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

IMAGE from http://www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk/Bibliography/monos/amr5-lethanhill.htm

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

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. 

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