Memories of Archie McGeachy, shotfirer, and of Drumlemble by Betty McSporran

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Archie McGeachy, shot-firer at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Betty McSporran ©

My Dad, Archie McGeachy, was born on 11th September 1924. As we grew up, Dad often spoke in detail about his times at the coal mine in Machrihanish and of the camaraderie between the men. He worked as a shot firer.

There were mine shafts which extended to the Aros Farm, north of Machrihanish, and out under the sea. I recall there was actually flooding in the mine before the fires [and total extraction] eventually closed it down.

One of the things I remember is my Mum and aunts talking about the time a Clydesdale horse was turned out into the field, above Coalhill, between there and Trochoillean Farm. In the morning it had fallen down a hole which appeared in the field. The horse was called Jacopa (I hope that is the correct spelling of its name). It was a sore loss to the farmer concerned.

In the heavy snowfall of February 1963 my Dad and I got stranded at Westport cottage and spent from the Tuesday till the Friday with a retired teacher, Miss McDougall, and her brother. There was quite a number of us including two policemen who divided all of us into two groups and the remainder went to Low Balevain Farm to enjoy the hospitality of the Binnie family. Drifts were above the Telegraph poles but Mr Binnie walked through the snow every day bringing baking, milk and potatoes to help feed us. We had the Jacobs Biscuits traveller with us too but his only samples were coconut mallows to help supplement our diet. I have never been able to eat one from that day till this! Hughie Anderson from Machrihanish was stranded as well. He drove the pit lorry and it was loaded with coal. Craig’s coal lorry was stranded likewise. Miss McDougall’s coal bunker was well filled .

Hughie, Dad and I set off on the Friday and walked the shore line to the Backs Water where we parted company. Dad and I stopped off at West Trodigal farm where Mrs Armour fed us with a bowl of homemade soup. We then stopped off at the miners’ canteen at Argyll Colliery where Dad bought some cigarettes – he hadn’t smoked for days. When we reached home we had to call the police station and let them know that we had made it! The  Campbeltown Courier reported the story. I was the only female stranded but they obviously thought I didn’t merit consideration as they made no mention of that fact. I may add that I was the only person who went back in person to thank Miss McDougall. Dad and I were so grateful and felt we were lucky to be alive as we wouldn’t have stood a chance against the snow.

I remember playing in the houses in Drumlemble that ran along from the hall to where the bus shelter now stands. The roofs were off the houses by then and the windows were covered by corrugated iron. The side row houses’ ruins were really only an outline of where the houses had been, as were the ruins next to Coalhill cottage. On the left hand side down the side row there were a few allotments and some had wee sheds standing on them.

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Postcard of Drumlemble Main Street showing the now demolished miners’ houses on the RHS. Courtesy of Charlie McMillan.

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Drumlemble Mission Hall, now a private residence, and where a row of miners’ houses used to stand on the Campbeltown – Machrihanish road. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

There was a miners’ bus transporting the men from town out to the pit at Machrihanish to suit the shift times. We used to walk from Drumlemble to Campbeltown on a Sunday and catch a lift home with the miners’ bus.

Miners’ gala days and Christmas parties were always so exciting for us as we grew up. The Miners’ Welfare Hall in Bolgam Street in Campbeltown was where the parties were held. The picnics were huge family outings and are well remembered for such happy times.

My Dad developed a lung disorder due to the coal dust and spent a year in the sanatorium in Oban due to that. He was never able to do mine work after that and actually never able to do any manual work. He passed away as a young man aged 43 on 8th January 1968.

In 1982, when part of the playing field collapsed in Drumlemble, the whole of Rhudal cottages were decanted but the four houses in Burnbank were left. We were literally over the fence from this gaping hole. My brother, Leslie, worked with McFadyen Contractors then and he had a Coal Board official on the bucket of his JCB, with arm extended, in the shaft that ran between numbers 19 and 30 Rhudal cottages. I also recall where a mound appeared further along the playing field and the water spouted out of it like a fountain. Many years later the National Coal Board had to backfill underneath the self same Burnbank homes as one of the houses was sinking.

