Coal mining memories raised from the dust

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A DECADE ago when a former miner passed away his Campbeltown-born daughter was left with many unanswered questions.

Artist Jan Nimmo, 53, has excavated a deep seam of memories as she has pitted herself against those questions she had never been able to ask her dad, Neil, who died in 2007, 40 years after Machrihanish mining ceased.

Her tireless work, supported by the South Kintyre Development Trust with Heritage Lottery funding, has produced a living multimedia memory of the Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish in her exhibition The Road to Drumleman.

It is showing until Sunday at the Old Kiln room Glen Scotia distillery.
Jan was three years old, in 1967, when the mine shut its gates forever and her ‘wee wiry’ father lost what may have originally been seen as a job for life.

It was only 20 years after mining in Britain had been nationalised by the creation of the National Coal Board in 1947. In the late ’60s there were plenty of other mines around the UK and many of the 140 miners left Kintyre.

Neil did not leave and stayed in the area working at other tough jobs and following the burgeoning art career of his daughter.
Jan studied at Glasgow School of Art where she met her husband-to-be, Cambridge graduate Paul Barham.

As well as being a partner in a Glasgow architecture partnership, Jan describes Paul as her ‘rock.’

At the exhibition on Saturday he was painstakingly going through the slide show to make its transitions slower as visitors had said they wanted to view each slide for longer.

At the heart of the exhibition are Jan’s large-framed pencil miners’ portraits.

Jan said that smaller framed prints from the originals were given to miners’ families in appreciation of their support for the project.
As well as the visual aspect of the show there is a soundscape with recorded memories including a moving transcription of Kenny McMillan’s diaries, read by his son Kenneth McMillan.

Jan accepts that she will probably never finish the project. She has a scanner on hand in case visitors wish to bring pictures which can be added to the archive. Since October, when Jan started adding to the Road To Drumleman blog at it has achieved 5,000 unique visitors.

In addition an unseen benefit of the show has been the reconditioning of Glen Scotia’s Old Kiln room which has been transformed.
Mould was stripped off the walls, rusty roof supports cleaned and the walls painted to give Campbeltown another potential exhibition space.
‘The restoration of the Old Kiln room is a testament to the hard work of the men at Glen Scotia,’ added Jan.