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Pollphail Village

Graffiti(S) (21st Century), Industrial Village (20th Century), Mural(S) (21st Century)

Site Name Pollphail Village

Classification Graffiti(S) (21st Century), Industrial Village (20th Century), Mural(S) (21st Century)

Alternative Name(s) Portavadie; Polphail

Canmore ID 299112

Site Number NR96NW 32

NGR NR 93205 69037

NGR Description Centred NR 93205 69037

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilfinan
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll


Field Visit (9 May 2016 - 11 May 2016)

The ruins of Pollphail industrial village are situated on the east shore of Loch Fyne, 570m south-east of Portavadie marina (Canmore ID 288014). The village was designed by Thomas Smith, Gibb and Pate architects and has been subsequently described as being ‘sadder than a deserted holiday camp’ (Walker 2000, 432). It was built between 1975 and 1977 in order to house workers for an oil platform construction yard, but it was never occupied and began its decline into ruin shortly after completion. It comprises a central three-storey building; a single storey, L-shaped laundry and services building; and 19 outlying accommodation blocks. The central buildings are arranged around a courtyard and provide space over the basement and ground floors- for catering facilities, recreation rooms and administrative offices. A second floor comprises accommodation for staff. The 19 accommodation blocks are arranged in an arc, from the north through west to the south-east of the central building.

The two-storey accommodation blocks are built to a unitary standard and comprise single blocks or up to three conjoined. A stand alone accommodation block at the extreme north-east end of the site was surveyed in detail and the following account describes the specific components. The building is rectangular on plan measuring 13.3m from E to W by 7.5m transversely. It comprises a mono-pitch roof, rendered concrete gables, and slab floors. The external side-walls are timber framed and, where surviving, clad in horizontal timber boards. Each unit incorporates partially covered stairways at either end. The interior of the building is subdivided into two equal portions by a full height, mid-point concrete wall. Other internal partitions include brick walls and plasterboard divisions, although on the date of visit only two of the free-standing, brick walls remained and these appeared not to be pinned to the roof. The building is subdivided to provide a bathroom/toilet facility on each floor and 16 individual bedrooms in total, with storage space under the stairs. Overall, the accommodation, based on this design, could have provided space for over 400 individuals. On the date of visit, the remains of all of the buildings, although roofed, were in a ruinous state.

In 2009, a collective of six artists, Agents of Change, used the village as the canvas for their creative work. The artists in Agents of Change who worked at Pollphail were Stormie Mills, System, Derm, Remi/Rough, Timid and Juice 126. Agents of Change are globally recognised artists and their intervention at Pollphail altered the significance of the village. Over the course of a number of days they created over 75 individual and composite pieces of art, using the surfaces that the abandoned buildings, external and internal walls, and fittings presented. The works ranged from at least 16 haunting figurines in various locations by Stormie Mills to large-scale representations of individuals, such as the actor Kelly MacDonald by System. The works also included linear constructions of text by Derm, abstract forms and text by Remi/Rough, somewhat sinister drip forms by Timid, and bright splashes of colour by Juice 126. They made a short video of their intervention, entitled ‘Ghost Village’, (

Partially as a result of the artists’ work, the village has seen an increase in the number of visitors, and additional graffiti art has been created. These more recent pieces appear to respect and complement the existing works. In the case of one example where the original wall render that had been painted had fallen off, Smug has put a piece on the exposed brick wall. On the dates of visit a comprehensive photographic record and a number of site plans were undertaken to record the graffiti art and the buildings. The village was demolished in November 2016, as part of a redevelopment scheme.

Visited by HES (AGCH, ZB, SW) 9-11 May 2016.

Note (December 2017)

Pollphail’s origins: the 1970’s oil boom

Economic boom times can lead to some extraordinary decisions being taken. The story of Pollphail is one such story. The location was chosen for the site of a fabrication yard that would turn out oil platforms. This meant a large workforce needed housing and there was a sparse population on this part of the Cowal peninsular in Argyll, at the time. To alleviate the lack of accommodation a workers village was designed by Thomas Smith, Gibb and Pate Architects. The village was built between 1975 and 1977. When it was finished, it should have housed up to 500 people in accommodation blocks. In addition, the workers were furbished with a central, multi-functional block that comprised a recreation space, kitchens, a laundrette and a TV lounge. But the workers never arrived. The oil industry never moved to Loch Fyne as it was deemed too expensive to build platforms on the west coast of Scotland. So places like the Nigg fabrication yard on the Cromarty Firth flourished and Pollphail, well it failed!

