NEW CUMNOCK TOWN HALL
07 February, 1888
A request for contractors was advertised in the local newspapers.
NEW CUMNOCK TOWN HALL
CONTRACTORS WANTED for Mason, Joiner, Slater, Plumber, and Plaster Works.
Plans and specification will be at the ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND, New Cumnock and at the Offices of the undersigned, with whom Offers marked “Tender, New Cumnock Town Hall”, are to be lodge upon MONDAY, 20th February current.
ALLAN STEVENSON, Architect / 42 New Market Street, Ayr.
[The Ayr Observer and Galloway Chronicle, February, 1888]
The Royal Bank of Scotland was located in the house in the castle now known as St. Blane’s which sits next the Old Mill farm across from New Cumnock Primary School.
24 February, 1888
Soon after the closing date for tenders the successful contractors were announced.
NEW CUMNOCK – THE TOWN HALL – The contract for the erection of the Town Hall here, from plans prepared by Mr Allan Stevenson, C.E., Ayr, have now been let. The following are the successful offerers – Mason work, Mr. William Smith, Cumnock; joiner work, Mr Davie Mathieson, Pathhead New Cumnock; slater and plumber work, W. Highet & Sons, Ayr. We have not yet learned the name of the contractor for the plaster work. The stones for the building are to come from the famed Ballochmyle quarries, the durability of which has been tested by somewhere about the lapse of a century of time.
[The Ayr Observer and Galloway Chronicle , February 24, 1888]
23 June 1888
The laying of the memorial stone took place on Saturday 23rd June 1888.
LAYING OF THE MEMORIAL STONE
A LITTLE over twelve months ago two or three of the leading men of this place recognising the great want of accommodation in the shape of a public hall, resolved to exert themselves in the direction of having this want supplied. With a vigour that is worthy of the highest commendation they set to work, and very soon enlisted the sympathy of the whole district. Subscriptions, large and small, flowed in from all classes of the community, so that when a suitable site had been procured operations were at once commenced. Last Saturday afternoon witnessed the laying of the memorial stone . Shortly after one o’clock the streets of the town began to present an animated appearance, and as the weather was genial and warm many people were present from all the surrounding districts.
Exactly at two o’clock the procession of the Foresters, Gardeners, and Freemasons was set a-moving, and a very pretty sight it was. The local brass band, under the experienced leadership of Mr James Cumming, led the way, and it was followed by the following Courts of Foresters – Pride of Afton, New Cumnock; Glaisnock, Cumnock; and Vale of Nith, Sanquhar. At the head of the Foresters, who were all dressed in regalia, was Bro. Hugh Wilson of the Cumnock Court. He was mounted on horseback and dressed as Robin Hood. Then came the Rose of Afton Lodge of Free Gardeners, and, to their credit be it said, the members turned out en masse. Each man carried a flower of some kind in his hand as symbolical, we have no doubt, of their friendly order. Then the place of honour – that is last in the procession – was occupied by the Freemasons. When the procession had visited Pathhead, the Castle, and Bridgend it returned to the hall, where , as it is customary, the other Orders stood aside and allowed the “Merrie Masons” to pass on to the front. By this time the road in front of the building was completely blocked, and every available inch on the platform room was also occupied.
When everything was at least ready for the ceremony of laying the stone, Bro. the Rev. George Davies, of Sanquhar, offered up a short but fervent prayer that the Great Architect of the Universe would send down a blessing on their work. The band then played the National Anthem, and as the last strain of it died away, Mrs Shaw stepped forward and gracefully presented Bro. Love, R.W.M od St. John’s, New Cumnock with a beautiful and costly silver trowel. The bottle containing the coins of the realm and the newspapers of the day were then deposited. The stone having been tapped, and declared to be well and truly laid, Mrs Shaw, in a clear and a distinct manner, said that she had now to name the building the New Cumnock Town Hall.
