A Pavilion for Bute

This story follows the development of Rothesay Pavilion through the pages of the Buteman paper from 1935-1938.

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Pavilion or Public Hall?
This was a question raised on the 1 February 1935. A contributor to the Buteman and West Coast Chronicle, seemingly frustrated at some ongoing indecision wrote "Sir.--It is certainly time that the Town Council should come to some definite decision about a Pavilion or Public Hall for Rothesay". The contributor suggested the corner of Mackinlay Street as the perfect site due to the large amount of ground available adding, "It would also be a means of removing old buildings which are an eyesore, and certainly do not adorn the front of the town". By the 12th April, 1935 the Burgh General Committee were considering 44-49 Argyle Street as the only suitable place for a Pavilion. A minute was passed to negotiate over the purchase of the ground. Rothesay Town Council also considered Croft Lodge for the Pavilion site but the owners were not willing to sell. By the end of April 1935 the Council had purchased 44-49 Argyle Street for £4,250.

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Shortly after the council's purchase of the Argyle Street site, a venue called "Rothesay Pavilion" opened on Friday 10th June with its main entrance on Montague Street "where the Lade runs alongside the old Gasworks". An opening ceremony was performed by M.P. Harry Hope supported by members of town councils from Rothesay, Greenock, Largs, Millport and Paisley. John Reid, Chairman of the Rothesay Pavilion and Entertainment Co., Ltd., presided at the opening ceremony. The Buteman describes the opening event "Thereafter an exhibition of trick and fancy roller-skating, including the human spinning-top, was given by Professor J. Craig, late of Falkirk, who is floor manager for the Pavilion. Messrs T.M. Miller and J.B. Blackburn, chief instructors, also gave exhibitions of the graceful art of roller-skating. A first class band, under the conductorship of Mr Richard Daeblitz, late of the Dunoon Castle Gardens, discoursed selection, while the conductor also contributed a violin solo to the entertainment part of the proceedings". This original Pavilion boasted a wide foyer and a main hall 190ft by 75ft with a balcony and a large stage capable of carrying an orchestra. It was described as being "artistically decorated", able to seat up to 4000 people and to have cost an estimated £5,000.
By October 1935 a £30,000 scheme for the "New Pavilion" at 44-49 Argyll Street was announced along with an architects competition. Premiums were offered at £200, £100 and £50 for the winner and runners up, the winner was to be appointed architect for the building project. The Clerk of the Burgh General Committee also announced that the residents of 44-49 Argyle Street had agreed to vacate by May the following year.

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On Friday 7th, 1936 the winners of the architect competition were announced in the Buteman. Twenty-four sets of plans were submitted by architects which were placed on display in West Church Hall. The plans where seen by many members of the public and adjudicated by Colonel Arthur, President of the Glasgow Society of Architects. The winners were Messrs J. & J.A. Carrick from Ayr. The plans showed a modernist building with glazed sun terraces and a 170 foot frontage and would provide a large dance floor and seating for 1264 people. It is interesting to note that Colonel Arthur issued a letter giving reasons for his selection, stating that many of the submissions for the design didn't fully understand that the Pavilion was intended principally for "dancing and indoor games". Others countered that as the Pavilion was intended for the whole community, what would happen about providing space for concerts? Several societies complained that the plans showed a stage that appeared to be "inadequate".

Bute Heritage — 9 months ago

At the time of the appointment of the architects for the Pavilion, securing brick-layers was becoming a concern. This was highlighted by the slow progress of house building at Ballochgoy. The architects responsible for the houses reported that brick-layers would not come to Rothesay unless they were paid increased wages of 1d -2d per hour.

