Comely Park School

In 1873 the Falkirk Burgh School Board was gifted the Falkirk Charity School which it renamed the Southern School.  It was quite apparent that this school building was too small and so the process of finding a new site and design began.   In the end the Board took the courageous decision to build the school beyond the urban limit on ground that it was able to feu from the Parochial Board near Parkfoot and Comely Park.  The Parochial Board had originally obtained the land in order to construct the poorhouse on its southern portion.  The school site was bounded on the north by the Goat Burn and a narrow pathway led alongside of it from the Pleasance to the Cow Loan.  The school was to be placed on the south side of this track.  Falkirk Burgh Council had not long since piped the burn, removed the hedges, and turned the path into a narrow track.

William Black produced plans which were approved and building work began in the early summer of 1878.  A loan of £2,400 was obtained from the Department of Education in London on a 40 year term and it was decided to call it Comely Park School.  The school formally opened on 3 March 1879 and the pupils with their teacher, Mr Cochran, paraded the short distance from the Charity School in the Pleasance to it. 

Illus 1: 1896.98 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The original school lay slightly to the east of the centre of the plot with a large playing field to the west and a smaller one to the east fronting the Cow Wynd.  It contained four classrooms giving accommodation for 300 pupils – though 301 turned up on the first day.  The largest of these rooms was the “mixed” classroom which measured 54ft by 22ft.  Next in size was the infant room, the dimensions of which were 40 by 20ft, and there were also two smaller classrooms measuring each 18ft square.  Several sheds to the west provided shelter in the playground.  The contractors were: builders – Young & Beattie, Bo’ness and Alva; joiners – A & J Main, Falkirk; slater – John Lamb, Falkirk; plasterer – John Davie, Falkirk; plumber – D Draper, Falkirk; painter – John Graham, Falkirk.

The School Board boasted that it was being economical with the finances by matching the size of the school so closely to the roll.  However, the Comely Park area was being rapidly developed by house builders and within days the school was too small.  The Board could hardly extend the school so soon without loss of face and so after several years, in 1885, the Lorne Hall was rented to take one of the classes.  This drew immediate criticism as it was felt that the rental money would have been better spend on an extension for which there was plenty of land within the Board’s control.  In June that year William Black prepared plans of an extension for an additional 170 pupils at an estimated cost of £1,050.  A sliding partition was also to be inserted into the existing central room.  They were ready for use in April 1886.

Illus 2: the two rooms on the left (west) of the photograph were the ones added in 1886.

Even the new extension was not able to keep pace with the increasing demand.  In order to free up space in 1891 the Burgh School Board threatened to expel those students from outside the burgh who ought properly to have been catered for by the Falkirk Parish School Board, but this proved technically difficult.  Once again it had to resort to hiring a hall.  Its first choices, including Wilson’s Hall, were unavailable, and the Board had to settle for the hall attached to the Congregational Church in Bank Street, which meant agreeing to a twelve month lease at 15s a week, with the Board paying such rates as the letting of the hall entailed.  In the end, this temporary arrangement was to last until yet another extension was completed.

Plans for the second extension were prepared by Black for accommodation totalling 866 in place of the 429 then available.  (It will have been noticed by the sharp-eyed reader that the original school had accommodation for 300 and the first extension for 170, giving a total of 470.  However, in the interim the Department of Education switched the figure of 8ft square per pupil to one of 10ft square.)  The probable cost was put at £3,800.  The Board had toyed with the idea of building a separate infant block but that took up too much of the playground and would have required extra offices; alternatively, they could have increased the height of the existing building at the back but that was not possible because of the nature of the soil; and so they plumped for the addition of a storey at the front of the building (east) and the addition of two wings there. 

“To Contractors.  Estimates Wanted by the FALKIRK BURGH SCHOOL BOARD for the mason, Joiner, Slater, Plumber, Plaster and Glazier Works of additions to COMELY PARK SCHOOL.  Plans to be seen with and Schedules of Quantities obtained from the Subscribers after the 14th curt., and with whom Sealed are to be lodged by Saturday, the 24th curt., marked on outside “Tender for Comely Park School.” A. & W. BLACK, Architects. Falkirk, February, 1891.”

(Falkirk Herald 10 February 1894, 1).

Adding a storey meant that part of the school had to be vacated whilst construction work took place and so Rankine’s Hall and the Bank Street Hall were hired for the duration.  A loan of £4,500 was obtained and building work began in May.  Some of the rooms were ready for occupation in January 1895 but the formal opening only took place the following September.  Roughly speaking, the plan of the new portion of the school resembled the letter H.  In the two wings were situated the various classrooms – ten in number – which were equally divided between the upper and lower storeys.  The rooms had sliding partitions allowing two or three rooms to be used together as required.  In the central portion was a double staircase, for boys and girls, while connecting corridors led to the classrooms. 

Illus 3: The east façade of Comely Park School ( Photo: Ian Scott).

