Bo’ness Public School

In 1873 the Bo’ness School Board commissioned John Paterson, architect in Edinburgh, to produce plans for a new school to replace the parochial school which was far too small and inappropriate.  Land was acquired on the east side of the steep lane that led south from the old market square and which was destined to become known as School Brae. 

The plans were approved, and estimates advertised for, and obtained.  The following contractors were appointed: Robert Drysdale, Bo’ness, mason work; Archibald, Leith, joiner work; John Lamb, Falkirk, slater work; Davie, Falkirk, plasterer work; and McCalman, Edinburgh, plumber work.  The total cost of the buildings was about £2,500.  John Paul, Bo’ness, was appointed clerk of works.  The school was built on the slope and so the south side presents a single storey whilst the north has two.  The front elevation, which faced south onto a short new west/east lane, was of seven bays.  The two end bays were advanced and had barge-boarded gables; the central bay was flush and gabled with a large hood-moulded window and datestone; the other remaining bays were plain and were divided by two small porches giving separate entrances for the boys and girls.  Originally the central bay was surmounted by a belfry which also served as a ventilator for the principal schoolroom.  The walls were built of freestone and dressed rubble from the quarries of Mr Drysdale at Bo’ness.  The overall length of the building was 125ft and it was 42ft broad.  The principal or mixed schoolroom lay in the centre and was 66ft by 20ft, running into a north transit; the two eastern classrooms were 20ft by 20ft; and the industrial room to the west was 24ft by 20ft.  The various rooms were 16ft high from the floor to the ceiling.  The classrooms were supplied with galleries and separated by plate glass partitions for the purpose of deafening the sounds of the various classes while in the process of being taught.  Besides a room for the master and another for the mistress, the school was also provided with lavatories.  Arnot’s patent ventilators were used, though these later presented a problem.  The building was heated by Smith and Wellstood’s school stoves.  Gas from the town’s works, and an abundant supply of water from the pipe under School Brae that supplied St John’s Well, were also brought into the building.  The playground covered three-quarters of an acre and was surrounded by a substantial wall.  In the playground the sexes were kept separate by a strong railing.  Shelters were provided along the north foot of the building.  The school was erected to accommodate over 300 children, and the teaching staff comprised of one head teacher (Mr Brown), one assistant teacher (Mr Hunter), one teacher of industrial work (Miss Lang), with four pupil teachers.  It opened in June 1875.

Illus 2: Bo’ness Public School looking north-west.

The composition of the classes at the Bo’ness Public School changed with time.  In 1890 the infant department was discontinued and sixth standard pupils from other Board school were moved here.  At various times the school was therefore also known as Bo’ness Central School.  In 1893 the infants were back – internal alterations being conducted to provide the necessary room.

Illus 3: 1895/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

To make even more space in the school, the Bo’ness School Board added a large new detached classroom at the north end of the playground, to be used for teaching practical cookery, gymnastics, singing, and Sloyd, at a cost of about £700.  The cookery room could accommodate 72.

Illus 5: Detail of the west gable showing the datestone.
Illus 4: The 1895 Sloyd Building to the north of the main block of Bo’ness Public School, looking north-east.

This situation only lasted for three years and by 1898 the Public School was significantly overcrowded.  In 1899 Alexander Cullen, architect, was asked to provide a two-room extension to the main block.  These rooms, to accommodate 120 pupils, were added on the north-east side.  However, by placing it there part of the existing building had to be used as a corridor, taking away 40 pupil places, thus only giving a net increase of 80.  Further capacity was provided by using the basement of the new wing for a cookery and Sloyd room, allowing the detached 1895 cookery and Sloyd room to be permanently used as regular classrooms, accommodating a further 120.  The approximate cost of the building work was £1,900.  The policy driving these changes was to make the Public School the only one in the centre of the town and to get rid of the Anderson Academy and the Infant School – one that was never implemented.

For the next few decades the school changed little.  In 1928 electric lighting was installed.  Another change in policy led to the older pupils from Borrowstoun School being sent to the Public School in 1934, but by then it had sufficient capacity.  With the opening of the new Bo’ness Academy at Kinglass in 1931 part of the old Anderson Academy building in Stewart Road was taken over by the Bo’ness Public School – the two buildings were adjacent.

Illus 7: The 1988 Link Block with the 1875 Bo’ness Public School to the right and the old Anderson Academy at the back.
Illus 6: Braehead Road looking north-east with the Craigmailen Church on the right and Bo’ness Public School in the centre. The central belfry on the school is prominent.

Minor improvements costing £15,000 were undertaken in 1964 by the West Lothian Education Authority.  It was only in 1987/88 that a plain link block was inserted between the two old schools by Central Regional Council Architectural Services that they became unified.  The block has an asymmetrical slated roof on concrete block walls.  Inside is a galleried hall.

Year ArrivedHeadteacherYear LeftNo. Pupils
1873William Thomson Brown1891352
1891James Dunlop1921390-464-519
1921James Boyd1925
1925William D Sleath1947
1947Robert Robertson1962
1962David Duncan1968
1968John Flint
Jacqueline SihotaPresent

Sites and Monuments Record

School BraeSMR 2285NS 9993 8144

G.B. Bailey, 2023