Stories from the Rows – Thanks for coming along!

From August to November of this year, the Lost Villages project team hosted a series of events as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022. The events were held in community centres across East Ayrshire, including Auchinleck, Dalmellington, Lugar and Muirkirk, as well as a special online event. These open events gave us the chance to share stories from the project with over a hundred local people, as well as gather more memories of the miners’ row villages.  

At each event, we shared a film edited by Dr Yvonne McFadden featuring oral history interviews from the project so far, as well National Library of Scotland Moving Images archive footage of the former mining villages which were cleared in the mid-twentieth century.

Attendees also heard Dr McFadden discuss the project, and had the opportunity to share their own memories of the former mining villages in writing on a memory board. We also had a memory booth, where people recorded their stories with one of our researchers. 

Groups of people seated around tables in a hall facing a large screen with a female speaker addressing them.

Image: Dr Yvonne McFadden discusses the project in Auchinleck

At the Dalmellington, Muirkirk and online events, attendees also had the chance to enjoy music from local singer-songwriter Seán Gray, and poetry from Ayrshire-based poet and former miner Rab Wilson. Seán and Rab have been collaborating on work relating to the history of Ayrshire and the mining villages, and it was brilliant to hear these works performed.

Man standing in next to an image performing

Image: Rab Wilson reading his poetry in Muirkirk

Image Attendees in Dalmellington enjoying Seán Gray’s song ‘The Great Stariski’, a work adapted from Rab Wilson’s poem of the same name about the legend of Johnny Stariski, who performed a handstand at the top of the Barony Colliery near Auchinleck

Many of those who attended brought along their own stories and memories of the villages. We spoke with members of the last family to leave the High Houses Row in Auchinleck, and one attendee even brought along a list with names of everyone who lived in the Grasshill Row and White’s Row in Glenbuck.

Image: A copy of the Glenbuck Co-operative balance sheet, brought along by Billy Burns. This was just one of the many treasures attendees shared with us at our events. 

Dr Yvonne McFadden said “These events have been wonderful and the feedback from the communities has been really positive. We were delighted to share the archive footage with everyone. From these events, we’ve gathered new oral histories from those who lived in the villages.

“We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who came along and got involved!”

If you have a story about the miners’ row villages you’d like to share, or would like to find out more about the project, please get in touch! Email

This event has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. This fund is being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.  

Also, thank you to the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership for their continuing support and the National Library of Scotland, Moving Images archive for their help with the archive footage.  

Transcripts for the Year of Stories film

Film Extracts – Transcripts

Piece Tin

An’ your, your, your, eh…your piece, come piece, [Chuckles] it was shaped like a plain breid, it was shaped like a Scottish loaf! An’ you hed a tin, an’ your mum fillt, your mother filled it wi’ tea, an’ your sugar an’ put a soak [sock], put it in a [laughing] soak [sock] tae keep the water off! [laughing] An’ it would ay end up cauld! [Laughing]

Pugs and Washing

We’d put the washing oot on the line, all right doon the row. Lovely, white nappies, right doon the row. An’ then the tug would come along the Waterside, do you ken what the tug is?

It was a shuttle train.

An’ it would come along the line an’ stop just at the back o’ the pit an’ I don’t know what the hell it blew but they blew something an’ w’or washin’ was all spotted wi’ soot!

So, we’d t’ tak it all in an’ wash it again! We kicked up hell about that but it did nae work! Naebody listened.

So, we’d just t’ keep going. Bring, put the worst o’ them in, back into the washin’. [Chuckles] Shouted our faces off fer weeks but nah, naebody listened!

