Bo’ness Academy

Already by 1924 the Bo’ness Anderson Academy in Stewart Avenue was too small and the West Lothian Education Authority proposed to erect a new advanced school on an open site beyond the urban fringe at Kinglass in the old parish of Carriden.  The status of the Bo’ness Academy was the subject of long discussions at the monthly meetings of the West Lothian Education Authority, and as usual its focus was on the county towns of Linlithgow and Bathgate.  It was decided to downgrade the school at Bo’ness and have the fourth and later years attend an upgraded Academy at Linlithgow.  This produced uproar in the educationally-minded town of Bo’ness which had been one of the first areas to introduce secondary provision and was seen as a seriously retrograde step.  It was contrary to the spirit of the Education Act 1918 to reduce the facilities for secondary education.

At the 1925 elections five out of the six representatives on the Education Authority from the Bo’ness area were elected on a platform of opposing the downgrading of the Bo’ness Academy.  They were successful and the previous decision was overturned.  A central school providing accommodation for all post-qualifying pupils up to and including the later years of the secondary course was to be erected at Bo’ness.  Actually, at that time the number of pupils attending the fourth and later years in the secondary divisions at Bo’ness and Linlithgow Academies was only 46 and Linlithgow was more central.

In 1928 H M Cadell was approached for the feu of land at Drum Farm which extended to almost four acres.  To distinguish it from its predecessor it was agreed to call it the “Bo’ness Central School.”  Work on the building began in late summer of 1930 and had progressed to the point where the name had been sunk into the synthetic stone used to clad the façade of the building.  It was only at that point that someone pointed out that the building was neither central to geographic area nor the demographic of the education population.  The name “Bo’ness Academy” was retained!

The school was designed to hold 600 pupils and was urgently required.  Plans were laid for the transfer of at least 450 advanced scholars, along with the Academy pupils, to the commodious new building.  At the same time the younger overspill in temporary accommodation would make their way to the vacated rooms in Grange School.  They were being taught in the Miners’ Welfare institute at Bridgeness, in the Mission Hall at Cowdenhill Road, and in Learmonth Hall at the foot of the Victoria Public Park steps.  The opening of the new Academy would lead to the closing of the old Academy at Providence brae and the Domestic Science School in Grangepans.  Carriden School might be retained as an infant department.

The new Bo’ness Academy received its first pupils in the second week of August 1931 at the beginning of the school term.  It was massive.  The design was predicated on the provision of as much natural light and ventilation as possible, and so the building was only one room thick.  The ground plan was known as the “aeroplane” or “butterfly” type, having a central block with wings angled out from the sides.  This allowed all of the rooms to face south, south-east or south-west, except the art rooms which apparently had to have a northern exposure.  There were 30 large classrooms equipped with the latest in rolling blackboards.  It was built of brick and faced with Edgefield synthetic stone.  The main entrance faced Academy Road and the stepped semi-circular pediment over the doorway contained the town’s emblem of a sailing ship with the motto “Sine Metu.”  It sat in the centre of a three-light advanced bay with a parapet reflecting the doorway pediment containing a small round clock.

The protruding central entrance block pointed northwards to a newly formed road which became Academy Road.  This block contained the assembly hall which sat 500 and doubled as a gymnasium.  Next to it were the dressing rooms with “spray baths” – ie showers.  The offices were situated at the main entrance and consisted of the headmaster’s room, secretary’s room, doctor’s room, the dental clinic and the janitor’s room.  There were also two spacious art rooms with north lights.  The west wing housed the departments for science and handwork, the latter fitted with electrically driven lathes and morticing machines.  The Education Authority had balked at providing a powered saw due to the health risk.  The Science Room had a darkroom and glass-lined pipes from the sinks to protect them from chemicals.  The gentlemen’s staff room was placed in this wing.  The east wing contained the domestic science department and the commercial department.  The former was one of the best equipped in the school.  In addition to the usual kitchen and laundry it included a parlour, bedroom, and bathroom and was practically a model house.  Next to it was the ladies’ staff room.

Illus 2: Bo’ness Academy looking south.