Bro. the Rev. Geo. Davies, of Sanquhar, at some length addressed the assembled multitude. After referring to the gratification the members of the Order felt that so many of the fair sex had adorned the proceedings by their presence he explained the reasons for the ceremony just gone through, and offered some information in general. The stone, he said, which has become the head stone of the corner , has been placed in the N.E. of the building. I cannot explain how our ancient brethren selected the north-east point, but it is sufficient for our present purpose to know that a certain spot must be chosen by fixed general rules, so that in after ages, when the building should come to be broken down, the successors of masons might know where to find the stone with its concealed treasures of knowledge. In these days of general knowledge every one knows where to find the stone, since it is laid in public, but in ancient days it was not so – the stone was laid in style.
The Reverend Davies then gave some background of the Lodge and their work before the proceedings concluded with some presentations and vote of thanks.
At this stage of the proceedings Lady Stuart Menteth of Mansfield was presented with a handsome trowel as a mark of appreciation for the kind interest and support which she had taken in and given to the Hall. At the same time Mrs Shaw was also presented with a handsome silver trowel as a souvenir of the day. Mr Hyslop J.P., of Bank, and Mr J. Paterson J.P., made the presentations respectively,
After a few remarks from Mr C.G. Shaw, votes of thanks were given, and the proceedings terminated.
The hall is built on a site feued from the Glebe, and the estimated cost is £750. The hall is designed in a plain character having an elevation with Queen Anne details. The building comprises the hall, with end gallery, two retiring rooms, lavatory, &c. The area and gallery are seated to contain about 480. The seating is simple. The whole of the walls and ceilings are finished in plaster.
The contractors for the work are :- Mason, Wm. Smith, Cumnock; joiner , Wm. Mathieson, New Cumnock; slater and plumber , W.Highet, Ayr; plasterer , Matthew Campbell, Catrine.
[The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday , June 29, 1888]
20 February 1889
The Town Hall was formally opened on Wednesday 20th February 1889..
OPENING OF THE TOWN HALL
The Town Hall was formally opened last Wednesday evening, the proceedings taking the form of a Grand Concert. The audience, in which was to be observed the elite of the whole neighbourhood, was very large, completely filling, as it did, the building. The chair was occupied by C.G. Shaw, Esq., the much esteemed factor to the Marquis of Bute. Previous to the chairman’s remarks “God save the Queen” was sung, during the singing of which the audience rose to their feet.
In the course of his observations Mr Shaw said that in the time of Edward I, of England, there stood , very near to the spot where that evening assembled, a fair castle – called the Castle of Cumnock – at that time there being no distinctive name for Old and New Cumnock. We knew that fierce king had made this fair castle to which he referred, a halting place on his way to Ayr for the purpose of quelling the high-spirited nobles of Scotland. We knew this because men who made a special study of such things, had informed us that, in the state records of the time, there were returns made by the master of horse showing the casualties that had taken place between the castles of Sanquhar and Cumnock. The audience, however, were not to imagine that is was his intention to trace the history of that castle from the time of Edward I until the present tim, because, if he did, he would exhaust the few hours they had that night at their disposal, and he knew they had assembled there for something else than to listen to a historical speech. Still it might be interesting to some of them to know that this fair castle had a banqueting hall. In it the soldiery of Scotland , and sometimes that of England, celebrated their victories or mourned their reverses. Often and often must its grim old walls have rung in response to some happily spoken sentiment or to a stirring and martial address, as delivered by a trusted leader, while it must have also echoed to the spirited songs of that olden time.
