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From the illustrated social history book…
“Blantyre – Glasgow Road South, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018.
‘Bloomfield Cottage’ was a former detached home on Glasgow Road sandwiched in a long narrow strip of land between Nimmo’s Land to the east and the Stonefield Parish School to the west.
It dates from 1874 with construction ongoing into 1875, built at the exact same time as nearby Nimmo’s buildings and the school. This confirms that with the exception of McVaney’s Land, all buildings built between Logan Street and Victoria Street were constructed at the same time.
The original constructor and owner was Mr. Hugh Dickson. Born in 1838 in Nitshill, Renfrewshire Hugh came to Blantyre in the mid 1870’s and was employed as an enginekeeper for William Baird Collieries. Buying land off John Clark Forrest, he constructed a detached house which had frontage on to Glasgow Road. The fact he called it a cottage is perhaps misleading, for this was way grander than any ‘cottage’. Built of stone, it was 2 storey’s high, but with attic rooms and a different appearance from more traditional tenements, it gave the appearance of having 3 storeys, taller than nearby Nimmo’s Buildings.
A lane led down the eastern gable accessing the rear yard, which was long and had a wall at the end separating it from the later infant school. Bloomfield Cottage was as deep as it was wide and upper levels were accessed by L shaped free standing stairs at the rear. At least one glasshouse was at the rear.
It is unknown why the name ‘Bloomfield’ was chosen by Mr. Dickson. The name connects to Northern Ireland and also Lancashire and seems very typically un-Scottish for a man who was born and lived in Scotland. Another possible connection was during the 1870’s, the Bloomfield Gold Mines in America were making people rich and causing headlines around the world. Perhaps Hugh just liked the name and wanted his own building to prosper?
Hugh Dickson and his family were the initial tenants, confirmed living there in his newly built house in the 1875 valuation roll. Rent was feuded from JC Forrest for £8 per annum.
The 1881 census has 41 year old Hugh still at Bloomfield Cottage with wife Bethia, who hailed from Carluke. With them was son, William. At some point between 1882 and 1884 Hugh moved out of Bloomfield Cottage and into the small miner’s tied cottages at 66 Craighead Rows on the north side of Glasgow Road near Forrest Street. Now, whilst this downgrading may seem bizarre, it perhaps made huge financial sense, for still owning Bloomfield Cottage in 1885, he now had rental income by letting it out, which he did to Mrs. William Scott (a grocer).
For unknown reason between 1886 and 1890, the Dickson family had enough of Blantyre and moved away, leaving behind the miners rows and selling off Bloomfield Cottage. Perhaps disgruntled by mining life, disillusioned by the Blantyre riots and 1880’s hardships or finding opportunity elsewhere, the Dicksons packed up and didn’t return to the town.
Change in Ownership
Bloomfield Cottage, with its distinctive 2 large pitched roof dormers facing on to Glasgow Road was next bought by Mr. John Watt, a shoemaker whom in 1885 had been renting a house nearby at Henderson’s Buildings.
Born in 1840 in Lanark, Hugh Watt was the son of John Watt Snr shoemaker and Margaret Morrison. Hugh (junior) was skilled at shoemaking and had been working in Blantyre during the 1880’s, clearly doing well enough to be able to buy Bloomfield. The 1870’s to 1890’s were prosperous times for many tradespeople in Blantyre owing to the population boom ad opportunities brought to the forefront for many.
Certainly, by 1891 John Watt was living at Bloomfield, then aged 51 with wife Margaret Nish, born in Dunbartonshire and 4 years younger. John was neither employed nor self employed, a good indicator that others were running his shoe business for him. The house had a rated value between £10 and £12 per annum. By the First World War, Bloomfield Cottage had official postal address 203 Glasgow Road, but the house name was also kept. John had retired by 1915. In 1918, Lilley Tait, his domestic servant living at Bloomfield got married.
Between 1921 and 1924 John Watt moved from Bloomfield Cottage to ‘Avonbank’ in Station Road, where he died in 1925, aged 85, outliving his wife. Dr Cowan Wilson confirmed the death and Marion Forrest, a guardian signed the death certificate.
