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Nethermains Community Centre (Former Eglinton Ironworks Institute) excluding railings, Nethermains Road, Kilwinning

A Category C Listed Building in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire

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Latitude: 55.6476 / 55°38'51"N

Longitude: -4.6973 / 4°41'50"W

OS Eastings: 230365

OS Northings: 642641

OS Grid: NS303426

Mapcode National: GBR 37.K76T

Mapcode Global: WH2NW.T9DT

Entry Name: Nethermains Community Centre (Former Eglinton Ironworks Institute) excluding railings, Nethermains Road, Kilwinning

Listing Date: 20 December 2019

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407311

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52539

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Kilwinning

County: North Ayrshire

Town: Kilwinning

Electoral Ward: Kilwinning

Traditional County: Ayrshire


The Nethermains Community Centre was built in 1900 as an institute for the workers of the Eglinton Ironworks. It is a tall single storey, roughly rectangular-plan building in an Italianate classical style with a large square-plan, three-stage clock tower. The building is constructed of blonde coursed and squared sandstone rubble with smooth and advanced ashlar quoins, some of which are margined. It has an advanced rusticated base course, an eaves band course, mullioned windows and projecting cills. It is in a residential area on a main road leading south out of Kilwinning.

The entrance (west) elevation is asymmetrical with an off-centre clock tower and a hall at either side. The taller main hall is to the left and it has an advanced and pedimented gable with three windows. There is a carved scroll and blank shield in the pediment. The lower hall is to the right with an angled corner bay. The rear (east) elevation has a long and lower, central six-bay section with narrow windows. This is flanked by shallow roofed bays.

The clock tower has the main entrance to the building. This has a replacement glazed and timber door and square fanlight. The middle stage of the tower has a plain band course and smooth ashlar panelled sections. The coursed rubble top stage has a cornice, band course and overhanging eaves. Each side has a large recessed clock face. The tower is topped by a pyramidal slate roof.

The windows are non-traditional and multi-pane. The multi-pitch roofs have small slates and there are some ashlar and corniced chimneystacks at the rear.

The interior of the building was seen in 2019 and retains its early 20th century plan-form and interior fittings including timber boarding to dado height and four and five-panelled timber doors. The entrance lobby has a narrow office with a glazed and panelled timber screen incorporating a ticket window and a letter box. There is a timber and glazed notice cabinet inscribed 'Eglinton Iron Works Institute'. A ceiling hatch in the office gives access to the clock tower which has rough-hewn stone walls and exposed timber floors. The original clock mechanism remains in use (2019).

The main hall has boarded timber to dado height, plain ceiling cornice and two large painted centenary wall murals. There is a timber fronted stage and an arch. The stage has a floor hatch to an under-stage storage area (containing the decorative wrought iron finial from the clock tower and the former ladder board from the office to the clock tower 2019). The smaller hall has a slightly raised stage area in the canted corner window. The former caretaker's rooms (to the north of the plan) have tall skirtings, coat hook rails, rounded cast iron radiators and the scullery retains a butler's sink. The kitchen and public toilet areas have been modernised.

Legal exclusions

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the railings.

Historical development

The Nethermains Community Centre was built in 1900 by Baird and Company to provide an institute at Eglinton Ironworks for the workers and their families. It was designed with reading rooms and a library, two halls for recreational use and public baths.

Eglinton Ironworks opened in 1846, with the first blast furnace being lit on Christmas Eve. It was built on estate land leased from the Earl of Eglinton, where iron ore and coal had been discovered in the early 19th century. The River Garnock and the newly opened Great Western Railway provided good transport for the ironworks.

At its peak the ironworks was the largest employer in the Kilwinning area, employing over 1000 workers. The company built rows of houses for their workers and a school, and these buildings are shown on the 1st and 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey maps to the north of the large ironworks. Workers were tied and paid with tokens for the works' shop and bakers, and their wages were deducted to pay for their children's schooling.

Newspaper articles from the late 19th century show the company had a poor health and safety record with a high number of accidents including fatalities. The assistant works physician, Dr David Gage, recorded concern at the high level of infectious diseases because of the poor living conditions and he campaigned for improvements.

In the late 19th century it was recognised that workers' conditions needed to improve and in 1900 an institute was built to provide health, educational and recreational facilities. The institute had bathrooms because most of the workers' cottages had no sanitary services. It was officially opened on 30th November at a celebratory evening concert. The institute first appears on the 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1908, published 1910) to the north of the large ironworks and rows of workers cottages and opposite a school.

At the time it was built the institute was admired as a fine example of the progressive provision for workers. A 1901 article in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald praises the newly built institute and requests are made for comparative quality institutes at similar Ayrshire works.

In 1924 Eglinton Ironworks closed mostly because they had not switched to steel production. The institute was then used as an ancillary building to the Eglinton Ironworks School. A 1960s photograph on Scran shows the building in its current form with a wrought iron foliage-style finial on the clocktower roof (currently stored under the stage 2019).

The building has been a community centre since around 1975 and remains in use as such (2019).

