Mapping out the good times and bad in islands’ history
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