Arlington architect: Benjamin Conner 1902 and the gym that never was

Benjamin Conner was born on 23rd December 1864 in Glasgow. His father was Benjamin Conner (1813 – 1876) and his mother was Helen Dick from Oban (born 1825).

Benjamin Conner Snr was a locomotive superintendent (chief mechanical engineer) with the Caledonian Railway Company designing several locomotives.

He and Helen had three children already: James (born 1854); Christina (born 1858); and Alexander (born 1860). William arrived in 1867, three years after Benjamin.

The family lived at 5 Hill Street, 17 Scott Street and then 9 Scott Street, Garnethill. Also in the household were Helen’s sister Elizabeth Dick and their domestic servant, Elizabeth Trapp from Falkirk.

Benjamin Conner studied at the Glasgow Technical College (which would become Strathclyde University). On August 1883 he started as an apprentice at J Copeland & Co, a company of engineers, millwrights and boilermakers in Glasgow. He stayed with J. Copeland & Co until 30 September 1886 serving one year in shopfitting and two in the drawing office. He then joined the locomotive works of the Caledonian Railway Company where he was under the supervision of Dugald Drummond from 12 October 1886 until 30 November 1888. On 3 December 1888 he transferred to the civil engineering department as an assistant to Robert Dundas, working on designing steel bridges and structures, stone buildings, retaining walls and general railway infrastructure.

Dundas proposed Conner for membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 7 October 1896. Conner was made an associate member of the institution on 8 December 1896.

Benjamin and his brother Alexander were both members of the Arlington Baths Club, numbers 180 in 1890 and 238 in 1893 respectively.

In 1902 Conner had a practice at 196 St Vincent Street Glasgow. He was based here when he designed a first floor extension of the Arlington Baths Club for the Glasgow Swimming Bath Co Ltd.

The club had identified the need for a gymnasium in April 1899 and started fundraising for it. A bazaar, opened by Sir William Gairdner, was held on 1-3 November 1900 in the Fine Art Galleries in Sauchiehall Street, which raised the sum of £1000.

stonehavenjournal8-11-00
Report of the fundraising bazaar in the Stonehaven Journal, 8th November 1900

Despite these sterling efforts the amount raised was insufficient and with the joint committee of the company and club unconvinced by the need for a gym, it was agreed in May 1902 to build additional billiard and changing rooms.

“Owing to the large increase of the membership, and to the consequent congested state of the Reading and Billiard Rooms, the Joint-Committee have resolved to recommend that, instead of erecting a Gymnasium, additional Reading, Billiard and Dressing Room accommodation be provided, according to plans which have been prepared, at a probable cost of £1,500, towards which it is proposed to apply the £1,000 raised in 1900. A resolution empowering the Committee to carry this proposal into effect will be submitted to the Annual Meeting.”

Conner presented his plans to a meeting of the directors of the Glasgow Swimming Company in July 1902. The Conner extension completed the façade as we see it today.

It added:

  • a billiard room (now the gymnasium)
  • a ladies dressing room (now the free weight room)
  • and the pool stairs.
connerplan
Detail of Conner plans. Reproduced by permission of Glasgow City Archives (1/9154 sheet 2)

The dog-leg pool stairs and mid-landing are supported by ornamental cast iron brackets from Walter MacFarlane’s Saracen Foundry.

The plans also show the that one of the three poolside arches is closed and that the swim-through to the Turkish suite has been filled in. These changes must have happened between 1893 and 1902.

connerpoolwall
Drawing showing a pool arch and the swim-through removed. Sky-lighting and exposed beams continuing in the new billiard room. Reproduced by permission of Glasgow City Archives (1/9154 sheet 2)

The work was then carried out by Messrs Cowan and Sons of 42 Arlington Street for £1146. Benjamin Conner’s fee was £25 18s 0d.

The new billiard room had sky lights and exposed beams, similar to the billiard room that already existed in the original part of the first floor extension.

The room finally became our gymnasium in the early part of this century, so finally achieving its intended purpose after nearly 100 years.

Benjamin Conner married Anna Arthur Yule from Hyndland on 9th June 1903.

He lived to the age of 75, and died n the Western Infirmary on 23rd October 1940 of injuries sustained from being rundown by a lorry.

Conner’s entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects has the Baths as his only known building.

Sources used:

  • Arlington Baths Club archive in the Glasgow City Archives
  • Arlington Baths Club Membership List 1890-91. City Archives TD965/64
  • Arlington Baths Club 1893 life members list in Glasgow City Archives TD965/64
  • Glasgow City Archives – Dean of Guild
  • Statutory Register of Deaths 1940  644/13 1087
  • Statutory Register of Marriages 1903 646/3 169
  • 1861 Census
  • Ancestry.co.uk
  • Dictionary of Scottish Architects

Researchers: Will Jess, Lucy Janes

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