When Mr Ness, the Village Schoolmaster came to Blantyre in 1856, the principal industry in the Parish was the spinning and weaving mills, and the dye works alongside them. There were no coalfields at the time, but limestone kilns, particularly in the Auchentibber district and stone quarrying were other good assets of the area.
The workers in the mills and at the dye works were comfortably housed in fairly splendid homes (for that period) built by Henry Monteith & Company, the owners of the mills and even by the start of the 20th Century, were still many people who had relatives or they themselves had worked in those mills. Some of those people would remember the long stretch of well kept gardens which ran along the steep bank towards the viaduct. These houses and gardens could not be excelled anywhere for their general cleanliness and tidiness and were nothing short of a model village for that time.
In the Scottish Gazeteer of 1857, it is recorded that the old village where the mills and dye works stood was ‘a model village of Scotland.’ Mr Ness later in life was asked if any pilfering ever took place in those gardens. He replied with the following story:-
One day, the wife of one of the officials of the mills was in her garden, when her attention was drawn to a rustling movement amongst nearby bushes, which was caused by a boy. The boy, in terror, tried to get away but the lady caught him and managed to draw his name. In an anxiety to get away, the boy left his cap, which he had filled with currants. The lady handed the bonnet and its contents to Mr Ness, the school teacher and the very next day the whole escapade was the subject of a stern lecture in school. The boy was chastised for his actions and reported to the mill manager Mr Miller in efforts to shame the parents. The mill manager told the boys father that over and above the boys flogging from Mr Ness, saying that if the father didn’t do the same, he would lose a weeks work at the mill.
In those days, a weeks downturn or leave from work was a great hardship for any person earning just £1 a week at work, so the father made sure his son would never again pilfer from the gardens. Later in life Mr Ness said this was a turning point for this boy in particular, who turned out well later in life. When the mills closed down in 1887, that boy turned out to be the foreman engineer, a dedicated worker.
The School at Blantyre Works under the regime of Mr Ness continued to flourish and at closing there were 180 scholars in attendance. A lot for such a small building. He told the story of the last day he spent in the school after 16 happy years. Mr Ness said, “On that morning, the scholars assembled in the old schoolroom when, as always was my custom, I opened the lessons with prayer and paradoxical as it may appear, we afterwards sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’. There was nothing wrong with that, he said and it was quite in order. He then headed the procession of scholars who marched in processional order to the new school at Stonefield on Glasgow Road and were present at the opening ceremony, which was conducted by the Blantyre School Board.
The village school/hall is pictured in the 1890s.
I have plenty more to share about Mr Ness, but will save that for some other time.