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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Dr. Wallace recalls an underground incident at Argyll Colliery

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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. 

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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.

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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

Argyll Colliery – Grand Dance and Challenge Match

These announcements from Campbeltown Courier, which date back to 19th of March 1953, give us an insight into the important role that Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, once played in everyday Campbeltown life. Miners contributed hugely to the community in the 1950’s and 1960’s and here we see how they organised children’s Gala Days each year for not just miners’ but for all local children. Dances were held at the Miners’ Welfare Hall in Bolgam Street (formerly the Old Courthouse), at the Victoria Hall, The White Hart Hotel and the Templar Hall.  Football matches, like this one, where the Argyll Colliery team played against Shotts Bon Accord, Lanarkshire, were used as opportunities to raise funds for local good causes, in this instance for the Cottage Hospital  TV Scheme. Football was an integral part of miners’ leisure time, whether as a spectator or as a player.

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Argyll Colliery and Children’s Gala Day Association Grand Dance at the Templar Hall. Challenge Match – Argyll Colliery F.C. versus Shotts Bon Accord. Campbeltown Courier, 19th March 1953. Courtesy of the Campbeltown Library collection.

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The former Miners’ Welfare Hall, Bolgam Street, Campbeltown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 

A history of coal mining in Kintyre

 

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Miners in South Kintyre (Drumlemble/Machrihanish). Photo courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre, Campbeltown.

When I was researching the film, The Road to Drumleman, about Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, both George McMillan, Campbeltown, a former collier at Argyll Colliery and Donald Irwin, Drumlemble, the son of a collier, gave me copies of a document which traced the history of coal mining in South Kintyre. It was put together by former Argyll Colliery manager, David Seaman M.I.M.E. C.ENG. In his introduction, Seaman names the Rev. Father Webb, Campbeltown and Duncan Colville, Machrihanish, as important contributors to the this document.

The history begins in 1494 when King James IV visited his castles in Tarbert, Dunaverty and Kilkerran and ends with the closure of Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish in 1967. It contains often detailed information which helps bring alive Kintyre’s industrial past.

For instance instance in 1879…

“A cargo of Drumlemble coals was shipped this week by the schooner ‘Julie’ for Denmark; several cargoes have been shipped this season for Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Prussia”.

This document will be useful to anyone with an interest in coal mining in South Kintyre. It has been typed up from a poor quality, photocopied version and so we now have the electronic version online which can viewed publicly. Many thanks to Morag McMillan of SKDT and Elizabeth McTaggart for their time and effort in typing this up for the project. Thanks also to George and Donald for making this important historical record available to us all. To view the full document 

Jan Nimmo

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Coal miners at “Lone Creek” an illegal mine at Tirfergus Farm, near Drumlemble – 1920’s. Photo courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre, Campbeltown.

Kenny McMillan

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Argyll Colliery F.C. card which belonged to the late Kenny McMillan. Courtesy of Morag McMillan

J.K.B. McMillan, known as Kenny, was born in 1926 in Campbeltown and as a young man was called up for the the army and served with the Royal Engineers. His first job after serving in the army was at the Argyll Colliery. In 1948 he went to be trained in Doncaster and returned to work at Argyll Colliery for the next 20 years, until the pit closure in 1967. In 1950 he married Agnes Girvan, whose father was one of the hall-keepers of the Miners’ Welfare in Bolgam Street, Campbeltown. They had five children and their lives were consumed by the various activities organised by the wider mining community.

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Kenny McMillan. Photo courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan)

Mum, Agnes, was the prompter for the successful miners’ drama group and Dad, Kenny, played and later managed the football teams. The miners’ football team was formed in July 1951 and according to records kept by my father, they were a fairly successful team playing in the Scottish Junior Cup. Dad was a Motherwill supporter which is why the Argyll Colliery Team played in “Amber and Claret”.

