Published: 28/08/2010 00:00 - Updated: 06/05/2011 13:09

Memorial honours quarry dispute duo

Written byBy Stuart Taylor

TWO heroes of Ballachulish's industrial heyday will be honoured next month with the official unveiling of a slate monument.

Leading Highland academic Professor Jim Hunter will unveil a brass plaque on the eight-foot stone, located next to the east entrance to the village from the A82, at a slate quarries open day hosted by Ballachulish Community Council on September 11.

The plaque will carry an inscription to Dr Lachlan Grant and Angus Clark, two prominent local figures who fought for workers' rights during a bitter two-year dispute at the quarries at the beginning of the 20th century.

The emotive words of "lock-out" and "strike" were more the language of the shipyards and coal mines of Scotland's industrial heartland than the sleepy glens of Lochaber.

But they were in common usage in the early 1900s as a conflict erupted in the quarries, leading to a lock-out, an attack on a manager's house and an unsuccessful Court of Session action.

It put the village that roofed Scotland's homes into the national spotlight, even prompting the father of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, to visit and raise the issue in Westminster.

Slate quarrying at Ballachulish began in 1694 and at its peak employed 587 men, producing 26 million slates that roofed homes in the UK and as far afield as America until 1955.

But the sudden unexpected conflict began in 1903 when the quarry company decided to dispense with the services of Dr Grant, whom they had appointed to look after the community's health and for which they docked a weekly sum from quarrymen's earnings.

But the men had grown to respect the young doctor and decided to stand by him, agreeing to pay him directly and would in future refuse to pay the company's weekly levy for medical services. The company's response was to threaten dismissal and to seek a Court of Session interdict banning Dr Grant from practising in the area.

Workers were quick to support the doctor, holding a mass meeting to demand his reinstatement. The company retaliated, insisting the men sign an agreement rejecting any claim to improved pay and conditions and approving of Dr Grant's sacking.

No-one signed, prompting a 12-month lock-out. The company sought an interdict against Dr Grant for carrying out his work in defiance of its decision.

The men argued unsuccessfully that they employed Dr Grant, but stalemate was reached and the quarry gates remained padlocked.

Meanwhile, Angus Clark, secretary of the quarry's medical committee, played a crucial role in holding the workers together.

He wrote in the British Medical Journal that the committee would not accept the services of any medical officer not appointed by the workers.

As men left to seek work elsewhere, their families suffered considerable hardship, eased with help from Glasgow Trades Council. Keir Hardie travelled north to address a mass meeting before raising support for their cause in parliament.

The company finally conceded defeat and the men returned to work with all their conditions met and their doctor reinstated.

Dr Grant's name and those of his three daughters appear on a brass plaque marking the opening of the village's medical centre in 1992 in the former Ballachulish railway station building.

Descendants of the two men are expected to attend next month's unveiling ceremony.

Ballachulish Community Council chairman Mel MacAskill said: "We felt we should commemorate these two men in order that what they did for this community is not lost in the mists of time."

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