It was a very curious fact that from the time until today the people of New Cumnock should not have had a Hall that they could call their own, but surely they were to be congratulated that they now possessed such a beautiful and such an exceedingly commodious one. Although a quarter of century had sped away since the question of plans and sites for such a hall had been discussed , it was not until early in the year of grace 1888, that the project was really set on foot, and just at this point he would make some recognition to those who had done so much for it. There was the Lord of the Manor, (applause), and there was Lady Stuart Menteth, (applause). It would be very wrong on his (the speaker’s) part were he not to say how much they were indebted to that generous lady. Ever since Stuart Menteth family had come to reside near to them, they had always been foremost in the promoting and the carrying on of any good work, and to the good lady he refered to they were all under a deep debt of gratitude for having, so to speak, established a hall in their midst for the use of the district. He was sure he only gave utterance to the heartfelt wishes of the entire audience when he trusted she would be long spared to come and go among the people of the place. (Cheers).
It seemed to him but a short time since that brilliant day of last summer when they met to lay the foundation stone, and when the Freemasons of the West turned out with their banners ages and music and when the Rev. Mr Davies of Sanquhar, delivered such an able and instructive address as he did. This reference to the laying of the foundation stone reminded him that they had now witnessed the laying of the topmost stone, and he could not sit down without recognising the fact that their architect had enabled them to cut their coat out of their available cloth – a thing that, among their architects at any rate did not often happen.
Then there were the contractors – Mr Wm. Smith, Cumnock, as builder; Mr White, Cumnock, as painter; Messrs Highet & Sons, Ayr & Cumnock, as slaters and plumbers; Mr M. Campbell, Catrine, as plasterer; and last, but by no means least, Mr D. Mathieson, New Cumnock, as joiner. They all knew, as well as he did, that the last-named gentleman had gone into the work with characteristic energy, and as an instance of his zeal, Mr Shaw said that his friend had left standing unfinished a stair rail in one of the farm houses in the neighbourhood, (Laughter and applause). Without saying another word he would only express the hope that the Almighty would greatly bless the building, and that it would, for years to come, prove a boon and a satisfaction to the whole district. (Loud Applause.)
A musical programme followed.
[The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday February 22, 1889]
Early History of the Town Hall
This new facility for the growing town of New Cumnock was well received and well patronised. George Sanderson “New Cumnock Far and Away” sums up the early days-
‘The Town Hall was built by private subscription . William Hyslop and Tweedie the joiner were large shareholders.It met a need, made a profit every year, with its winter season of concerts, plays and lectures and the new craze, cigarette smoking concerts , all the men puffing away inside closed doors’
Some of the early activities and milestones included –
- Late 1890s – Mr Moss’s theatre – lantern slides accompanied by live music and artists singing and dancing.
- 1898 – Harry Lauder and Murdoch McKenzie Concert Party (4th Sept 1898)
- 1898 – New Cumnock Schoolfellow’s Reunion (formed 1861) moved to the Town Hall later transformed to a social and a dance – filled every Hogmanay
- 1904 Town Hall taken over by Parish Council
- 1912 – McQueen’s Variety Show with Bioscope Show
- World War I – Wilson’s Cinema for the Winter Season
- After War – Old Folk’s Party moved to Town Hall
- The above is from the Glenafton Athletic Supporters Club’s accounts from 1937 showing the costs for running a fund-raising Whist and Dance in the Hall. The rent was £2 2s 8d (£2 14p) while use of Town Hall dishes was 8s (40p).
- During World War II the Town Hall was commandeered by the Home Guard as their headquarter – not a popular move in the town! This photo shows the windows bricked up in case of bomb blasts [Donald McIver “A Stroll through the Historic Past of New Cumnock”].
- Adverts placed in the Cumnock Chronicle 1949 show dances on Friday 25th Nov (Connelpark Rangers), Saturday 26th Nov (to Bob Pollock and His Nighthawks). Midweek the New Cumnock Labour Party will meet on the 29th Nov while the Bridge Club will play on the 14th December.
- Many of the social activities held in the Town Hall would through time transfer to the New Cumnock Community Centre built in the late 1950s.
