Westeuk Concert Hall (Stonefield House)
When looking back at Blantyre’s history, perhaps one of Blantyre’s least known and hardly explored buildings was the ‘Westneuk Concert Hall’ on Glasgow Road. Incredibly this plot of land devoted to public entertainment would later become a house, then in future years once again serve the community for purposes of their enjoyment.
The humble beginnings of this Victorian concert hall date back to the 1840’s when Hugh McPherson, a merchant of Haughhead, Blantyreferme bought a long, rectangular plot of land on Glasgow Road, directly opposite some dense woodland. The plot was situated not far from the junction of what would become Stonefield Road and was near Clive Place and immediately to the west of Stonefield Cottage. It was on the western extremity of the hamlet of Stonefield, its western corner, and naming would have been easy with the word “Westneuk”, quite literally meaning the ‘western corner.’
Hugh McPherson was born in 1800 in Shotts and was in his 40’s living in Blantyre with family by the time he constructed the concert hall. Built of stone, detached and 2 storey, it may have had intricate stonework features that set it aside from other buildings in Blantyre. At the rear, a small house was constructed separately to accommodate the hall manager or licensee.
Westneuk was initially built as a Public Entertainment Building, hosting plays, live music and recitals. It must have been a welcome retreat for the hard working people of Blantyre and somewhere to let off some steam! When Queen Victoria took to the throne, Scotland was undergoing a period of critical change. The industrial revolution led people to move from the country to the emerging villages and towns in search of work, resulting in the adaptation and rejection of rural traditions. Like the village pub, the urban public house became an important social space. By the mid nineteenth century, village life offered an increasingly wide range of leisure activities including sporting events, music and exhibition halls meant to cater for the tastes of the working and middle-classes who valued and were prepared to pay for their entertainment.
The new audiences wanted music, dancing, spectacles and excitement, and many theatres such as Westneuk began to meet public demand offering alcohol on the premises. In the mid nineteenth century, such venues presented musical concerts, ballets, gothic dramas, melodramas and pantomimes. It would have been a noisy, rowdy place at times and not a place women would have frequented. The location was likely chosen carefully, at the corner of Blantyre, next to open fields with nothing westwards, at the time of its construction on Glasgow Road until you reached Blantyre’s boundary at Priory Bridge.
Hugh McPherson’s ownership of the concert hall was short lived. He died in the early 1850’s and Westneuk would pass to ownership of his Trustees. Around 1855, the McPherson family let out the concert hall to incomer, Gavin Muirhead, who acquired a license to sell alcohol on the premises.
Born in Bothwell in 1815, Gavin Muirhead, a grocer came to Blantyre around 1855 and rented the house and garden behind the hall at Westneuk for £18 per year. There, he lived with his wife Sarah, some 16 years his junior and their young family. However, the important short, few years between 1855 and 1859 would seal the fate of Westneuk.
The End of Westneuk
It would appear Gavin Muirhead was simply 2 decades too early for his concert hall. In the 1850’s, Blantyre’s population was still relatively small and business was not good. Neighbours complained of the noise, the disorder of regulars and for unknown reason, whether through lack of custom, mismanagement, or excess, Westneuk was not the thriving place it was intended to be.
In March 1858, only 3 years after taking over the concert hall, Gavin Muirhead had other problems brewing in the form of mounting pressures and complaints from neighbours.
For example, Charles Ford renting next door at Stonefield Cottage had recently lost an infant child. Perhaps wanting peace, he was fed up of the entertainment public house next door and disorderly behavior emanating from it at all hours. Charles involved others and it went to court.
The Edinburgh Evening Courant reported the case. MUIRHEAD V. FORD AND OTHERS states, “The pursuer sells whisky and other liquors at Westneuk Blantyre; some of his neighbours petitioned to Justices that he might not get his license again, as he kept a disorderly house, Ford raises action against Muirhead. On Thursday 11th March 1858, the Court held that there was no necessity for issue of ‘veritas convicii’ (an excuse) but that the truth of the complaint was in malice and want of probable cause. In other words, Muirhead got away with it, and Charles having to retract complaint.
