The Schools of Bo’ness Parish

Bo’ness is a relatively new parish, created in the 17th century as part of the move of the population from Kinneil to a new sea port on the Forth at the Ness.  This migration of people and infrastructure initially involved the duplication of such institutions as the church and school in the new settlement.   Upon Borrowstounness being disjoined from Kinneil in 1649 the inhabitants of the port set up a fund to pay for these services with the Bo’ness Seabox Society leading the way.  The fund included both monetary endowments and investments in land, buildings, and the like.  It was the returns from these investments which went some way to meeting the costs first of the church, then of the school, and subsequently of any other services required, such as street cleaning or the water supply.  After the unification of Kinneil and Borrowstounness parishes in 1669, the Duke of Hamilton closed the school at Kinneil and transferred the salary that he paid to the schoolmaster of Borrowstounness.  Between 1672 and 1694 the Representatives of Bo’ness, in conjunction with the Kirk Session, imposed a stent and managed the public funds.  As trade at Bo’ness prospered, the return from the investments increased and the Representatives were elected to manage the surplus.  This they did for the benefit of the fledgling town, despite attempts by the parish minister to claim the money for himself.

The early parochial school was located at the southern edge of the built-up area of the sea port, part of the way up the narrow lane which led up the hill from the market square and which consequently became known as Schoolyard Brae.  It was adjacent to this building that James Watt experimented on a Newcomen steam engine in the 1760s though the school children were unaware of the historical significance.  The range of subjects taught in the parish school was necessarily limited and so a number of private schools were established to teach practical subjects with navigation being at the top of the list.  The Old Statistical Account of 1790 states that at that time there were five schools in the town and parish of Bo’ness – all well attended.  Between then and the Second Account in 1843 the population shot up and so it is not surprising to find ten schools at this later date.  This Account noted that

The Dissenters, for three or four years past, have supported a school, which is numerously attended. This and the other schools in the town are not endowed, and most of them are taught by females.” 

Unfortunately, the location of this dissenting school is not fixed and so it is not possible to associate it with those known from other sources.  Nor are the schools taught by women noted elsewhere, with the possible exception of Jamieson’s. 

Rev. Kenneth McKenzie also gave evidence at the Royal Commission enquiring into the conditions of the mining population in 1840.  He dealt with the school attendance of the colliers’ children and the age at which they entered the coal pit. 

When children once go to work in the collieries they continue at it; and they go as early as eight years of age; but the age is quite uncertain, depending entirely on the convenience, cupidity, or caprice of the parents.  The tendency to remove children too early from school operates to the injury of many in after life. It proves an obstacle to future advancement, and renders the mind much more liable to the influence of prejudice.   With regard to the children employed at the colliery, education is at present in a very unsatisfactory state, and will continue so if the matter be allowed to rest with the colliers.  A good plan is adopted at some collieries.  Every man employed is obliged to pay a small weekly sum for education.  A sufficient sum is thus easily raised, and a properly qualified teacher is appointed by the proprietor or master.  Individuals are thus constrained to send their children to school who otherwise might be apt to neglect their education…  The day and evening school in Bo’ness, Newtown, is specially for the colliery population, but it is not attended; at present the teacher only receives 7s a week in voluntary fees.  The teacher has not been trained.  He teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as most adventurers do.  The parochial school is one of the best in Linlithgowshire, but the colliers seldom send their children to it.”

In 1855 the Ordnance Surveyors found that Bo’ness Parish had several schools – the parish school, an infant school endowed by government, and three subscription schools.  One of these subscription schools was in South Street and was run by Miss Jamieson, and a second by Mrs Paul in Providence Lane.

In 1871 the census showed that there were 994 children of school age in Bo’ness parish who were accommodated at the following schools:

  • 22 in Miss Wilkie’s at Borrowstoun
  • 10 at Carriden School (Carriden Parish)
  • 1 at Miss Hope’s school (Carriden Parish)
  • 2 going to Edinburgh
  • 14 taught in their own homes
  • 299 at the Parish School
  • 192 at the Infant School
  • 282 at Mrs Paul’s
  • 26 at Grangepans School (Carriden parish)
  • 17 going to Linlithgow
  • 1 to Falkirk
  • 6 to Polmont
  • 122 on no school roll

