In the first week in March 2022, the Lost Villages held our first in-person oral history event in the Logan Church Hall. We were hosted by the wonderful people from the Lugar Heritage Centre project, one of our partners in the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership. On this trip the team were accompanied by our University of Strathclyde Work Placement Student, Billy Cassidy and also CCLP Project Officer Cynthia Bahi. We were very glad to have them along for the day.
It was cold but beautiful and sunny day in Ayrshire when we pulled in Logan to collect stories about the Lugar rows. Many of the people of Lugar were relocated to Logan when the rows were demolished.
IMAGE: Lost Villages Team in Lugar (Photograph Cynthia Bahi)
Isabel and Marion from Lugar Heritage Centre had pounded the pavements and phoned round to let local people know we were in the area for the day. We were most grateful for their efforts as we had a wonderful turn out. It was busy day and our recorders were constantly on as we listened to wonderful stories about the co-op, the Braes, women having babies, playing on the bing and much more.
IMAGE: Lugar with the Ironworks above the Front Row and Brick Row, c.1900 (Ayrshire Archives)
Our student Billy has lovely long chat with Lugar man David Murray about his life in the village and his work a miner, which we are looking forward to listening to. While Yvonne spent the afternoon with a group of women hearing their stories from the rows. Lugar Heritage’s own Marion had a chat with Cynthia about her memories.
IMAGE: Yvonne with the Lugar women (Photograph: Arthur McIvor)
People brought along some of their photos and books. We are very pleased to see a picture of the Institute and the Co-op store.
IMAGE: Lugar Co-operative shop and Institute (source: unknown)
IMAGE: Miner’s Lamps from the Lugar Heritage Centre collection
We also heard about a wee community of miners just outside of Lugar who mined a stone called Barytes. One of the woman who came along shared this picture of the miners and also samples of the white and pink stone that was mined there. It has many uses including in paints and also in medicine with x-ray technology.
IMAGES: Barytes Miner’s and two examples of pink and white stone brought along to Logan
It was great day out and we are so thankful to those who turned up to talk to us. Later this year, we plan to return to Lugar Heritage Centre to share some of the stories we heard about Lugar. Also, we will be curating the oral history into the future exhibition at the Lugar Heritage Centre. If you couldn’t make it down, then please get in touch as we can come to you directly and will be in the area again soon.
Last month the Lost Villages team came out of hibernation and visited an actual archive!
It was a dull rainy day and perfect for visiting the National Library of Scotland Moving Image archives at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. The online archive is a great resource that we regularly use in our teaching at the University of Strathclyde. Many of the films are only available onsite in the archive so we went along to view three films about mining communities in Ayrshire.
We were very excited to view our first film, Mining Village. A black and white silent film titled as a ‘Record of everyday life in a typical Ayrshire MINING VILLAGE in 1943’. The description emphasised that most of the footage was about the domestic lives of the families in the village. It felt like we had hit the jackpot and it turns out we had! Watching the film lots of the testimonies we have heard were brought to life. We don’t know which Ayrshire village was featured. There is a railway line near the back of one of the rows and looks quite near the colliery site. So similar to many of the villages!
The day started with a woman making a cheese piece, sandwich, for a miner’s lunch. Then the miners were filmed heading out the village to the nearby by colliery. Most of the day in the village was spent with the women at work. The film showed one of the essential daily jobs in the villages: collecting water. A woman was shown pumping water from the famous lion headed spout or ‘spoot’ (also spicket) filling one of her many buckets of water for the day. It was wonderful to see this in action after hearing so many accounts of these pumps. Four women were filmed working together to clean the sewer which ran past the front of the houses. The women were all wearing their peenies (pinafores/aprons) to do their work. An interesting sequence showed a smartly dressed woman on a bicycle visiting the houses, we wondered if this was perhaps a nurse or health visitor as she didn’t seem like a casual visitor.
The interior shots inside the row houses were dark and the quality of the footage was poor. The hearth with the large stove could be made out and this dominated the main room. The miner comes home from the morning shift, he is covered in coal dust and speaks to the camera: if only we could hear his voice. His dinner is served to him, which seems to consist of mainly potato and perhaps neeps (turnips). We thought it was interesting that he didn’t wash before he ate. Once he finished his meal, he then washed himself in an enamel basin that his wife has filled with hot steaming water. The woman then emptied the water and cleaned the floor. The division of labour is very striking in this sequence. The wife and an older woman, possibly her mother, are shown washing the dishes together in a basin, then she take the larger pans outside and washed them at the open sewer. There is no sink used in this whole process.