Statement of Interest

The Nethermains Community Centre meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the railings.

Architectural interest


Nethermains Community Centre is a well detailed, purpose-built workers' institute with distinguishing stonework details in an Italianate classical style. It is built in dressed sandstone with some good detailing such as the pedimented gables and three-stage tower.

The massing of the building and the composition of its elevations clearly demonstrate its various uses. The halls are defined by pedimented gables and larger windows and the multiple narrow windows at the rear indicate the former public bathrooms. Both the footprint and interior plan form are largely unchanged from the time it was built. Although there has been the full-scale replacement of the original windows, the building largely retains its historic character.

The four-sided clock tower is a prominent feature of the building and is larger than clock towers at other institutes of this age. The tower was designed on this scale to support large clock faces on each side so that the time could be seen from across the whole ironworks. The clock faces and mechanism were designed by R and W Sorley, a renowned Glasgow jeweller and watchmaker of the period. The clock tower adds significant interest because it relates directly to the building's designed use to serve the large workforce of the Eglinton Ironworks.

It is likely the building was designed by Kilmarnock architect, Robert Samson Ingram, (1841-1915) who mostly designed public buildings such as churches and schools. The Dictionary of Scottish Architects attributes several workers institutes in the area to Ingram. One example of his work is the Kaimes Institute (listed at category B, LB47421), which has a similar asymmetrical design and elevations that show the internal uses of the space. Most of his institutes have prominent clock towers although the Kilwinning example is the largest.

The interior is utilitarian and functional but has well-crafted fixtures and fittings that are typical of the period and building type. Much of this survives and adds to the building's historic character.


The Nethermains Community Centre is on Nethermains Road which leads south out of Kilwinning. The 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map shows this area was separate from the centre of Kilwinning and dominated by the Eglinton Ironworks and its associated buildings, including a school and rows of workers housing. In the 1960s most of the buildings relating to the ironworks were demolished and replaced with housing which has since linked the area with the centre of the town.

The former institute and eight semi-detached cottages opposite the institute are the only surviving buildings from the ironworks and the only buildings in the immediate vicinity to predate 1900. The loss of the other ironwork buildings has had an impact on the setting of the former institute, but not to the extent that its special interest is adversely affected.

The institute remains an important surviving element of the once thriving Eglinton Ironworks, the largest employer in the town. It is the most prominent building in this part of Kilwinning because of the building's level of design interest and the highly visible clocktower.

Historic interest

Age and Rarity

The manufacturing of iron was a major industry in Ayrshire throughout the 19th century. Baird and Company were the largest iron manufacturing firm in Ayrshire running five out of the seven works in the latter part of the 19th century. At that time the company also had works in the northeast of England, Cumbria and southern Spain. Eglinton Ironworks was a large ironworks with numerous blast furnaces and other trades and industries grew in Kilwinning to serve the works and its large number of workers.

In the earlier 20th century most works in Ayrshire began to switch to steel production. The Eglinton Ironworks did not transfer which ultimately led to its closure in 1926. Most of the buildings relating to the works were demolished in the following two decades. The former institute stands as the only significant building from this large ironworks in an area of Scotland that was known for this industry.

Institutes for workers have their origins in the Mechanics' Institutes (established in Edinburgh in 1821) and the Working Man's Institute (the first of which opened in 1858 in Salford). Their aim was to provide adult education for the working class, in the form of lectures and libraries, with many Mechanics' Institutes later becoming public libraries. In the case of the Working Man's Institute movement, the building was also a place for sport and entertainment, provided workers with an alternative pastime to excessive gambling and drinking.

The 1890s and the early 20th century was a peak period for building institutes for industrial workers. Most of Scotland's mining and heavy manufacturing towns and villages would have had one, and the buildings have been repurposed as public halls following the decline of heavy industry. They are not a rare building type in and around the central belt and southwest of Scotland.

Built in 1900 this former institute is part of this peak period of improvement to industrial conditions and is an architecturally distinctive example. Located in a former industrial area, it is also a regionally significant building type.

Social historical interest

South Ayrshire has an important industrial past and the numerous ironworks were significant for the prosperity of the area in the latter half of the 19th century. The Eglinton Ironworks was built during the initial development of large-scale industry in the region. It went on to dominate the town of Kilwinning in the later 19th century before closing and being demolished in the mid-20th century.

The former institute is important for its association with the local iron industry. It is the most substantial remaining element of this industry which was important to the economic and social history of the town. In its current form, the building still illustrates its former use as providing the social, educational and recreational facilities for the workers.

Association with people or events of national importance

There are no known associations with people or events of national importance.

Dr David Gage worked in Kilwinning Parish from 1866 and was the official medical officer for the parish from 1913 to 1928. He campaigned against the housing in the Eglinton Ironworks rows citing the link between the overcrowding and the spread of diptheria and scarlet fever. In 1928 the Town Council presented the institute with an oil painting by Charles Ogilvie RSA. The portrait remains in the library of the institute (2019).

While Dr David Gage is not a person of national importance, he was an important part of the history of the ironworks. The association with the institute is of local interest.

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