Trodigal Cottage: A song by Willie Mitchell

P1330135

Bobbins’s Cottage or Trodigal Cottage. The original cottage is the part on the left hand side of the photo.  Beyond that you can see, on the right, Trodigal Farm and beyond that the site where  Argyll Colliery once stood. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Trodigal Cottage, a song by Willie Mitchell was written about Bobbins’s Cottage (or Trodigal Cottage) situated on the Machrihanish – Drumlemble Road at Kilkivan, where the track leads uphill to Kilkivan Cemetery and to Kilkivan Quarry. The cottage took it’s name from Robert Hamilton, the father of three miners at Argyll Colliery, Bobby, Malcolm and Stewart. The house was well known as a great meeting place and somewhere to take a dram in good company. Bobbins and his house were immortalised in this song by Willie Mitchell, who was a great friend of Bobbins. Agnes Stewart, Willie’s daughter, remembers that her father used to say “The Queen has got four Marys but Bobbins has four Willies!” – they were Willie Colville, Willie Broon (Brown), Willie McArthur and Willie Mitchell.

Trodigal Cottage

It was down by Machrihanish
Some jovial friends and I did meet,
We called at Trodigal Cottage
A kind old cronie there to greet.

Oh the liquor it was plenty,
With foaming beads in every glass,
We joined in song and story,
And heeded not as time did pass.

Chorus

For it is not time to go, my boys,
To go my boys to go away.
It is not time to go my boys,
We will booze it out till break of day.

Good whisky gives us knowledge
To talk of matters deep and wise.
We took so much of learning,
That from our chairs we could not rise.

Chorus

It was early in the morning,
Kilkivan’s cock did loudly crow,
He sounded us a warning
That to our homes we then should go.

Chorus

Here’s a health to Trodigal Cottage
And the grand old man who long lived there,
We’ll ne’er forget the nights we met,
His hospitality to share.

Willlie Mitchell.

dsc05206

Willie Mitchell, songwriter. Photo courtesy of Agnes Stewart ( née Mitchell) ©

Agnes Stewart relates that it was quite amazing the number of people that could be squeezed into the cottage during these sociable occasions. Willie Colville wrote a rhyming couplet about his friend, Willie Mitchell, heading home by bicycle to Campbeltown after a few drams at Bobbins’s Cottage:

Wi’ erse weel up and heid weel doon, He set his course for Cam’ltoon!

Willie Colville.

Advertisements

Miners’ Welfare Junior League – Glenside Team, Campbeltown – 1959 Champions

calummclean_clean

Miners’ Welfare Junior League: Glenside team – 1959 Champion Team Back row: L-R Charlie Duffy (Manager) R. Lafferty, S. McPherson, W. McCormack, Unidentified. Second row: L-R H. Colville, W. Hume, J. Cochrane, L. Gilchrist, D. Thomson. Third row: L-R Lindsay Brown and Davy Graham. Front row: M. McGougan, R. Campbell, D. McMillan, A. McEachran, R. McLean, D. Mclean. Photo courtesy of Calum McLean, Campbeltown.

Roselyn McLean tells a couple of stories about her dad, Charlie Farmer,”Feenie”

During one of our drop-in sessions at Campbeltown Library we had a visit from Roselyn McLean (neé Farmer). Roselyn is the daughter of  Charlie Farmer, who worked as a switchgear operator at Argyll Colliery and was better known by his nickname Feenie. He was a keen footballer and played for the colliery team. The family lived in the cul-de-sac on Davaar Avenue, Campbeltown, housing that was built for miners and their families in the 1950’s.

MaggieAllen_CovePaton_5L.jpg

Argyll Colliery FC,  Bottom row, far right – Charlie Farmer. Photo courtesy of Maggie Allen ©

P1310360

Roselyn McLean (neé Farmer), Campbeltown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Charlie had a great sense of humour – he’d say to Roselyn “Do you know who got married today?” She’s reply “No” and Charlie world say “A man and a woman!”.  Here are a couple of anecdotes from Roselyn about her dad that we have transcribed:

Going on the backshift….

Aye, what I can remember is that he’d been out to the darts, he went to the darts night or something, and he had one too many and of course he came in and had his tea and he fell asleep and mum couldn’t get him up and the van was coming to pick him up, so mum ran up to the van and says “Look, I’m sorry I canna get him wakened”, and the man says, “We’ll sort him out” In these days money was short and to lose a day’s wages was horrendous – however the men came in, picked him up, took him out in the lorry, and when they got to the pit they put him under a cold shower and left him there and they says “Every time you do that, that’s where you’re going! (Laughs) – I don’t think he ever did it again! (Laughs again).

A heavy snowfall…

One day my dad was out there on one of his shifts and they were finishing and it started  to snow – heavy, heavy snow. Well, there was nothing out there for them, no luxuries, no beds or anything, so they thought, “Well we’ll just walk into the town”. So I can always mind that it took him hours and hours to walk in and he came in the door and his face was still black because he hadn’t been for a shower and my young sister, Fiona, she was terrified, you know, – the coalman used to come in with the coal bags and she used to go into hysterics when they would come with the coal, Of course Dad came in and he was black in the face and it took her a wee while to calm down and saying, “That’s your dad”!

