Lawhill School

Lawhill School stood 3.5km to the west of the town of Denny and served a sparse rural community.  The Broadside Reservoir was built nearby.

Illus 1: 1861/65 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The date of the foundation of Lawhill School is unknown.  In 1873 it was said to have been in use from “time immemorial.”  It was managed by trustees formed from the local farmers in the area known as Denny Greens and was run on a shoestring.  The teacher was paid a pittance and yet he was expected to have full command of all of the various subjects then taught, from calculus to Latin and singing.  The only named teacher from before the days of the school boards was a Mr Johnston whose salary varied from 2s 6d a year to 5s.  In 1865 he was said to be aged and suffering from physical infirmities and in consequence there was an attempt by some of the parents to have him removed.  However, the majority of the locals voted to retain their faithful long-serving dominie as he was still able to teach.

As far as the managers were concerned there were no titles for Lawhill, the school having been built on a commonry.  The Ordnance Surveyors described it in 1861 as:

A small private school in which the common branches of education are taught.  The  average  number of pupils is about 20,  from  whom  the teacher  receives  the scanty allowance of about  3/- per  week.   He, however, receives a free house and garden from the Heritors of the Parish.”

It was agreed to get Mr Johnston some teaching assistance and the following advert was placed in the newspaper:

WANTED, FEMALE TEACHER for Lawhill School, near Denny.—Apply to JAMES DUNN, Meadowgreens.”

(Falkirk Herald 25 August 1866, 1). 

The small salary and the remoteness of the school meant that throughout its life there were difficulties in retaining staff.  By 1873 the school was without a teacher and it was with some relief that the managers signed the building over to the newly formed Denny School Board.  The Scottish Education Department approved of the transference.  The Denny School Board was very active in its early years and immediately set about rebuilding Lawhill School.  Architects were invited to submit competitive plans for a school which would accommodate up to fifty pupils and a teacher’s residence, and several were received.  That by F. Mackison of Stirling was chosen, beating the favourite, Mr McFadzen of Edinburgh, who was paid five guineas for his trouble.  The inclusion of the residence was due to the previous situation, but due to cost-cutting this element was dropped.

It was only at this point that a Mr Lennox came forward claiming that the site belonged to him.  An examination of the titles and plans that he produced was conducted for the school board by Mr Lockhart, solicitor, Glasgow, and found to be in order.  Pragmatically, the School Board then negotiated with Lennox and obtained the property.  This settled, and a loan obtained from the Education Department, the building work could go ahead:

“Denny School Board.  Contractors wanted for the mason, carpenter and joiner, slater, plaster, and plumber departments in the erection of new school buildings at Lawhill.  Plan and specifications to be seen, and schedules of quantities obtained, on application to F. Mackison, Esq., C.E. Stirling.  Tenders, scaled and marked “Tender for Lawhill School,” to be lodged with James Cousland, Esq, chairman, School Board, Denny, not later than 12 o’clock noon on Monday 12th inst.  The Board to not bind themselves to accept the lowest or any of the offers.”

(Falkirk Herald 8 April 1875, 1). 

The building was a substantial stone structure and the total cost was put at £573.

Illus 2: Ordnance Survey Plans showing Lawhill School.  Left – 1896/97; right – 1913/18 (National Library of Scotland).

The Denny School Board continued to maintain the school – painting it in the summer vacation, adding a mains water supply in 1890, sheds in the playground in 1893.  The slow combustion heating stove used coal and had to be replaced periodically.  However, spending was always kept at a bare minimum and frequent disputes arose with the parents.  On these occasions letters were exchanged and sometimes the children were withheld from attending thus reducing the amount of the government grant.  Cash was always a problem for the School Board which had to contend with rising costs at its more populous centres.  It did not help when the assessor for the county increased the valuation of Lawhill School in 1894 from £6 to £20 despite there having been no significant change to the building.

Illus 3 : Lawhill School looking south-west

Attendance at the school was more variable than most due to its setting.  Many of the children came from farms and were required at harvest time.  The roads were poor and the weather severe, meaning that they were often blocked by snow or flooding.  Diseases such as scarlet fever, whooping cough and influenza were rife.  The disputes with the parents added to this mix.

The greatest problem was the retention of teachers.  A low-paid assistant aided the headmistress but both posts were essentially stepping stones in a career to better paid jobs elsewhere.  Miss Chalmers complained bitterly about the lack of residential accommodation in the area and eventually the School Board agreed to pay half of her rent.  When she left in 1900 this contribution was retained for her successor and before long it had to be increased to the full rental. 

Several of the teachers had little option but to leave due to impending marriage.  In 1917 the majority of the School Board decided that this was wasteful of the human resource and of their own time and so in 1917 it was agreed to retain the teacher when she married.  Two of the Board, including the minister, were vociferous in their objections to such a procedure.  This, they claimed, denied freshly qualified teachers the opportunity to start their careers and it was the responsibility of the husband to support such women.

After consulting the school inspector, it was decided in 1919 to close Lawhill School and to transport its pupils to Denny.  The inspector insisted that the children should arrive at their new school dry and ready for classes.  As this was an experiment he also asked that the Board retain the building so that the option of re-opening it was available.  Lawhill School closed in May that year and initially eight children were taken by brake to the public school in the town, soon to be joined by more.  25 parents petitioned to have the school re-opened but in 1922 it was let as a private residence and after a decade was sold off.

The Ordnance Survey was slow to amend its maps in the hinterland and as late as 1950 it still labelled the building as a school, removing it for the 1955 edition – historians beware!

c1840Mr Johnstonc187020
1878Miss Jane Campbell
c1880Miss Hughina Macdonald189320-32
1890Mr Lamb (stood in during illness)22
1890sMiss Jeanie Chalmers190040
1900Miss McIvor190343
1903Miss Brebner190635
1907Miss Cheves1911
1911Miss Baldwin21

Sites and Monuments Record

Lawhill SchoolSMR 1987NS 7734 8330

G.B. Bailey, 2023