We then saw the miners enjoying some leisure time. The men played a game where they threw some disks into the mud to land near a marker stone, possibly Quoits? And of course, the doos, or pigeons, which was a popular pastime in many mining communities.
Moving onto our next film made by the Church of Scotland Missionaries, called The Missionaries dated c.1930s. This had the most extraordinary footage of the village of Darnconner in the 1930s. It appeared that a good portion of the village was rubble. We know that many Darnconner residents were moved out during the 1930s and the final row demolished in 1940. It appears that the mining families were living on a half derelict site. There was wonderful images of the children in the street and the women looking out from their doorsteps. The next sequence is of a new mining village in Allanton, Lanarkshire. The contrast is stark. Wide roads, streetlights, cars and buses. The houses are largely two storey semi-detached with gardens. A totally different quality of life to the dark, brick rows of Darnconner where the only traffic was the chickens roaming about in the mud.
This image shows the village of Darnconner, reputedly with the last resident. Date unknown: possibly early to mid-1930s
Our final film for the afternoon was what appeared to be some family footage entitled, Waterside and district, date estimated to be between 1935-1940. The villagers of Lethanhill are shown congregating on the grass in front of the World War One monument. It is mostly the women, all dressed in their best hats and coats. It seems to be some sort of event and they are shown drinking tea and socialising. What is striking about this footage is how clear it is, the quality is very good. We could really see these women and some men enjoying their afternoon, again, if only we could have heard their voices. The next sequenced was of a parade down in Waterside, with the Dunaskin chimneys in the background. The Dunaskin Band, still going strong today, lead the way with the Boys Brigade and Girl Guides prominent in this community event.
As always, film can really bring history to life, in the same way that hearing someone’s story is not the same as reading it. To see the daily lives of the mining communities in action was wonderful. All the films were silent. Every time someone spoke to the camera, you longed to hear what they were saying: to hear their voices. We hope to share these films at some point with the local communities so we will keep your posted!
If you can tell us anything about these films or have family stories from the villages we would love to hear them. See our Get Involved page
The Lost Villages team were kindly invited to Dalmellington by Councillor Drew Filson to watch a video of the 2011 Reunion for the village of Benwhat. Looking through the local newspapers, there have often been articles on reunions for these lost mining villages.
IMAGE: The Benwhat Reunion 2011 Screening, October 2021 at Dalmellington Community Centre(Image reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden)
In 2010, Drew Filson contacted Fiona Lees, CEO of East Ayrshire Council at the time. to request the railings around the War Memorial be renewed. The railings had been damaged by the local population of Benwhat today, the cows, who had been using them as their favourite scratching post! The railings were beautifully restored with replica fleur de lis ironwork in a foundry in Fife and Councillor Filson, whose dad came from Benwhat, thought this would be a good time to organise a Benwhat reunion.
IMAGE: Benwhat Memorial. 2021 (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
The exposed hillside village is almost completely flattened and all that significantly remains is the War Memorial above the village and some of the ‘new’ school. With the loss of the footprint of the village, the War Memorial is a focal point for those who climb up to the village. Jutting out on the hillside, the granite obelisk is assertive indication that there once was a community who commemorated and cherished their fallen sons, brothers, and fathers. And latterly, for the people whose families came from the hill, it is a marker of their heritage and history. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot to remember not only the fallen soldiers but also those who once lived in this remote, thriving community. A strong sense of place and belonging is still evident decades after the village was emptied. There are memorial benches scattered across the hillside and some villagers ask for their ashes scatter on their site of their old home.