Roselyn McLean

Calum McLean – a schoolboy visit to Argyll Colliery that went off with a bang!

In 1961, Calum McLean from Campbeltown, went on an underground visit to Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish, which was organised by Campbeltown Grammar School, where he was a pupil. Calum was one of a group of about 6 fourteen year olds. He recalls that two of the other boys that were with him were Davey Livingstone and Alistair McLaughlin. While they were underground, Dan Stalker, let Calum set off a blast and Calum says it gave him “Quite a fright!”.

Calum didn’t like the “no windows” aspect of the mine and decided that a job down there wasn’t for him so when he left school he went to work at the Jaeger factory, known locally in Campbeltown as “The Clothing Factory”.

Calum married Roselyn Farmer whose father, Charlie Farmer or Feeny,  worked at Argyll Colliery.

Calum, who wasn’t from a mining family, was still able to go on Miners’ Gala Days as these were open to all children and recalls going up to a Gala Day at Ronachan beach, on the north west coast of Kintyre. He remembers that there were four buses full of children and that he won half a crown for winning a race. Later that day Calum and his pals climbed up a steep hill and ran all the way back down. As he ran down the hill the half crown fell out of his pocket and was lost forever!

Calum McLean.jpg

Calum McLean, Campbeltown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Dr. Wallace recalls an underground incident at Argyll Colliery

drwallacetrimmed

Dr. Archie Wallace at his home in Campbeltown in December 2016. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

In November 2016, I paid a visit to Dr. Wallace who practised as a family doctor in Campbeltown from 1949, alongside Dr. McPhail. The consulting rooms at that time were in the stone snecked building on the north side of Burnside Square (now the Argyll and Bute CARS/Townscape Heritage Initiative Office). During my visit to Dr Wallace, now in his nineties, he talked about a particular incident where he was called to treat some men who had gotten into trouble in one of the underground roads at Argyll Colliery.

Here is transcript of the interview:

Yes, well I’m Archie Wallace, my age is in the 90s now and my memory is quite good but it’s maybe not just 100% and I certainly don’t want to over-dramatise what went on…. I’ve really got very little idea of when this actually happened or the names of the people that were involved, and, as I say, I don’t want to over-dramatise it….

It was either a Saturday or a local holiday, because the mine wasn’t functioning, but people called deputies had to carry out an examination of the mine every day, including holidays, and a couple of men would to do their usual walk down the roads – they called them roads, which are channels, and these had to be examined. Now I don’t know what raised the alarm – whether the man in the office was expecting them back and they didn’t arrive or whether there was some communication to say that they were in trouble somewhere, maybe a telephone line of some sort, that they had down there or some communication – I’ve no idea. I went to the Cottage Hospital on my way out to Machrihanish to collect an oxygen cylinder in case it should have been needed.

So, anyway, the story I got, I just happened to be on call that day, was that people were in trouble and they might require medical assistance so out I went and I remember that there were four guys or maybe five. I don’t remember who they were except for one man called James Fowler, he stays in Ralston Road, I remember him quite clearly because he’s quite a tall fellow.

Well, we went down one of the roads, and we were going to a part of the mine which hadn’t been worked for a while but it still had to be inspected. We made our way along this road, as they called it, and that was quite scary for me because I’d never been down before and parts of that channel were quite narrow and you had to bend down to get through. As we got further away I did notice that the quality of the air was not very good and not being used to these conditions I was absolutely sweating, profusely, so much so, that it was running into my eyes, and above, there were these awful creaking noises which sounded like the whole thing was going to collapse. These were the conditions that these guys had to work in. 

Well, we got to where they were and they were semi-conscious but they looked quite healthy. The reason they looked quite healthy was because it was carbon monoxide (poisoning) – which when it combines with the blood it turns a pinkish colour – the capillaries of the face turn pink and they don’t actually look all that ill but the quality of the air was terrible. I think what helped was that they were on the ground and the carbon monoxide had risen to the top of the vault. So I was able to give them some oxygen and they recovered a bit but I was anxious to get them up but because I didn’t want to finish up with two of them and five of us and not being able to move them, though we had some oxygen. 

1998.0235a

The entrance to Argyll Colliery. A.C. was a drift mine so the miners were transported underground by rail. Photo courtesy of the Scottish National Mining Museum.

What happened was the main had been on fire, one of the spontaneous fires that mines get, and we used to see smoke coming up from the neighbouring farm, right from out of the ground. Eventually they closed it and sealed it off to see if the lack of oxygen would sort this out and it seemed to do the trick. But it was after that, that this happened. And what had happened was that the carbon monoxide was building somewhere in that area and I don’t know what would suddenly make it much worse and the quality of the air that we were breathing was just not sustainable. If they were to make their way back, that’s what they thought so that’s maybe why they asked for help.

