Stonefield Parish School
Monday 25th October 1875 was a monumental day for Blantyre. In previous years the Village school at Blantyre Works had been filled to capacity and throughout 1875, no less than two new schools were being built. The first being Stonefield Parish School (affectionately known as Ness’ School) located on the later nightclub Casper’s nightclub site, where the current Blantyre library now stands. The second was the glorious new High Blantyre School, built of similar design, of stone at Hunthill Road. Both were opened on the same day.
Coalmining was big business by the mid 1870’s and the population was expanding rapidly and Blantyre had a great requirement for the schooling of junior pupils. These schools were built to the same design by Andrew J Smith and were built to “future proof” that expansion and provide state of the art facilities. Stonefield Parish School, sometimes referred to as Low Blantyre School had address 205 Glasgow Road and was located on the eastern side of the junction of Victoria Street and Glasgow Road. 1875 was certainly an important year for this area as a whole with several new buildings built on Glasgow Road including Harts Building across the road.
On the school opening day, the pupils assembled in procession (having previously met in the Old Works Schoolroom at 9am) and been given a short address by the Headmaster, John Ness. As they marched up Station Road, they sang, “Auld Land Syne” and were met at the new Glasgow Road School by the Rev. Stewart Wright, chairman of the Blantyre Parish School Board, who occupied the chair for the opening ceremony at 10am. (The ceremony at High Blantyre took place at noon that same day, although that school was not ready for occupation).
The opening ceremony is further described. The School Board and Parochial Board members lined the entrance to the Stonefield Parish School on Glasgow Road, along with the local ministers. Rev. Doak opened the proceedings with a prayer. The school chairman (Rev Stewart Wright) then said “These schools have been erected at no small expense – an expense to be borne by the ratepayers for many years yet to come. But the School Board can truthfully say the expense has not been extravagant.
They have studied economy; whilst at the same time had a proper regard to the great requirements of a fast and steadily growing population.”
He continued, “The two schools have cost but £4,500 or £5 for each pupil, by comparison to the £10 per head unnecessarily spent for Glasgow schools. The 2 schools are capable of receiving 400 pupils each, governed by the recent Act of Parliament and assessed during the census a few years ago. However, Blantyre is receiving such an incoming number of people that already the information is outdated. In a census taken just the other day, it shows 900 children in Blantyre of schooling age between 5 and 13. It is sad therefore and cannot be said that in erecting these edifices we have exceeded the requirements of the Parish. More schools in Blantyre will need to be built.”
The school was then declared open followed by further addresses by the eminent men on the Board. The Board then walked the short distance to the High Blantyre School, and gave a similar opening ceremony.
It may seem slightly negative and “not the right thing to do” in giving an opening speech about the inadequate capacity, but it was done purely to alleviate the complaints made by older residents of the village who thought the schools were massive and too large. Rev Wright confirms this in his Annals of Blantyre book.
In 1879, according to Naismith’s Directory, the headmaster was John Ness and the mistress was Mrs. Margaret Murdoch. Ness was headmaster at the Low Blantyre School for 32 years, on top of the 18 years he had previously spent at the Village school. In 1875, he was given an initial salary of £120 a year or £10 per calendar month. We’ll come back to John Ness shortly.
By 1881, as predicted, there was severe overcrowding in the School and on 16th January 1882, Mr. A.J. Smith the Architect had prepared plans for an addition to the southern rear of the building, with a permanent connection between the two. The new extension was commissioned quickly with workmen underway on site in October 1882. The Inspector’s report for 12th February 1883 stated the new classrooms were ready to accommodate 250 more pupils and formed a handsome addition to the School, by then one of the largest in Lanarkshire.
In the front building on Glasgow Road was a main room, to the west, infants room and classrooms. In the rear building were a series of classrooms separated into West, East and Mid areas.
Indeed, in 1883, two large extensions were added to both schools to accommodate more pupils, taking attendance then to over 1,200. By comparison only 50 years earlier, only 50 pupils attended Blantyre works school and 100 in the High Blantyre’s School Lane. It was hoped that out of the doors of these new schools, would come gifted individuals, just as had done in previous Blantyre schools.
In 1885 Rev Wright wrote about these schools, saying, “May our children unto many generations be able to bear even a better testimony to the great value of our imposing national schools. Their present efficiency is certainly a good guarantee of their efficiency.“
School life was strict and like other schools of the time, attendance not the best, with pupils often deciding to abscond or “bunk off” for the day. This could result in parents being reprimanded and in those early times, it could affect employment prospects of parents if they were known to have unruly children, prone to non attendance.