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Argyll Colliery F.C. This photo was first published in Coal Magazine and was taken at the back of the Miners’ Welfare Hall in Campbeltown. This is where the team held their tactical meetings. Kenny is pictured here at the far right. Photo Courtesy of  Morag McLean (Nee McMillan).

Kenny became the union steward for the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) and was very involved in settling disputes and ensuring his colleagues were treated fairly. He eventually went on to serve as a local Labour councillor in South Kintyre.

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Photos of a group of Argyll Colliery workers which was taken in 1965.  Top row L-R: Unidentified, Archie McKerral, Robert Brown, Neil Munro, Angus McKinlay, Sandy Smith, Unidentified, David Mitchell, Robert Martin, ? Livingston, Tommy Woodford. Bottom row: L-R: Hamish McNeil, John Kerr, Jackie Galbraith, Malcolm Milloy, Kenny McMillan, Jock McGeachy. Photo: Courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan).

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Labour Party Councillors, Campbeltown. Top L-R: Duncan McMillan, Alistair McKinlay, Kenny McMillan. Bottom L-R: Neil McCallum, unidentified,  John B. Anderson. Photo courtesy of Morag Mclean (nee McMillan) and thanks to Hamish McMillan for providing the other names.

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Leaver’s certificate from 1966, which belonged to the late Kenny McMillan. Courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan).

Unfortunately in the latter stages of the pit before its closure  he was unwell and died in 1970 of kidney disease. He left behind a number of diaries which sometimes detailed the dangers the miners encountered in their daily lives. That said, Kenny enjoyed the camaraderie of his colleagues and the everyday challenges.

Here are some excerpts  from Kenny’s diary which relate to the time running up to the closure of Argyll Colliery:

15/2/1967

Pit flooded. Manager, Mr Welsh, arrives to discuss closure.

3/3/67

Given one month’s notice 

8/3/67

Discussed cases with manager and arranged the withdrawal of welfare fund

24/3/67

Majority of  miners left the pit today

25/3/67

Divided benevolent and welfare fund to contributors

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Drawing girders in the mine.

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Last day of work at Argyll Colliery. 

and going back to the fire of at Argyll Colliery 1958:

Production was halted because of the fire for nine weeks and T McFarlane was gassed.

Morag McLean (nee McMillan) ©

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We are currently trying to identify the men in this photo so will update this caption when we have some verification… Photo courtesy of Morag McLean (Nee McMillan).

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Morag McLean (nee McMillan) and her granddaughter, Hollie and Kenny McMillan’s Argyll Colliery diaries. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Lines on “An Accident at Coalhill” by James MacMurchy

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Typed version of “Lines on the “Accident at Coalhill” (Drumlembe, Argyll) by James MacMurchy, the so called “Poet of Kintyre”. Photo” Jan Nimmo ©

When my father’s widow, Ros Nimmo, decided to leave Campbeltown to move to England to be nearer to her daughter, she gave me a few odds and ends that belonged to my father. Amongst them was the above typed up sheet with the lines of a poem. My father, Neil Nimmo, a former employee at Argyll Colliery, must have asked someone to type it up for him – he was a Drumlemble man who came from a family of miners and was always interested in stories related to mining.

When I started to do some research for the documentary The Road to Drumleman, about Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, I discovered that the poem was by James MacMurchy (McMurchy/McMurchie). According to an article by Ron Booth in the Spring 2000 edition of the Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society Magazine,  John MacMurchy started work in the mine in Drumlemble “at a very young age”. He apparently had a good singing voice and wrote many poems that relate to South Kintyre. You can read more about James in Ron’s piece. The typed version of the poem that my father possessed varies a little from the one in the collection of poetry  published in a book of MacMurchy’s poetry in Campbeltown Library, so I have typed up the published version. If anyone can shed further light on the victims mentioned in this poem please get in touch. (please see the photo of the headstone at Kilkivan Cemetery below).

Jan Nimmo

Lines on the “Accident at Coallhill”

July has come in wi’ a sweet balmy gale,
To waft o’er the flowers on the mountain and dale,
And the wee smiling daisy with fragrance to fill;
But alas! it brought sorrow and grief to “Coalhill”.

