Monday 26th 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’s School) located on the later Caspers site, where the current Blantyre library stands. The second, was the glorious new High Blantyre Primary School, built of stone at Hunthil Road. Both were opened on the same day, with an official ceremony and official transferring of the kids by marching them from one school , up Station Road to the other and all to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”.
Coalmining was big business by the mid 1870’s and the population was expanding rapidly. These schools were built to “future proof” that expansion and provide state of the art facilities.
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. 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 However, Blantyre is receiving such an incoming number of people that already the information is outdated.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 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. Only 8 years later in 1883, 2 large extensions were added on to both of these 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 school.
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 again, 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“.
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 a salary of £120 a year or £10 per calendar month. 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 the building. 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!
Both schools are now demolished and in the case of Low Blantyre school to make way for the Clydeview Shopping Centre. During 1978 when Ness’s school was demolished, the school bell in the tower, was returned back to it’s rightful position on the West gable of Shuttle Row, just a few yards from it’s original position (it used to be rung for the workers in the mill) and can still be seen there today.