attend our Heilan’ line.
Good speed the “Pioneer”.

James MacMurchy

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The Wimbledon Pit at Machrihanish. (Campbeltown Coal Company). The coal was transported by train from Machrihanish to Campbeltown. Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

 

Fatal Accident at the Drumlembe Pit: John McGeachy

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Report in the Argyllshire Herald on the death of John McGeachy, collier at Drumlemble Pit. He was killed in December 1860, aged 23 years old. Thanks to Angus Martin.

COAL magazine – an extract from a feature about Argyll Colliery and Campbeltown

Another interesting extract from COAL magazine which relates to Campbeltown and to Argyll Colliery. It was published August 1950. We are grateful to George McMillan, Campbeltown for letting us scan and publish these cuttings. You can read the PDF version here.

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COAL magazine, August 1955. Courtesy of George McMillan, Campbeltown.

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COAL magazine, August 1955. Courtesy of George McMillan, Campbeltown.

“Coal” Magazine – Scotland’s Atlantic Outpost

Here is a very interesting article from “Coal”, a magazine published by NCB – this article, Scotland’s Atlantic Outpost, is from October 1954. Thanks to Kay Cowan (nee Henderson) for sending this to us. The magazine originally belonged to Kay’s father, Jack Henderson, who was at the baths manager at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish  You can also view the magazine as a PDF here

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