The miners, just finished their labours below,
To the clear light of day, they hurriedly go,
When a noise, loud as thunder came fast to each ear
Which caused all the miners to tremble with fear.

It’s the ‘waste’ broken in, Hark! the waters now roar;
There are nine men below, we may see them no more,
May God them protect, who is mighty and wise,
And help them, for safety, to flee to the “rise”.

As Providence ordered, the manager near
Descended the mine, braving danger and fear,
He reached the six men in their perilous cave,
And saved their lives from a watery grave.

Then down through the workings so wild
Like a fond hearted father, in search of his child,
But no sound of the three missing men could he hear
But the wild roar of water, sae gloomy and drear. 

Go back from the danger, you’re duty you’ve done,
The men are no more – their life’s journey is run
But we hope they are safe in a happier shore,
When the struggle of life, they’ll encounter no more.

May the men who are safe, give to God all their praise
Who sent them relief, and lengthened their days;
May they trust in His bountiful providence all –
For without His permission a sparrow can’t fall.

James Todd left his house, just a short year before,
And his friends in Tollcross will see him no more;
When he came to Kintyre, how little thought he
To have died in the waters that flowed from the “Ree”.

Neil Smith, young and fair, in his manhood and bloom,
And Donald McPhail shared his watery tomb;
Their friends and relations, now sadly do mourn
For the loved ones that’s gone and will never return.

James Mac Murchy

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It appears from the date on this headstone at KIlkivan Cemetery that Donald/Daniel McPhail was drowned at Drumlemble Pit (Coalhill) in 1878. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

An angling story from 1959

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Angling competition at the Lussa Loch, Near Campbeltown. Second from the left: Willie McKinlay. Photo courtesy of the late Willie McKinlay.

Oor angling lads, they aw’ went fishing
Tae hae their annual competition
Some took hook and bait and line
But Wullie Kinla’ took VP wine
Without delay they set their task
But Wullie lay upon the grass.

He had a swim and then his tea
But aw’ the while he drank VP
As time went by, he heard a shout
When every expert caught a trout
But treated this with sheer contempt
Until his VP wine was spent.

The keenest man was Hugie Lee
Although he’s only five foot three
To get first prize wis his ambition
He spent his whole life at Crosshill fishing
Wi’ expert hand he cast his line
he knew that it was nearly time.

When all at once he got a bite
His reel began to take its flight
Wi’ skill and brawn he fought this bout
No doubt this was the heaviest trout
He’d show them all, he’d stop their bounces
He landed it, it weighed twelve ounces.

Then Wullie staggered tae’ his feet
This canny lot his he’d hae tae to beat
As time was short, he’d really try
And tak’ the auld wife hame a fry
He staggered in and cast in line
Ow’ bleary eyed and foo’ o’ wine.

The trout then queued up for his bait
They knew that he had left it late
He took eight fish and left the rest
The prize was his, he’d done the best
Still Hughie Lee runs round and bounces
I wis only beaten by fifty four ounces!

Many miners who worked at the Argyll Colliery were keen anglers and fished the lochs, reservoirs and burns around South Kintyre; The Lussa, Crosshill Loch, Aucha Lochy, The Backs Water and the Machrihanish Water. Some, according to John McNaughton, a former oncost worker at Argyll Colliery, also did some sea fishing. I imagine that it must have been an enjoyable pastime where miners, who were stuck down the mine all week, were able to enjoy fresh air and relaxation.  The above poem is thought to have been written by Sandy Smith, who worked in the winding house at the Argyll Colliery. Sandy wrote various poems which we hope to be able to publish here on the blog.  This humorous poem was written about an angling competition in 1959 and relates the story of coalface worker, Willie McKinlay, who won the competition that year.

Listen to the late Willie McKinlay read the poem…

Jan Nimmo

You can read another poem by Sandy here.

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