Last year, during the new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day on Saturday 19 November 2016, we met a lovely couple who told us all about their working lives in Ayrshire. Mr Findlay agreed to come and visit us again to tell us about life as an Ayrshire Miner.
When we were moving into our new campus in Kilmarnock we rediscovered a few treasures. A box of old prospectuses ranging from 1925 onwards found by the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) Team. These prospectuses were created by the Ayrshire Education Authority and the Ayr County Council (Education Committee).
So how much has college really changed since then?
Flicking through the old prospectuses a few courses that we offer here at Ayrshire College could certainly be found: engineering, plumbing, art, joinery, baking, and painting and decorating to name a few.
However, there are quite a few courses that we definitely don’t offer: mining, salesmanship, pattern-making, and perhaps the most significantly different – domestic science – a course just for women to learn millinery, dressmaking, sewing, household maths and laundry skills.
As luck would have it we met a gentleman during the new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day who had actually studied mining surveying at Ayr Technical College (now our Ayr Campus) in 1955. Jim and Joan Findlay agreed to visit us again, and Jim told us about college life and working in the mining industry in Ayrshire.
Why did you decide to go to college?
It was part of the terms of my apprenticeship with the National Coal Board that I went to college once a week. I had no working hours in my contract, I worked when I was asked by the Board. I started my Mining Surveying course at Ayr Technical College and finished it at the Royal College of Science and Technology – now Strathclyde University.
What do you remember about the course?
There was 4 main subjects in the course: mathematics, mining surveying, mining technology and geology. I still have one of the textbooks I used.
What age were you when you started the course?
I think about 18 years old. That’s what age you had to be to work underground in the mines.
Was it all men that studied mining?
Women were not allowed underground, so no women could take the course. It was against the law for women and children to work underground.
What did a mining surveyor do?
I used a theodolite or mining dial to make sure the roads (tunnels) were going in the direction indicated on the development plan. We surveyed the workings every three months and updated the colliery plans.
Was there a yellow canary underground or is this a myth?
Yes, there really was a yellow canary underground. The bird would normally be kept in a cage in one of the surface buildings and taken underground if and when required. If the canary passed out it would mean that the levels of toxic gas was getting higher. It would be revived though.
What jobs have you had since your apprenticeship with the National Coal Board?
I was employed by the National Coal Board from 1955 to 1967 based at Lugar, near Cumnock. Around then the coal industry was declining so I decided to move job. From 1967 to 1974 I worked with the Scottish Special Housing Association, I also went back to college and studied Civil Engineering 3 nights a week. From 1974 to 1996 I worked with Ayrshire and Bute Water Board and Strathclyde Water Services.
What made you come to our new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day?
Joan and I went to the old campus for the local history group lectures. The group now uses the new campus so we saw that it was advertised and decided to go.
What do you think of the new campus?
It’s very impressive, the sheer space and brightness throughout the building. The number of computers is amazing as well, this was unheard of when I went to college. The seats designed by Cumnock Academy are also great. The difference from when I was at college is huge; we didn’t have a café, outdoor sports facilities and even the number of courses we could take was limited.
If you were to go to college now what would you study?
Civil Engineering I think. I enjoyed being an engineer.
We really enjoyed having Jim and Joan visit us at Ayrshire College and tell us all about college in the 1950s. We look forward to welcoming them and the History Group that meets in the Open Space every Tuesday evening.
Moving further into the 21st century the only mining Ayrshire will be seeing is data mining.