- The photo is from a set of aerial photos of the town from the 1970 which clearly shows the later extension added to the hall , a two-storey block to the entrance,
- The Town Hall in 2008 by which time it’s only function was to house local East Ayrshire Council activities
The Town Hall Today
Like many other coal-mining communities New Cumnock suffered from the destruction of that industry in the 1980s and with job losses the population declined over the following decades. Although it was difficult to influence the future of abandoned private buildings local community groups were determined that the Town Hall be saved and funding for a feasibility study to consider its future was sought. The planned closure of the local authority run Community Centre accelerated the case for saving the Town Hall
The Great Steward of Dumfries House
In 2007 Dumfries House in Cumnock looked certain to be sold off . The house was built in the 1750s for the 5th Earl of Dumfries, a title created for the Crichtons of Sanquhar in 1633 along with that of Lord Cumnock. The barony of Cumnock comprising much of the original parish of Cumnock, which in 1650 would be divided into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock. Marriage would later bring together the families of Crichton and Stuart with John Crichton-Stuart holding the titles of 2nd Marquess of Bute and 7th Earl of Dumfries. It was his son John Patrick Crichton-Stuart 3rd Marquess of Bute and 8th Earl of Dumfries (and of course Lord Cumnock – Old & New!) that C.G. Shaw, factor of the Marquess of Bute, referred to as “Lord of the Manor” in 1899 at the formal opening of the Town Hall. The “Castle of Cumnock” which stood at the heart of what is now New Cumnock referred to the factor had been the ancient seat of the barons of Cumnock, long before Dumfries House or its predecessor Leifnorris were built.
Fearful that Dumfries House would be lost and its contents sold and dispersed across the globe HRH, The Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay led a consortium of organisations and individuals to save the house and its contents for the nation.
“Adopting one of HRH The Prince of Wales’ Scottish titles, The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust was founded as an independent charitable Trust in November 2007 to manage, maintain and develop the Ayrshire based Dumfries House.”
With the future of New Cumnock Town Hall looking bleak The Princes Regeneration Trust and East Ayrshire Council hosted a “Town Hall Planning Day” at the Community Centre with a host local community groups participating.
Dumfries House was the venue for a dynamic public consultation event about the future of the East Ayrshire village of New Cumnock, attracting representatives from across the local community.
“The event, which was organised to discuss plans for New Cumnock Town Hall and the proposed community square, was in full swing when His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay arrived to the great delight of the gathered participants.”
23rd October 2016
With the Community Centre now demolished representatives of 30 local community groups gathered in the refurbished New Cumnock Town Hall for the formal opening by HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay.
“Ladies and Gentlemen I just wanted to say that I could not be more thrilled to join you here today at the newly refurbished New Cumnock Town Hall. When I first took on Dumfries House, it was always my greatest ambition to do as much as possible for all the various communities surrounding the estate. So, this project is our first foray into this work and I very much wanted to thank the people of New Cumnock for being so wonderfully welcoming and enthusiastic.”
The initial works had been funded by Mr Hans K Rausing and the total works funded by the Mansour Foundation and by Sir Tom Hunter’s Hunter Foundation.
Sir Tom also paid tribute to the Prince and said he had been a catalyst for the regeneration of New Cumnock and the wider community and that his leadership was badly needed, most appreciated and would not be forgotten.
Sir Tom grew up in the village where his father was the local grocer and said his memories were still strong. “I learned my trade at his apron strings – he taught me how to buy and how to sell but he taught me a most important lesson – he said ‘son, this community pays all our wages and if you take something out, you’ve got to put something back in’ and today we’re doing our wee bit along with others.”
Photos from the Formal Opening (Robert Guthrie 2016)
The Great Steward of Dumfries House Trust
- Cumnock Chronicle
- British Newspaper Archive
- Donald McIver “A Stroll through the Historic Past of New Cumnock” (2000)
- George Sanderson “New Cumnock Far and Away” (1992)
- Alexander Jess
Robert Guthrie, 22nd October 2017