Cochrane’s Chapel, Blantyre

A building i’m often asked about is the small stone ruin in the woods behind modern day Kirkwall Avenue and Jura Drive. It’s been said that this was connected to the Priory and was once a chapel. That’s only half true, i’m afraid and today this article aims to provide some information and history. The building has absolutely no connection to Blantyre Priory.

1910 Cochranes chapel mapThe little stone chapel was erected in 1884 by businessman John Richard Cochrane of nearby Calderglen House, Low Blantyre. John was a successful cloth manufacturer had purchased Calderglen House (formerly Calderbank) in 1878. He also owned various brickworks, including the Birdfield Brick works at High Blantyre. He famously worked until he was 90 years old until just before his death in March 1921 , aged 94 years.

John unfortunately though suffered a terrible loss on Monday 14th July 1884, when his son Pelham Maitland Cochrane was tragically killed in a railway accident on the tracks just behind modern day Calderglen Avenue. Army officer Pelham was only 21 years old at the time and the loss deeply affected the family.

John decided to commission and erect a small chapel in memory of his son and sited the chapel at the Southern end of his Calderglen Estate, linking it to the house with ornate paths and gardens. The chapel was a private family chapel and Pelham’s body was interred there. Four other family members were later buried there.

Ornate Fittings and Fixtures

An old newspaper report said that in 1925, beautiful mosaics were removed from the chapel to save them from falling into disrepair and gifted to the Burleigh Church on Glasgow Road. The chapel was stripped of its remaining fittings and fell quickly into ruin once the Calderglen House and Estate was sold on during the 1950s.

By the 1970’s and 80’s the chapel was in a ruined state but walls were still standing. Children often played in the chapel itself, from nearby Priory Bridge Estate. (I did too, but without realising what it was). In December 1989, Hamilton District Council acted on complaints from parents and secured the chapel with a fence around it considering the building dangerous and a maintenance liability. However, the gesture was a weak one with the Council also admitting they didn’t own the land and said it was still part of Calderglen Estate. When the Estate denied they owned the chapel and it’s land around it, a group was set up by Priory Bridge residents to track down the owners. At the time, John Campbell of Priory Bridge housing estate said “We seem to be going round in Circles. We contacted the Land Registry in Edinburgh without success. Naturally, such an old building is an attraction for youngsters, but it is unsafe. The walls are in a dangerous condition and the whole building has been badly vandalised. Parts of the area were used as a graveyard with interments as late as 1954.” With no owners found, it is likely the council took action and demolished the ruined chapel shortly after.

Investigated by Alex Rochead and Paul Veverka

In 1974 the Burleigh Church in Glasgow Road (like so many other churches in the 70s) was burned down. What became of the mosaics? What was left of the chapel itself. The mystery was accepted as a challenge and Blantyre man Alex Rochead and I decided to jointly investigate it’s fate. So, one day in April, armed with his camera, Alex trailed down to Priory Bridge and photographed these wonderful photos that record the outline of what remains of the chapel and the various marker stones and plaques. Indeed, Alex was motivated enough to return shortly after and clean the stones to ensure they can be read for another generation or two. Here are his before and after photos.

Whilst Alex was doing this, i headed off on the trail of the mosaics. Armed with my own camera and history of the Burleigh Church, i uncovered that in 1974 the smoke damaged mosaics were salvaged form the old Burleigh Church and taken to Hamiilton Town Hall, cleaned up and mounted on the wall overlooking the main library staircase. I was astounded by the scale of them! The two mosaics have been lovingly restored and are so colourful with the utmost fine craftmanship visible in the detail. Vibrant colours jump out and they are each well over 2.5m tall by 1.2m wide. It looks like the original wood backing was lifted out with them. Amazed, i took several photos but felt very sad on two counts. 1. Why are the mosaics in Hamilton now and not still somewhere in Blantyre? 2. Why was there no plaque or story beside them. To any passers by they are just two random mosaics, when in fact they have all this wonderful history attached to them from another town and indeed are in memory of Pelham Cochrane. The history is lost in Hamilton and i feel irrelevant there. In that location they serve only as nice decorations on the library wall. Still, i took my photos as below:

Alex Rochead also was kind enough to provide birth, marriage and death records for the Cochranes, relating to this article. Here they are as published below for reference:

A few actions remain to closeout this story. We still have to find out where these people were re-buried, or indeed if they are still there. If you know more about this, especially with expertise in grave records, please get in contact with me. Finally, you can read all about Pelham Cochrane’s accident here

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