The Spoot or Pump

You see, down at the end of the rows, that’s where the water was and it wasn’t even a tap that you turned on, it was a pump! An’ the women had to get their pails, two at a time, right, up there, pump the water into the pails and carry them back up to the house, two at a time, and back down with another two so it took them a while to stock up the water for the needs for the day! I mean, they’d have to go back down later and get some more fresh water but this water was fed from the hillside. It was, sort a, routed down wi’ a pipe to this pump, and the women had to pump it there to get the water. So, it was only cold water, carried up to the house and that’s where they had t’ use this stone sink. […]

out the back door an’ there was a, a trough that went down. It was made of bricks, I can remember that. Er, and you threw your dirty water into that an’ the rainwater flushed it away so, that’s what happened to your dirty water. Aye.

Wash House

Now, the procedure for the washhouse is, there’s a huge cast bowl and the housewife whose turn it is to do the washing, goes round about four o’ clock in the morning and light the fire so the water in this cast iron tub is going to be hot enough to do her washing. It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like, if it’s your turn for the washing you’ve got to do it this week or you can’t do it until next week! So, these were communal. So, you can see that this is a community…

Having a Baby

Aye, apparently, when I was born, er, the women went to their bed for ten days to a fortnight and that was their, sort of, ante natal care and their neighbours came in and helped an’ the nurse was coming up every day to see that things were OK an’ Mrs McBride, that stayed at the other side, had came in an’ my Mum never liked margarine, she liked butter. She hated margarine an’ would nae eat it kinda style! If she’d nothing else, she would just spread it on so thin that you didnae get the taste. But she loved butter and she would have it as thick as she could but it was on ration, you see? Now Mrs McBride had a bigger family and she’d more butter in the house so she came in with a wee tray an’ a nice wee cloth over it an’ a cup o’ tea and a plate wi’ just bread and butter but nice thick butter! “Here you are, Sadie, I thought you would like that!” And my Mum says, “Oh, my God, that’s lovely! Oh, that’s good!” She said, “I never enjoyed anything as much that day!” It was just that nice that somebody came in wi’ that, something that she liked. An’ she was so happy! An’ she talked about that afterwards. I mean, that was a nice thing.’

Pit Baths

Pennyvennie. Everybody had, you’d that many different kind of folk an’ na, comedians, different natures an’ it was really a great pit t’ work in! We were all, you knew everybody in it! An’ you [Chuckles] [Pause] You’d mebbe be, when you come up frae the pit, as I say, you just put a towel roond aboot you an’ went into the shower an’ somebody would say t’ you, “Harry, will you wash ma back?” Well, as I say, the fella that worked on the coalface, they were, like, black lead so they always had tae get somebody tae wash their back, but you’d step oot an’ somebody would hae a hose at you! [Laughs along with AM] But the, no, they were a great bunch o’ men! I [Pause], oh…I get emotional when I’m talking aboot some o’ them

Washing At Home

Att that time at the pits, there was nae baths or anything at the pits, the men had t’ come home an’ wash when they come home. An’, er, an’ the boiler was always on for hot water for them when they come home.

Women’s Lives in the Villages

  1. Themanwastheheado’thefamilyan’thewife,magrannyferinstance,who came from Lanarkshire, a mining place, an’, er, they’d no life whatsoever! All they had, ma memories, were all they had was – cooking; washing…dirty pit clothes; drying them round the fire an’ the place was steamin’, of course, because they came hame very wet sometimes; an’ having kids! An’ that’s, that’s ma assumption.
  2. Och,therewerenaesocialsuponthe‘hill!They’retoobusyworkin’!Therelife was a trudge. ‘Cause it was the, trying to keep the house clean wi’ the coal fires an’ trying t’ keep a washing goin’ an’ make food – their life was really nothing.

Women Supporting Each Other

An’ they always helped one another out. I mean, they would say “Mrs so-and-so up there, you ken, he’s not at his work yet, no, it’s a shame!” And they were all making pancakes and stuff and handing them in. They always helped their neighbours because they knew what the position was and it could happen to them just the same. They were very good at looking after one another.


But my mother said the kindness in the rows at that time when a baby, if somebody was in labour. One neighbour would be making a pot o’ soup! Another un would take the weans in! Er, you know, they all helped!

