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 ©

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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 ©

Collier, Robert Hamilton, known as Bobby, remembered by his daughter, Mary

My father Bobby Hamilton was born in 1919, he was a ‘middle ‘child in a family of twelve, six boys and six girls. Sadly my Aunt Agnes MacKenzie, 96 years old is the only remaining sibling. They were brought up at Trodigal Cottage or Bobbins’s Cottage at Kilvivan, between Machrihanish and Drumlemble, The cottage was so called because the my grandfather, Robert, was known as Bobbins.

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Four members of the Hamilton Family. L-R Bobby, Agnes, Stewart and Malcolm, Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

My father joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1937, and when he was ‘demobbed’ he returned to Kintyre and began working in the Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish. He married Jean MacBrayne in 1948 and they had three children, Sheena, Mary (me) and Robert.

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Bobby with his daughter, Sheena. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton. ©

My father had a few accidents whilst working in the Pit and I remember one time, 1960 (I think) that he had hurt his shoulder, back and his left foot. I think coal fell on him.  He could not wear a shoe or slipper and cut his sandal, put holes in the side and crisscrossed this with string and could get this on his foot to walk about in the house. I remember the noise the buckle made when he was walking about. 

My father left the Pit with some other miners from the area, in 1961 or 1962 to work in Corby in Stewart and Lloyds Steel Mills – the idea being that we would eventually move to Corby.

I can remember the Miners Gala days, going to the beach and the Christmas parties, and the old Rex Cinema to see a film.

My mother’s health was not good, however as a child I was unaware of how ill she really was and in March 1964 she was admitted to Campbeltown Hospital. My father came back from Corby.  My mother later transferred to the Western  Infirmary Glasgow and sadly, she died at the age of 46. My father was then a widow caring for three children, aged 13, 11 and 8 years old. He never returned to Corby.  

Not long after my mother died I walked with him to the cemetery and after visiting my mother’s grave, we walked to another gravestone. My father told me that this man had been  one of his closest friends and he had died in an accident in the Pit. This was of course Jimmy Woodcock.  My father had never mentioned this before,  and I never heard him talking about his ordeal being trapped under the coal. [Bobby had a narrow escape in February 1951 when Jimmy Woodcock was killed].

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Extract from the Campbeltown Courier, February 1951. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

My father had several labouring jobs after this, he worked when the Jetty was being built at the then NATO base down Kikerran Road, then when the oil tanks were being installed and then later as a storeman. This was the only job that he ever spoke about with disdain, as he felt there was not enough to do and he was indoors.  He then worked in the Shipyard and his last employment on retiring was with the local Council, cutting the grass, maintaining the plants.  He enjoyed this as he was outdoors and was a keen gardener.

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Mary Hamilton, far right. Photograph: Vicky Middleton ©

My father was a quiet man who loved reading books and poetry.  He never had a television, preferring to listen to the radio.  The poems I remember him reciting to us was Ogden Nash, the Camel, The Lama, etc – nonsense poems when we were young, and then later, some of his favourites, usually when he had a ‘wee dram’.  ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’ by J.Milton Hayes, ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service and of course anything by Robert Burns.

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Bobby Hamilton, left, at Campbeltown Day Hospital. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

My father died in Campbeltown Hospital, aged 86 in 2006.  He is still missed.

Mary Hamilton

John Anderson, collier – Kynamp

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John Anderson, Kynamp worked at Argyll Colliery till it closed at the end of March 1967. Photo courtesy of Rena Anderson ©

John Anderson, also know by his nickname, Kynamp, was born in the Kirk Close, (which runs along the side of the Lorne and Lowland Church, off Long Row), Campbeltown, on 14th February 1933. One of  family of 13, he was brought up in Park Square by his parents, John Anderson and Marion (née McGeachy).

John’s daughter, Mari, who was named after her grandmother, says, “Dad’s nickname was Kynamp – we don’t know how it came about but his uncle, Paddy Anderson from Dublin, was called Kynamp and Dad just seemed to inherit the name”.

When John left school he did various labouring jobs in Campbeltown before he started work at Argyll Colliery around 1955. He was trained at the NCB’s Residential Training Centre Dungavel, South Lanarkshire. Dungavel was once the hunting lodge of the Dukes of Hamilton and was sold on to the National Coal Board in 1947. John returned to Campbeltown and continued his work at Argyll Colliery.

