Bo’ness Parochial School

The town of Bo’ness was originally part of the parish of Kinneil and it was at Kinneil that the first parochial school was set up, presumably in the vicinity of the church.  Upon Borrowstounness being disjoined from Kinneil in 1649 and erected into a parish by itself, the inhabitants of the Ness established a school of their own, as it was most inconvenient to send their children to the school of Kinneil.  A fund was created to pay the salary of 1,000 merks.  After the unification of Kinneil and Borrowstounness in 1669, the Duke of Hamilton, agreed to close 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.  Out of the moneys received it paid 1,100 merks yearly salary to the schoolmaster, as well as some occasional expenses for the repairs of the schoolhouse.

Illus 1: 1855/56 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland). The Parochial School lies adjacent to the United Presbyterian Church.

As usual there was an intimate connection between the school and the church.  The teacher also acted as the Session Clerk and it is because of that that we know John Fogo was the teacher until 1707 when he demitted office (Records of the Kirk Session of Bo’ness, 18 November 1707).  He was succeeded by Robert Scot, who was asked to precent at the church or procure a precentor at his own expense.  Scott was to teach such children as were sent to school by the Session upon public charity at the rate of fifteen pence Sterling each quarter for each pupil (Records of the Kirk Session of Bo’ness, 18 November 1707).

The school stood at the southern end of Providence Lane, fronting the steep lane down to the old market square in the town centre.  Subsequently that lane became known as Schoolyard Brae.  To the north of the school was a coal pit sunk by Dr Roebuck in the early 1760s.  It was the deepest shaft in the Bo’ness field and drained all the workings to the rise.  As the mouth of the Schoolyard Pit was some 50ft above sea level the greater part of the water had to be raised nearly 400ft and this required a large Newcomen steam engine.  The engine was close enough to the school that the pupils used to complain about the steam coming in through the windows.  James Watt experimented with it in 1765 or 1766.  Today the cylinder of that engine stands besides Kinneil House.  (See The Red House for the possible location of the school at this period).

Illus 2: Drawing of the 1776 Bo’ness Town House.

The Duke of Hamilton in 1776 presented an elegant town house to Bo’ness, said to have been a copy of Inveraray House, at the head of the harbour. The ground floor was intended for a prison, the second floor for a court room, and the attic storey for a school. The original intention was not carried out, and by 1795 the building was going to ruin.

The Old Statistical Account of 1790 provides the following information:

“The Parochial schoolmaster, commonly employs an assistant, and has generally from 80 to 90 scholars. He has a salary of 200 merks Scots (L. 11:2:2 1/2) besides the perquisites of his office as Session-clerk; and the sums paid for education at his school, which are as follows,

English and Writing by the quarterL. 0 2 6
Latin or French, by ditto0 5 0
Arithmetic and other branches of Mathematics0 3 6
Navigation or Book-keeping, per course1 1 0

The teaching of navigation was an important skill in a town built on the back of foreign trade.

A proportion of the salary came directly from the Heritors of the parish.  The Parochial Schools (Scotland) Act of 1803 sought to improve the provision of education in Scotland and laid down rules concerning the employment and payment of teachers.  In response, the Heritors of Bo’ness fixed the sum they paid at 400 merks Scots per annum on 7 November 1803 (Minutes of the Heritor and Minister of Bo’ness), which was to continue for the stipulated period of twenty-five years.  It was at the same time determined that a commodious house for a school be provided, with a dwelling-house for the schoolmaster, and a portion of ground for a garden.  A scale of fees was likewise fixed at this meeting.  This school appears to have been the first in the Presbytery built under the 1803 Act.  It was erected at what is now known as George Place and contained more than the legal accommodation. The schoolrooms were on the ground floor, and the schoolmaster’s house, which had a separate entrance to the west, was upstairs. The garden ground was rather deficient in size, and an equivalent in money was given.