Agents of Change

Over the past 40 years the terms ‘eyesore’, ‘ruin’ and ‘ghost village’ have all been applied to Pollphail during its abandoned lifespan. But underlying the story of decay and attempted rejuvenation projects, lies a different story: the hidden significance of an abandoned village and the unforeseen outcomes of artistic interventions at abandoned places. Over the past forty years the village has passed through a number of owner’s hands and the occasional plan would be presented that would redevelop the village. But as time moved on little happened apart from water ingress, damp encroached and the village took on the usual façade of decay. The occasional visitor and Urbex (urban explorer) would come past on their way to the Portavadie to Tarbert ferry, but little else changed.

However, in 2009, a group of artists known as Agents of Change (@wearetheaoc) were invited by the owner to come to the village. Their aim, as they discuss in their short film ( was to paint the village. Their work transformed the grey-harled exteriors and mouldy interiors. Their creative responses to walls the village presented to them ranged from painted mono-chrome figures to compositions by all six artists. They collaborated on gable-end murals and by the end of their 3 day intervention they had created over 80 pieces of work across the village.

At the same time the village was not given a thorough standings buildings survey by the Heritage body charged with that role. However, it was recognised that the combination of the built fabric and the graffiti art together had changed people’s perceptions of the place. In addition, since 2009, Argyll council have put up brown ‘tourist’ signs indicating the route to Pollphail and calling it ‘Argyll’s Secret Coast Road’ and visitors began to turn up to see the ‘ghost village’ and its painted walls.

One particular image exemplified the artist’s astute use of location and how they went about telling the world about their work at Pollphail. The image shows a human head speaking a string of numbers. The numbers in the speech bubble are the latitude and longitude co-ordinates of the village. This use of digital location demonstrates the artist’s knowledge that images can be viewed globally and that location/place is still important to viewers. It also demonstrates that the artists don’t need to hang their works in a gallery to show them.

After Agents of Change visited the site other graffiti artists painted further contributions and the sense of a burgeoning gallery at Pollphail prevailed. Visitors came from across the world to visit the ‘ghost village’ and it became a popular destination for locals and visitors. In 2016, Historic Environment Scotland recorded the village and the graffiti through photography and site survey. At the end of 2016 the village was demolished for a re-development scheme that will see a distillery, brewery and houses being built.

Pollphail illustrates that some ruins will never become designated sites, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important to people and significant to others. In the case of Pollphail it was the intervention by Agents of Change in 2009 that changed the significance of the abandoned ruin. From the story of Pollphail it would appear that graffiti art can have an effect on people, which changes their idea of the significance of a place. Who would have thought that graffiti could have such a positive transformative effect?

Dr Alex Hale, Archaeologist, Survey and Recording


Recording Scotland's graffiti project was designed to review the range of historic and contemporary graffiti art across Scotland. It involved desk-based assessment and fieldwork at a number of example sites, to consider recording methodologies and dissemination practices.

Between 2016 and 2017, phase 1 of the project aimed to:

Aim 1: review a range of historic and contemporary graffiti art from across Scotland, already present in Canmore.

Aim2: undertake a research review of previous approaches to recording graffiti art in Canmore and other HERs, review and develop the current Thesaurus terms.

Aim 3: test and develop a range of recording methods within the following programmes or projects: Discovering the Clyde programme (1223), Scotland’s Urban Past (1222), Architecture and Industry projects, such as Urban Recording Projects (1028), Area Photographic Survey (311) and the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership (1167).

Aim 4: the following test sites will be considered for research into the range of historic and contemporary graffiti. They will be analysed to demonstrate the different ages, contexts, styles and survivals of historic and contemporary graffiti: Polphail village (Canmore ID 299112), Scalan farmstead (170726), Cowcaddens Subway Station (243099), Croick Parish Church (12503), Dalbeattie Armament Depot (76279) and Dumbarton Rock (43376).

Aim 5: to research the potential for social media to play a role in crowd-sourcing information and archiving Scotland’s graffiti art.

In 2017-2019, phase 2 of the project aimed to:

Aim 1: To enhance the NRHE to the point at which it can be said to adequately represent the broad range of historic and modern graffiti that is evident throughout Scotland, and to explore ways by which that information can best be disseminated.

Aim 2: To develop guidelines that will convey the HES approach to researching and recording graffiti.

Aim 3: To write a specification for a book on Scotland’s graffiti.

Aim 4: To develop external partnerships to explore further ways to record graffiti and to identify and explore potential funding streams to enable further knowledge exchange and research.

The project was managed by Dr Alex Hale, with contributions from staff across Herirtage and Commercial and Tourism directorates.


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