The Machrihanish Coalfield, also knowns a The Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish Coal Mine and Drumlemble Pit or Drumlemble Coal Mine, Kilkivan (Kilkeevan) Pit.
Coal has been mined in Kintyre since the 1400's. While not of the best quality, the supply was plenty and low cost to extract.
In the 1800's the mines biggest customers were the Campbeltown distilleries.
The Road to Drumleman tells the story of Kintyre's last coal mine, The Argyll Colliery (1947-1967). Almost no physical traces of the mine remain and now it is hard to imagine that the well run mine thrived just behind spectacular Machrihanish Bay.
When artist, Jan Nimmo's father and former Argyll Colliery shot firer, Neil Nimmo, died, Jan realised that there was an urgency to gather the stories of the remaining miners. Through their personal narrative the film gives an insight into working life, its hardships and camaraderie. The stories span the life of the mine and pay tribute to all of the men who worked invisibly beneath the wild and unspoilt shores of western Kintyre
How the mine (and Railway) developed:
In 1773 James Watt surveyed a canal to connect the coal mines to Campbeltown to reduce the costs of transportation.
A 3 mile Campbeltown to Machrihanish Canal was opened in 1794.
The canal fell into disuse and was more or less abandoned by 1856.
In 1875 the Argyll Coal and Canal Co. acquired the main colliery and found the canal in a state of disrepair. They decided a better transportation system was required and began to investigate the building of a railway to Campbeltown.
In 1876 a lightly constructed industrial railway was built connecting Kilkivan Pit to Campbeltown, a distance of 4.5 miles. For a short length the line ran on the formation of the canal before reaching Campbeltown, where it ended on a pier.
The colliery railway's traffic was largely seasonal as most of the colliery output was consumed locally. Around the turn of the century the mine owners began to search for additional traffic for the summer season. At the same time, new steam ships began bringing tourists to the remote Kintyre peninsular. This led to the formation of the Association of Argyll Railway Co. Ltd. which applied for an order under the Light Railway Act to build a railway connecting Campbeltown with Machrihanish, on the west coast of the peninsular.
In 1905 The company was incorporated to construct and work a narrow-gauge passenger railway between Campbelton and Machrihanish, and two short mineral branches at each end.
In 1905 construction began of the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway. The majority of the route of the new railway followed the colliery tramway, but with several of the steeper gradients and sharper curves eased. The colliery line was also extended west to the new terminus at Machrihanish.
In 1906 The work was completed and the railway opened on 18 August 1906. It was an immediate success, attracting 10,000 passengers in its first three weeks of operation and replacing the horse-drawn tourist charabanc traffic in Campbeltown.
In the years leading up to the First World War the railway thrived on a mixture of coal and passenger traffic. However, after the war, competition from new motor buses began to reduce the railway's profitable tourist trade.
By 1931 the summer tourist trade had dwindled significantly. Although passenger trains did run in late spring of 1932, the railway was failing and it abandoned passenger services in early summer of that year.
By November 1933 the railway had been wound up and in May 1934 the last trains ran, assisting in the scrapping of the line.
- The 'Pioneer' built by Andrew Barclay and Sons Co 0-4-0 WT (converted to 0-4-2 WT) works number not known. 1876 Delivered for the original colliery railway; never ran on the C&MLR.
- The 'Chevalier' built by Andrew Barclay and Sons Co 0-4-0 ST (converted to 0-4-2 ST) Works number 269. 1885 Rebuilt in 1926 using parts from Princess
- The 'Princess' built by Kerr Stuart and Co 0-4-2 T 717 1900 Skylark class, scrapped before 1931
- The 'Argyll' built by Andrew Barclay and Sons Co. 0-6-2 T 1049 1906
- The 'Atlantic' built by Andrew Barclay Sons and Co. 0-6-2 T 1098 1907 Identical design to Argyll.
R. Y. Pickering and Co of Wishaw supplied four passenger bogie carriages for the line in 1906.
Each carriage had a central saloon with wooden tramway style seating for 64 passengers and open end platforms. Two further carriages were supplied by Pickering in 1907, the second of which had a central luggage compartment.
The carriages survived the closure of the line and in 1934 were moved to Trench Point on the other side of Campbeltown Loch where they were used as holiday homes. During the Second World War they were used by the Admiralty. After the war they were left to deteriorate until the remaining under-frames were finally scrapped in 1958.
There are six saloon coaches on the 15" gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in Cumbria which are based on the exterior designs of the Campbeltown passenger stock, built in 1989 and 1990 for the Gateshead Garden Festival.
The Argyll Colliery railway probably used mine tubs from the collieries' internal lines when it opened in 1876. By 1902, 18 flat four-wheeled wagons were in use, each of which carried four mine "hutches". The hutches were small mine tubs each of which carried 9½ cwt (480 kg) of coal. The hutches were mounted transversely on short lengths of rail on the main railway wagons.
With the rebuilding of the colliery line in 1906 the opportunity was taken to replace the hutch carrying wagons with more conventional stock. A set of 3¼ ton four-wheel open-sided coal wagons were purchased from Hurst Nelson Ltd. of Motherwell. Like the earlier colliery wagons, these had dumb buffers and centre couplings. Later batches of wagons were built to a 4½ ton design. In all the railway used approximately 150 coal wagons, all owned by the Campbeltown Coal Co. rather than the railway.
In addition to the coal wagons, the railway also had a small number of other freight stock, all owned by the railway company itself. A 7 ton brake van was supplied by R. Y. Pickering and Co. The same company supplied an open-sided milk wagon based on the design for the 4½ ton wagon but with open spars extending above the sides to provide extra support for carrying milk churns. Finally the railway had a detachable snow plough and a small platelayer's trolley for maintenance work.
Some images of the pit workings in it's heyday...
Sources of information:
Local miners & Wikepedia