The way we were
Situated on Big Kiln Street, Campbeltown Heritage Centre has a fantastic collection of objects spanning 300 years of social history.
Once one of the richest towns per capita in all of Scotland - Campbeltown’s sheltered port played a key role in growing the whisky, fishing and tourism industries.
Campbeltown Heritage Centre is a museum and heritage centre - and is the main repository for social history for the Kintyre Peninsula from around 1700 to the present day.The Museum
The new Campbeltown bunkhouse, known as Campbeltown Backpackers, opened in April 2012, is housed in the refurbished Old Schoolhouse, a Grade B listed building. The school, built in 1851 by the then new Free Church of Scotland counts many significant Campbeltonians amongst its alumni.The Bunkhouse
With recently upgraded heating, our hall is available for hire for events, functions and exhibitions from £7 per hour.
Why visit Campbeltown Heritage Centre?
A first-class museum
Described as one of the finest social history collections on the West Coast of Scotland.
H is for Heritage
Over 300 years of modern social history - from the creation of Campbeltown to the present day.
Research your family's history - both online and through local records and papers - in our new archive unit.
The heritage centre is supported by donation and our wonderful team of volunteers.
Relax in our cafe
Take your time exploring then settle down amongst the exhibits in our cafe.
No mobile signal? No problem - free WiFi is available in the museum.
There is a rich history of farming over 400 years of almost self-efficiency, starting with the black cattle which produced milk, butter and beef.
The twentieth century saw an end to the black cattle, their drovers and the drove roads which are charted but hard to find in the modern farming landscape of today.Some Kintyre farms now have dairy cattle while others specialize in beef and lamb production.The dairy farms produce the UK’s Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese. In small farms in the 17/1800’s butter was the main use for milk, while cheese was made from skimmed milk. Following the development of Dunlop cheese, using whole milk, by Barbara Gilmore, an Ayrshire woman in 1792 Kintyre cheese began to rival Ayrshire in output and quality. Kintyre cheese which is defined as a soft peaty type of Dunlop began to be preferred by the merchants. Today Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese is renowned throughout the UK.
Beef cattle are still one of the main products from our hill farms achieving some of the highest prices in the Stirling and Oban markets.
Blackface sheep are no longer the main breed for lamb or mutton. They are now cross bred with various other breeds to produce heavier carcases. The older generation still prefer the mutton from the Blackface sheep, however and our mutton is now in demand in top London restaurants.
Pigs (pork) – 200 years ago most country cottages had a pig almost like the pet dog, only this “pet pig” got killed, cured and hung on the ham-hooks in the kitchen. A few pigs are still reared in Kintyre, mostly sold in the farmers markets, which are held on the first Saturday of the month in Campbeltown.
Coal has been mined in Kintyre since the latter part of the 15th century.
Distilling was introduced to Scotland by the Irish Celts as they travelled from Ulster to Kintyre around 500 AD and pot stills for the production of small quantities of ‘poteen’ or raw spirit, were widely distributed in the farm lands of East and West Kintyre throughout most of the 16th Century and it was often part of the produce which served as ‘rent’ which a tacksman could claim from his peasant crofters.
Kintyre had great advantages, in terms of poteen production, not merely of having the skills but also access to good ‘ bere’ the rough barley used in its manufacture and also coal and peat for heating the stills and abundant soft water. It also had coppersmiths, Robert Armour and Sons, who were famed as highly skilled manufacturers of the small pot stills.
By the 1790’s a canal was built to bring coal and peat from the Laggan area to Campbeltown for the stills and for export, and this was eventually superseded by the famous Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway.
The Eighteenth century saw the transition from peasant operations to highly commercial businesses and for this Campbeltown had a further advantage in that production on such a scale demanded good transport links both to bring in barrels and other requirements and also to transport the final product to the world. Across most of the highlands transport was by road and very inefficient, whereas Campbeltown’s harbour provided the perfect means for distribution.
The economic success of the farming community, which had been planted into Kintyre in the late 17th early 18th century and their access to capital and entrepreneurial zeal played a major role in this success. This was coupled with a significant but equally important factor, the demand by the Duke of Argyll that a special high quality water reservoir, Crosshill Loch, be created, which had its own ‘Distiller’s Main’ distinct from the domestic supply This still provides a controlled supply to the town’s active distilleries.
By the mid 1840’s demand for good whisky had grown, as Victorian industrialization prospered and overseas export markets expanded with the diaspora of Scottish traders and adventurers. Fortunately, Campbeltown had the capital, the people, the product and the accessibility to take advantage.