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the NCB’s Dungavel Residential Training Centre, South Lanarkshire. John Anderson middle row, left, sitting. Photo courtesy of Rena Anderson ©

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National Coal Board Residential Training Centre, Dungavel, South Lanarkshire – John Anderson’s Certificate of Training. Courtesy of John Anderson.

He met a Southend woman, Mary MacMillan, who everyone knows as Rena. She was the daughter of George and Mary MacMillan. At that time Rena was working as a waitress in locals hotels (The Ardsheil, The Argyll Arms and the Royal). John and she first met at a dance in the Victoria Hall in Campbeltown.

The couple married in April 1956. By May the same year they had been allocated a miners’ house in Davaar Avenue. They first lived at number 35 before moving to number 43. Amongst their mining neighbours were the McCaigs, the Wests, George McMillan, the Nimmo’s, Gus McDonald, the Brodies, the Armstrongs, Feenie (Charlie Farmer) and Braemar Charlie; Charlie Smith. Rena still lives in Davaar Avenue.

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John Anderson’s NUM card. Courtesy of John Anderson.

John and Rena had a family of three, Georgia (named after her maternal grandfather), Mari and Shaun. John worked at the mine as a face worker until it closed on the 27th March 1967. John loved working there and he and his late daughter, Georgia, enjoyed sharing his stories from his time working there. In a interview for the film, The Road to Drumleman he said,

“I would’na have changed it for anything. If it had’nae tae have closed I’d have still been in it till I retired, you know, and when I left the mine I did’na know hoot tae dae on the surface”.

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Note of Termination of Employment from Argyll Colliery signed by Mr Seaman, the manager at the time of the closure. Courtesy of Rena Anderson.

After the mine closed John worked as a labourer for various contractors in Campbeltown but his job at the mine was the one where he was at his happiest. He kept his union book, his training photo and his notice of termination of employment. He also kept something that he found down in the mine… he wasn’t sure what it was; a fossil maybe? – a curiosity, something reminiscent of an Aztec bird carved from pyrites’s – what ever it is, it remains with the family as a keepsake of John’s time working underground.

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One of John Anderson’s keepsakes of Argyll Colliery where he worked underground. No one is quite sure what it is but it’s clear that it’s birdlike form caught John’s imagination as it it’s still with the family. Courtesy of Rena Anderson. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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John Anderson Kyyamp. Video still from The Road to Drumleman.

John died in 2010 on the 13 of February, a day before his 78th birthday.

Mari again, “My brother Shaun has 5 children 3 boys and 2 girls and called his youngest who was born on the 15th April, Georgia, for my late sister, so that’s lovely… I have one son Campbell who is an electrician and has his own business, CR Electrical. He has a son, Josh, who is 5. Campbell enjoyed listening to all the stories my Dad told him about the mine and both were extremely close. Campbell misses my Dad”.

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John’s daughter, Mari, with a photo of her father. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

John McSporran Durnan – “Troy”

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John McSporran Durnan and his wife, Margaret. Photo courtesy of Johnny Durnan ©

My name is Johnny Durnan. I was born in Campbeltown but have lived in Carradale for the last 43 years.

My late father, John McSporran Durnan, whose nickname was “Troy”, was an on-cost worker at Argyll Colliery around the time I was born and this is noted on my birth certificate. He was married to Margaret McGougan Harvey, my mother. I have three brothers and one sister.

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Johnny Durnan’s birth certificate which shows his father, John McSporran Durnan as an on-cost worker at Argyll Colliery – 1956. Courtesy of Johnny Durnan ©

I never really got much info. regarding his job there as sadly he died in 1974 at the age of 45 years, when we were just young. It would have been nice to sit down and have a chat with him about that part of his life but that is not to be; but maybe some others have more info and maybe a photo of him at work as we do not have more information that could shed some light on my father’s working life.

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John McSporran Durnan at Peninver c. 1967. Photo courtesy of Johnny Durnan @

We lived at 7 Mill Street, were I was born, but shortly after, we moved to 55 Davaar Ave, then 10 years later we moved to 128 Davaar Ave, to a bigger house, which my brother owns to this day.

As a young boy I remember very well our jaunts down to the quay to watch the puffers coming in to get loaded at the coal chute, many times we would hide in there/play about – things you would not get away with nowadays!

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Loading coal onto a boat at Campbeltown’s Old Quay. Still from Iain Donnachie’s 1955 film, Kintyre, courtesy of NLS/SCA

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