The Schools of Falkirk Burgh

In almost every burgh and parish in Scotland the schools established by the Church or the Magistrates before 1872 had to encounter opposition from men and women who set up private schools, but these were generally suppressed with a firm hand. The doctrine of free trade, allowing a person to do as he liked with his capital and abilities, was then unknown. Falkirk had at this time several private schools, and as these would no doubt be carried on to the hurt of the school of the parish, it is not surprising to find the following entry in the Session records: 22nd March, 1646 –

The same day the Session discharged all schools within the parish, and that scholars should repair to the comon school.”

We may take it that at this period the wishes of the Kirk-Session would be strictly attended to by the parishioners (see Love 1898 for this early history).

Dames’ school were generally taught by an old widow or maid who, with a very meagre and scanty education, aimed at supporting herself by imparting what instruction she could to the younger children.  In certain ways the dames’ schools did the work (though very imperfectly) of infant schools.  The first mention of such schools in Falkirk in the Session records is as follows: 16 December 1656,

The Session dischargit women from keeping any school under pain of incarcerating them till ye Session was further advyst.” After a week’s consideration they ordered “all the lad scholars to repair to the comon school, and none to go to the women’s schools under pain of depriving them both of lads and lasses.” 

From   this we can infer that the dames had the Session’s permission to teach girls.  A female teacher was allowed to teach sewing and “weaveing” to the lasses, but on no account was she to teach “reiding.”  Four years having elapsed since the Kirk Session inhibited women from teaching male children, it was again found necessary, on 10 April 1660, to renew the inhibition, and John Boog and Robert Livingstone were ordered to “mak intimation to Grizel Kincaid,” forbidding her “to meddle with the teaching of male children.”

In 1701 it was reported to the Kirk-Session that Robert Comrie had “got up” a school at Dalderse without being authorised by the Session.  They ordered their officer to cite Comrie to appear before them, but he does not seem to have appeared and on 24 May 1702 the Session stated that Robert had no legal call to be a schoolmaster in any part of the parish, also “that his carriage is not suitable to yt office.”  In November of the same year it was agreed by the Session

that for the encouragement of the schoolmaster of Falkirk, do discharge all private schools for teaching Latin and to read within the town of Falkirk, and within a mile round the same, as also do hereby discharge any to get up schools in any place of ye parish besides, without the Session’s authority, and do hereby appoint yr (their) officer to warn the teachers of such schools furthwith to desist from teaching without certification: if they continue the Session will apply to the local magistrate to get them discharged.”

In 1728 the Session appear to have recognised the fact that several irregularities had crept in to the management of the schools of the parish, owing possibly to their own laxity in not visiting them, and as they were responsible for the oversight of the “children’s Christian education and advancement in learning,” they referred the consideration of the schools to a committee, consisting of all the elders in town – John Willison of Dorrator, Michael Muirhead, James Heugh, and John Smith – who were

to meet on Tuesday . . . after sermon, and draw up an Act for regulating of the schools in the town and country, and to be considered by a full Session with all conveniency.

This meeting of Session, held in April 1728, passed various resolutions for the better government of the schools, and these were ordered to be “redd” from the pulpit.  Briefly, they were as follows: That none should set up schools within the bounds of the parish without the allowance of the Session who were to be satisfied with respect to their “tender walk and capacity to teach.” Teachers in the country districts of the parish were not allowed to teach boys living in Falkirk town until the Session knew the reasons why their parents put them “by” the public school,

seeing it is supposed they may be more accurately taught, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the Latin tongue than in any other school in the parish. Boys in town having reached the age of six, were instructed to repair to the public school in order to spell, read, write, and compt more accurately.”  

No boys above six years were to attend private schools in town; girls were to be taught at any school in the town, providing the masters or mistresses had a suitable behaviour and a capacity to teach, “whereof the Session are still judges.”  The school doctor was instructed to teach no one outside the public school until six o’clock at night, and he was to teach none to read, write, and compt that were young, and had the opportunity of attending the public school in the day time.  All teachers in the parish were ordered to be watchful over the morals of their scholars, and use all means to retain them from cursing, swearing, Sabbath-breaking, speaking profane language, from lying and rude and unmannerly behaviour to others in their conversation.  The children were to “get our Catechism by heart and have some knowledge of the principles of our holy religion.”  For that end they (the teachers) were to bestow an hour once a-week in hearing the children repeat the Catechism “and proposing some explanation questions thereupon for their inner ease and growth in Christian knowledge.” Parents were urged to put their children to school as early as possible, that they have “a competency of learning before they be able and obliged to labour for their bread.” And for the encouragement “of the poorer sort of parents” to educate their children, the Session agreed to pay the children’s quarter payments when the parents were unable to do it.  As a final injunction, the Session warned all masters and teachers of children within the parish to attend diligently to their charges, “and conscientiously endeavour to have their scholars made proficient in their learning,” and for that end the schools were to be visited by the Session as frequently as possible.