Pitch and Toss
what kind of things did the men do when they weren’t working?

When they weren’t working. Oh, they would go to the pub and have a drink an’…play pitch and toss! That’s a, do you ken what that is?

YM: What is that?
Pitch and toss?
YM: Aye.
Throw a penny or that up in the air an’ say heads or tails when it hits the ground. YM: Ah, right.

Right? [all laugh] YM: Aye!
That’s pitch and toss.

Pigeons or the Doos

The days when they had pigeon racing on the ‘hill [pause] and, I don’t know if you know, understand pigeon racing. You don’t actually race pigeons at all! You put a little, rubber ring onto its leg. [Pause] When the pigeon comes home, to its own loft, you take that rubber ring off off its leg and it goes into a thing a bit like a thimble and then it goes into a timing clock, you turn the handle and it stamps the time and it’s only when that handle is stamped, has your pigeon arrived. [Pause] Now, on the ‘hill, they had only one pigeon clock for the seventeen or eighteen members who raced pigeons so, all the wee boys who could run fast, were given a thruppence or something by the pigeon fanciers so that when they timed a pigeon, they gave the ring to the wee boy, who would run like stink to wherever the clock was kept and it was, it was then timed in! So, even if you knew nothing about pigeons or cared nothing, for that thruppence you were prepared to run your, your hardest on the ‘hill t’, t’ time in the pigeons.

Darconner Footage – leaving the villages

So, so, the, killing the pit killed the village really an’, you know, the village population just steadily declined an’, you know, row after row of houses got demolished as people moved away; and the hardcore were left, er, to be moved in 1954. And they moved us all to one street in Glenbuck, in Muirkirk.

Life in Lethanhill

  1. Aye,well,Iwashappy.Everyonewashealthy.Abitcarewornattimesbutitwas a guid life. I mean, everybody knew everybody. And everybody helped everybody. But, eh, if one was in bother, well, trou, some trouble or other an’ the rest o’ them would, like, go to help. A very close community.
  2. Well,asIsay,itwasahappylifeupthere.Everybody,asIsaid,everybodytook part in everything an’, wi everything that was goin’ on an’ we used t’ have sports and that for the young folk and in the summertime, there were many different things. An’ there was a village hall. There was a village hall up by where the war memorial is. Going up past that, there was a village hall up there. They used t’ have dances an’ that in there sometimes for the, all the families an’ all that went t’ them, to them an’ that. […]It was a great place to stay. Lethanhill and Burnfoothill. Everybody helped one another

Glenbuck revisited

Bill Shankly – footballing legend and Glenbuck’s most celebrated son – once noted that the mining village he called home felt akin to ‘outer Mongolia’ in the long dark Ayrshire winters. On Friday the 2nd of September, 109 years to the day Shankly was born, our team of researchers from the Scottish Oral History Centre, former residents and local councillors were much more fortunate with the weather. Under sun-split Ayrshire skies, we were taken on a tour of the Glenbuck memorial site by former residents Sam Purdie and Barbara Alexander (who also happens to be Bill Shankly’s niece), both of whom kindly shared stories of life in the miners’ rows. 

Man with a walking stick standing on some pathways surrounded by green grass and hills.

IMAGE: Sam looking out over the memorial site

These days, the Glenbuck memorial site which opened in 2019 is only accessible by car from the A70. However, as Sam told us, in the early 20th century, three different railways ran through Glenbuck, transporting goods and people to and from the busy mining village. While the import and export of industrial labour and products were the source of many of these journeys, people also came for leisure. In particular, many came to play with the local football team, the Glenbuck Cherrypickers, who held matches on a stretch of land behind the Monkey Row. As Sam recalled, visiting teams (and the referee) often had to sprint over the hill to make it on the train out of Glenbuck, and ‘they had to be fast if they happened to win’.

Three women standing in a rural area next to a video camera.

