History of Kirkconnel & Kelloholm

Kirkconnel – The Early Days

When St Kentigern was travelling to Wales to meet St David he stopped for the night at a shepherds hut in the hills between Nithsdale and Lanarkshire. There he met Conal, the shepherd’s son, and took him to Hoddam to be prepared for the priesthood. Eventually Conal returned to his native hills and established a church at the foot of Glenaylmer, preaching to his own folk and baptising converts in the nearby St Conal’s Well. All this happened around the end of the 6th Century. That is the legend.

All we do know is that a young Irish monk of that name came to Scotland and followed St Columba and was active in South Ayrshire and Upper Nithsdale areas. There is little doubt that the that it was he who gave his name to the Church of St Conal.

The date of the foundation of the church is probably much later than St Conal. Although it has never been established precisely it was probably about 1050 to 1060. The site was a natural crossroads in an era before wheeled transport. The East-West rote followed the contours of the Kirkland and Corcincon and North-South passed through the hills by way of the Glenaylmer.

A hamlet of sorts was established in this area at this time and numerous farms and shepherds huts were where the congregation came from. The Church served its followers well in the succeeding Years. Through the Reformation till the Killing Times and eventually the Test act. This act in 1681 forced the incumbent minister to leave his post. For the next fifty years the Church lay empty, deteriorating from want of care and attention.

When it was decided to rebuild the church it was obvious that the old site on the hills was not suitable. The main reason being the populace had moved to the area we now know as Kirkconnel. The move was for the most basic reason of all finance.

An application was made to the Duke of Queensberry and Dover for leave to build a new church on the present site. Work began around 1728 and was completed and opened for worship in 1729.

St Conal’s Well still bubbles from the hillside and every year the congregation of the present St Conal’s Church meet in the ruins of the original Church to hold a service.

The Kirkconnel we know was still a long way off. The village comprised of little more than the Main Street. It remained this way till the Railway and the Coal arrived.

Coal has been extracted from the surrounding area for years, though not on a large scale. A small mine was operating at Drumbuie in the 1840’s. This coal was taken via the Back Road to the markets at Sanquhar and further down the Nith Valley. All this was about to change.

In 1850 the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company opened up the line between Glasgow and Carlisle via Kilmarnock and Dumfries. The line of course opened up Kirkconnel to the world and more importantly opened the world of opportunity to Kirkconnel.

The next major development was he sinking of Gateside Colliery in the parish of Kirkconnel in 1850. This meant that the Railway company had readily available coal for their engines and the coal company had a quick and efficient way of transporting the coal. The next pit in 1856 to be sunk was at Bankhead Colliery opposite Kelloholm Road End. This colliery was a boon for the Railway Company as the coal produced was great “Steaming Coal” and was sold almost exclusively to them  for their engines.

Bankhead, Drumbuie and Gateside all continued to produce and attract more miners and their families to the area for some forty five years before it was decided to sink a new pit at Fauldhead.

Fauldhead was go on to become the largest and coal-winning and manufacturing centre in the area. An associated Brick Works quickly followed. Inevitably so did many workers. It was obvios that the housing needs could not be met and new housing was provided at New Buildings, Broomeknowe Polveoch and Holmhead. Wages of 21 shillings or £1.05 per week attracted many.

By the time the war broke out in 1914 the population had grow from around 500 to approx 4000 in twenty years. New houses had been built at St Conal’s Square  and Kellobank. By the end of the war the housing problem was acute a project to erect houses at Kelloholm was undertaken in 1919. The rest of the houses in what we now term New Kellohom were built after the Second World War.

Another major influence on the live of the village was the completion and upgrading of the Main road between Dumfries and Cumnock and beyond. This road was put down at the insistence of The Duke of Buccleuch. It gave the area good road and rail links with the rest of the country.