Miss Agnes Russell had the building built as a memorial to her two bachelor brothers, Robert and Thomas Russell (R. & T. Russell, Solicitors) who had died in 1923 and 1920. and donated the Russell Institute building to the then Paisley Burgh on 19th March 1927.
The building was to be used as a clinic for the welfare of the children of the County of Renfrew and the Burgh of Paisley. It was planned and designed by Paisley firm of architects, Abercrombie & Maitland. After the death of the senior partner, it became the particular responsibility of J. Steal Maitland, FRIBA, the junior partner of the firm.
Miss Agnes Russell had placed no financial restrictions on the building, and as befitted a monumental memorial as well as a functional building, she sought a design away from everyday architecture. Archibald McFadyen, a partner in R. & T. Russell who conducted her affairs, supported her in this view.
Mr Maitland designed a building on vertical lines rather than the more popular horizontal lines, which had become the trend for economic reasons since the end of the First World War. The site chosen was a prominent one at the corner of New Street and Causeyside Street, although it was somewhat circumscribed for the purpose as it was then occupied by shops and the old tenement property, much of it in poor condition . There was a reluctance by some of the tenants to move – e.g. Rag Merchant Bailie Brown – “Doon Brown” – which caused a frustrating delay, work began about 1924. The Russell Institute made architectural history by having the first skeleton fabric of reinforced concrete in the west of Scotland. It was clad in Blaxter Freestone from the Borders, on a base of black Aberdeen granite. The bronze framed windows were arranged to give the maximum amount of natural light without distracting from the overall external appearance. Mr Archibald Dawson, a sculptor of great promise was chosen to carry out the architect’s designs for a group of figures in bronze and other materials. The main doorway is surmounted by a large maternal figure in bronze with her brood flanked by two shields – one is the Paisley Coat of Arms, the other the symbol of Aesculapius, God of Medicine, with a serpent twisted round a staff. Both are in copper with heraldic enamel in a brilliant colour.
Mr Dawson often used his family as models for his architectural work. His wife, Isa, and sons Alistair and baby Hamish, together with a young female relative, became the Young Motherhood group over the entrance. Above the large window is the massive bronze figure of a protective angel guarding the young generation. In its arms is the motto A DEO SALUS ‘Health comes from God’. The wording is carved in the stone work. Around the building at lower level are smaller figures in bronze each indicating a particular aspect of the work carried out in the building, e.g. dentistry, eye ailments.
Mr Dawson fulfilled his work with skill but a career which could have led to fame was cut short by his early death, possibly caused exposure to stone dust. Italian marble was used internally to embellish the three storey high hall and the main staircase. Small wrought-iron balconies adorned the first floor windows until about 1960. The building was completed in 1926.The total cost of the project was never revealed.
The formal opening ceremony was performed by HRH Princess Mary, the Princess Royal. On 19th March 1927 she was presented with a golden key designed by the architect bearing copies of the heraldic symbols at the door on behalf of everyone responsible for carrying out work on the building. Sadly Miss Russell died in London in June 1926 before seeing her plans come to fruition. Had she lived she who would have been made an honorary burgess of Paisley along with Mr W H Coats, in recognition of her gift to the Burgh. Many Buddies have been through its caring hands. The Russell Institute is currently undergoing a complete refurbishment.
©Les Fernie, Paisley Walking Tours on Wheels