Trodigal Cottage: A song by Willie Mitchell

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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.

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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.

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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

Stewart Hamilton, miner, remembered by his daughter, Helen

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Stewart Hamilton, who, after the war, worked at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

Charles Stewart Hamilton (Stewart) was born in High Kilkivan in 1924 and brought up in Trodigal cottage. On leaving school he became an apprentice cabinet maker with Mathews in Mafekin Place, Campbeltown. He then served in the navy in the Second World War as a radio operator on board destroyers in the Atlantic conveys.

After the war he began working as a miner at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish from 1949 until approximately 1959.

A clear memory I have of that time is that he had to sleep with a board under his mattress as his back was so painful (Occupational Hazard)! Another lasting memory is of the annual Gala and Christmas party which we as children looked forward to every year. During this time, he played football for the miner’s team.

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Stewart Hamilton in the Argyll Colliery FC team – Bottom row 4th from the left. Photo courtesy of Maggie Allen ©

When he left the pit, he like many others moved to Corby to work in the steel industry but he could not persuade my mother, Betty Sinclair to join him there so returned to Campbeltown. He then became a heavy plant operator working with various large and small contractors.

Sadly he passed away on New Years Day 2001.

Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

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Helen’s maternal grandfather, Hugh Sinclair, centre, was also a miner. He became surface manager at Argyll Colliery. This photo was taken at Kilkivan, Drumlemble. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

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Helen’s maternal grandfather, Hugh Sinclair, standing, top left, was also a miner. He became surface manager at Argyll Colliery. This photo is was taken at “Lone Creek’, High Tirfergus Farm, Drumlemble. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

Campbeltown Heritage Centre (1) – Mining Images

The following images can be viewed at Campbeltown Heritage Centre – for full details visit their website here. Many thanks to C.H.C. for allowing us to publish these images on the TRTD blog.

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The Wimbledon Pit at Machrihanish. (Campbeltown Coal Company). Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

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Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre

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Miners sawing a timer “tree” or support – early days of Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

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Miners at “Lone Creek”, an illegal mine at Tirfergus Farm above Drumlemble. C. late 1920s. Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

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Miners at “Lone Creek”, an illegal mine at Tirfergus Farm above Drumlemble. C. late 1920s. Photo courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

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We are unclear whether this is a photo of James McArthur, whose death at the mine in Drumlemble was written about by John Lambie, or whether this is a photo is, in fact, of John Lambie. Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

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Miners at Kilkivan. Donald Irwin, Drumlemble, thinks the man in the centre is Hugh Sinclair. Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

Kilkivan – Inundation from an old abandoned working – July 1878

The following information is from the Scottish Mining website and regards the deaths of Neil Smith (collier), Daniel McPhail, (collier) and James Todd (bottomer) at the Kilkivan Pit, Drumlemble, near Campbeltown. We previously published a blog entry about this incident, Lines on an Accident at Coalhill. (It seems that the names Donald/Daniel and James/John were interchangeable). According to the information on the Scottish Mining website, James/John Todd was 64 when he was killed. There isn’t an age given for either Daniel or Neil – we will add these when we have that information.

The report makes for chilling reading…

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Kilkivan Cemetery, between the villages of Drumlemble and Machrihanish, where Daniel McPhail is buried. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Inundation from an old abandoned working

Argyle Coal & Cannel Co.

From Main body of report:

The pit at which the irruption took place is 27 fathoms deep, and was suddenly filled to within 12 fathoms of the surface. The old workings, from which the water flowed, are of considerable extent, but have been abandoned for upwards of 50 years. Referring to plan which exhibits the workings of two seams of coal, the first six-feet seam lies at 18 fathoms from the surface, and the lower or nine-feet seam, at 27 fathoms. At the time of the accident the working was confined to the lower seam. The depth of surface overlying the stratified rocks, lying not far above the sea level, averages 54 feet, of which 40 is principally composed of sand. Several dislocations traverse this part of the coalfield, and the fracture, or ”veise” is generally found filled with sand. In mining up to these fractures, or barring them, there is frequently a partial discharge of water, which is looked upon as quite an ordinary, occurrence. In May last the place marked x on plan, when extended to the dislocation a a, relieved some pent-up water, to check which supports were immediately put to the roof, and a rough darn constructed, backed by a loose building. This had the desired effect of shutting off the water, and the place was supposed to be left in a secure state. Nothing further was done until the 5th of July, when the manager had occasion to be in or to pass near to the mine x, when he discovered water and sand passing from the front of the dam. On observing this, precautionary measures were taken, which were completed before night. No further discharge was observed up to the time of the disaster, which happened on the afternoon of the following day, 6th, when the water which lay in the six feet seam found its way into the mine x by the “veise” of the dislocation a a. The pressure of the water, probably equal to 100 feet or thereby, forced away the , obstruction at X , and made an opening down the veise of the dislocation 25 feet and 4′ X 10′, in which it must have rushed with considerable force. The bottomer, who was employed at the bottom, was so suddenly overtaken that he did not escape, and two of the miners, working at B, the dipmost part of the mine were, I presume, instantly closed in, their bodies being afterwards found near to their working-place. Fortunately the work was nearly over for the day, and five workman, engaged at different parts of the mine escaped by the “blind” pit.
The appliances for pumping, the water and unwatering the mine were kept in constant operation, but the bottom was not reached until the 2nd of September when the body of the bottomer was found, and nearly four weeks elapsed before the bodies of the others were reached. The works were conducted or guided by an old plan, which is now found to be in error at least 46 fathoms, or rather the workings have been extended 46 fathoms beyond the limit shown upon the plan.
The existence of water in the old workings was well known, but it was equally well known that it lay from 25 to 30 feet above the seam being worked. Since the accident a mine has been driven to prove the actual position of the old waste. This is a very unusual accident, the displacement of at least 25 feet of material, 4′ x 10′, more or less consolidated, and could only have happened under special conditions. The salutary provisions contained in section 42 of the statute, which provided that plans of abandoned mines shall be be lodged with the Secretary of State within three months after the abandonment will in future tend to prevent such misfortunes.

And there is another entry regarding the deaths – an article from the Scotsman…

Campbeltown – Colliery Accident – Three Men Drowned – Shortly after three o’clock on Saturday afternoon a mining accident occurred at the Drumlembie Colliery, belonging to the Argyle Coal and canal Company Ltd, situated on the estate Kilkevin, in the parish of Campbeltown, by which three of the miners lost their lives. It appear that the water broke into the mine in some unexplained way from an old disused working. There were a number of men in different parts of the pit at the time, but on water being discovered to be flooding the workings they rushed to the bottom of the shaft, and succeeded in getting safely to the top, with the exception of three men named John Todd, Daniel McPhail and Neil Smith, who were unable to escape from the pit in time and were drowned. Todd and McPhail were both married, but Smith was unmarried. The bodies have not been recovered. The pit, which was flooded within about 100 feet of the surface, is being pumped as fast as possible, but it will take some time before it is cleared. One of the miners named Munro, who was among the last to leave the pit, states that he remained with Todd, one of the drowned men, waiting for the cage to descend, and that he (Munro) jumped and caught the rope as soon as the cage came down, expecting Todd to follow, but he heard the latter calling out, “Jamie, I am done; I can’t get on.” Todd was about 60 years of age. The others were young men. [Scotsman 8 July 1878]

From Scottish Mining

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 ©