Image: Barbara talking to project researchers Yvonne and Kate q about her family, the Shankly’s

As well as mining, football was the village’s other great export, with an astonishing 55 professional footballers emerging from Glenbuck and going on to decorated careers all over the country. The Cherrypickers themselves were highly popular too; as Sam recounted, ‘occasionally you would find out the Cherrypickers had five right-wingers’ as spectators jumped over the rope to join in the game. The Cherrypickers disbanded in the 1930s, after the pit closed. Their former pitch is now an empty expanse of marshy field, its former life as homeground to some of Scotland’s footballing greats demarcated by four small white posts. 

Two figure, one male and one female, looking at a field with hills in the background. A recorder is the in the foreground

Image: Barbara telling Arthur McIvor about her memories of the football pitch

black and white photo of row of houses with a church in the background. Two children are in the street and and number of people on the doorstep of the first house

Image: The Monkey Row- the family on the doorstep has been identified as the Shankly’s

Reflecting on the volume of footballing talent which emerged from Glenbuck, Barbara recalled that the sport was a chance for those who worked in the pits to take in as much fresh air as possible after days spent underground, as well as a potential escape from some the difficulties of heavy labour. But even its most well-travelled footballing heroes often returned home. During our visit, Barbara pointed out the site of the former Co-op in the village, telling us how it once held the FA Cup: after Sandy Brown and Sandy Tait won the trophy with Tottenham Hotspur in 1901, it was brought back on the train and briefly displayed in the Co-op’s window.

Barbara also recalled the texture of life for women in the village. While some later took on jobs such as seamstresses or in the service industry, most commonly women found their time occupied with the management of the home. As Barbara noted, in the case of the Shankly family, managing a home with twelve residents in a village with no running water or electricity was more than a full-time job, and making ends meet was often deeply challenging. The village was served by a butcher and some families grew vegetables, though Barbara imagined for the older generation, food may sometimes have been scarce. Barbara also remembered her time as a pupil at Cumnock Academy, which involved leaving her house in Glenbuck at 7am and returning at 6pm, further testament to the challenges and relative isolation of village life.

Two figures, one male and one female, looking a mining cart filled with stones next to a sign saying 'In Memory of the Glenbuck Miners'

Image: The mining memorial at the entrance to the site

Despite many of the hardships of life in the village, its residents found time to enjoy themselves. Some, like Barbara’s grandfather Johnny Shankly – a middle-distance runner – would walk to the picturehouse in neighbouring Muirkirk. Poignantly, Barbara and Sam both recalled the deep sense of community in the village; for many, free time involved poaching the abundant rainbow trout, partridges, hares or rabbits, which were then shared with others in the village, such as pensioners. 

Black memorial stone surrounded by red and white scarves of Liverpool football club. Hills and a cloudy sky in the background

Image: The memorial to Bill Shankly

For many years the bustle and life of Glenbuck was almost lost entirely. Opencast mining destroyed the former village’s landscape, including almost all of its architecture (save one church wall), leaving the environment resembling a ‘black moonscape’, according to Sam. Today, owing to decades of tireless campaigning by people like Barbara and Sam, memories of the village are being kept alive. The area has been transformed, and a steady stream of people travel from all over to see the site at Glenbuck each day. Visitors can read about the history of the village on information boards put together by the Scottish Mining Restoration Fund and East Ayrshire Council which have been informed by Sam’s extensive local knowledge, or pay tribute to Bill Shankly at the memorial installed by the Liverpool Away Supporters Club. Thanks to these continued efforts, the voices of those who lived and worked in this small mining village are being heard once more. 

Site Visit to Commondyke and Darnconner, May 2022

With marking out the way for another academic year, the Lost Villages team visited the sites of Commondyke and Darnconner, just outside Auchinleck and Cumnock. Our guide was our volunteer Nanette McKee whose grandfather came from Commondyke and has family connections to other Lost Villages as well. Colin MacDonald from CCLP also came along to see what remains of these villages we have read and heard so much about. 