Thus by 1843, Campbeltown had 25 active distilleries producing over 700,000 gallons per year. These numbers ebbed and flowed with the economy and demand, but in 1909 Lloyd George’s great hike in whisky tax, to reduce alcoholism had a dramatic effect and Campbeltown’s heavily peated and flavoured whiskies became less popular . The number of distilleries was reduced to half that of the 1850’s.
This decline continued in the first half of the 20th century and many of the old whisky buildings and bonds were turned into bus garages, stores and even a Tesco supermarket, though their characteristic architecture and blackened walls can still be recognised . After the second world war the industry was still in its doldrums and only the two Campbeltown distilleries which exist to this day, Springbank and Glen Scotia were still active.
Fortunately the demand for special quality Malt whiskies and aggressive marketing of the uniqueness of the two Campbeltown malts has been very successful. Campbeltown-type Malt Whiskies are one of the four specific and very distinct Scotch Whisky types (Highland, Lowland, Island and Campbeltown). Both distilleries and the new Springbank adjunct, Glengyle, now operate at full capacity and have well received visitor centres and international marketing operations.
Details of these Visitor Centres and exhibits associated with the distilling industry are to be found in the Heritage Centre
Fish captured using spears, traps, lines and nets, and shellfish were a vital element in the diet of early Kintyre hunter-gatherer communities.
Commercial fishing, involving full-time fishermen, was late developing, and Campbeltown’s elevation to national importance as a fishing centre began about 1760 when it became an annual assembly port for a fleet of drift-netting herring ‘busses’ fitted out to capitalize on government subsidies; but by the end of that century the fishery was in decline and investors began withdrawing their capital.
These large busses, based on the design of Dutch fishing vessels, were phased out and the fishery reverted to small open boats. Around 1840, the scale of the boats increased again with the appearance of part-decked drift-netting smacks. In the 1870s, the scale increased still further when luggers were bought into Campbeltown to engage in mackerel drift-netting in the southern Irish Sea, based at Kinsale.
By then, however, drift-netting had entered a terminal decline, replaced by ring-netting, which was Kintyre’s unique contribution to world fishing technology. The ring-net evolved in the first half of the 19th century from small beach seine-nets operated from Tarbert, but was soon being employed offshore. During this period, the mid- to late 19th century, many ring-net fishermen based themselves in summer at their favourite fishing locations, living ashore in tents and huts.
The small open skiffs increased in size until the sail version, incorporating living accommodation in the form of a small forecastle or ‘den’, reached its height of development with the Loch Fyne Skiff, such as the Yerda which is to be seen in the Heritage Centre the prototypes of which, the ‘Alpha’ and the ‘Beta’, were launched for a Dalintober fisherman, Iver McGeachy, in 1882.
With the turn of the century and the coming of motor power, the model evolved again. In 1922, the ‘Falcon’ and ‘Frigate Bird’ were launched for pioneering Campbeltown skipper, Robert Robertson. These vessels ushered in an era of technological advance which only ended when ring-netting ended in the 1970s. These larger motorised ring-netters were fast, highly manoeverable and ultimately well-equipped with winches and electronic fish-detection and navigational aids.
The ring-net fishermen ranged widely in pursuit of herring, to the Isle of Man, Firth of Forth, Yorkshire coast and especially to the Minches, where an annual winter fishery – conducted in darkness along dangerous shores and often in hostile weather – increasingly assumed major economic importance.
By the 1960s, diversification was well under way and most fishermen had converted to seine-netting for white fish, dredging for scallops or ‘clams’, and trawling for ‘prawns’ (scampi). In recent years, with the negation of herring-fishing and dearth of white fish on local grounds, the main fishing effort has been directed at shellfish – prawns, scallops, and ‘buckies’ (whelks) – and the Kintyre fishing fleet has been reduced from hundreds in the 19th century to less than a dozen in the 21st.
Perhaps the greatest feature in the decline of fishing has been the related decline of fishing communities. Until the beginning of the 20th century, there were small communities all around the coasts of Kintyre: at Muasdale, Southend, Sanda, Saddell, Torrisdale, Grogport and Skipness, as well as at the main ports of Campbeltown, Carradale and Tarbert. Additionally, there were many seasonal fishing stations: huts and cottages which housed individual fishermen, who launched their boats from the shore to fish for lobsters and salmon. The ruins of these fishing stations can still be seen, usually with a nearby ‘port’, a passageway cleared of rocks, for the launching and beaching of their open boats.
