The Caldwell Institute was a former 3 storey large building, triangular on plan which formerly sat at the corner of Auchinraith Road and Glasgow Road junction. It had frontage on to Glasgow Road and although the very last building in Springwell, was at times described as being at the start of Stonefield, a hamlet within Blantyre.
Constructed of stone with slate roof it comprised of a large hall with upper rooms, 2 or 3 shops and a large house flat. Sometimes known as the Caldwell Halls, this description is a little inaccurate as the Hall was only one part of the building. It had official name as the Caldwell Institute.
In 1899, Mr James Caldwell, MP for Mid Lanark, as owner funded the construction of his Institute. William Adam & Son (Joiners of High Blantyre with their own sawmill) was appointed as the contractor and by summer 1900, the three storeys of the Caldwell Institute was built, adjoining against Chamber’s Buildings. Residents of nearby Rosendale may not have been too happy at having such a large building built so soon outside their relatively new homes.
The building was of unusual design, constructed to fit within the corner piece of land. It was taller than adjacent tenements and had space inlaid on the corner for a clock. It is unknown if the clock was ever fitted. Entrances were off Glasgow Road and Auchinraith Road.
William Adam & Son fell out with Mr. Caldwell towards the end of the build over the matter of £60 worth of additional work. The matter could not be resolved between them and ended up in court, where on 21st February 1901, Sheriff Davidson at Hamilton Sheriff Court heard the case. Mr Caldwell maintained that the contract signed incorporated these changes and the action was dismissed with William Adam and Son liable for costs. It was not the first time William Adam took a client to court at the end of a build!
James Caldwell, MP
James Caldwell was a Scottish politician born in 1839. He was certainly no young man by the time he built his Institute in 1899. He was both a lawyer and a wealthy calico merchant of Glasgow and never lived in Blantyre.
He was a new Liberal Unionist MP. His maiden speech emphasised that fair rents fixed by the 1881 Irish Land Act of 1881 had to be paid. He tried to set an agenda on Highland land reform for the Liberal Unionist party and was passionate about this subject. He was first elected for Glasgow St Rollox (UK Parliament constituency) in 1886 as a Liberal Unionist.
In 1890 James went over to the Gladstonians Liberals and stood for them in Glasgow Tradeston in 1892. He was narrowly defeated due to the presence of a Labour candidate. He served as an MP for two constituencies.
James re-entered Parliament as a Liberal MP for Mid Lanarkshire at a by-election in 1894. He campaigned often in Blantyre during that time. The previous Liberal MP, John McCulloch stood down and James triumphed over a Peter MacLiver by 119 votes. He held the seat until he stood down before the January 1910 election.
In 1904 James sat on a Committee considering copyright issues and spoke up for the general public’s interest in hearing music ; “copyright is not such an absolute right of property as is claimed but is a “liberty” or privilege , conferred by Parliament with the view of encouraging music in the general community”. i.e. he didn’t mind about it.
The rest of the committee were more minded to side with the music publishers and that it was highly illegal and advised it was downright devoid of morals to copy or take the work of others without crediting them. He was advised by his colleagues that it was the work of a low man of no ability or self worth that did such a thing.
James however felt that the spread of music piracy (at that time distributing printed sheet music freely) was due to the enormous gap between the prices charged to the public and the cost of production, but on this instance was certainly on the losing side of the eventual copyright legislation passed. From 1906 to 1910 James was a Deputy Speaker. James died in 1925 aged 86.
Caldwell Institute – Early Years
On 8th October 1900 Mr. Caldwell was canvassing in nearby Cambuslang and it was noted in the newspaper at that time that the Caldwell Institute existed by then. The Institute was more of a public meeting place, a community hall. Many political meeting took place right from the start, some of which may have suited Caldwell’s career path. There are stories of 1,000 people packed into the hall to hear speakers during the 1910’s. The Hall was located on the first floor, with upper rooms above on the upper storey. It was in these halls that the Stonefield Parish Church held their Sunday school and youth fellowship meetings. The halls were also used for badminton and hired out for social occasions, such as dances. St Joseph’s Brass Band often providing the music for some functions. It is known that Blantyre Vics used the hall from time to time.
In 1905, James Caldwell was living at 12 Grosvenor Terrace in Glasgow, one of the most wealthiest addresses in the city. The hall had a rent value of £40 per annum. Mr William Taylor was renting the only house in the building, for £8, 10 shilling his job being the caretaker. Mr. John Sneddon of Springfield Cottage, Glasgow Road was the factor of the homes.
On the ground floor were 2 shops. A small shop was empty that year, but in the large shop was Pasquela Lombardi, confectioners paying a whopping rent of £30 per annum. With rents set depending on square area, this is a good indication that Lombardi’s shop occupied much of the whole of the ground floor. Up until 1910 the Holiness mission was using one of the rooms in this building to meet, prior to them building a hut to form the Nazarene Church in Jackson Street.
