Bainsford Subscription (Self-Supporting) School

Illus 1: 1859/62 Ordnance Survey Map showing the location of Black Close (National Library of Scotland

There was at least one private school in Bainsford during the final decade of 18th century.  The Book of Sasines in 1797 has Andrew Liddell, schoolmaster, there.  His school is said to have been in the vicinity of the “Black Close” (Love 1898).

The building afterwards known as the Bainsford Subscription or Self-supporting School seems to have been originally erected in 1797 by the Bainsford Ploughmen’s Friendly Society for use as a club house.  The office-bearers of the society were Alexander Black, portioner, Grahamston, preses; James Shaw, Bainsford, boxmaster or treasurer; George Frazer, wright, Bainsford, steward. These office-bearers apparently conjointly feued ground from Michael Ramsay of Mungal just to the east of the gardens on the east side of the Main Street of Bainsford behind the Bluebell Tavern (later called the Carronade Arms).

Illus 2: 1859 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

By about 1840 the building had been put into the hands of a committee of the feuars of Bainsford to manage a school held there and by 1869 the entry on the east side of Main Street leading to it had become known as “School Close,” (also known as Store Close from the fact that the Co-operative Store stood on the south-west corner) the east end of which was likewise “School Square.”  Funds for the upkeep of the schoolhouse were raised by an annual concert, and from collections taken at sermons preached in the building on Sabbath evenings by clergymen of all denominations.  The teacher had the use of the building free of charge, his salary consisting of the fees drawn, and children of very poor parents were taught free.  Many of those on the committee were artisans and others engaged in Carron Iron Works.  It had the power to engage or dismiss the teacher.  An old pupil who attended the school in the 1840s when Mr Boyd was the headmaster recalled that there was no such luxury as a wooden floor.  The earthen floor had large holes in it deep enough to “bury a dog in.”  These holes were used as dust-bins for the sweepings of the school.  Afterwards a small wooden platform was erected in the centre of the floor, on which the scholars stood while repeating their lessons to the teacher.  When the state of weather prevented the children from going outside to play, the boys played at marbles inside the schoolroom using a hole in the earthen floor as the receptacle. 

Around 1851 an enthusiastic young teacher, Allan Carswell, took up the post at Bainsford.  As a qualified teacher with sufficient accommodation this allowed the school to obtain a government grant, subject to annual inspections.  In 1852 two fourteen years old boys were taken on as assistants in the teaching of juveniles.  The number of scholars attending Bainsford School varied according to the ability of the teacher and Carswell was particularly successful, so much so that the school was soon considerably overcrowded.  In 1853 David Middleton, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools for the district, reported upon the lack of proper accommodation there.  When he visited the school he found 193 children present, and with a few absentees the average attendance was 200.

The school,” he said, “cannot accommodate comfortably above 80 children.  According to Government allowance of 8ft feet to each child, with an area of 600 square feet, gives the accommodation six hundred by eight, seventy-five exactly. For that number the roof should be higher. With the present number of scholars the area of each child is three square feet, and two hundred are crushed into the space suited for seventy-five. With these striking figures before you few words of explanation are necessary from me. It is impossible for any teacher to teach well under such circumstances. The health of all the inmates must be so far injured everyday. In case of an epidemic in this quarter – and they are frequent – such a school would infallibly be the means of nursing and spreading it. Unless better accommodation can be got, I have little hope of the school getting aid from the Privy Council. I am delighted at the assurance the managers have given me that they are ready to build such an addition as will afford the necessary accommodation. This from a body of men who, I believe, are all dependent on their own manual industry, is most creditable, and is a pleasing, token of the increasing importance attached by the people at large to education. It is infinitely to be regretted that hitherto they have been unable to obtain ground to build on, and I hope this obstacle will be henceforth removed by the proprietors adjoining the school.”

The appalling overcrowding was reported upon by the Falkirk Herald which took up a campaigning stance denigrating the landowners and those who allowed such conditions to persist.  The newspaper did not mince its words and warned not only of deaths arising from crushing and the spread of disease, but also stated that several early deaths may already have resulted from the spread of infections!  It finished its articles with the words:

:“As the matter at present stands, education is a mockery in that village.  We would rather see them roaming in the fields and about the dusky foundries – cultivating their native incivility and rudeness – than pent up in a small unventilated room, which has already carried scores of victims to early graves, and which, in the event of the locality being visited by cholera, would inevitably communicate an impetus to the progress of that dreadful scourge.”