IMAGE: Councillor Drew Filson and his family at the memorial bench placed at his grandparents Benwhat home where their ashes are scattered. 2018 (Image reproduced with permission from Drew Filson
The video created from Councillor Filson’s photographs and with the editing skills of Walter McCrae shows the amount of preparation and time that went into planning the reunion. The commitment and the real sense of pulling together to make this happen was evident from the video. Ahead of the event, a team worked into the fading summer evening to haul the equipment up the hill, cut the grass and erect the marquee. Scottish Coal filled the potholes to allow the local bus company to get the elderly villagers two miles up the steep hill to the their village. One man, Robin Farell signed himself out of hospital to make that last trip up Benwhat. It was quite emotional watching all the smiling faces being piped off the bus to the event, as Councillor Filson commented on who was sadly no longer with us. As oral historians, it is one of the most poignant and difficult things about working on projects that go back so far that many stories are already lost and pressing sense of urgency that we need to capture these histories quickly before that wonderful living memory is gone. While at the same time, many narrators express in their recordings that they feel a sense of legacy and for their families it means they have their story for generations to come.
IMAGE: The participants of the Benwhat Reunion being piped off the bus to the marquee, 2011 (Image reproduced with permission from Drew Filson)
The combination of the music and the images of these Benwhatonians climbing the steep hill to then bow their heads in silence for what once was and all those that were now gone was moving to watch. However, the laughter, the buzz of the day was clear from the pictures. Councillor Filson’s own father and uncle, twins who grew up in the village, took part in the day and are also no longer with us. The memory of this day, the stories that were shared there with generations of families whose fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers makes this video special. The story of the snow covering the houses so that you had to dig your way out your front door. The playing of the Dalmellington Silver Band in memory of the now gone Benwhat band. The woman who brought up a child’s potty to make everyone laugh about the outhouses, now no longer standing. Middleton Park, the baker, who made a cake of the village with the words: ‘Brick and mortar may be gone, but Benwhat’s spirit lingers on’.
IMAGE: Cake of Benwhat for the reunion, baked by Middleton Park who sadly passed away recently, 2011 (Image reproduced with permission from Drew Filson)
The event seemed like a wonderful day for all who attended and those who worked hard to organise access to such a challenging site. Councillor Filson has kindly offered to put us in touch with some of the people from the video and we look forward to arranging an event in future that can once again bring together villagers and their families to share stories about life in the village of Benwhat.
IMAGE: Painting of Benwhat on the front cover of the DVD case.
Dalmellington Community Remembrance Day, 2018
The second video Councillor Filson showed us for around the Dalmellington Community Remembrance Day event for the centenary of the First World War in 2018. The first sequence shows all the meetings and preparations that went into the event. The focal point was the elegant Tommies designed by the people behind the Tower of London poppy installation. Councillor Filson had the fantastic idea to getting a steam train from Doon Valley Railway up the track towards the village to blow the whistle as a powerful reminder that the last thing many of these men heard as they left their loved ones of the whistle of the train. Again, the community resources, time, work and volunteers that created this event was remarkable. You get a real sense of Dalmellington as a community who wants to remember and keep alive the history of their village and the Doon Valley. The wonderful research of the Dalmellington History Group to uncover more about the soldiers listed on the local war memorials. The video included a list of those who had lost their lives in the major battles which must have been devastating to their families and the village to lose so many at once.
IMAGE: Front cover of Dalmellington Parish Remembers
After the Remembrance Day event the Dalmellington Silver Band band played in the Dalmellington Community Centre where thousands of poppies fell from the ceiling (expertly rig up with cabbage netting). The school children did a fantastic job reading out the names of the fallen. The detail and effort that went into this memorial was wonderful to see.
Finally, we see Councillor Filson and his family hauling one of the Tommy’s up the steep 2 mile hill to its resting place at the war memorial in our lost village of Benwhat. While the Tommy himself was fairly manageable, the concrete block took at tremendous amount of effort. Once installed up the hill, there is a wonderful picture of Councillor Filson with his children and grandson at the memorial. It was a lovely reminder that history is generational and something which helps us feel connected to the past and as long as these stories from our grandmothers and grandfather, mothers and fathers are told then they live on for generations to come.
IMAGES: Councillor Filson and with his family and friend carrying the Tommy up to Benwhat 2018, (Images reproduced with permission of Drew Filson)
IMAGE: Councillor Drew Filson with the Tommy at Benwhat Memorial 2021 (Image reproduced with permission from Drew Filson)
If you took part in the any of the Benwhat reunions, we would love to hear from you. Whether you were a Benwhatonian yourself or your family have stories handed down about life in the village, please get in touchand help us preserve the memory of this Lost Village.