By 1915 postal address for Glasgow Road had been allocated. The hall was 61/63 Glasgow Road. The Caretakers home also 61/63. The small shop at 65 Glasgow Road was empty as was the large shop at 67 Glasgow Road. Lombardi’s look to have moved around 1911. The caretaker had changed and was now John Smith paying rent to the Right Honourable James Caldwell, by then living in London.
One has to wonder what was going on with empty shops around this area in 1915. Whilst the easy answer is that WW1 was taking place, it is not unnoticed that the shops were empty in both Caldwell Institute and the 5 shops nearby in Rosendale. Caldwell Institute would have a long history of those ground floor shops being empty, even well beyond WW1. It is possible the high rates put off prospective shopkeepers or were so high that businesses could not be maintained there.
By 1920 John Smith was still caretaker and the shops were faring a little better. The small shop was subdivided and on one side was Matthew Miller, a boot repairman renting for £9 per annum, who would later move westwards along Glasgow Road. On the other side of the small shop was Thomas McGurk, a confectioner at number 65 Glasgow Road. The large shop at 67 Glasgow Road, again empty.
Change of ownership and use
In 1925 James Caldwell died and his Institute was inherited by his daughter Miss Elizabeth Caldwell, noted as owner in the 1925 valuation roll. It is noted that year that the entire building lay empty, with exception of Mrs. Smith, the widow of the former caretaker. Nobody occupied the shops and they were given over to the storage of Coffins, perhaps for the nearby undertaker who worked at Henderson’s Buildings just across Auchinraith Road.
It is around this time that we see the nickname for the property come into play. “The Coffin Hall” was well known as being the Institute building, perhaps also due to the fact the hall was shaped liked a coffin, a narrow western end, broadening out then narrowing again at the east.
Miss Caldwell’s ownership would be short. In 1926, with no real connection to Blantyre, she sold the Institute building over to the Central Trustees of the Church of Scotland. The hall, house and shops were now owned by Stonefield Parish Church and their own caretaker was appointed in the form of Mr. Samuel McClements. In 1930, Samuel and his family were the only occupants of the entire building.
From the late 1920’s the name Caldwell Institute gradually vanished, replaced by the more common official name as the Stonefield Parish Church Hall, or for the more morbid of Blantyre residents, by the nickname, “Coffin Hall”. This name would exist for the remainder of the property’s life. Around the same time, the tram stop outside the building became redundant as trams stopped running, replaced by buses along Glasgow Road.
In 1936 the Crawford family moved from the Dales in High Blantyre Main Street into the Stonefield Parish Church Hall building. By 1936, the shops had gone and the lower ground floor knocked through into what would become the Crawford’s home. Part of the floor however, was used in 1939 to store mattresses, with no indication any longer of coffin storage.
Mr. Alex Crawford was the Beadle at Stonefield Parish Church from 1936 to 1948 and his position meant tenancy in the Stonefield Parish Church Hall. He supported ministers Rev. James Gibb and Rev. Duncan Finlayson in that time. Their address was 61 Glasgow Road.
George Crawford, (the son of Alex) was born in 1930 was a former resident of Stonefield Parish Church Halls and is one of the boys pictured on the previous photo. Recalling his time at the property, he commented, “Our home was at ground floor level and consisted of a large room with sink, bed, furniture and a small attached bedroom. The rooms were approached from a corridor which gave access to a toilet, clothes washing room complete with an open boiler, a glory hole for small storage and access to a sitting room which had a Chalen piano. Today I regularly play a Yamaha Clavinova. From the sitting room there was access to a bath room. The principle room was across the internal landing from which stairs led (downwards) to a main door and the Shaw hall (left) with kitchen and to the large meeting room (right) Stairs also led (upwards) leading to on the right, a medium sized room, on the left, a toilet room with sink.”
He continued, “The principal hall was adjacent. It had a balcony approached from another stairway. The top storey had a toilet room and meeting room. I do remember from the bathroom, the sound of the anti aircraft guns stationed at the Whinns during WW2 and gathering shrapnel and synthetic cords from the streets in the mornings. Each week for one halfpenny we collected Soor dook supplied by Mr Craig from a large vessel situated on a cairt (cart) drawn by a horse. He came from Bellsfield Farm situated off the main street in High Blantyre. Rubbish collection was also made weekly by a horse drawn cart.”
During the 1950’s it is known that a model railway was laid out in the upper rooms of the building, providing a nice attraction for paying visitors.
The whole building was demolished in early June 1967, some 8 years after the adjacent Chamber’s Building. Today, the exact site of the Caldwell Hall is the southern concrete abutment on the modern A725 Expressway Bridge over Glasgow Road.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017