No Toasting for the Rechabites

We again had Duncan Beaton, Furnace’s resident historian, on Sue & Johnny Everything and Anything this week.  Duncan regaled and entertained us with his knowledge of Furnace’s history from its origin in the thirteenth century to the present day. 

Furnace now has a community pub in the village hall, so we’ve always assumed there has been a pub in the village for hundreds of years.  But that’s not the case; the first pub was opened in 1983.  And the reason, Rechabites.  This is a friendly society founded in England in 1835.  The temperance society moved into the village in the 1840s, providing an unemployment fund for workers who paid a penny a week.  The price, or the terms of the agreement, was that alcohol was to be banned. However, that didn’t stop the locals from drinking outside the village limits.

‘On a Saturday night in the 1970s,’ Duncan says, ‘there was someone from Furnace in every pub the length and breadth of Argyll.’

   Favourite drinking dens were Loch Gair and Minard Castle, which had a hospitable host during these years.  Billy Connolly was a regular as he loved the local fishing.  But the car was used to ferry drinkers from watering hole to watering hole, and the laws on alcohol and driving were enforced over time.  Consequently, the local pubs waned with these changes in attitudes.

‘I must be the only person in these parts of my generation that doesn’t have a drink driving conviction because I never learned to drive!’  said Duncan.

The industry in Furnace in the 1950s was vibrant, a busy quarry that drew people from all over the UK.  In fact, many families moved into the area, and their descendants are still here.  In contrast, Inveraray was a quieter town, dominated by a large herring fishing fleet.  And this reminded me of a story I had heard from local Davy Sinclair who lives in Powdermills Cottages. He said it was once possible to fish for salmon in the Leacainn River, which ran along the back of the houses. The story goes that they would cast a line out in the back garden for tea later that day!

There was fierce rivalry between Inveraray and Furnace.  This manifested in shinty games; as Duncan says, ‘it was a bit like the Old Firm grudge matches between the sides.’  The heyday for both clubs was in the 1920s when Inveraray won the Camanachd Cup three times and Furnace once.  This year is the centenary of the Furnace victory.  Duncan remembers playing Shinty at school and scoring a couple of goals in a yearly match in Glasgow.

Like the rest of Scotland, entertainment in Argyll communities was created at home.  Everybody had a turn, a song, or a poem to recite.  However, Duncan recalled that the ‘shows’ would come for a week in Furnace in the summer.  The ‘shows’ had stalls like throwing darts to win a teddy bear, air guns to shoot over some ducks, and mechanical rides, like the Waltzers or the Dodgem cars.  They still come to Inveraray every year. Duncan can even remember the circus, which had a trapeze artist.  His Aunty Maggie told him she remembered bumping into an elephant drinking water in the Leacainn when she went to school one morning.  Duncan was skeptical until he uncovered a picture from the archives at the castle of an elephant striding up the high street in Inveraray.