Map­ping out the good times and bad in is­lands’ his­tory

The Oban Times - - News -

ONE ex­hibit dis­played maps of Seil from circa 1600 to 2015, re­searched by Ge­orge MacKen­zie of Clachan Seil, the re­tired Keeper of the Records of Scot­land and Regis­trar Gen­eral of Scot­land.

‘Th­ese maps show how much change there has been over 400 years,’ said Mr MacKen­zie.

He hoped the se­ries would ‘show what we know about the com­mu­nity and how it has evolved, and en­cour­age the com­mu­nity to see what doc­u­ments and mem­o­ries they have’.

The first map of Lorne and bor­der­ing is­lands was drawn around 1600 by Scot­tish car­tog­ra­pher Ti­mothy Pont, and was pub­lished in his New At­las by the great Am­s­ter­dam map­maker Joan Blaeu in 1654. It de­picts ‘ Lu­ing and Seil in roughly the cor­rect po­si­tions, though their dis­tance from the main­land and from Ker­rera are not ac­cu­rate,’ Mr MacKen­zie ex­plained.

No slate quar­ries are ev­i­dent on the Pont map, but by the time of Ge­orge Lang­lands’ plan of Seil and Lu­ing in 1787, the parish of 2,000 peo­ple was pro­duc­ing mil­lions of slates ev­ery year.

The map also shows the ‘in­tended’ bridge over the At­lantic be­tween Seil and Kil­nin­ver, which was not com­pleted un­til 1791. The Lang­lands map also shows El­len­abe­ich, ‘ the is­land of birch trees’, as a sep­a­rate is­land.

One map de­pict­ing a slate in­dus­try in good heart was the Ord­nance Sur­vey’s six­inch map of Seil in 1875.

Mr MacKen­zie ex­plains: ‘This is the first edi­tion of the Ord­nance Sur­vey, which be­gan in the south- east of Eng­land in the early 19th cen­tury but did not reach Ar­gyll and Bute for sev­eral decades. This is our last map show­ing the big quar­ries of Eas­dale in ac­tion. The Eas­dale quar­ries are quite clearly seen as enor­mous, with ever-spread­ing aprons of spoil and more so­phis­ti­cated tramways.’

When the 1956 Loch Awe OS one-inch map ar­rived in 1956, the parish’s es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion sat at just 550.

Mr MacKen­zie wrote: ‘The years from 1875 to the sur­vey­ing of this map had seen the ar­rival of mo­tor cars, elec­tric­ity and two world wars. The great in­dus­try of the Slate Is­lands had all but dis­ap­peared and the pop­u­la­tion had dropped by about 70 per cent.

‘None of this can re­ally be read from the map. Per­haps the salient dis­cov­ery in com­par­ing the maps from 1600 to 1956 is pre­cisely that the pas­sage of 356 years wrought very lit­tle change.

‘De­spite the im­po­si­tion of an enor­mous slate in­dus­try, the vast in­crease in pop­u­la­tion and the build­ing of two en­tirely new vil­lages, the im­pact on most of Seil is­land was rel­a­tively small.

‘The com­pact, planned vil­lages at Eas­dale and Balvicar, to­gether with the flooded quar­ries and the banks of slate waste, are ev­i­dence of it all, but most of the is­land re­mains the ru­ral, agri­cul­tural land­scape and com­mu­nity it had been in 1787, though less wooded than it had been in 1600. Were more dra­matic and ir­re­versible changes still to come?’

Ge­orge MacKen­zie. 15_T45_ Seil ex­hi­bi­tion maps_ 02

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