Cove Burgh Hall
Cayzer was a self made man, who rose from poor beginnings in East London to become a very wealthy ship owner. In 1871 he formed the Clan Line Shipping Company based on the Clyde which, through his endeavours, became eminent in trade routes to India and South Africa. By 1890 Cayzer and his family resided in the magnificent Ralston Hall (near Paisley) and purchased Clevedon House, Cove, as a summer residence. In 1891 he was elected Provost of the Burgh of Cove and Kilcreggan.
Building the Burgh Hall
Cayzer’s first act as Provost was to launch a scheme to raise money (by public subscription) to build a Burgh Hall. An estimated £2000 was required for the project. He donated the first £500 to the project, the remainder being subscribed by the wealthy residents. During the following year Cayzer was elected M.P. for Barrow-in-Furness and his parliamentary responsibilities took him away from Cove and Kilcreggan.
His position as Provost was taken by Peter Donaldson, a wealthy Glasgow iron and steel merchant whose summer residence was Woodbine in Kilcreggan (now the Kilcreggan Hotel). Donaldson was a keen yachtsman and the yachting facilities of the Clyde were perfect for his leisure activities. Under his auspices the project to build Cove Burgh Hall was progressed. Financial assistance in the form of a low feu payment was given by the Duke of Argyll.
The design for the new hall was put out to competition and of the ten architectural practices that submitted drawings, the winning entry, under the motto 'Argyll' was that of James Chalmers.
Chalmers’ offices were at 101, St Vincent St., Glasgow. He was 34 years of age when his design was selected and he was still relatively unknown. He went on to design many well known Glasgow buildings, particularly churches, but the Burgh Hall was one of his earliest public buildings. He had a particular liking for red sandstone and his various designs are generally classified as Classical, Arts & Crafts and Glasgow Style. (Probably his most famous work, commissioned four years later, was the offices of distillers Wright and Greig, later the Distillers Company Office in Waterloo Street). Cove Burgh Hall is typical of Chalmers work.
The Architectural style of the Burgh Hall is “Scottish Baronial”.
Opening of the Hall
Building the Hall was completed in the spring of 1893 and it was officially opened on 14th May. Provost Donaldson hosted a civic reception to mark the event which was fully reported in local newspapers.
A large brass commemorative plaque dated 1893 naming both Cayzer and Donaldson as central figures in the building of Cove Burgh Hall is on display in the Commissioners Room. (Above the main entrance)
In due course the hall was adopted by the Burgh Commissioners for administration and maintenance.
In 1895 the image of Cove Burgh Hall was placed at the centre of the official Burgh Seal demonstrating the prominent position it held in the area. Newspaper articles of the time report the many and varied events held at the Hall and, as social needs changed, it continued to play a central part in local life.
During World War 2, when the Clyde was teeming with military activity, the Hall was used as the centre of entertainments for 1000’s of Allied troops stationed on the peninsula which was then a militarised zone. Harry Lauder played at the Hall in 1943 to raise money for the war effort. After the war during the “big band era” dances were a regular feature and 100’s of dancers would pack into the hall to be entertained by many prominent London bands brought here by a wealthy Cove resident who owned Allied British Cinemas.
In the major reorganisation of Local Government in 1975 the assets of Cove and Kilcreggan Town Council were transferred to Strathclyde Regional Council. Prior to hand-over the Town Council had carried out a refurbishment to Cove Burgh Hall. This included major structural improvements including strengthening the main façade by inserting a 9 inch steel girder running transversally behind the library window. At the same time the old (internal) balcony overlooking the Main Hall was removed and the space incorporated into a 3 meter extension of the Reading Room which, by this time house housed Cove Library. A new storage area was also built on the east side of the main hall and new ceiling installed with electric heating.
When the Town Council was disbanded in May 1975 Cove Burgh Hall came under West Dunbartonshire Council who continued to operate the facility. As such it remained a popular venue for all manner of local events. In April 1997 it was placed on the Secretary of State’s list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. In later years, however, funds for maintenance were reduced and the hall started to fall into disrepair. Matters worsened after the boundary change of 1998 when Argyll and Bute Council took responsibility for the Hall. By this time the use of the Hall was in a classic downward spiral. The building was cold and damp and, as such, was unattractive as a venue for events.
Cove Burgh Hall threatened with closure
In February 1999 Argyll and Bute Council declared that, because of the high maintenance load and the low usage, they had no option but to close the Hall. They stated that the cost of repair would be in the region of £190,000. A local committee formed with the aim of preventing the Council from taking this action. It sited many reasons for proper upkeep and continued operation of the Hall. These included its status as a B listed building in Cove Conservation Area and the inevitable closure of Cove Library housed in the Hall’s reading rooms. Despite these and many other arguments put forward the Council continued its plans for closure.
Matters came to a head at a public meeting in Cove Burgh Hall in May 2000. Here local councillors and officers from Argyll & Bute Council detailed to angry residents their reasons for their decision to close the Hall. At this point residents formed a committee to investigate the possibility of running the Hall on a voluntary basis rather that seeing it closed. They quickly formed a company (limited by guarantee of directors) to which ownership of the Hall to could be transferred and then negotiated funds from the council to carry out repairs and prevent further rapid deterioration of the building.
Within two weeks a deal had been arranged and the new company directors were set to purchase Cove Burgh Hall from Argyll and Bute Council for £1. The council also agreed to provide funds of £50,000 to the new company to assist with essential repair work.
Re-pointing the facade
In due course the new directors took ownership of Cove Burgh Hall and set about a huge renovation project. This was undertaken by a combination of professional and voluntary work. It included re-pointing of the south façade and the removal of much rotten wood and plasterwork. New windows were fitted, roof repairs were carried out and a new oil-fired central heating system installed. Work took about 6 months after which the Hall reopened for business under its new management.
Rotten lath and plaster in the kitchen caused by ingress of water in the old lead roof
valleys – one of the many examples throughout the Hall.
In order to encourage use by local societies, many of which have only limited funds, the hire charged for the hall is kept as low as possible. To bolster funds for maintenance and improvement a sub-committee has been formed to organise fundraising events. These events are all extremely popular adding greatly to the social and cultural activities of the area. They include coffee mornings, live theatre performances, festivals and a variety of dances including a St. Andrew’s Family Ceilidh and a Hogmanay Ball. Apart from the social benefits these events also raise in the region of £6,000 per year for hall upkeep.
Along with huge maintenance costs the directors need to keep in line with any new regulations and, for old buildings, this can prove very expensive. In 2003 they embarked on a project to install disabled facilities and access to the hall. Apart from high costs there were many design and building complications to overcome. The project took four years to achieve and cost in the region of £25,000. It was followed by a £5,000 renovation and redecoration of the entrance Hall. At the same time major work was undertaken to weatherproof the south façade at a cost of £8,000. Having effected all these improvements the directors are now in the process of incorporating the requirements of new fire regulations. During 2007 more weatherproofing on the roof and façade will be required and the directors hope to embark on an improvement of the stage and lighting in the Main Hall.
The benefits of investment in community infrastructure such as village halls are widely recognised. Over the last 6 years Cove Burgh Hall has become an excellent example of what can be achieved. Activities include private dances and weddings and encompass a large range of meetings of local organisations such as the Literary Society, Film Club, Art Club, Archaeology Society and old folk’s Lunch Club. Fundraising dances and events organised by Cove Burgh Hall Sub-committee form a major part of the social activity of Cove, Kilcreggan and the Peninsula. Cove Burgh Hall continues to house Cove Library and is the Poling station at elections.