You can find out more about the history of Benwhat here
At the beginning of September, our researcher Dr Yvonne McFadden took a trip up to the hills above Patna to visit the site of the villages of Burnfoothill and Lethanhill.
Before ascending up the bumpy road to the villages, I spotted a plaque at the turn off from the A713 outside Patna. A good sign I was on the right track to the ‘Hill.
IMAGE: Plaque off the A713 marking the road up to Lethanhill and Burnfoothhill (reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden)
It was a damp and cloudy morning, but the rain stayed off. Parking amongst the sheep at the old schoolhouse, now a private residence, I walked up towards the crossroads to find a marker commemorating the villages.
IMAGE: Stone marker at the Cross roads to commemorate those who lived in the villages of Lethanhill and Burnfoothill. (reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden)
To the left, there were no remains left of the old Ponessan Row that made up Burnfoothill.
A very short walk away, I could see the tree plantation that now covers the site of the village of Lethanhill. You get a real sense of how close these two villages were. From the road, the World War One monument was the only visible indication that there once was a village amongst the trees, grass and cows.
IMAGES: Reproduced with permission of Yvonne McFadden
Armed with the excellent National Library of Scotland georeferenced historic maps on my phone and a fantastic map from Ayrshire.org below, I entered the village at the back of ‘Laight Raw’.
It was so quiet in amongst the trees and at first it seemed like all signs that this was once a large mining village with around 152 houses were now gone. Then bit by bit, I began to find signs of villages life. Under the roots of one tree was a pile of coal, red bricks began to pop out amongst the greenery. The further I walked more of the village was revealed.
IMAGE: Pile of coal under the roots of a tree. ( Reproduced with permission of Yvonne McFadden)
When I spotted my first outhouse I was very excited but little did I know that they were the main remnants still standing throughout the whole village. It seems odd to knock down the rows but not the outhouses, a job too far for the demolition crew perhaps!
IMAGE Reproduced with permission of Yvonne McFadden
I walked up the rear of the Step Row. The remains of the sculleries were easy to identify. From the outlines of the front wall to the wall of scullery, you got a sense of how small the living spaces were. There was a moment when I got carried away after I found a scullery with a concrete floor. In an oral testimony donated to the project, we have a description of the company ‘doing up’ the house of the village maintenance joiner, John Sim. Part of this was adding a concrete base to the scullery. However, once I got back down the hill and checked out the testimony, it turns out the Sims lived in the Laight Row. Someone else must have had their house improved as well.
All images reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden
As I walked up the gardens of the Step Row, every now and then a pail would be lying at the back of the house. Other items found were cups, bottles and even some painted crockery.
At the end of the Step Row, there were some fairly well-preserved buildings that came out at an angle from the row. The door was to the side rather than to the rear. Looking at the map, this appears to be the village store at the edge of the village square. All the other housing remains appeared to have a large stone base with then two layers of brick walls. While this had a concrete roof and was roughcast. If any former residents are reading this, do you know what this building was?
IMAGE: Could this be the village store at the top of Step Row?(reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden)
Outside the plantation, near the cows, was a lovely white marker, saying ‘Long Live the Hill’.
IMAGE: Long Live the Hill memorial stone (reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden)
Standing at the village square and looking at towards the edge of the plantation, it struck me how big this village once was. I walked across and heading down towards what I think was the Auld School House Row and there I found it! The best-preserved toilet in the village! The hinge of the door was even lying on the ground next to the building. I say toilet but going inside here you get a real sense of how basic the living conditions were.
And judging by the smell I think it still fulfils its function as a facility for the visitors who had left some bottles and cans dotted about the place.
Not far from the outhouse I came across a scullery with its rear wall intact. You could see the metal brackets in the wall that supported the sink with the hole for the outflow just underneath.
IMAGE: Rear wall of scullery with hole for sink outlet visible. Inside two brackets at either side of the whole about the width of a sink (reproduced with permission from Yvonne McFadden)
There was little evidence of pipes throughout the whole site, though there was lots of corrugated iron strewn about. As I made my way to the front of the village to the Laight Row, which hard to find when I first entered the village despite it being the longest run of houses. The houses to the far edge were clearly visible with some windows and door openings intact.
