Macalister Hall and the Campbeltown Library

On this day in 1899, James Macalister Hall was awarded the Freedom of Campbeltown. He was only the third person to receive this honour (the first two having been the Duke of Argyll and the Marquess of Lorne), which suggests that his contribution to the area must have been felt to be considerable. According to the Scotsman, the award was presented to Macalister Hall at his home because of his age and ill health.[1]

Macalister Hall grew up in Campbeltown, the son of a grocer. His mother, Grace, belonged to a family of Macalisters from one of the Cumbrae Islands. They have no obvious connection to any of the leading clan families. Like the Strathaird family, however, these Macalisters made names for themselves in the British East India Company, of which James eventually became Director. They then set about acquiring property. James Macalister Hall purchased the estates of Killean and Tangy in 1875; at his death in 1904, the property passed first to his brother Stuart, who died childless, then to a nephew, and eventually to James and Stuart’s sister, Grace. The estate was broken up about 1940. Another brother, Peter, rented Torrisdale Castle in the 1860s; Peter’s son William actually purchased Torrisdale, changing his name to Macalister-Hall in the process, and that estate remains in the Macalister-Hall family to this day.

James Macalister Hall was very successful and became quite wealthy. He used his resources to benefit his hometown. About 1895, when local civic groups declared the absence of a public library “an affront to civic dignity”, James Macalister Hall offered to fund the building of a library. “Campbeltown’s new Library and Museum was formally handed over to the town” in January 1898.[2] The building, constructed by Glasgow architect J. J. Burnet, is known as the Burnet building.

In its early days, the museum was operated by the librarian. Donations were accepted of almost anything, the result being a rather eclectic collection. Although the library was eventually moved to a new leisure centre, the Campbeltown Museum remains in the Burnet building[3] – the most visible of the contributions for which this clansman was given the Freedom of Campbeltown on 20th January 1899.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] “Freedom of Campbeltown”, the Scotsman, 19 May 1945, p. 4
[2] “Campbeltown’s New Library and Museum, 1899″, Michael Davis, in Kintyre Magazine web edition, issue 45: Spring 1999

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