Argyll Colliery Miners’ portraits by Jan Nimmo

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Portrait by Jan Nimmo of her late father, Neil Nimmo, a former Argyll Colliery worker. ©

Following on from the making of her documentary film, The Road to Drumleman, about Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, 1947-1967, Campbeltown born artist, Jan Nimmo decided to continue working on gathering images and stories related to Kintyre’s mining past. For the TRTD community exhibition that was held at Glen Scotia Distillery, Campbeltown, she created 30 portraits. These large scale pencil drawings portray some of the men who worked at Argyll Colliery, including her father, Neil Nimmo. Two women were also portrayed: Agnes Rennie, who worked as head of catering at NCB (Scotland) in Alloa. Agnes was a regular visitor to Argyll Colliery. Agnes Stewart is also portrayed. Agnes sang her father, Willie Mitchell’s song, The Road to Drumleman, for the documentary.

As part of the exhibition, framed prints of the portraits, were given to the men and women or to their families, as some of the men, sadly, have died since the portraits were made.

More portraits and photos can be viewed here.

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Francis McWhirter with a portrait of his late brother, Dennis, who once worked at Argyll Colliery Machrihanish. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Crawford Morans with his portrait at The Road to Drumleman Community exhibition at Glen Scotia Distillery, Cambeltown. Crawford worked at Argyll Colliery. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Artist, Jan Nimmo, with former Argyll Colliery face-worker, Willie McIntyre, at The Road to Drumleman exhibition. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Fatal Accident at the Coal Pit – Charles Armour

Further to the other blog post about the death of Charles Armour – here is an other extract from the Argyllshire Herald (1875) about his death.

Fatal Accident – An accident occurred in the Trodigal Coal Pit on Tuesday to one of the miners named Charles Armour, which we are sorry to say, terminated fatally on the day following, although at first serious consequences were not apprehended. It appears that while at work in the pit on Tuesday forenoon a mass of coal became detached from the roof or side of the pit and fell upon Armour crushing him severely against one of the hutches. The injured man was promptly rescued and brought to the surface. He was afterwards taken home and Dr. Cunningham sent for, however, gradually sank under the injuries, which were found to be of a very serious nature, and expired on the Wednesday forenoon. He was married and leaves a wife and five of a family.

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Extract from the Argyllshire Herald, 1875 on the death of Charles Armour, coal miner, Trodigal. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library and with thanks to Angus Martin.

Sailor’s Grave Centenary (1917-2017) – Angus Martin

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Inneans Bay, South West Kintyre, 2009. Photograph by Paul Barham ©

Exactly 20 persons, including myself and my wife Judy, were in the Inneans Bay on Saturday 6 May for a centenary memorial ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave. I had chosen that date mainly because it was a Saturday, and more people, especially those in work, would be able to come, but I later realised that it was the precise date of the body’s discovery: 6 May 1917, a Sunday.

The date on the succession of crosses erected in the bay has always been 16 May 1917, but a police report, which turned up in 1985, established that the skeletal torso was found on the shore on 6 May and buried on 12 May.

The finder was Duncan Sinclair, a young shepherd at Largiebaan and later head shepherd at Ballygroggan, and his witness statement was included with the report. This conclusively resolved the contentious issue of who had found the remains – see my Kintyre: The Hidden Past, pp. 144-45, published in 1984, the year before the police report emerged. According to Duncan, in a statement dictated to his daughter Mary, in September 1981, the burial party consisted of Machrihanish lobster-fisherman Robert Rae, whose boat took the party round to the Inneans Bay, his daughter Nelly Rae, Duncan’s sister Annie, and John MacDonald, the village police constable who had dealt with the report.

The various dates, however, are of little relevance, because the date of death, which is normally what appears on any grave memorial, will never be known. On to the previous cross, which by 2016 had fallen to bits, two small aluminium plates had been nailed, one with ‘God Knows’ engraved on it and the other with ‘16 May 1917’ on it, and these were salvaged and transferred to the new cross, thus preserving a degree of continuity.
Both that cross and its predecessor were made by Neil Brown, a Campbeltown joiner whose father, James, belonged to Drumlemble. Neil, for health reasons, was unable to attend the ceremony, but I telephoned him earlier that week to remind him of it. I asked him who had made the plates; he was unsure. After the ceremony, I was chatting to Angus Nimmo, who had come with his wife Valerie, who filmed the event, and he told me, when I described Neil, that he was actually his cousin – Angus’s mother, Bella, was a Drumlemble Brown.