For me, the visit brought to life some of the stories I had heard about how isolated the villages were and the size of the kitchens and sculleries. As I stood at the sink brackets in the scullery – imagining a woman standing doing the dishes or a man washing off the pit dust – it reminded me of when I was a wee girl and used to visit historical sites and wondering who lived here and what was their lives like. In that moment I felt incredibly privileged and lucky to be hearing stories of what it was like to live in this village I was standing in and to be part of preserving these stories for future generations.
If this site visit has reminded you of stories about any of our Lost Villages please get in touch here
Also, you can find out more about this history of Lethanhill and Burnfoothill on our website here
Local councillor Drew Filson has a deep, emotional attachment to the ‘lost village’ of Benwhat (sometimes referred to as Benquhat). His father was born there, and lived there until he was 19. Drew’s father’s and mother’s ashes are scattered on the site of his grand-parents home up on the hill overlooking Dalmellington and the beautiful Doon Valley.
CLLR DREW FILSON AT THE MEMORIAL BENCH OF HIS GRAND-PARENTS BENWHAT HOME WHERE THEIR ASHES ARE SCATTERED (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
Drew has a profound personal attachment to Benwhat and is a prominent activist in the long campaign to preserve its history and heritage and to make the story of Benwhat accessible to a wider audience. He organised a major reunion of surviving residents who he arranged to be bused up to the site a decade ago in 2011, which included his late father. They were entertained in a marquee, guided across the ruins of the village and the old school, with passionate memories stimulated by the prompt of the tolling of the original school bell, lovingly rescued and in Drew’s possession. This has all been captured in film. More recently Drew and his two sons, son-in-law and grandson hauled by hand a life-size metal Tommy silhouette sculpture, together with a 3×2 concrete base, right up the hill above the village to the First World War monument (erected a century ago in 1921, commemorating the 22 villagers that lost their lives in the war). It now sits resplendent within the railings that Drew arranged to renovate with the help of East Ayrshire Council.
BENWHAT FIRST WORLD WAR MONUMENT (ERECTED 1921), WITH THE TOMMY SILHOUETTE STATUE (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
Drew generously devoted the day to taking me on the long hike from Dalmellington to Benwhat, along the way sharing his deep and intimate local knowledge of the social and cultural history of the village. Benwhat was demolished (1952) after most of the final residents, some 460, were decanted in 1951, mostly to council housing in Bellsbank, near Dalmellington. And there are few physical remains on site beyond the footprint of the miners’ rows, some walls of the ‘new’ school and the war memorial. Next to the school you can still see clearly the football field where the Benwhat Heatherbell team played.
LAST REMNANTS OF THE BENWHAT MINERS’ ROWS (LAIGHT ROW) (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
THE REMAINS OF THE ‘NEW’ BENWHAT SCHOOL (built 1926) (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
There is rather more left of the buildings in the nearby settlement of Corbie Craigs, where there were ten miners’ houses. You can make out the single 20 feet by 12 feet rooms, the scullery to the rear and the outhouses, which have been better protected from the ravages of time by their concrete roofs.
CORBIE CRAIGS MINERS’ HOUSES (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
Drew commented on the many Benwhat ex-residents who have contacted him to arrange a return to the village to scatter their relative’s ashes. The visitors ‘book’, retained under a seat as you enter the village site, includes many emotional comments of returning to the village, to see where they or their loved ones once lived and worked. The book was the idea of Drew’s cousin Scott Filson when he, William McCluskey and the late Bill Rowan erected the Benwhat stone (see the final image below) as you enter the site. Glancing through the hand-written entries made me think of just how much meaning and significance Benwhat had for its former residents and their children. This also comes through the wonderful evocative autobiography of Alice Wallace, Benquhat – Then What, who was born in the village in 1946. Clearly the place was cherished and attachments persisted over time. There is some nostalgia here, but it goes beyond that. Whilst the living conditions in the rows were cramped and notoriously poor, there was a way of life associated with community spirit, camaraderie, independence and freedom, in villages like Benwhat in its heyday that is lost today in our more busy and consumerist existence. Perhaps the lives lived within this working class culture was better? We can learn much from rediscovering and preserving tangible and intangible evidence of it, such as the stories of residents and their children. Poignantly, dotted across the sites of the now disappeared miners’ rows are plaques and a couple of benches (including one for Drew’s mother-in-law’s Kirk family home) memorialising past residents who lived in the village.