This was no victory though. Neighbours ill feeling and falling or inadequate custom did not make a successful business.
By December 1858, only 3 years after coming to Blantyre, Gavin Muirhead was declared bankrupt, forcing a move out. He left Blantyre for good sometime shortly after 1861.
With the closure of Westneuk concert hall for good at the end of December 1858, so too, the name ‘Westneuk’ would permanently disappear.
However, Westneuk’s story does not end there. The building after all still existed in 1859. The name-book for the Parish that year describes the property as “a superior home formerly used as a public house of entertainment. The property of Mr. McPherson.”
Westneuk was renamed in 1859 to ‘Stonefield House’ perhaps to compliment the adjacent ‘Stonefield Cottage.’ The building’s hall would be renovated and split into functional homes, indeed enough for 2 spacious homes, 1 on the lower floor, 1 on the upper, accessed by stone steps at the back. A central path led from Glasgow Road up to the front doorway.
The houses continued in ownership by the McPherson family from 1859 let out to miners until they changed hands, bought over by Hamilton Brendon McDougall, of Hamilton Villa, Park Road, Kirn during the 1880’s. This family would own Stonefield House for the rest of its years well into the 20th Century. Around the time they acquired the property, the opposing David Livingstone Memorial Church was being built on the north side of the road, directly across from the 2 houses, still with wide open Wheatlandhead fields to the south and west.
It is known the Harvey family were renting in the 1880’s, a daughter born to William Harvey on 9th February 1884 in one of the homes. The Harvey family shortly after moved eastwards to rent at Henderson’s Buildings.
It is thought also that during the mid 1880’s, William Small, the prominent Secretary of the Miners National Federation may have lived there a short time between censuses, before moving to Forrest Street. By 1895, James Powell a flesher and James Malone, a mining Contractor were renting from Hamilton Brendon McDougall for £16 and £14 per annum respectively.
At the turn of the 20th Century, as with many properties in Blantyre, the property was further sub-divided to maximize rental potential. The 2 homes became 4, with two on the lower floor and 2 on the upper. In 1905, one house was empty, two were occupied by miners William Stewart and Adam Yanker. The remaining house and stable to the rear was occupied by Thomas Reid, a fruit dealer. The stable would have been used to store his horse and cart for his deliveries. Thomas Reid was in the news a couple of years earlier.
In July 1903, Lord Kyllachy heard evidence in an action of divorce by Thomas Reid of Stonefield House against Mary Stirling or Reid, Lochore Bridge, Lochgelly, Fife. Thomas, the person who raised he action was a blind man. He said he had married on 14th April 1876, and there were three surviving children. He had been a miner, but in 1883 he had an accident, by which he lost his sight. Since then he had been hawking fruit and tea. Four years after the accident his wife deserted him, and he had learned that she had gone to stay with a miner named Phillips at Lochgelly. Other evidence was heard and the divorce decree was granted.
By 1915, the name Stonefield House was being used less and indeed does not appear in valuation rolls after that time, replaced simply by 291 and 293 Glasgow Road.
In the 1910’s to 1930’s, the 4 homes within Stonefield House were let out to miners and their families, all under the ownership of Hamilton Brandon McDougall, although by 1925 Nellie McDougall, a family member took ownership through inheritance. Rents in 1925 were £14 per annum. The stable was gone by that year too.
In 1935, all 4 houses lay derelict and empty, condemned by the council and were subsequently cleared as part of the slum clearance later that year. Stonefield House does not appear on the 1936 Blantyre map, a time when the County Council took ownership of that plot of land.
The ground lay empty for a few years, before being used again when a Public Entertainment building was built, in the form of a brand new, Council owned, Community Centre, itself now long since demolished.
Today, there’s no trace of Westneuk, Stonefield House or the Community Centre. The site, today accommodates modern flats at Mayberry Grange, which were somewhat sympathetic in design by adopting a similar footprint, certainly at Glasgow Road as the old “Westneuk”.
From the book, “Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017