(Falkirk Herald 2 February 1854, 2).

The harsh words hit home and just two months later it was able to report that the working population of Bainsford had already subscribed about one hundred pounds sterling towards the erection of a new school; and William Dawson, the manager of the Carron Iron Works, had promised to do all in his power to grant them a convenient site.  The crowded school was, in the meantime, relieved by a large wooden temporary erection to the back of the schoolroom.  Although not pretty, it was equal to half of the area of the schoolroom and served the purpose.  This sufficed for two years and in July 1856 it was announced that Dawson was to give the ground for a site at a merely nominal price and had also promised to assist liberally in the erection of the building.  In fact, he defrayed most of the expense of the new building.  In preparation the temporary structure was sold off: 

“To be Sold by Private Bargain, A wooden building recently erected at the back of the Bainsford School-House, 30 ft long by 12ft. broad, and about 14 ft. high. Offers will be received by George Hamilton, Bainsford, up to Friday the 11th July current. The building will be shown by the Teacher any day during school hours.”

(Falkirk Herald 3 July 1856, 2).

The much enlarged schoolroom was ready for September 1856 and a vocal concert was held there on the 17th to raise funds to provide furniture.  Nearly 400 people attended and a considerable sum was forthcoming.  The government grant was reinstated.  More staff were needed and in March 1858 three government pupil teachers were advertised for – the positions being for boys aged between 13 and 16 years.  In December 1859 a Sabbath sermon was preached in the Bank Street Chapel in Falkirk to provide money for the purchase of books for the school.

Illus 3: 1859/62 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The Ordnance Surveyors provided the following information in 1859:

A private adventure school originally, but a few years ago it was enlarged considerably and is now well attended by about 190 scholars, half of whom are females – the usual branches are taught with Latin, Greek and French to limited classes – it receives a government grant of £25 per annum.  There is no teacher’s residence attached.  His salary is derived from school fees and voluntary contributions.  It is situated at the back of the gardens attached to the east side of Bainsford.”

Bainsford Subscription School was fortunate in having a series of excellent teachers.  Allan Carswell was followed by Mr Shand who taught English reading, history, writing, languages, geography, mensuration, grammar, geometry, arithmetic, drawing and algebra.  He also introduced evening class for mechanics and engineers.  His successor, Hamilton Campbell, added navigation and nautical astronomy.  The main subject area that was lacking was sewing and for that a female teacher was needed.  This was first filled by a sewing mistress in 1871.  The following year Miss E Glen was appointed as an assistant teacher.  She was a certificated teacher from the Training College in Glasgow.

The HM Inspector gave a good report for Bainsford School in July 1873 but stated that better premises were needed.  In particular, he noted, there was no playground.  The committee who had the management of the school at the time were George Hamilton, Andrew Rennie and William Hamilton.

They were unable to fulfil the necessary conditions and therefore approached the newly formed Falkirk Burgh School Board saying that they were willing to give up any claim they had on the school, provided the proprietor, Mr Dawson, would hand it over to the Board.  The School Board expressed its willingness to accept but in the long term intended to erect a new school in Grahamston for 300 pupils to serve the area – the Northern School.  The inhabitants of Bainsford strongly urged the Board to retain a school in their area as it was felt to be unsafe to have young children crossing Bainsford Bridge which then was a very busy thoroughfare.  The School Board, to its credit, took cognisance of this and agreed to convert the old school at Bainsford into an infant/junior school with only the older children going to the Northern School.  William Dawson agreed very moderate terms for the Bainsford School building.  The history of Bainsford Public School will be found elsewhere.

Mr Boyd
(1852)Mr A Carswell1854
(1855)Mr Shand
(1865)Mr Hamilton Campbell1871
1871William W Mowat1873167, 212

National Grid Reference

Bainsford Subscription SchoolNS 8864 8146

G.B. Bailey, 2023