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

A man’s ambition…

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Sandy Smith, Willie Durance and Gus McDonald, Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, Kintyre. Photo courtesy of Willie Durance ©

Sandy Smith, who worked in the winding house at Argyll Colliery, was well known amongst the local miners for his humorous poetry. Willie Durance, a former electrician at the mine, wrote down this poem written by Sandy for me to share.

A man’s ambition must be small,
And great must be his need,
To creep in here when all is quiet,
To steal the wee birds’ feed.

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Sandy looked after the 20 or so canaries that were kept on site and used to detect gas in the mine. Willie told me that Sandy wrote this poem when he discovered that someone was stealing the bird seed. He left the poem in the kist with the bird seed and the pilfering stopped!

Priceless!

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Detail of mining themed bunting made by the children at Drumlemble Primary School. When they heard about the role that the canaries played at the mine, the children were inspired to create images of them to put on their bunting. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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