The first cross Neil made was carried to the bay on 29 July 1981, by himself, son Stephen, brother-in-law George McKendrick and Teddy Lafferty (another who should have been at the event, but was unfit to go). Neil couldn’t remember when he replaced that one, but it would probably have been in the last years of the century. By my calculation, the present cross is the seventh, but there may be have another of which I am unaware. The evidence was laid out in Kintyre: The Hidden Past (pp. 145-46) and, again, in A Third Summer in Kintyre (pp. 168-74). Whatever the true number, it is clear that the average life-span of a wooden memorial on that exposed coast can’t be much more than 12 years.
The new cross is the biggest and heaviest ever erected there. It was made from durable pitch-pine salvaged from a renovation job in Campbeltown and donated by Mr Barry Colville of the local building firm, McKinven & Colville. The cross was crafted by Graham Sopp, a joiner with the firm and grandson of Mrs Elizabeth McTaggart, who took a keen interest in the memorial project from the outset and secured Graham’s involvement. Also crucially involved was Gary Anderson, a builder with McKinven & Colville and himself a keen hiker with an interest in local history. All previous crosses have been free-standing, but this one is lodged a metre into the ground and its base is protected by a bolted metal sheath and enclosed in a concrete basin. It has been further stabilised by a small cemented cairn. The cross has four coats of varnish on it, and Graham is confident of its potential for longevity.

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The maker of the new cross, Graham Sopp, attaching the plates from the previous cross prior to the ceremony on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis ©

The final work was done on 23 April, and it was work! Cement and sand, required for the first time in the history of the Sailor’s Grave, was carried out from Ballygroggan on a quad bike, by arrangement with Duncan McKinnon, head shepherd there, but the load could be taken only as far as the head of the Glen. From there, Graham, Gary, and Gary’s cousin, Steven Coffield, had to drag the bags into the bay – this after lugging the heavy cross and tools overland. When George McSporran and I arrived in the bay, early in the afternoon, the boys were almost exhausted before the work of erecting the cross had begun. Elizabeth McTaggart and her friend, Catherine Dobbie, had also gone out and were cooking over a fire on the beach in the sunshine.

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The work party at the Sailor’s Grave, before erection of new cross, 23 April 2017. L-R: Elizabeth McTaggart, Steven Coffield, Gary Anderson, Angus Martin, Graham Sopp, and George McSporran. Photograph by Cathy Dobbie ©

There was an additional monument, which I had carried out in my rucksack. This was a polished granite plaque in which Bill Armour, a monumental sculptor who lives in Campbeltown, had cut: ‘SAILOR’S GRAVE: 1917.’ The plaque was to have been incorporated in the cairn, but was too big for it. After discussion, George’s suggestion, that the plaque become a separate feature, was adopted, and Gary set it in a neat cement mount in front of the cross.

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The new cross on the Sailor’s Grave, propped in place to allow the cement to set, 23 April 2017. Photograph by George McSporran ©

The day of the ceremony was sunny and breezy, perfect for the walk out. The assembly point for most folk was the Kintyre Way car-park at Ballygroggan and we set out at 11 a.m. in a group which soon broke into smaller parties, proceeding at their own pace.
I gave the number at the ceremony as 20, but there should have been 22. Anne Leith was to have sung two songs at the graveside, her brother Alastair’s ‘The Inneans’ and Willie Mitchell’s ‘Road to Drumleman’, but near Innean Mòr sheep-fank she was so stricken with vertigo that she could go no further. She was willing to make her way back to Ballygroggan alone, but her friend, Iain McKerral, insisted on accompanying her, so, after a look at the new memorials, he left the bay before the ceremony began. Ann’s contribution would have enhanced the event and intensified its emotional impact, and she was missed.

First to arrive in the bay were Angus and Valerie Nimmo, who joined Will Slaven from Glasgow at his camp-site. Will had gone out with his tent and gear on Thursday afternoon and stayed until Sunday. He had guessed, from the date on the cross, that a memorial event might be pending, and had ’phoned and spoken to Judy, who provided the date and time. I had met Will and his brother Mick camping in the Inneans in 2006 and, camping again, with a son, almost ten years to the day of the event, on 7 May 2007. He is a devotee of the bay, its solitude and peacefulness, and recounted that, during his stay this year, as the sun sank away in the west the new cross assumed an eerie luminosity.

Last to arrive in the bay were Mike Peacock, Kenny Graham – who had already been to Largiebaan – and Alex Docherty, from Stewarton, who had left his car at Lochorodale and walked out via Killypole. I had hoped that Agnes Stewart might conduct the ceremony, but, at 80 years old, she understandably didn’t feel physically capable of getting there and back, so I did it myself.

After I had spoken on the history of the Sailor’s Grave and its past custodians, the cross was unveiled by Helen Bapty, a daughter of Stewart Hamilton, who, with his brother Malcolm, had been one of those custodians in the 1960s. Helen, who was accompanied by her husband Neil, sister Liz, and sister Margaret and her husband, Finlay Wylie, then delivered a brief personal statement, which was followed by a few impromptu words from Angus Nimmo, who had first heard of the Sailor’s Grave as a boy growing up in Drumlemble. I was grateful for the attendance of these members of mining families with a childhood connection to the place. There were three others present, Morag McLean, her brother Malcolm McMillan – their father was Kenny McMillan – and Malcolm’s son, also Malcolm.

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The ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis.