The salting – or curing – of fish was the main means of preserving catches until refrigeration arrived in the 20th century. At Carradale and Torrisdale in the late 18th century stood two ‘red herring houses’, where herring were steeped and then smoked in a lengthy process. Kippers were introduced in the nineteenth century, but these required less salting and less smoking and deteriorated much more rapidly than the red herring.
Large quantities of herring were cured in barrels on Campbeltown Old Quay and remarkable pictures of this can be seen in the Heritage Centre. The busy scenes of gutting and packing herring into barrels, using the labour of women from the Scottish East Coast and Ireland, have been captured in these photographs. But when ring-netting arrived, combined with railway and steamship communication, the market in fresh herring became increasingly important and the gutting, smoking and salting was no longer carried out.
Kintyre and its strategic port have always played a significant role in defence of the realm. All along the coast there are fortifications, dating from the early Christian era, the best example of which is probably the excavated Kildonan Dun, a fortified farmstead from the first century AD. at Ballochgair. The place names such as Carradale, Saddell and Skipness indicate Viking strongholds and the fighting men of Kintyre have played a major role in almost all of Scotland and the UK’s battles as well as the civil uprisings such as the ’15 and the ’45.
The Heritage Trust has a considerable collection of artefacts, medals, documentation and exhibits from both the First and Second world wars when Campbeltown provided so many fighting men and also had both naval and latterly air warfare significance.
In the first World War the fighting men of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had a very distinctive role in the very worst of the fighting across France and Belgium with honours and great losses at Mons, Loos, Ypres and Passchendaele in particular. As a result of the heavy losses Campbeltown was presented with a captured German Minenwerfer or Mortar gun which is now located outside the Heritage Centre.
During the Second World War Campbeltown was the base for HMS Nimrod, the training school for the Navy’s Asdic anti-submarine detection system. This meant that schools, hotels and church halls were all taken over by the Navy and there was a steel boom floating across the entrance to the harbour as well as a mine field beyond Davaar, to prevent penetration by enemy submarines.
Campbeltown was also the headquarters of HMS Minona, the Deep Sea Rescue Tug Service responsible for towing damaged ships from the Atlantic convoys into harbours from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth, with their vital loads. The Heritage Centre was subsequently made the centre for the Rescue Tug Association collection of documentation, ships logs and models and is the National Centre for such material.
Photography was forbidden in the area during the wars, The famous official war artist Stephen Bone was however commissioned to produce paintings of the maritime war effort in Campbeltown and the Heritage Centre holds a set of reproductions of these famous paintings of the boom, submarine activity and the rescue tugs, Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.
Machrihanish airfield opened for the first time in 1918, operating as a sub-station of the RNAS airship station based at Luce Bay. In the Second World War Machrihanish was the location for the Royal Naval Air station, HMS Landrail, which was a base for anti-submarine reconnaissance on the western approaches. It was also used for Swordfish and Barracuda torpedo bomber training and deck landing training.
Torpedo bombing training officer at RNAS Machrihanish for much of the war was Lieut Commander Kenneth Pattison DSO DFC who had successfully crippled the German Battleship Bismarck. During that time his son Rodney Pattison was borne in Campbeltown. Rodney is better known as a double Olympic Gold medallist with his yacht Superdocious . He is Campbeltown’s most famous sportsman.
South Kintyre has many natural advantages ranging from good agricultural land, coal, water and peat supplies to good education facilities and hard working population, but the greatest attribute of the area and the background justification for all of its success indeed for the very existence of
Campbeltown, is the magnificent sheltered harbour.
Campbeltown Loch is the most westerly safe harbour on the British mainland and occupies a strategic position in the epicentre of Britain’s western seaboard. Before the development of road and rail transport it was a central to some of the most important sea routes in the United Kingdom, with daily services to Glasgow and regular services also to Ireland and to Liverpool. Until the development of the Crinan Canal it was also an essential shelter port for all vessels trading with the west of Scotland.
The existence of the harbour was essential to the development of the whisky, coal, herring timber and latter day wind turbine industries. It was also a key element in the naval defences in both World Wars.
The Heritage Centre highlights this importance with exhibits on the Campbeltown and Glasgow Shipping line which provided daily services to Glasgow, the role of the harbour in wartime both as the base for the North Atlantic Rescue Tugs and also as the training centre, in both wars for naval shipping and for anti-submarine activities. A large collection of excellent ship models with interpretation of their roles is under development and there is also an exhibit of the different types of fishing vessels which operated from the harbour and their methods.
The history of Campbeltown in 100 objects See all
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What our visitors saying about their experience
We popped into the Heritage Centre today...well worth a visit...lots of interesting info on the local area and its history.Rachael Stephen Buckett
Very interesting, well worth a visit.....Adam Boyd