Merkinch History Group
“ Help us explore the history of the building and add your memories and experiences to our oral history project - or perhaps somebody you know has memories of the hall? Get involved and help us get to the bottom of the story!
Dell McClurg (local historian)
The Merkinch History Group meets to explore the local history of the Merkinch Welfare Hall and is the focus for short courses in historical research, archive research and the recording of oral history. The group will work to produce an illustrated guide booklet to the building and its place in the community.
Merkinch Welfare Hall was built by the Temperance Movement in 1914. Readily identified by the Drum Clock (see below), added to the building in 1931 when a new clock was installed at the Town Steeple, it is the most important building within the streetscape. It stands as a rare example of a purpose-built hall for one of the most successful (if short-lived) of the temperance organisations at work in the years leading up to the Second World War. However, the Temperance Movement or Catch-my-Pal Union has largely been forgotten about today. The trustees of the Merkinch Branch were ordinary working men from the area. Their goal was to encourage young men off the street to take part in planned activities – and to require those participating to take a pledge to abstain from drinking. The organisation had remarkable success for the short time over which it operated. Although throughout its life the building has been a focal point for social events within the community, it has languished without proper maintenance.
The Temperance Movement and the Merkinch Welfare Hall
Such had been the widespread revulsion to the problems of drinking that, by the end of the nineteenth century, temperance movements were bound into the threads of Scottish society at all levels. While drunkenness was perceived primarily as a problem afflicting the major urban conurbations of the industrialised central belt, Inverness was tarnished by being seen to have acquired a reputation for it, one which was viewed as being widespread throughout the Highlands. Although the name of the Catch-my-Pal Movement is little known now, there were three branches of the union engaged in the movement in Inverness, on Celt Street, Academy Street (where a Catch-my-Pal Hall stood for a number of years) and the Merkinch branch (for which our purpose-built premises on Grant Street were built).
The movement was founded by the Rev RJ Patterson, an Armagh minister of the Irish Presbyterian Church, and developed along ecumenical lines. It is almost certain that the nucleus of the Catch-my-Pal movement in Inverness had its spiritual home in Merkinch, from which the other branches had grown in quick succession. The Inverness Valuation Rolls record that both before, and during, the time that the new hall was being built on Grant Street, the organisation had as its headquarters premises at No 40 where it was listed as tenants first in 1912-3. The site occupied by the hall had been at Nos 30, 32 and 34, and so it is conceivable that the former public house on the corner of Nelson Street and Grant Street had been taken over temporarily as a meeting place and temperance saloon. The trustees of the Merkinch Branch of the Union were all working men, and presumably of the immediate area, as their occupations might suggest: two of them, James Walker and Joseph Cook Junior were timber merchants, John Macgruther was a coal merchant, William Elliot a flesher, Norman Smith a stevedore and James Sinclair a signal fitter. In order to finance their new building, the trustees of the Merkinch Branch of the Catch-my-Pal Union took out a bond of £400 with the Inverness Investment and Permanent Building Society in the autumn of 1914. Other funding for the erection of the hall, and for fitting it out, is believed to have been raised locally.
The layout of the building and the relative sophistication of the design of the street frontage all point to the fact that the trustees must have engaged the services of a local architect whose identity has not been traced. The plan allowed for flexible space at the ground floor, with the front meeting room having been subdivided so that the partition could be folded back for those times when the use of the larger space was merited for public gatherings, or possibly concerts. With the greater height of the room to the rear, with the open trusses supported on corbels with arched braces it might be assumed that this space was suited to recreational use, or as a billiards hall. It would have been an airy space, well-lit by natural lighting. The intention behind the front meeting room at ground floor, which had its own fireplace on the west gable, might have incorporated the temperance saloon so favoured by the organisation to attract passers-by off the street. At first floor a large room, with fireplaces at each end, would have provided further meeting space, or possibly space for planned activities. The room would have had good daylight, with the three sets of wide dormer windows.
What happened exactly after the hall had been built, when so few servicemen returned home from the theatre of war, is not altogether clear, other than for the fact that the organisation had become financially embarrassed. The Catch-my-Pal Union had lost some of the initiative of the years immediately preceding the war, and the Merkinch Branch soon became moribund. In the 1918-1919 Valuation Roll the property is listed, perhaps curiously, as a ‘Hall, Store, and Baths’, suggesting that it could have fulfilled a desperate short term need for the local community or, more probably, as a result of the war requisitioning. Other branches of the organisation seemed to have fared somewhat better, particularly the Academy Street Branch under the leadership of the prominent Inverness baker, William Anderson, who was President of that branch for many years. There is also a record of a mechanical organ having been gifted to the Catch-my-Pal Huntly Street Branch by the Town Council in 1921.
