St. Mary’s R.C. School

The first Roman Catholic School in Bo’ness was opened about 1860 by Father David McCartney of Linlithgow.  A Mr McDermott from Falkirk was brought to Bo’ness, where he had a day school of 60 pupils and a night school of 30.  This was given up for lack of means, the Catholic population of Bo’ness not being very large at the time.

By 1896 the number of Catholics had increased to the point that Rev Easson decided to establish a permanent school in the town.  In June 1896 the church approached the Bo’ness School Board to see if the Infant School, which it intended to close, was for sale, and if so at what price.  The Board replied that the Established Church had a claim on the infant school for meetings and therefore it could not be sold to them.  Later that same year Carriden School Board was asked if it would be willing to sell the apparently redundant school at Grangepans but in the event the Board there retained that school.  So fund-raising commenced to erect a new school.  A site was acquired at Stewart Avenue in 1897 and James Dodds prepared plans for a joint school and chapel.

The site lay on the gusset between Stewart Avenue and The Bog and required levelling with a retaining wall on the east.  It took four months to build the complex and cost £2,000.  The contractors were: Bailie & Peattie, builders; Robert Simpson, joiner; Michael Carrin, slater and plasterer; and Mr McCallum, painter. The church was consecrated on 19 August 1902 and St Mary’s school was opened on 1 September 1902.  The head mistress was Helen Donaghy and she was aided by her teacher sisters Elizabeth and Sarah Donaghy.

The following year the town of Bo’ness made the national headlines when the School Board agreed to provide free school books to the pupils of St Mary’s School against the advice of the Scottish Education Department.  The school, like all Catholic schools in Scotland, was not under the control of the school board and so should not have been in receipt of money from the parochial rates.   The Bo’ness decision set a precedent for the rest of the country and slowly other school boards followed suit.  An amusing exchange occurred in a meeting of the Bo’ness School Board in 1906 when the parish minister suggested that the legality of the provision of books could be tested if the Board removed it and were taken to court by the Roman Catholic Church; as a counter proposal the priest at St Mary’s said that the Catholic population of Bo’ness could refuse to pay the proportion of their rates used for educational purposes and the School Board could sue them!

Illus 1: 1913.16 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Minor improvements were made to St Mary’s School over the summer of 1905.  Glass partitions were erected and a corridor formed between the senior classrooms and the infant school, and electric light introduced.  The lavatories and side-rooms were considerably enlarged, and the whole school painted and cleaned.  The accommodation was now for 200 children and the number on roll was 180. 

St Mary’s soon gained a good reputation for the plays and operettas that it put on each year and performed to the public in various halls.  Relations with the Bo’ness and Carriden School Board were generally good – the Catholic priest sat on the Board.  In 1910 it was agreed that St Mary’s could use the cooking facilities of the School Board for its pupils.  Cookery instruction was essential for the school to qualify as a provider of the supplementary course.

Illus 2: St Mary’s School on a Fair Day (supplied by M. Ford).

After the Second World War it was agreed with the Education Authority that St Mary’s School should be replaced by a new one but austerity delayed its implementation.  In 1952 the congregation purchased land at Richmond Corner for a new church and at the same time began negotiations for the purchase of land for a new Catholic school in the area of Gauze Road.  That school was designed in 1954 and opened in 1956.  The old school was closed.

The population of Bo’ness continued to grow and the school became overcrowded.  In 1928 it was decided to separate the school and the church.  During the building work 40 of the children had to be taught in a room in the Liberal Club.  In September that year the altar was removed from the sanctuary at the head of the Bog and placed in position in the upstairs room of the League of the Cross Hall at the top of Providence Brae, which was henceforth to be used as the place of worship by the congregation.  That building was seated for three hundred and services began the following week.  Tradesmen took out the stained-glass windows in what had been the sanctuary in the joint chapel and school building, and these were replaced by ordinary glass.  The alterations took around six weeks to complete and the pupils at the Liberal Club were then moved back.

Illus: Stewart Avenue looking west with St Mary’s School at the far end, c1905.

After standing empty for a number of years the old building was demolished in 1988.  Two houses were built on the land in the 1990s, and the short access drive was named St Mary’s Lane. 

Year ArrivedHeadteacherYear LeftNo. Pupils
1903Miss Helen Donaghy1932107
1932Martin Fennie1954190
1954William Hall

Sites and Monuments Record

Stewart AveSMR 2290NT 0013 8152

G.B. Bailey, 2023