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By late summer 1936, concerns were expressed over the increasing cost of the Pavilion. A special meeting of the Rothesay Town Council took place and arguments were voiced for and against continuing with the build. Costs of demolition and site clearance were escalating and the architect's fees, contingencies and other works were to raise the cost by £15,000. Despite fears of the Pavilion finally costing as much as £50,000, it was noted that this was still considerably cheaper than many other comparable projects, and that the plans should go ahead for the sake of the reputation of the town. A detailed written report was requested of the exact works to be carried out.
By December 1936, the Pavilion was in the middle of more controversy regarding Sunday labour. A lengthy report in the Buteman on the matter has the following passage from the Ex-Provost Fisher; "It was repugnant to the great majority of the people of Rothesay to see these men working on Sunday, and even if ministers had not appeared to make a protest, he had had representations from people requesting him to do something to stop this unsightly, unprecedented thing". A biblical moral code 3000 years' old, and an old Scots' law were invoked in an attempt to halt the Sunday labour. The Pavilion however, was already behind schedule. Penalty clauses attached to the building project and a serious shortage of brick layers saw the Sunday labour continue.
This debate was underlined in January 1937 by a letter to the Buteman from a writer using the name "Bare Facts", presumably a labourer of some kind. He wrote: "We are just the same as the minsters - namely, workers. They work for their living just as we do and strangely the heaviest of their work falls on a Sunday, so they are, in their own words, desecrating the Sabbath". The letter continued, "As their salaries are steady and ours according to the weather, we must survive, and to do so we have to work whenever we can".

Bute Heritage — 9 months ago

One possible cause for the brick layer shortage in Rothesay at the time of the Pavilion's construction was the diversion of labour for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, completed in 1938. This was the second British Empire Exhibition and marked fifty years since Glasgow's first Great Exhibition. It offered a chance to boost the economy of Scotland, still recovering from the depression of the early 1930s. It required the construction of exhibition pavilions, the two largest being the Palace of Engineering and Palace of Industry. The most prominent structure was the Tait Tower (officially the Tower of Empire). Although it was intended to remain as a permanent monument after the exhibition, the tower was demolished in July 1939. The only surviving building is the Palace of Art. Despite 1938 being one of the wettest summers on record, the Exhibition attracted 12 million visitors.

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Dear Sir .... (To the Editor of "The Buteman.")
As works progressed on site at the New Pavilion, an acrimonious exchange took place on the Letters page of the Buteman. Sparked by a Rothesay resident calling himself "The Sniper", the argument centres on anti-immigrant rhetoric; specifically targeting Irish labour amongst the Pavilion workforce. The first letter, published in March 1937, begins: "Sir, --- the people of Rothesay are being victimised, and yet they allow it to go on." The Sniper then continues to express his concerns about the ousting of local workers by "Irish labour". "I am a local and a married man, and my job was given in preference to an unmarried Irishman. Why is it allowed to go on?". He continues, "Surely if the work was given to local labour, it would help to solve the unemployment question in Rothesay, and bring better and more prosperous times to the town. As it is, the money being lifted every week is going to benefit people in the Irish Free State who have no interest in the town whatever."
The letter was countered a number of weeks later with a stern rebuke: "The general tone of "The Sniper's" letter suggests that no Irishman whatsoever should be allowed to set foot in Rothesay. Poor "Sniper," I sympathise with you, but I would tell you that your perverted conservatism won't get you anywhere". The writer continued, "From my experience of Irishmen they don't generally run away with their hard-earned money from anywhere; as a rule they don't get enough to spend!". He closes the repost with ""Sniper," you want a lesson in Christian charity and tolerance. After all, this world is too short for wasting time in recrimination. - I am, etc., Proud to be Irish".
The exchange continued during 1937 and can be viewed in full in the Buteman archive in Rothesay Library.

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In October 1937, The Buteman reported that the building contractors for the Pavilion, Messrs. Marshall, had gone into liquidation. The work was taken over by Messrs. Kirkwood & Smith, who were also contractors for the new school which was being constructed alongside the Academy. At the beginning of 1938, concerns were expressed over delays to the construction. However, in the end the New Pavilion opened on 1st July 1938, just four weeks later than planned.
On Friday 1st July, the Buteman reported the much anticipated opening of the New Pavilion with a Carnival Ball that evening from 8.30pm to 2am. Dress was described as "optional" but owing to the high demand for tables, patrons were advised to "book early". Admission of 5 shillings was payable on the door including buffet. Music was provided by Alex. Freer and his "famous broadcasting band". There was also to be a "Belle of the Ball" competition for which "handsome prizes" were offered.
The following week's paper included a description of the Carnival Ball: "One heard expressions of admiration both for the splendid spring floor, which is constructed of imported American maple wood, and for the beautiful furnishings. The multi-coloured dresses of the ladies, under the artistic lighting scheme made the ballroom a gay and colourful scene". The Lambeth Walk was one of the most popular dances that evening. The Belle of the Ball competition was judged by Ina Harris and Cora Craven and was won by Mrs Macaskill.

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