Community Use of the Hall
The Hall was soon put to use by the wider community. For example, Mrs Davidson (a Merkinch midwife who delivered over 300 babies) started a welfare project and was based in the Merkinch Welfare Hall in the 1920’s. This comprised showing mothers how to wash their babies and make sure that they were fed properly. She would also weigh them and keep charts of their progress. She would also tell them to check if their children had head lice and what to do about it. In 1929 a candidate at the local elections for the Town Council, Donald Maclennan, used the hall for his address to a packed gathering. After winning a seat on the Council, in September 1931 he proposed a motion that the redundant Drum Clock on the town steeple on Bridge Street should be relocated on the Welfare Hall on Grant Street.
The Merkinch Drum Clock
The clock was given to the Merkinch Welfare Hall by Inverness Council in 1931. Originally the clock belonged to the jeweller and watch maker located on the corner of the Church Street and Bridge Street.
Lindsay Macdonald (the great great granddaughter of John McFarquhar who made the Drum Clock, see picture below) got in touch with us and passed on some information. John (the clockmaker) lived in Merkinch between the 1850s and 1880s. Although the History Group members are currently undertaking further research, we know that the clock was originally in Bridge Street (most likely above the jeweller and watchmakers Robert Morrison, who were in Bridge Street from 1868) and then moved to Grant Street in the 1930s.
Due to the ongoing restoration work the Drum Clock has been taken off from the face of the Merkinch Welfare Hall and is currently awaiting repair. This has enabled us to inspect the inside of the clock. The clock is made of wood (like a barrel) with a metal coating. It was originally painted green with a gold / yellow crown and finishing touches. This type of clock is often named a turret clock or a public clock. The clock was originally weight-driven (operated by weights that, under gravity, drive the hands of the clock in their rotational movement by means of a gear train). However in the late 1970s it was converted to electrical power and most likely also at this point painted grey.
New information on the origins of the Drum Clock
One of our researchers Anne Mackintosh discovered new seasonal facts about the Drum Clock. As everybody knows, the clock did not originally belong to the Hall, but was moved in 1931 from its original position on the town steeple, on the corner of Church Street and Bridge Street. Anne has discovered that the clock was made before 1890, as the New Year celebrations from 117 years ago were reported in the local press as having been made ‘under the clock’…
The Inverness Courier (January 2nd 1891) wrote that “as usual, a large number of people assembled on the Exchange to welcome in the New Year. The crowd was chiefly composed of young men, and was orderly in the extreme. Indeed, it appeared as if a large number of the youths had invested more money in fireworks than in whisky; and for a quarter of an hour before the advent of 1891 the Exchange and its neighbourhood was made lively by the firing of rockets, squibs and crackers. The various parties composing the crowd gathered together as the hands on the Drum Clock on Bridge Street [our Drum Clock] approached the hour of twelve, and the feeling was intensified as the minutes ran on and the old clock failed to proclaim the departure of the year… 1891 had started well on its course before they [the crowd] joined in exchanging the congratulations of the season. Thereafter all quietly dispersed, and the streets throughout the night were very quiet and orderly [just like many other Merkinch Hogmanay nights to come].”
Lost and Found
During the removal of the ground floor floorboards, McGregor Construction found a handbag (empty) and a few bottles of beer (long past their sell-by-date). Please let us know if they belong to you! The carry-out was lost in the 1940's and included two bottles of J&J Morison’s Indian Pale Ale (an Edinburgh brewer), two bottles of Murray's Pale Ale (from Craigmillar in Edinburgh) and an unlabelled beer from Whitbread of London.
Simon Green (Historic Environment Scotland) presented a public talk on ‘A Celebration of the Temperance Halls’.
The Merkinch History Group visited the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery in April for an object handling session.
On the 1st of October the Merkinch Welfare Hall Project in partnership with the Scotland’s Urban Past team hosted two workshops on ‘PastMap and Canmore’ and ‘Building Surveying and Illustration’ as part of the Highland Archaeology Festival.
On the 5th of October the Merkinch Welfare Hall Project hosted a talk by Dr Susan Kruse ‘The Campaign for Women's Suffrage in the Highlands’. The talk described a WEA project investigating the campaign for women's suffrage a century ago, a movement with close ties to the temperance movement. The talk was presented as part of the Highland Archaeology Festival.
To see our initial ideas as to what we would be looking at, see our Initial Ideas page for further information.
Alternatively, for details about Interesting Places and Workshops that are taking place locally, our Places and Workshops page has more details.
If you have any questions, just let us know and maybe we will be able to answer some or include them in our research. If you have any information, or answers – or perhaps have a family related story to tell – please just get in touch!