Anyway, the way back was a bit of a nightmare because there were two extra people who had to be assisted and we had to stop every now and again to get our breath back and to get a few puffs of oxygen. About 10 minutes into it I noticed that the dial on the oxygen cylinder was at zero, so I was just praying that we would be alright. A lot of this was just a bit of phobia on my part and maybe I was panicking a bit, but we were struggling; we were breathing heavily, we weren’t getting enough oxygen. That, as I say, went on for about 10 minutes and eventually, I think I was at the front, I turned a corner, and you’ve heard the phrase, “a breath of fresh air”…  And we got a breath of fresh air, and by God, I can tell you it was welcome. And we were home and dry… So it wasn’t all that fantastic…. but nobody seemed to know anything about this. The manager at that time was Mr Seaman, I think that was his name, as I can’t remember the guys’ names and it didn’t even get into the Courier and my feeling was that the Coal Board just didn’t want any publicity about it and maybe they told the mining guys, you know, “just to hush this up”…. And of course I wasn’t prepared to say anything either, except over the years, I gave a talk to the Rotary about it because I thought they would be interested and they really were interested, but that was about all…

And another thing, not that I was looking for anything in any way at all, but you think there would have been a note or something to say thank you for your help, but there was nothing! Not a thing! Extraordinary really! It was almost as though they had decided that – I think that they were afraid that there would be repercussions and that maybe they had re-opened the mine too soon.

 I knew a lot of the miners, they were patients of mine and were golfing friends, like Dan Stalker, and all that crowd, so l knew them quite well but I can’t remember recognising the fellows that were with me.

dsc06475

Argyll Colliery Rescue Team – Jim Fowler, second from the left. Photo courtesy of the late Jim Fowler ©

When Morag McLean (nee McMillan), Campbeltown, put a piece together for this blog about her father, Kenny McMillan, in an extract from one of his diaries he mentions that “T. McFarlane was Gassed” in 1958. I have asked Dr. Wallace if he may have been one of the men involved in this incident but the name didn’t ring a bell… Dr. Wallace doesn’t remember the date of this incident but it is most likely to have occurred after the big fire of 1958.

If anyone has any other information about this incident please contact me.

Jan Nimmo

Miss Agnes Rennie

I was put in touch with Miss Agnes Rennie by her niece, Anne Stewart, who lives in Machrihanish, by Campbeltown. Agnes, who was 94 years old when I visited her in 2014, was born in Helensburgh in 1920. Her grandfather, whom she never met, was a miner, as were some of her maternal uncles. As I understand it, her grandfather Shearer was from the Dennyloanhead/Longcroft area in Falkirk.

As a young woman Agnes studied Institutional Management at Glasgow College of Domestic Science, popularly known as “The Dough School” which was situated just next to Kelvingrove Park. Her first jobs were in hospitals, including Gartnavel Hospital, in the west of Glasgow. She then spent approximately 30 years with the NCB (National Coal Board). Agnes was based in Alloa and was in charge of supervising the catering/canteens in collieries all across Scotland. The area manager at the time was a Mr Lang, who had worked his way up from being a miner and, according to Agnes, was a very considerate person to work for. This work involved Agnes and her assistant, Pat Angus, visiting Argyll Colliery roughly every 6 weeks. She made the journey by plane and remembered that she stayed at the Argyll Hotel in Campbeltown.

agnesrennie_sm_

Miss Agnes Rennie, who worked for the NCB, visited Argyll Colliery regularly, including during the fire of 1958. Pencil drawing by Jan Nimmo ©

When, in 1958 spontaneous combustion caused a fire to break out at the Machrihanish mine, a dedicated rescue team was brought from Coatbridge by the NCB to assist the Argyll Colliery workforce. This operation meant keeping the canteen open 24 hours a day, so Agnes and her assistant were told to pack their bags for the long drive to Kintyre to organise the opening of the canteen. Here she worked alongside the local women who ran the canteen on a day-to-day basis and served the men who were fighting the fire. Agnes describes how the team who were brought in were catered for at the expense of the NCB. Agnes, off her own bat, also supplied the men from Coatbridge with writing paper, envelopes and stamps so that they could write home to their families.

firerescueteam

The Fire Rescue Team Coatbridge/Argyll Colliery underground at Argyll Colliery in 1958. Photo courtesy of the late Jim Fowler ©

Typical meals provided were soup, mince and potatoes, stew, followed by  apple tart and custard. “Pieces” were made up for the men to take underground. There was home baking in the canteens too; scones, pancakes etc. Agnes thought that on this occasion she was there for three days and that she stayed at the Ugadale Hotel in Machrihanish. She also remembered that she visited the Argyll Colliery when it was in the process of being closed (1967).

Agnes said that, as a young woman, she never imagined that she would end up working with miners but went on to say that she loved her job, and that, although many people looked down on colliery workers, she thought that they were “the salt of the earth”. She remembered the men as always being very pleasant and that she enjoyed her visits to Campbeltown and was at pains to say that the women who ran the canteen at Argyll Colliery did a very good job.

p1150018

Miss Agnes Rennie, aged 94, (2014) worked with the NCB for 30 years and was a regular visitor to Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, Kintyre. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

First shipment of Coal from Argyll Colliery

firstshipment-1621950

“First shipment of coal from Argyll Colliery”, Campbeltown Courier, 16th February, 1950. From the Campbeltown Library Collection.