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Katrina, Cameron, Betty McSporran (née McGeachy), Betty’s sister, Margaret Blaylock and Alice McMurchy. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The bard of Kintyre is an ancestor of ours (James McMurchy). Interestingly enough his art has passed down through the generations. I myself have been published on six occasions and have written some lyrics for songs. At present I am working with Charlie McMillan who had written a pipe tune and I have added the words. We are at present in the process of trying to get it recorded to a CD. My brother, Leslie McGeachy, and my sister, Margaret Blaylock, are both prolific in the poetry genre as well.

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Leslie McGeachy , Betty’s brother, and Debbie. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 

 

 

 

 

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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Roberta Lafferty remembers her father, Willie Mitchell.

My father, Willie Mitchell, who was a painter, decorator and sign writer was employed by the N.C.B. as a painter and sign writer at Argyll Colliery. I believe it would be in the 1950s and 60s. The family joke, when he would tell us he was going down the pit, was that he was painting the coal black. My father left the pit when it closed in 1967 and went to work for the M.O.D. at RAF Machrihanish until he retired in 1972.

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Willie Mitchell, left, worked as a painter at Argyll Collier, Machrihanish. Photo courtesy of Roberta Lafferty (née Mitchell) ©

When the coal was being delivered to my mother, Agnes, she always had the delivery men in for a cup of tea; Alex Mason, Neil McIvor – the other person’s name escapes me.

At one point my father was asked to go to the Sailors Grave at Inneans Bay, to paint the cross and I remember him saying it had been a great day out and that he had been privileged.

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L-R: Douglas McMillan, Malcolm McMillan, Kenny McMillan, Charlie Morrison, Donald McPhee and John McPhee, Inneans Bay (South West coast of Kintyre), at the Sailor’s Grave. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family. ©

My brother, who was also called William Mitchell, was employed by the N.C.B. at Argyll Colliery from 1953 to 1956, when he left to join the RAF. While with the N.C.B. he attended various classes at Dungavel, in South Lanarkshire, gaining qualifications which were to his advantage.

I attended picnics and parties, all courtesy of the miners, and I was allowed to bring a friend along. It seems tame in comparison to things they do today but they were really wonderful days out for all who were involved.

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Roberta Lafferty, Pat McIntyre, Jeanette ?, Alison Kelly, Janet McShannon. c.1955. Photo courtesy of Roberta Lafferty (née Michell) ©

Roberta Lafferty, April 2017

 

Nannette Campbell (née Martin) remembers her father, Robert Bell Martin

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Robert Martin. Cross stitch embroidery by Karen Forbes (née Hunter). Courtesy of Nanette Campbell.

I remember Dad going away early in the morning to his work at the mine.  He seemed to enjoy his work and got on well with the men he worked with. He was a coalface worker at Argyll Colliery and worked there until it closed. His employee number was 65.

I remember that in the winter of 1963 he had to walk in from the pit with lots of other miners, because the Machrihanish road was blocked after a heavy snowfall. When he came home he was was still black as he hadn’t had a shower and there were icicles in his hair.

My Dad met my Mum, Mary Scott, at Crossiebeg Farm, near Campbeltown, on the east coast of Kintyre. Dad was a farm labourer at that time and Mum was a dairy maid.

They married and had six of a family: Margaret, Charles, Katrina, Nanette, Douglas and Patricia. My Mum and Dad also had a wee baby girl who was still born after Charles, but she was a big part of our family and Mum and Dad often talked about her. We just knew her as Baby Martin.

We lived in Davaar Avenue, Campbeltown, in one of the miners’ houses, and had lots of neighbours who were also miners; George McMillan, Neil Nimmo, Kynamp – John Anderson, Gus McDonald, Mucca’phee – Donald McPhee.

We had good times at Miners’ Gala Days… good times – I went to two or three.  We went on the bus to Southend – there were races, and rounders and we played games on the beach and had a picnic.

Nannette Campbell

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Nannette with Robert’s great grandsons, Alexander, Robert, Kelvin and Riley with a portrait of Robert Martin. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Neil Munro at the Backs Water

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Neil Munro, miner at Argyll Colliery, fishing at the Backs Water (Machrihanish Water), a burn that runs along the north march of where the mine was once situated – now the Machrihanish Holiday Park. Photo courtesy of Dianne Brodie (née Munro) ©

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