Memorial Clock at the Boswell Centre, Auchinleck. 2022

IMAGE: Memorial Clock at the Boswell Centre, Auchinleck. 2022

Our first stop was the Boswell Centre in Auchinleck, right next to the housing the villagers were moved to in the interwar period. Nanette’s grannies stayed just across the road and round the corner. As we entered the green of the Ayrshire countryside, we came to the Birnie, locally this is the name given to Commondyke by many who lived there. Birnieknowe was a religious community next to the Commondyke rows. Immediately the bings mark where the village once was. Now lush with grass, wild flowers and trees, they stand proud in the landscape a relic from a past that now lives on in people’s memories.

countryside view of a a field with a mound of hill of grass and trees that is made up of a bing
One of the bings at Commondyke. 2022

IMAGE: One of the bings at Commondyke. 2022

Here we can see the ticket office on the road up to the Bridge as it would have looked in the early twentieth century and below is the bridge today.

A wooden railway station building to the right with the road on the left
Commondyke Railway Station building. c. early 20th century. Image courtesy of Rab McMurdo

Commondyke Railway Station building. c. early 20th century. Image courtesy of Rab McMurdo

From the bridge, we could look down into the old railway cutting and see the station platforms

Commondyke Bridge, 2022

IMAGE: Commondyke Bridge, 2022

Muirkirk railway line with the bricks from the platform visible. Commondyke, 2022

IMAGE: Muirkirk railway line with the bricks from the platform visible. Commondyke, 2022

Railway in the countryside stretching into the distance. On the left in the foreground is a sign saying 'Commondyke'
Commondyke Railway, c.early 20th century. Image courtesy of Rab McMurdo

IMAGE: Commondyke Railway, c.early 20th century. Image courtesy of Rab McMurdo

As we walked up the row, we stopped where Nanette’s family, the Johnstone’s lived. She showed us a postcard sent from her Grandfather John to his mother during the First World War. It was emotional reading the postcard at the spot where it was received – imagining a mother receiving long awaited news from her son.

Photograph of a young man in soldiers uniform

IMAGE: John Collins Johnstone, photographed before he left for war. With permission from Nanette McKee

colour postcard with a drawing of a male figure dressed in a blue pinstriped suit with red waistcoat and brown at the bar holding a pint of beer with a cigar in his mouth. The caption reads 'It's better to be alive with 18 pence, than dead with a thousand points. The coins and a bag of money are shown next to the caption
Postcard sent to Mrs Johnston of Commondyke from her son John, 1918. With permission from Nanette McKee

IMAGES: Front and back of postcard sent to Mrs Johnston of Commondyke from her son John, 1918. With permission from Nanette McKee

The first row past the religious community of Burnieknowe was picture from the bing below. After making friends with some curious sheep, we walked along the row in the middle of the houses photographed below, their footprint just visible through the grass. As with other villages, the houses have long gone but the outhouses seems to weather the tests of time. Our researcher, Yvonne was delighted to see what appeared to be the remains of the washhouses/outbuildings were the best preserved. If you remember these, please get in touch to tell us more.

Village of Commondyke Ayrshire shown as a row of houses to the right with visible washhouses in gardens and surrounded by countryside and other rows in the distance
Postcard of Commondyke. Date unknown.

IMAGE: Postcard of Commondyke. Date unknown.

Green field with some mounds to indicate wall of houses with a tree in the background
Standing in the rows at Commondyke

IMAGE: Standing in the rows at Commondyke

Remains of the washhouse, Commondyke, 2022

IMAGE: Remains of the washhouse, Commondyke, 2022

On the peaceful and fragrant May morning, it was hard to imagine the all the people and bustle of a mining community in the now silent landscape. 

As we made our way to Darnconner, we passed Ballochmyle, Common and Walker Rows which were virtually impossible to make out. From the satellite image from google maps you can see, the open cast mining reservoir of the Common Pit has blasted away pit workings. To the right, the Quarry removed most of the Common Loch Row, the longest row in Ayrshire at ninety-nine houses.