Peter Morton, a miner bought Bloomfield Cottage between 1921 -1924. The house continued to have a rated value of £12 per annum. Family member John Morton was janitor of the adjacent school. It is thought The Morton family moved away in the 1950’s.
Bought over by William and Arabella B Stewart in the early 1930’s, the house was still there on the 1962 map and was demolished in the late 1960’s. Being a private house, unusually for Glasgow Road with no shops, this former property often is overlooked and forgotten.
Bloomfield was exactly where Glen Travel’s shop is today at Clydeview Shopping Centre, which at time of writing is currently being prepared for a move further west opposite the junction of Station Road.
Stonefield Parish Infant School
‘Stonefield Parish Infant School’ being a bit of mouthful, the toddlers school in Low Blantyre was nicknamed by locals as “The Wee School.” It is incorrectly written in publications by others that the infant school was immediately behind Stonefield Parish School, but this wasn’t the case. The former infant school was actually situated more to the west, behind Nimmo’s Buildings and Bloomfield Cottage. It was located just off Victoria Street not far from the Stonefield Parish School, on central ground.
The infant School was to have a different look and feel about it by comparison to the adjacent School for primary age pupils due to the use of a different Architect to set different style. Built of stone blocks with slated roof, it was designed to provide a remedy to an overcrowding infant department in the Stonefield Parish School, the idea was approved by the local Parochial Board on 12th October 1891.
The building was in the style of Scottish Renaissance, designed by Architect Alex Cullen of Motherwell, who would later design Auchinraith School. Stonemasons James Aitkenhead & Son were the builders, (whose father had previously built Stonefield Parish School adjacent some 16 years earlier). This was a busy time for Aitkenhead Builders who were also building High Blantyre Church Halls.
The school had two large classrooms, heated by coal fires to accommodate 200 infants plus provisional space for 100 more if needed. A vacant site on spare ground was chosen and a budget of £1,800 assigned to the important project.
The official opening of the infant school took place at 2pm on 10th April 1893. The main building had a small annex adjacent to it, which was used as a dining room. The annex had a white roof and was later used by Calder Street Secondary School as a technical drawing and metalwork classroom.
From as early as 1960, the whole of the infant school was used as an Annex for Calder Street Secondary School, then later Blantyre High for Metalwork, woodwork and technical drawing classes. It still served that function in May 1977, but at that time the county council had acquired the building and land in advance of demolition to make way for the Asda shopping centre. The fate of the school sealed, it was demolished in late 1977 as part of the extensive Glasgow Road area redevelopment. This prompted the building of a new block at Blantyre High in 1978 for the aforementioned technical classes. Not a Glasgow Road building, let’s move on.
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.
Major John Ness, headmaster
During the late 19th Century in Blantyre and surrounding districts, there was no better known gentleman – and, we venture to say, no more popular than Major John Ness, the veteran and beloved headmaster of Stonefield Parish School. A special favourite with all classes, his services were in great demand and at public of Masonic functions, the Major could always be relied upon to take an active part, either as chairperson or speaker and no better orator could be found. A military man, known to administer discipline in a balanced manner with pupils, whilst continuing to be liked and respected.
He had a fluency of speech that could rarely be excelled, which combined with the general understanding of the subject he was speaking about, he had the happy knack of being humorous in the extreme, making him a favourite with audiences.
John Ness was born in Glasgow in 1830 and educated in St Enoch’s Parish School, Glasgow then later in St Matthew’s, Glasgow. His first success was in gaining a Queen’s Scholarship in the Training College after which he emerged a duly, qualified teacher.
Opportunity arose when Monteith, owner of the mills required the services of a new headmaster in Blantyre Village Works at his small school. John Ness took up the position coming to Blantyre in 1856 and became teacher of Blantyre Works School on 1st June 1856.