The setting up of the Bo’ness Parish School Board in 1873 was intended to create public provision for the schooling of all of these children.  Having analysed the results of the 1871 census the Board laid out its priorities.  404 places were available but the target was 1,000.  The first priority was the replacement of the parochial school with a bigger building capable of taking in those children at the private schools in the town centre.  Second was the augmentation of the accommodation at the Infant School in South Street.  Next was the provision for the landward area to the south, in the vicinity of Newton and Borrowstoun; and just behind that was a larger replacement of the subscription school at Kinneil.  Working at amazing speed, Bo’ness Public School was opened in 1875, Bo’ness Infant School in 1876, and Borrowstoun in January 1878.  The last of these buildings had been delayed because prices had increased in line with the demand created by the vast amount of school building going on across the whole of central Scotland.  By the summer of 1878 the pupil places available were given as:

  • 289 at Mr Brown’s School (Bo’ness Public School)
  • 187 at the Infant School
  • 185 at Borrowstoun school
  • 200 at Mrs Paul’s (Anderson Academy)

This still left a significant shortfall.  The project for a new school at Kinneil had actually been abandoned but had to be revived and the building was completed in 1884.  The other schools were extended and over the following decades the Board played a game of catch-up as the population continued to grow.

The unification of the parishes of Bo’ness and Carriden in 1895 led to an amalgamation of the Carriden School Board with that of Bo’ness.  This led to bitter disputes at Board meetings with Bo’ness members favouring centralisation in the burgh.  Ironically, this trend to large central schools led to the two largest schools – the Grange School and the Bo’ness Academy – being located in Carriden where land was cheaper.

The most successful of the private schools was that run by Mrs Agnes Paul.  Indeed, the Paul family was quite a phenomenon in local education.  A native of the town who had been fortunate in his business dealings as a banker and shipowner, John Anderson, and his sister, decided in their old ages to leave a fund to help the poor of Bo’ness.  After discussion with Mrs Paul, John Anderson built and endowed a school on Providence Brae in 1870.  The building was planned by Mrs Paul’s son, John, and then staffed by Mrs Paul and her daughter, Charlotte, until around 1885.    It was only in 1889, after the Scottish Charitable Commission had strongly recommended it, that the school was put into the administration of the Bo’ness School Board.  John Paul acted as clerk of works for the building that he had designed and became the Inspector of the Poor – ensuring that children went to school and had the means to attend.

In 1894 John Paul was joined by James Dodds who had been the Inspector of Poor in Carriden.  Whilst at Carriden, Dodds had been the architect for Blackness School.  He then acted as the clerk of works for most of the Bo’ness and Carriden School Board’s schools, also designing Kinneil School.  St Mary’s School was designed by him for the Catholic Church.

A significant step in education occurred in 1906 when the new Anderson Academy was built on Stewart Avenue to give adequate facilities for secondary pupils.  The old building had been converted to secondary education in 1893, putting Bo’ness at the forefront of such provision. Almost as significant was the decision by the Board in 1903 to provide books for the pupils who attended St Mary’s RC School.  The Scottish Education Department pointed out that this was potentially illegal, but the Board adhered to its view that as the parents of the pupils there contributed to educational costs in the local rates they were entitled to some return.  Other Boards followed suit.  Bo’ness was seen as progressive.

In 1919 responsibility for education in Bo’ness and Carriden was placed in the hands of the West Lothian Education Authority, also known as the Linlithgowshire Education Authority.  One of its first acts was to centralise secondary education in Linlithgow and Bathgate.  This naturally caused uproar in the other towns of the region and particularly in Bo’ness where the move was clearly seen as retrograde.  Pressure was applied and the decision was reversed.  Further local government reorganisation placed Bo’ness in Central Regional Council from 1975 to 1996 and educational matters were dictated from Stirling.  Fortunately for Bo’ness the convenor of Central region was a Bo’nessian.  With the introduction of unitary authorities it then became part of Falkirk Council.

The following schools are covered in this inventory:

Salmon mentions a private school run by James Adams “in the Big House at Newtown” (Salmon 1913, 416) in the early 19th century.

School Close

Illus: 1855/56 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The presence of another school was preserved in the name of a small narrow close which extended from the north side of South Street in the direction of North Street.  “School Close” reached about half way between the two streets, and was parallel to, and on the east side of Society Wynd (now occupied by tenements south of the Hippodrome cinema).


Bain, A.n.d.The Life and Times of the Schoolmaster in Central Scotland in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Gifford, J. & Walker, F.A.2002The Buildings of Scotland: Stirling and Central Scotland.
Jaques, R.2001Falkirk and District, an Illustrated Architectural Guide.
Salmon, T.J.1913Borrowstounness and District.

G.B. Bailey 2023