Denny Public School

(Denny Primary School)

The Denny Parochial School building legally came into the possession of the Denny School Board in 1873 as a result of the Education Act of 1872.  However, the ownership of the site, as opposed to the building, was questioned in 1876 when the Board tried to sell it and William Forbes of Callendar claimed a right to the land and threatened an interdict on its sale.  The Board was asked to produce its title deeds.

Mr Kinghorn, the head teacher of the Parochial School died as the transition was being made and the School Board appointed John Gillanders of the Dunipace Free Church School in his place.  In March 1874 Mrs Kinghorn was asked to move as the house was needed for the school.  The Board quickly realised that the school needed to be rebuilt on a larger scale to accommodate 350 pupils.  Alexander Black, architect, prepared plans of sites which were submitted to the Scottish Education Department for grant aid.  1.3 acres of land were acquired at West Boreland on the north side of Duke Street almost opposite to the old school. The school itself was designed by Francis Mackison, architect, Stirling.

Illus1: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The new school included a residence for the head teacher.  Tenders were advertised in January 1875:

“DENNY SCHOOL BOARD.  To Contractors.  Estimates wanted for Mason, Carpenter, Slater, Plumber, and Plaster Departments, for the Erection of New School Buildings and Teacher’s House at Denny.

Plans and Specifications will be seen, and Schedules of Measurement obtained, on application to F. Mackison Esq, CE, Stirling; and all Tenders must be lodged with James Cousland Esq, Chairman of the School Board, Denny, on or before 12 o’clock noon of Monday the 8th February”

(Falkirk Herald 28 January 1875, 1)
Illus 2: The 1876 Denny Public School on the right, with the Extension of 1895 on the left. looking north-west.

The foundation stone for Denny Public School was laid with Masonic honours in June 1875 and a time capsule placed below it.  This contained coins of the day; copies of the Scotsman, Falkirk Herald, Stirling Journal and Stirling Observer, a register of the children in Denny School, with the names of the teachers; a copy of the laws of the Grand Lodge of Scotland; and a finely illuminated parchment recording the events of the day, and giving the names of the School Board members and officials, the architect, the contractors, and the office-bearers and brethren of the Denny and Dennyloanhead Lodge.  A silver trowel was handed over, inscribed “Presented to the Right Hon. Lord Balfour of Burleigh on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone of the Denny Public School.  29th May, 1875.”

The contractors for the school were: mason work – Alexander Gray, Alva; joiner work – William Frew, Denny; slater work – David Robertson, Denny; plaster work – Robert Brownlee, Falkirk; plumber work – J & J Hardie, Stirling.  Together with the dwelling it cost £3,350 and was formally opened on 15 July 1876.  A prominent feature of the single-storey T-shaped building was the Gothic spire over the entrance porch.

Minor alterations were made to the offices at the school during the summer break of 1883.  At the same time Miss Russell of Broompark died and in her bequest provided money for clothing poor school children and issuing them with books.  There was also money for bursaries.

Within ten years of the opening of the new school it was too small.  In June 1885 Alex G M Mitchell, architect, Coatbridge, drew up plans for an extension to the north which would double its capacity to 600 pupils.  Most of the building work was undertaken that summer, the contractors being: builder – Thomas Gilchrist, Coatbridge; joiner – John Baxter, Denny; plaster work, Mr Miller, Grahamston; slater work – D Robertson, Denny; plumber work – John Hunter & Sons, Denny.  Rather belatedly it was decided that the provision of hot water should be included.  The whole scheme cost about £1,000.  Despite the heavy cost involved in its building programme, in 1885 Denny School Board became one of the first in the country to introduce free books for the children attending its schools.

Astonishingly, even the 1885 extension proved insufficient and in 1891 it was decided to erect a separate Infant Department.  The project was delayed and in the meantime Mitchell redesigned the offices in the existing buildings, the work being executed by John Paul, builder.  In May 1894 eight architects were invited to prepare plans for the new Infant Department which, as well as the usual classrooms, was to include a Board Room to serve as a headmaster’s room, a room for male and female assistants, a room for an infant mistress, private classrooms for the teaching of secondary subjects, and a kitchen for cookery classes suitable for the teaching of laundry work.  With the new department the capacity of the school was to be increased to 1,100 pupils in all.

Mitchell of Coatbridge was asked to select the best of the submitted plans.  In the end he ended up redrawing them to meet the specific requirements of the Denny School Board which included a need to keep costs down.  Land was acquired to the west of the existing school, David Dunn the farmer at West Boreland needing to be compensated.  Whilst work was going on throughout 1895 temporary accommodation was provided for the surplus children in the Free Church Hall, and a temporary galvanised iron building was erected in the schoolyard to accommodate a further 150.  Rather late in the day the headmaster asked for a school bell, the lack of which had been irksome for some years. 