James McDonald, schoolmaster at Dalderse, was appointed as the parochial teacher in 1745.  Removing the teacher in this manner was one way of closing a private school.  To judge from former cases, the Session had no difficulty whatever in putting an end to such schools when these were set up by persons who had not the necessary authority from that body.  In 1748 they started action against James Robe who was summoned before the Session for having set up a school at Gartcows without the needed permission.  Possibly they would have taken no notice of Robe and his school, had rumours not reached them that he was of loose habits.  When he appeared before his superiors, they charged him with drunkenness.  He admitted he was sensible of the wrong he had done by keeping company with people who were drinking on the Lord’s Day, but he did not think that any person could say he was drunk.  Considering his case, the Session found that he had set up a school without intimating his design to them, and obtaining their licence, and at so small a distance from the publick school; and also that they had reason to be dissatisfied with the private character he bore, particularly his having forged a letter of credit for meal, for which he was prosecuted and rebuked in the congregation where he then lived, and which being charged upon him he did not deny, but alleged he had given satisfaction and was assolizied from the scandal with other things.  They unanimously agreed to discharge him from teaching a school within the bounds of the parish, and it was appointed that intimation should be made to the congregation that parents of the children at Robe’s school were to withdraw their children.  As to the charge of drunkenness, they determined to prove it to the hilt, and cited Robe to attend in eight days after.  At this sederunt a large array of witnesses were present.  Robe, in order “to prevent unnecessary oaths,” as he said, acknowledged he was the worse of drink.  The other charges against him included one that during the afternoon service he had asked James Steel, tailor, to go out of the church with him.  On finding it was an invitation to drink with him, Steel was displeased, and did not go.  The whole case was so bad, however, that the Session referred it to the Presbytery.  Nearly twelve months elapsed before Robe’s case appeared again, and in the interval it would seem that an attempt had been made to have him incarcerated in Stirling prison for crimes committed some years before.  But “bail money” being forthcoming, he was set at liberty, and in spite of the Session he began to teach a school at Dalderse.  A representation was made to Sir James Livingstone of Glentirran, Bart., as heritor of the land where Robe was “harboured,” and also to one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, who was entitled “to take cognisance of such irregular and disorderly practices.”  Sir James Livingstone took some time to reply and was more charitable towards Robe than the members of Session were.  Considering that Robe had a family, he gave him to Candlemas to continue his school at Dalderse but ordered him to remove then.  After this Robe seems to have quitted the district at the time stated and ceased to trouble the Session.

At the close of the year 1799 the Presbytery of Linlithgow resolved upon summoning before them all of the public and private teachers within their bounds in order to examine them as to their general qualifications for the duties of their office, and to ascertain if they had neglected to take the oath of allegiance.  In the following year James Buchanan, William Adie, John Shaw (also a land surveyor, died 24 January 1831, aged 67), and Henry Brock, school-masters in Falkirk, produced certificates of their having taken the oaths to Government, and were examined in English, the Presbytery being satisfied with their abilities.  Other teachers of Falkirk parish who appeared were James Wallace, William Fenton, Adam Dickson (died October 1846 aged 80), William Paton, John Jamieson, and Alexander Purdie.  These were examined in English and arithmetic and having produced certificates of their having taken the oaths to Government, satisfied the Presbytery.  There were also in the parish at this time Messrs Walker, Sorley, James Whitlow or Whitelaw, and John Graham, private school-masters.  An Anti-Burgher student named Barclay, who taught a private school in the parish, declined taking the oath to Government. The Presbytery allowed him to discharge his duties without interference from them.

The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 caused nothing short of a revolution in the management and working of parish and burgh schools.  All the powers, obligations, and duties of the qualified Heritors and the minister were transferred to School Boards elected by the ratepayers.  All compulsory connection between church and school was abolished and the School Boards were empowered to levy rates for the support of schools, and to see that provision was made for the education of all the children in the parish or burgh.

In 1872 the total number of schools in the burgh of Falkirk was eighteen, and the fees charged per scholar in these schools ranged from one shilling to twelve shillings and six pence per quarter.  The number of school teachers, including assistants, was 31.  In 1873, when the Act came into force, the Burgh School Board employed a teaching staff of 18, whose annual salaries amounted to £1,129.  By 1898 the number of teachers employed in the day schools was 95, and the total paid in salaries during the same year was £6,077.  Most of this growth was caused by a massive increase in the population.  The closure of most of the private schools only contributed a small amount.  In 1876, for example, there were still three Dames’ schools but they only had a modest attendance and all closed by the end of the decade:

Miss Graham’s                                  105 pupils in 1876 (Falkirk Herald 2 March 1876, 2).

Mrs Muir’s School                            14 pupils in 1876 (ditto).

Miss Burns, Grahams Rd                 111 (ditto).

1893Extended portion of burgh152
1897Within the burgh and extended portion of the burgh3840
Table: The number of children of school age within the Burgh of Falkirk.

Indeed, several schools for girls were able to thrive in the late 19th century alongside the schools run by the School Board.  These seminaries taught the rising middle classes such subjects as music, dancing and deportment, to prepare the girls for future married life.  However, they also taught foreign languages, often with the aid of a native speaker, and even included arithmetic.  The standard and level of learning was high and could be judged by examination using papers set in South Kensington which could be used to gain entry to university.  To increase the numbers attending, young boys were also taken on in preparatory classes.  There was also a flourishing market in home teaching, especially for instruction on musical instruments.  Dancing, needlework and art were also covered by skilled practitioners, many of whom taught in one of the schools during the day.  The teachers at Blair Lodge Academy were particularly well respected and would take classes in the private schools in the town.

Following the Education Act of 1918 local administration passed to the Stirlingshire Education Authority, of which Falkirk became one of five administrative divisions in the county.  After 1930 this became the Education Committee of Stirling County Council.

Not included in this survey are the many secretarial of tutorial colleges which taught touch typing and shorthand.  Nor are those which were essentially teaching a craft or trade from which an income could be derived, such as the dress-cutting classes on the Anglo-Parisian System taught in Manse Place in 1897.

Illus: Mrs Gordon’s Tutorial College at 42 Graham’s Road

The Schools included are:

G.B. Bailey, 2023