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. (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 at the memorial bench placed at his grandparents Benwhat home where their ashes are scattered. (Image reproduced with permission from Arthur McIvor)
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.
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 spirit lingers on’. 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. This was recreated on the cake by Middleton Park, who sadly passed away recently.
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.
IMAGE: Councillor Drew Filson with the Tommy at Benwhat Memorial. (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