Illus 3: The 1895 block looking north-east after the fire of 1987 (courtesy of Falkirk Planning Department)

Although a bell was provided it was too late for a belfry.  The school extension opened on 13 April 1897.  It was a large square block with a central hall typical of the period.  Strictly classical and well proportioned in creamy brown stone, it had an advanced central bay capped by balustrading on its south façade.  In the centre was a moulded arched doorway with a keystone depicting the head of Minerva – the Goddess of Wisdom.  This was flanked by arched slit windows and channelled end piers.  On the first floor of this central bay two large two-light windows were set in antis surrounded by paired Doric pilasters.  Such pilasters also in antis separated the windows in the flanking bays.  Below the eaves course the plain band carried the inscription “SCHOOL BOARD OF DENNY”, and a similar inscription occurred on the central band above Minerva – “DENNY PUBLIC SCHOOL.”

Illus 4: 1913/18 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

It is surprising to find that the minerals under this part of Denny were still being worked at this time and in 1908 it was found that small cracks were appearing in the walls of Denny School owing to subsidence.  James Strang, architect, was asked to inspect the school and estimate the cost of repairs.  It was 1912 before Addie & Co accepted responsibility and an agreement was reached regarding compensation.  Extra cement and steel rail foundations were then inserted.

Illus 5: 1961/62 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Throughout the early 20th century, Denny Public School physically grew spasmodically in response to the changes in the educational background.  These changes included not only the underlying increase in the numbers of children but also the extension of school age.  An intermediate department was introduced in 1919 and a secondary in 1925.

The first extension, for a technical department, took place in 1909 and was designed by James Strang.  It saw a substantial addition on the north of the infant department and as a result the valuation was increased to £152.  The walls were of rendered brick with stone margins to the doorways with an Arts and Crafts feel.  It was T-shaped in plan with a broad barge-boarded gable to the south and an entrance porch with over-sailing roof to either side in the re-entrant angles.  The contractors were: mason work – Duncan Stewart, Bonnybridge; joiner work – Mealls & Son, Denny; plumber work – A R Peacock, Denny; plastering work – Miller & Co, Falkirk.  Denny School Board had understood that the new build would attract a 50% grant from the County Committee, but this was not forthcoming and the school rate had to be substantially increased.

Illus 6: The 1909 block looking north-west.

In 1919 Denny was one of the first schools to resolve to introduce an intermediate department for older pupils and in 1920 £2,000 was spent on buildings and equipment.  The 1920/21 building work added three rooms, and the existing buildings were rearranged to provide science and art rooms.  It catered for children from a wider area, including Bonnybridge, Greenhill, Longcroft, and Dennyloanhead.  As each year of the intermediate school progressed a campaign was launched for Denny to attain the status of a secondary school and this was finally granted in 1925. 

In 1926 it was recognised that three additional classrooms and a laboratory were needed for the new status.  Tenders for the building designed by A N Malcolm, county architect, were invited of the joinery, plasterer, slater, and plumbing, and amounted to £2,359.  The extended building was formally opened on 3 October 1927.  The pervious March had witnessed the first leaving certificate examinations in the history of the district.  The secondary department, which had begun in 1919 with 30 pupils, now had 198 on the roll – a number that increased massively over the following years.

1920 saw the compulsory raising of the school age.  A proposal for a new secondary school on a new site in Denny was put to the Stirlingshire Education Authority and was defeated.  Instead, it was agreed to add eight classrooms and a gymnasium to the existing complex at a cost of £7,000.  The school was also known as Denny Higher Grade School. Things moved slowly.  In 1932 negotiations were held with Callendar Estate for the acquisition of 1.3 acres of land.  By 1939 the land required was 4.55 acres and the estimated cost of building had risen to £45,000.  Consultations with the Education Department increased this by a further £10,000!  The outbreak of the Second World War meant that all of this was put on hold.  It was taken up again in 1954 and resulted in the construction of Denny High School on a new site.

Illus 7: Aerial View showing the School Complex c1960, looking north.

Denny Public School was retained as a primary school.  In 1987 a devastating fire gutted the main block.  Despite local sentiment in favour of refurbishing the building, Central Region’s Education Committee decided to close Denny and Dunipace schools, to transfer 100 pupils to Nethermains Primary School and build a 400-place primary school at Tygetshaugh in Dunipace.  In the end the old block in Duke Street was demolished and a new primary school erected on its site.  The sculptured keystone from the old building was built into its façade as a decorative feature.  The moulded arch, with the keystone, was placed into a pediment over the new entrance, making an interesting contrast.  The modern single-storey building has red brick walls at the entrance but is mainly grit rendered.  A two-storey block was added at the north.

Illus 8: The Minerva Keystone reused.
Denny Primary School looking north in 2022.
1873John Gillanders1905360-415-580
1905James Clark1922631 – 764
1922Matthew S Ketchin1937
1937John Smart
c1942Mr W G R Findlay
(2015)Don McPherson
Mrs Rachel Coull(present)

Sites and Monuments Record

Duke Street, DennySMR 1988NS8091 8280

G.B. Bailey, 2023