It was equipped with a fine selection of fish – golden tench, Chinese goldfish, golden orfes, golden rudd, loaches and minnows.  The amphibians represented by a pair of newts; aquatic beetles by water boatmen; crustacea are present in the form of water fleas and water lice; mollusc represented by water snails and mussels; and there are a few pond skaters and caddis fly larvae.  The pool is well stocked with plants including elodea Canadensis (Canadian pondweed), hippuris vulgaris (mare’s tail), remna (duckweed), menthe sylvestris (water mint), mvosotis palustris (water forget-me-not), potamogeton crispus (curled pondweed), ranunculos aquatilis (water crowfoot), vallisneria spiralis, veronica beccabunga (brooklime), and iris pseudo-acorus (yellow flag iris)

The playground space extended to three acres, surfaced with tar macadam.  A rock garden and several flower beds at the entrance broke the monotony.  In the eastern or girls’ playground was a sundial, the pedestal of which was brought from Hamilton Palace.  For instruction in biology a well-stocked aquarium was sunk in the boys’ playground to the west of the main entrance. 

Illus 3: A Student showing visiting dignitaries the Pond on the Opening Day.

The building alone occupied 1.3 acres.  The plans were prepared by Mr C Hamilton, master of works to the West Lothian Education Committee, and the work cost of £43,000 in all.  Over half of this went to local contractors boosting local employment.  Indeed most of the building material had been produced in West Lothian.  The synthetic stone had been made by A Hardie of Bo’ness and meant a great saving over dressed stone.  The bricks came from Winchburgh.  The school was formally opened 25 September by W W McKechnie, secretary of the Scottish Education Department.

Illus 4: 1953/54 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

John Gray was appointed as the first rector and he introduced a house system for the internal government of the school.  The names of the houses were Graham, Douglas, Dundas and Stewart, with the corresponding colours of blue, green, red and yellow.  This fostered a spirit of belonging and competition.  In 1933 a Former Pupils Association of The Academy, Bo’ness, was formed.  The pride engendered in the scholars was amplified during the Second World War as former pupils were cited in despatches and medals were awarded.  The school was allocated as a Rest Centre in 1941 and in March that year Squadron No. 439 of the Air Training Corps was formed under the command of the new rector, Andrew B Dea.  Most of its members came from the school.  When John Gray had departed in 1938 his post had been taken by John G Shirreffs who died just six weeks into the job.

Illus 5: Bo’ness Academy looking west with the Administration Block on the right, the Assembly Hall in the centre with the Girls’ Shower Room in front of it, and the West Wing on the left.

The art room included a kiln which could be used to fire pottery.  The art master, George T S Gould was particularly interested in stained glass and used the kiln for this purpose.  Examples of his designs may be found at St Catherine’s Episcopal Church, Bo’ness Parish Church and Carriden Parish Church.

Illus 6: Bo’ness Academy looking north with the 1950s Extensions to either side.

An extra six or seven classrooms were mooted in 1950 but the replacement school at Kinneil took priority.  By 1955 the cost of the proposed extension at the Bo’ness Academy had risen to over £20,000.  In 1956 a dining room and the shell for a kitchen were constructed along with two new wings containing the classrooms at a cost of £22,000.  Mobile classrooms were placed alongside the school buildings in 1967, 1970 and 1973.  Further extensions occurred in 1973 with a price tag of around £300,000.  This extension was by way of a separate annexe to the north on the former playing field (now occupied by the houses of Craigallan Park)

By the turn of the century the school buildings were seen as outmoded and Falkirk District Council decided to replace them with a brand new set of structures on Gauze Road to the south.  This was designed and constructed by the Parr Partnership over the years 1998-2000.  Gifford describes it as

Large but unexciting, the walls faced in concrete blockwork and render, the shallow monopitch roofs covered with ribbed metal.”  It is a fully comprehensive 6 year school.

Illus 7: Bo’ness Academy 2022, looking north-east.
Year ArrivedHeadteacherYear LeftNo. Pupils
1915John Reith1927
1928William Milne (act)1929
1929James Barrowman (act)1931
1931John Gray1938680
1938John G Shirreffs1938
1938Andrew B Dea1953
1953Allan McIntyre1957
1957Mr T W Leckie
(1973)Mr Wiseman860
Mr McCombie
(1996)William Brown
Catriona Reidpresent

Sites and Monuments Record

Academy Road & Gauze RoadSMR 2282NT 0053 8099 &
NT 0041 8075

G.B. Bailey, 2022