Maps courtesy of Google Maps, map data 2022

IMAGE: Maps courtesy of Google Maps, map data 2022

Map of Darnconner and surrounding area
OS Map 25 inch, 1892-1949, Permission of NLS

IMAGE: OS Map 25 inch, 1892-1949, Permission of NLS

At Darnconner farm, the village Darconner school, a fine red sandstone building, now a domestic home, is all that truly remains of the village. John Johnstone, the young soldier who wrote to his mother during the war in 1918 went to school at Darnconner. We couldn’t make out any lines or bumps in the grass to indicate there once was thriving mining community of around 500 people and at its peak over 1,000.

Large green field with tree line in the background on a cloudy day
Site of Darnconner, 2022. Image: Lost Villages of East Ayrshire collection

IMAGE: Site of Darnconner, 2022. Image: Lost Villages of East Ayrshire collection

We headed back, disappointed to not find more of Darnconner but delighted to the school building still there as a fixture of the village that once stood on this site. Perhaps not entirely unexpected given the village was largely empty by the the First World War.

Our final stop of the day was the High House pit and remaining row in Auchinleck. The bing and the wheel workings at the end of the industrial estate in the middle of the town are striking remains of a once burgeoning industry in this area. 

The Highhouse row is now an industrial estate, it was great to see these houses repurposed for the twenty-first century with local businesses operating out of them.

Row of single storey red brick houses
Remaining Highhouse Rows, 2022

IMAGE: Remaining Highhouse Rows, 2022

black and white photograph of two row of single storey brick houses with railways tracks in the foreground
Highhouse Rows and railway track. Date unknown. Source: unknown.

IMAGE: Highhouse Rows and railway track. Date unknown. Source: unknown.

It was good to get a sense of the area around Commondyke and Darnconner to understand their connection to the landscape and relationship to each other and the clusters of rows around this area just outside of Auchinleck. Little remained of Darnconner, though similar to Lethanhill the school house has been preserved. At Commondyke the new buildings on the Birnieknowe religious community site and the bridge and railway cuttings meant the village as whole was easier to understand, with the aid of the wonderful georeferenced maps from the National Library of Scotland.

We are still collecting stories about Commondyke and Darnconner, if you lived there, or your family did, please get in touch and share your story with us. 

Village-Women Alt
Chrissy McMurdo and colleagues, Commondyke c. 1940s Courtesy of Rab McMurdo

Stories from the Villages

Film Screening and Community Events in East Ayrshire, August-October 2022

Illustration in black and white of a row of houses with a mining wheel and chimney stack behind

Lost Villages is taking part in the Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 with a series of four community events in East Ayrshire to share some of the history of the Lost Villages.

Three women in 1940s fashion in the garden of a house
Chrissy McMurdo and colleagues, Commondyke c. 1940s Image courtesy of Rab McMurdo

Come along to see some fantastic archive film footage of Ayrshire mining villages, featuring the villages of Darnconner and Lethanhill. We will hear some of the stories we’ve collected so far.

You can also share your story, or your family’s story, of the Lost Villages with us on day.

We will be visiting four communities:

Auchinleck/Cumnock – Saturday 20th August, Boswell Centre, Auchinleck, 11am -2pm

Muirkirk – Saturday 29th October, Muirkirk Community Rooms, 11am-2pm *NEW DATE*

Dalmellington – Saturday 8th October, Dalmellington Community Centre, 11am-2pm

Lugar, Monday 16th October, Logan Parish Church Hall, 11am-2pm

There will be activities for the kids and refreshments.

The Dalmellington event will have live music from local songwriter Seán Gray. You can find out more about Seán’s music in our blog here

We are really looking forward to sharing this history with the communities and seeing everyone in person! 

Transcript for the film here

black and white photography with two rows of houses with a ironworks towering over it in the background. The iron works has three chimney stacks.
Lugar c. 1910

This event has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. This fund is being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players. 

