Major John Ness

Blantyre's Ain Website

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Blantyre Folk

Major John Ness

Early School Days in Blantyre

1856

Major John NessMr John Ness (afterwards Major John Ness, F.E.I.S., V.D.) came to Blantyre in February 1856. At that time he received an invitation from Messrs Henry Monteith & Co., proprietors of the old Blantyre Mills situated on the bank of the River Clyde, to take up the duties of headmaster of the school at Blantyre Works which, by the way, was wholly maintained by the firm. The offer was made through Dr. Watson of St. Matthew’s Glasgow, under whom Mr Ness had been a pupil and later a junior teacher. He accepted it and took up his duties on June 1, 1856.

He told the story to the writer of his first day in the school thus:- “When I came to the school on that morning nobody was there to receive me, nobody to introduce me to the scholars and I had just to start with the lessons as if I had been there the day before. If I had been a minister,” continued Mr Ness, “I would have been received by a whole presbytery, with a good dinner afterwards. But I was only a schoolmaster! When I came that morning to open the school a number of boys were playing about and looking at me said, “is this the new maister?” ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘I am the schoolmaster.”’.  A start was made with the lessons.

Disobedient Scholars

Towards the close of the day Mr Miller, manager of the mills, came into the school and imparted the following instructions to Mr Ness:- “Mr Ness: – Mr Ness,” said he, “we have in this school a large number of boys who have gained notoriety as having become unmanageable, and a more rowdy and disobedient band of boys could scarcely be brought together. We want you to make a change in them, and whatever you do will be rigidly supported by the firm.

A Recalcitrant Youth

It was not long afterwards when an occasion arose which brought to light the personal determination of Mr Ness and also his firmness as an upholder of school discipline. The incident was as follows:- A boy had been caught in the wrong and Mr Ness had told him he was going to be punished for it, but the boy positively refused to hold out his hand to be punished. Mr Ness gave him two minutes to do so, and added that, if he still refused, he would punish him more severely than he intended to do. The boy remained obdurate, and Mr Ness did punish him by force. The parents of the boy lived so close to the school that they heard his cries and in the twinkling of an eye, said Mr Ness, the father was down his house stair and rapping vigorously at the school door.

Mr Ness, on going to the door was confronted by the angry parent, who bluntly said:- “Ye —-, whit are ye doin’ tae my boy?” Mr Ness, coolly facing his interrogator, replied that before answering that question the father would require to modify his language and address him more respectfully than he had done. The man refused and Mr Ness would not speak to him further, with the result that the man had to leave without any satisfaction. The boy came back to school the following morning, but Mr Ness had decided that an example would have to be made of him with a view to enforcing discipline. He brought the boy out and told him he would be allowed to remain in school if he would express regret for what he had done. This the boy refused to do and Mr Ness ordered him to take his books and leave the school. In a few minutes the boy’s father again came to the school and asked Mr Ness what he was doing now. Mr Ness replied that the boy would be allowed to come back to school if he would only apologise for what had taken place, adding further that the father would also have to promise never to interfere with him in the discharge of his duties as headmaster of the school. The man would not promise and forcibly stated that the boy also would not apologise. “All right,” said Mr Ness, “the boy cannot stay in this school!

Expelled

The lad was thereafter sent to a school in Bothwell, which he attended for a few weeks. His mother then came to Mr Ness and asked him to take the boy back, adding that she would apologise for the conduct of the boy. She further promised that her husband would never again interfere with Mr Ness in the execution of his duty. In the meantime the father of the boy reported to the manager of the mills that his boy had been expelled from school, and it is gratifying to state that the form strongly supported the action of Mr Ness and told the father that discipline would be maintained in the school, even to the necessity of expulsion to any boy who refused to come under Mr Ness’s authority. “I may say,” added Mr Ness, “that I had never again to resort to the drastic means of expelling a boy.” Those guilty of bad behaviour before Mr Ness came soon recognised he was a man not to be trifled with.

Spinning and Weaving

When Mr Ness came to Blantyre the principal industry in the parish was the spinning and weaving mills, and the dye works alongside them. There were no coalfields in the parish at that time. But limestone kilns, particularly in the Auchentibber district, and stone quarrying were other good assets to the parish.

The workers at the mills and at the Dyeworks were comfortably housed in splendid houses (for that period) built by Henry Monteith & Coy., the owners of the mills, and there are still quite a large number of citizens – now grandfathers and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers – who worked in the mills and can remember the long stretch of well kept gardens which run along the steep bank towards the viaduct. These houses and gardens could not be excelled anywhere for their general cleanliness and tidiness and were truly nothing short of models.

A Model Village

In the Scottish Gazeteer of 1857 it is recorded that the old village where the mills and dye works stood was “ye model village of Scotland .” The writer asked Mr Ness if any pilfering took place in these old gardens in these days. He replied with the following story:- One day the wife of one of the officials at the mills was in her garden, when her attention was arrested by a rustling movement among the berry bushes caused by a boy. The boy in terror, tried to get away but the lady caught him and elicited his name. In his anxiety to get away he left his bonnet, which he had filled with currants. The lady handed the bonnet and its contents to Mr Ness and the next day the escapade was the subject of a lecture in the school by the master. The boy was chastised for his act and the matter was also reported to the manager of the mills. Mr Miller spoke to the boy’s father who worked in the mills, telling him that over and above the flogging which Mr Ness had given the boy, he (the father) had also to do the same, adding that if the same thing occurred again he would give the father a week at home. As these were days when a week’s idleness was a great hardship to a man earning only a £1 per week, the father made sure that his son would never again pilfer in any garden. This boy was one of those present at the presentation function to Mr Ness and at that meeting he said to the writer that he was one of the many boys who were better for severe discipline which Mr Ness carried out in the school. When the mills closed down in 1887 this boy had risen to be foreman engineer there.

The School at Blantyre Works
Ness's School 1904Under the regime of Mr Ness it continued to flourish, and at its closing there were 180 scholars in attendance. He told the story of the last day he spent in the school after sixteen happy years. “On that morning,” he said, “the scholars assembled in the schoolroom when, as always was my custom, I opened the lessons with a 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 and were present at the opening ceremony, which was conducted by the school Board.

 Works Village School Kids  workers village school pupils

Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 27/1942. Page 4.

Wilma Bolton. 2005.

1881 British Census
Dwelling: Glasgow Road, School Masters House
Census Place: Blantyre, Lanark, Scotland

Name

Age

Relate

M/F

Occupation

Place of
Birth

John NESS

47

Head

M

Head Master
Public School

Glasgow

Mary NESS

45

Wife

F

Glasgow

James F. NESS

19

Son

M

Student In Arts

Blantyre

Andrew R.
NESS

16

Son

M

Pupil Teacher

Blantyre

John R. NESS

13

Son

M

Scholar

Blantyre

Alexander O.
S. NESS

11

Son

M

Scholar

Blantyre

William A.
NESS

9

Son

M

Scholar

Blantyre

Archibald Me.
NESS

9

Son

M

Scholar

Blantyre

Mary MC
CORGERY

21

Servant

F

General Serv
(Dom)

Blantyre

~~~
Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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