After the ceremony, I opened a bottle of Glen Scotia malt whisky, donated by Iain McAlister, distillery manager, for anyone who wished to have a celebratory nip. As it was cask-strength, some preferred a dash of water with it, and what better water than that from the spring at the foot of Cnoc Maighe, which Neil Brown piped many years ago?
So much money for the project came in that I didn’t have to fund-raise; and none of the creative participants wanted paid (but all were modestly rewarded with meal vouchers for the Ardshiel Hotel). The first, and main, donor was Alistair Thompson, who lives in Canada, but was back in Campbeltown for his mother’s 90th birthday party that night. He was one of the many who wanted to be at the ceremony, but couldn’t go. Happily, however, he was represented by his son Kenneth and partner, Anna Miccolis, two of whose photographs illustrate this article.

The other donors were: John MacDonald, Kenny Graham, Anonymous, George McSporran, John McSporran, Catherine Barbour, Jon Hooper, and Ann and Graham Baird. The total raised was £470, and, after expenses, £135 remains. I suggested at the gathering that this money could go towards a get-together later in the year in a local hotel, where an edited film of the ceremony and historic photographs could be projected in a continuous loop, both for those who were there and those who couldn’t be there.

An expanded version of this article will appear in the Kintyre Magazine No. 81 in Autumn, 2017.

Angus Martin

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

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!

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Calum McLean, Campbeltown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Old Machrihanish

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A photographic image of old Machrihanish. Courtesy of Charlie McMillan ©

This photograph of Machrihanish was brought in to one of our drop-in sessions at Campbeltown Library by Charlie McMillan, a former mechanic at Argyll Colliery. We’re not sure when it dates back to but it’s certainly the oldest photographic image I have seen of Machrihanish. The salt pans would have been just off camera to the left. I wonder if the Wimbledon Pit existed at the is time (close the where the Argyll Colliery was later to be situated) or whether there were still workings open at Kilkivan? I think it’s more probably to be pre- Wimbledon.Cameron McLellan from Machrihanish Online thinks that the photo had to be taken before 1869 as the Mission Hall had not yet been built so the photo could date from early/mid 1800’s. If anyone has any information to add contact me.

Jan Nimmo

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L-R Dougie McArthur, Charlie McMillan and Rankin MGown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Neil Munro and some memories from his daughter, Dianne Brodie

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Neil Munro – top row, fourth from the left. Photo courtesy of Dianne Brodie

My Dad (Neil Munro) worked as a coal miner from the day the pit [Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish] opened until the day it closed.

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Neil Munro and his wife, Mary Polly McGown. Photo courtesy of Dianne Brodie (nee Munro).

He was married in June 1927 to my mother Mary Polly McGown who lived at Stewarton at that time. My grandparents lived in Drumlemble.

We lived at Ashbank, right next to the pit in Machrihanish. I remember that my mum used to go down the pit to visit my dad while he was on night shift and have a cup of tea with him. We moved to Campbeltown, to the miners’ houses in Crosshill Avenue in 1950.

My father, Neil, was a golfer and was asked to represent the National Coal Board at a competition that was held in Musselburgh (I think this may have been around the late 50s). I remember he and my mother had a wonderful break and the highlight for both of them was visiting Edinburgh and seeing the floral clock!

In the winter of 1963 into the spring of 1964 my Dad was due to come off the back shift but none of the miners could get home as no buses were able to leave the town because of a heavy snowfall. As it was before the days of every home having a telephone and certainly there were no mobiles, we were at home waiting anxiously on news! My Dad ended up staying with the Gilchrist’s at Trodigal Farm, Machrihanish, as my mother had worked as the milkmaid when Mr Gilchrist Sr. had the farm. He ended up having to stay there for a whole week! I will never forget walking down Ralston Road by the Green Huts when I overheard Jackie Galbraith telling his companion the some of the miners had set off to walk the 5 miles into town but “old” Neily Munro had to stay put. I suddenly thought “My Dad is old!”. He was 60 years at the time. He was lucky that the farmer and his wife knew him well and so took good care of him.

I recall that I had to go to the Miner’s Welfare Hall one year to collect a Christmas present and I was given a wonderful turquoise and yellow sewing box full of threads etc! I can still see it in my minds eye – this beautiful cardboard box full of needles, threads of all colours and embroidery threads too!

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Neil Munro, his wife, Polly and their daughter, Dianne. Photo courtesy of Dianne Brodie ©

I wanted to tell you about the miners when they stopped having Christmas Parties and instead we were all given passes to go to the Rex Cinema to see Vanishing Prairie, a documentary which was released by Walt Disney productions in 1954 (I think I may have been about 10 when I went to see it). It was marvellous – we were given a bag of sweets, lemonade and crisps and could go back for more sweets if we needed them! I remember the cinema was packed with kids, not all miners’ children, such was the generosity of the miners and it was a case of “the more the merrier!”. Looking back, it is amazing to think that the Rex Cinema was hired for an afternoon by the miners and taken over by all those kids!

Dianne Brodie ©

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Mr Jamieson, Neil Munro, Diane Brodie (nee Munro) , Jimmy Huie and Duncan McGown. Photo: Courtesy of Dianne Brodie. ©