Also, thank you to the National Library of Scotland, Moving Image archive  for their help with the archive footage. 

Banner with logos

A Sunny Day in Logan

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. 

colour photograph of three people, one presents a female, the other two make. they are standing next to a banner that read Lost Villages

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. 

black ad white photography with two rows of houses with a ironworks towering over it in the background. The iron works has three chimney stacks.

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. 

Postcard, black and white photo of a row of buildings with some grass in the foreground

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.

The Lost Villages on Film

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.

IMAGE: Kelvin Hall, Glasgow Photo by Finlay McWalter, Creative Commons

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. 

black and white photograph of a man wearing a dark suit and flat cap outside a single storey row of four houses which are painted white. Each house has a barrel under the downpipe. In the distances you can see more buildings.
This image shows the village of Darnconner, reputedly with the last resident. Date unknown: possibly early to mid-1930s

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

Benwhat Reunion 2011 Screening with Councillor Drew Filson

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. 

A screen on the wall showing a blue background with a photo in the centre. The words, The Benwhat Reunion, 2011, are along the top.

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. 

War memorial at Benwhat. An obelisk surrounded by iron railing on a grass hill with a cloudy sky above with the sun breaking through

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. 

a group of people sitting on a memorial bench at the site of the lost mining village of Benwhat.

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. 

A group of people being led by a piper through the green hills of to the former mining village of Benwhat

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’.

photo of a cake with a scene on it of grass hills, a row of houses and sheet. The message reads: Bricks 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. 

Photo of a paining showing sheep on the hills in the foreground to two rows on white housing with pitched roofs and a hill in the background depicting the lost mining 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. 

DVD cover showing a black and red steam train surrounded by trees and greenery. The text reads Dalmellington Remembers 100 years, 1918-2018

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)

a man holding a poppy reef in front of the war memorial which is surrounded by black railings on a hillside

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

Site Visit to the ‘Hill, 6th September 2021

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.

silver metal plaque on a black background marking the road up to the Ayrshire mining villages of Lethanhill and Burnfoothill

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.

Engraved Stone at the crossroads of Lethanhill and Burnfoothill. Grey stone with Gold and black lettering. background is grass and trees

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 below, I entered the village at the back of ‘Laight Raw’.

IMAGE from

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?

Ruined building with one roughcast wall standing with a doorway.

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’.

White painted marker saying Long Live the Hill next to a pathway surrounded by grass and hills.

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.

remains of a brick wall about 7-8 rows high with a drainage hold two bricks up

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.

Remains of a a corner house with grass around it, flowers inside it and a forest in the background

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

By Dr Yvonne McFadden (Project Researcher)

Site visit to Benwhat with Councillor Drew Filson 4 Oct 2021

In October 2021, our project leader Prof Arthur McIvor visited the site of Benwhat accompanied by local Councillor Drew Filson. Here’s his reflections on the visit:

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. 

Man sitting on a bench on a hillside


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. 

An obelisk shaped war memorial at Benwhat village Ayrshire.  On a grass hill, with railing around the monument, silhouette of a Tommy solder next to he momument with a cloudy, blue sky and son in the top left hand corner

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.

Remains of a miner's row in Benwhat Ayrshire. Shows small wall covered in and surrounded by grass

LAST REMNANTS OF THE BENWHAT MINERS’ ROWS (LAIGHT ROW) (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)

Remains of a school you can see some brick wall in the foreground but the rest of the rectangle remains are covered with grass

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.  

Row of outhouses  surrounded by grass and against a blue sky at the site of the mining village of Corbie Criaig's Aryshire

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.

By Prof Arthur McIvor (Project Leader)

If you family, like Drew’s came from the village of Benwhat we would love to hear your stories about their life in a Lost Villages. Contact us here

You can also find out more about Benwhat here

Local songwriter Seán Gray has also recently released Ghaists, based on the poetry of Rab Wilson about the village. You can find out more here