In 1857 John Ness, knowing his personal friend and Explorer David Livingstone was back in Britain, wrote to Livingstone to ask if he would come back to his birthplace at Blantyre to attend a soiree, celebration of the explorer’s accomplishments. Livingstone was not keen, due to the weather and had intended to stay in London. John Ness persisted and wrote to Livingstone’s mother at Peacock Cross in Hamilton asking if she could perhaps persuade him instead. Livingstone mother duly wrote the letter, referring to all of Livingstone’s Scottish rallying friends and Livingstone despite his reservations, came back to Blantyre in 1857 to visit. This much celebrated event was publicized far and wide and great accounts exist in detail of what took place at the soiree. Having been in Africa for 16 years, Livingstone told his audience he had hardly seen a white man for all that time and had started to forget English. At times in his speech, Livingstone would pause and gaze ahead. Heckler shouting out, “Spit it out Livingstone!” and apologies were offered explaining at times he would forget larger English words in mid sentence. It is said Livingstone had no real great desire to relearn English, his heart truly belonging to the “Dark Continent”.
He’s recorded as being at the Blantyre Works School in the 1862 Handbook of Hamilton, Bothwell and Blantyre & Uddingston Directory. He remained at this school until 1873, the year his friend David Livingstone died. His decision to leave really was outwith his hands when, by the unanimous vote of the ratepayers, who petitioned the newly-formed School Board for the purpose, he was chosen headmaster of the proposed Stonefield Parish School and asked to oversee its construction. During this time in 1874, he was admitted a Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland.
Up until 1875, he lived at Waterloo Row, near the mills of Low Blantyre, was married and had 5 children. He was a very strict man and discipline came naturally, overhauling the rampant disobedience that existed when he first came to Blantyre schools. His word counted at all times. This was true for parents too, who if they dared complain about the punishment their children were receiving at school, were likely to face possible dismissal themselves at their own employment!
On 26th October 1875, he became headmaster of the Stonefield Parish School which opened that day, prompting also a house move to the adjacent Schoolmasters home at Victoria Street. In 1875, he was given a salary of £120 a year or £10 per calendar month. School children had a playground chant, “The Ness’s School is a great wee school, built wi’ bricks an’ plaister. There’s wan thing wrang wi’ the Ness’s School, it’s its baldy heidit maister!”
Outside of his duties the Major had one or two hobbies and as a Volunteer and Freemason, he showed much enthusiasm. He had only been in Blantyre a short time when he raised the Volunteer Company and man ever did more to install a love for Volunteering into the minds of Blantyre youths than John Ness. Following out his military career, he was a sergeant up until 1865, when he was a appointed a colour sergeant; then ensign from 1870 until 1873, lieutenant for a period of 9 further years and captain up until 1886, at which time he received the honorary rank of Major. In November 1887, he resigned from military service in the Blantyre Volunteer Company, carrying with him the privilege of retaining the rank and wearing the uniform of the regiment. He was one of the few officers entitled to wear the Volunteer Decoration after leaving. He was present at the reviews of 1860 and 1881 on the latter occasion in command of the East Kilbride Company.
As a Freemason, the Major was one of the most popular members of the Craft, for 4 times holding the office of R.W.M in “Lodge Livingstone 599” and attended the opening in 1904 of the nearby Masonic Halls on Glasgow Road. In the Provincial Grand Lodge he occupied many important offices. A stained glass window was installed in the lodge in his honour and in Hamilton, a whole Lodge named after him, “Major Ness Lodge 948.” He was also a prominent member of the “Clark Forrest R.A. Chapter” . He also held office in Bothwell U.F church for close to 50 years.
The Jubilee of Headmaster John Ness F.E.I.S.V.D was celebrated in Blantyre Works Old School on 1st June 1906 where he had started his duties in 1856. Flags were hoisted on the school at Stonefield and there was a fine display of bunting in the village.
In 1907 John Ness became ill forcing retiring from his headmaster’s position. 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.
John Ness died on Saturday 23rd May 1908 aged 78 with 52 years service for the community.
On 13th January 1909, a granite obelisk was unveiled in the Cemetery at High Blantyre to his memory. Commissioned and laid by his fellow Masonic members, the memorial is a fitting and impressive gravestone.
Such was his renown, that the Stonefield Parish School became known as “Ness’s School” even in later years after his death. The position in the Cemetery reserved for more prominent figures of Blantyre’s history. Next to him on the right is the Rev Burleigh’s smaller obelisk.
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