In December 1808 the new teacher, John Stephens petitioned the Heritors and minister, pointing out that the fees fixed in November 1803, were

too low in general, and not equal to the fees paid in almost every town in Scotland.”

He therefore requested that they be increased and made more in keeping with those towns of

similar size and respectability over the kingdom,”

and the request was acceded to. The following are the scales of 1803 and 1809:

Illus 3: The 1803 School with later extension on the front and the old Liberal Club behind; now incorporated into Stewart Avenue.
English, per quarter2s 6d
English and Writing, per quarter3s 6d
English, English Grammar, and Writing per quarter4s
Arithmetic, per quarter 5s
Arithmetic and English Grammar, per quarter5s 6d
Practical Mathematics, per agreement
Book-keeping,a guinea
Latin, per quarter6s
French, per quarter6s
English Reading, per quarter3s 6d
English and Writing     4s 6d
English Grammar and Writing  5s
Arithmetic, with English Grammar and Writing, per quarter6s
Latin and Greek, per quarter7s
Practical Mathematics, per quarter7s 6d
Book-keeping, per quarter7s 6d

The general trend in the number of children at the school was upwards, though there was an aberration in the early 1840s, as noted by the parish minister when dealing with the schoolmaster’s income:

He has the maximum salary, L.34, 4s. 4 4/12d.  His house, which was the first in this Presbytery built under the act 1803, contains more than the legal accommodations; but the garden ground is rather deficient in size, for which he receives an equivalent in money.  The schoolmaster is also session-clerk, the fees of which office are about L.14 per annum. The average of school-fees is at present under L.40 per annum. The average of scholars, for upwards of thirty years, was considerably above 100; these last three years it has scarcely exceeded the half of that number

(New Statistical Account).

The assets of the burgh of Bo’ness should have contributed to the cost of the 1803 school and its staff, and the building of a grammar school had been mooted by the town’s representatives.  However, in 1800 the parish minister, Robert Rennie raised an action in the Court of Session to have the surplus from that fund directed into his own coffers.  Despite the practice of the previous fifty years he was successful (Salmon 1913, 300).  Ironically, in 1812 a spokesman for the minister claimed that the minister had at his own expense instituted a free school (ibid, 352).

The schoolhouse of 1803 is depicted on the 1864 Ordnance Survey map on the south side of George Square, an eastward turn of providence Lane.  The Surveyors described it as

A large house two stories high, with offices, all in good re­pair.  There is also a large garden attached.  The ground flat is used for the school and is large enough to afford accommodation to about 230, the average number of attendants 230.  The branches taught are those usually taught in country schools, except navigation, which is one of the chief branches taught here.  John Stephens is the schoolmaster, he uses the upper flat for his resi­dence.   His salary is composed of the maximum allowed by government, and the school fees.  He has an assistant male teacher.”

By 1877 the parochial teacher at Bo’ness had a fixed salary from the heritors of £50 a year, which was raised to £70 a little before the Education Act of 1872 took effect.  The teacher claimed a larger sum from the School Board based upon a claim he considered he had to the money collected by the Kinneil Iron Company from their workmen for educational purposes.  This arrangement between the Company and their workmen was nothing to do with the parochial arrangement and some members of the School Board opposed a substantial augmentation.  Even so, the new salary was fixed at £150. 

The parochial school building in George Place fell into the hands of the Bo’ness School Board on the passing of the 1872 Act.  It was immediately recognised that it was poor and would not meet the legal requirements for state subsidy and so as a priority the Board set about replacing it with a new one to be called the Bo’ness Public School.  The old building was sold and became a private residence and was only demolished c1990.

Year ArrivedHeadteacherYear LeftNo. Pupils
1695John Currie??
John Fogo1707
1707Robert Scott85
1808John Stephens1845100
1845John Stephens1865
1865Alexander Shand1868
1868William T Brown1873299

Sites and Monuments Record

George PlaceSMR 2286NS 9984 8152

G.B. Bailey, 2023