By 12th October 1891, with a population boom in Stonefield taking place, there was much overcrowding in the infant room in the front part of the building. The Board’s solution to this matter was to procure a new Infant School altogether, opening in 1893, alleviating the problem of overcrowded infant classes, and freeing up a further classrooms for older pupils. This also offered familiarity for the infant pupils when they made the transition to the junior school nearby already in an area, and sometimes with teachers they knew.
The 20th Century
On 29th November 1922, the old Blantyre Works Mill bell was hung in the belfry of Stonefield or Low Blantyre School gifted by Stonefield Parish Church, which by then had lost its steeple due to subsidence. An agreement was made that it could be returned whenever needed. The formal installation of the bell by Sir Henry S.Keith took place at 2pm on 11th December 1922. The bell was only there for 11 years, for by April 1933 it had been replaced by a new one, which allegedly often did not work properly or got stuck. The reason for the original much travelled Mill bell’s departure from Stonefield, was to recognise the newly opened David Livingstone Museum, placing the bell back near to its original location. The bell can be seen today on the North gable of Shuttle Row at the David Livingstone Centre but may yet again see a move soon with the imminent modernization and renovation of the museum.
William Smith, whose son was injured in WW1 was the headmaster from 1908 following he death of Mr Ness. James Aitchison was schoolmaster from the early 1920’s. In 1928, James was still headmaster and on 1st June that year was considered for transfer to Whifflet Primary School in Coatbridge. However, this did not come to pass.
For many pupils, the school was affectionately known as “Ness’s” school after the former headmaster and the school’s nickname was well known and continued through the 20th Century, decades after Mr. Ness’s death. It was nicknames ‘Ness’s’ School, not ‘Nessie’s.’
According to the 1930 valuation roll the County Council of Lanark owned the public school, James still headmaster. The school was always complimented by the previous addition of the separate and adjacent “Stonefield Infant School.” Two rooms had to be vacated on 26th August 1932 set aside for the use of Calder Street pupils and this continued throughout the remainder of the school being open. In the 1940’s and 1950’s Miss Neilson taught Class 1.
Stonefield Parish School closed to junior pupils on 28th June 1957 with the opening of the new David Livingstone Memorial Primary School in August of that year.
The old Stonefield Parish Primary school then became Blantyre’s labour and employment exchange, right through the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, a source of employment itself for dozens of people. Part of the building, as well as the Infant school continued in use as an Annex for Calder Street Secondary and subsequently Blantyre High School and some pupils may remember the short trip between lessons, having to go from school to school.
The Stonefield Parish School, especially the name of ‘Ness’s’ is fondly remembered in Blantyre and had been a place of education of many thousands of people from its opening, until the middle of the 20th Century, then latterly also a place of employment for many people until its complete closure in May 1977. The school was demolished later that year, surviving around 102 years, paving the way for the planning phase of the western side of Clydeview Shopping Centre.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said,:
Helen Lawson Taylor Great photo of the school.and love to see the clothes the teacher and pupils wore in those days.
Moyra Lindsay The first time I went through that front door was to get a 1 year passport. It was cardboard. Simple not like now,can’t remember how much it cost, not much!
Etta Morrison Calder St school used this building as an annex..cant remember what subjects we went to it for x
Betty McLean Paul was your grandfather a councillor in Blantyre?
Blantyre Project not as far as I’m aware. He worked as a boot salesman for the co for a time.
Helen Lawson Taylor Yes I remember going to the annex and got into trouble for talking Etta Morrison Thought it was great the walk down to it lol x
Ina Sanders i remember going there from calder street for some subjects
Helen Allan The photo in Peters the butchers window is of pupils at Nessies school around 1940
Heather Mcwilliam The little lad third from the right sitting on the bottom bench looks a lot like my dad, Jack McWilliam, but I can’t be sure.
Mary Wishart What school is this and any idea of the year .
Lee Budinauckas May Gardiner wasn’t this your school? X
May Gardiner I was only there for six months then moved to David Livingstone’s primary. I think your uncle bobby is in the second pic back row third in from left. I’m not sure though. X
Lee Budinauckas Looks like Craig Douglas. Is that your dad Craig?
Helen Henderson Mclaughlin Bill Henderson
Jean Maxwell Does anyone know the names of these children 3 of the Beattie clan went to this school
Sheena Thomson I went to Ness’s for a year before going to David Livingstone school I’m sure I can remember having Miss Neilson as my teacher.
Anne Quinn I stayed in the honeymoon with Mum n dad n my 2sister’s x
Christine Forrest The children all look so smart