Cloakrooms and lavatories were provided on the ground floor, and the corresponding space on the upper floor was occupied by male and female teachers’ rooms.  The principal elevation was to Cow Wynd.  This was of two storeys divided by a moulded stringcourse.  The central of three bays was slightly advanced and contained two large three-light windows under a stepped gable surmounted by a bellcote.  Between the bellcote and the upper window was a roundel for a clock framed by a curved pediment.  The ground floor window had a panel above it containing the words “COMELY PARK/ SCHOOL.”  The ground floor windows in the end bays had triangular pediments.

The clock was 3ft 6ins in diameter, the frame being of iron and fitted with opal glass.  All of the wheels and bushes were made of gun metal; the pinions cut out of cast steel.  It was made, installed and maintained by William C Muir of Falkirk.  It proved a boon to the residents and shopkeepers of the area and even chimed.  The contractors for the school were: mason work – A & R Reid; joiner work – J & A Main; slater work – Drummond & Crowe; plumber work – David Draper; plaster work – David Macnair; tile work J Winton Mackie, Glasgow; glazier work – D O’May; painter work – Charles Johnston; seats and desks – Bennet Furnishing Co, Glasgow; bell John C Wilson & Co.

The School Board thought that this second extension would be sufficient for decades to come.  It was wrong.  More land, which had been the garden of the recently closed poorhouse, was acquired from the Parish Council.  In June 1906 William Black was instructed to prepare plans of a new infant department for 480 pupils and the reconstruction of the offices, with a view to having them brought up to requirements.

To Contractors.  Estimates wanted by the FALKIRK BURGH SCHOOL BOARD, for the Mason, Joiner, Slater, Plumber, Plaster, Heating, Glazing, Tiling, and Painting Works of NEW INFANT DEPARTMENT at COMELY PARK SCHOOL. Plans to be seen with, and Schedules and Quantities obtained from, the Subscribers, and Offers, marked outside “Tender for Comely Park School,” to be lodged with THOMAS GIPSON Esq. Clerk to the Board, by Tuesday, the 19th inst., at 10am.  A and W Black, Architects, Falkirk.”

(FH 9 March 1907, 1).

The successful contractors were: mason work – John Gardner; joiner work – J & A Main; plumber work – A & G Robertson; slater work – Drummond & Crowe; plaster work – David McNair; glazier work – D O’May; heating work – J Cormack & Sons; tile work – Haddow, Forbes & Co; painter work – O’Brien & Meek.  Cost £4478 6s 9d.  The new infant department of the Comely Park School was occupied by school children in the second week of August 1908 – there was no opening ceremony.  The new building was of one storey and consisted of eight classrooms each accommodating 60 pupils.  There were also staff rooms, store rooms and cloakrooms.  All of these were placed around a hall 62ft long.  The building was heating by means of hot water pipes with an open fireplace for extra warmth and a backup.  The infant department meant that the original building could be used entirely for the junior and senior divisions.  Together with further alterations to the original building, the accommodation now totalled 1,283.

Illus 4: 1967/68 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland). The Plan of the School had not changed since the 1913/18 Map.
Illus 5: Comely Park School in 1906 looking south-west with the Infant Department on the left.
Illus 6: The same view in 1970s with the high-rise flats at Parkfoot visible in the background. The belfry has been reduced in height and the corner of the playground rounded off to widen the street.

In September 1914 Comely Park School was occupied by the local Territorials.  The pupils attended Victoria School in the afternoons.  The military was rough on the building and in September 1915 the Board’s architect, James Strang, was called in to report on the dilapidations occurring.  It was to be the end of May 1917 before they left and a combined claim for damages of £5,715 was submitted for the Comely Park and Northern Schools.  Over the summer the interior was renovated ready for the new term.  The true cost of the war, however, lay in the fact that 43 of the children who then attended the school had had their fathers killed in the conflict.

With the education services now run at a county level there were many reorganisations, decisions, deferrals and reversed decisions.  In 1923 it was announced that the secondary pupils from Bainsford, Northern, Victoria, and Laurieston Schools were to go to an intermediate centre to be established at Comely Park School, and the existing primary pupils of the latter school were to be distributed among the other schools in the burgh.  Then in 1930 the reconstruction of the school at a cost of £6,000 was put into the programme but the economic downturn followed by the Second World War meant that this did not happen.  The opening of the Falkirk Technical School had an immediate impact upon Comely Park because some 300 of its pupils in the Advanced Division were transferred there.  The school was initially occupied by the armed forces at the beginning of the Second World War and the infant classes were sent to Falkirk High School, the remainder to Victoria School.  Comely Park was subsequently used as an Information Centre for the distribution of ration books, identity cards and other papers.  In 1942 a section of the Home Guard illegally took possession of one of the classrooms for the storage of its equipment and put a new lock on the door.  When told to leave they refused pointing out that there was a war on!

After the war many of the classrooms were empty due to the reduced numbers attending.  Yet by 1953 the allocation of new catchment areas meant that it was again overcrowded.  Pupils from the Windsor Road area were told to go to Camelon.  Glen Village School was started as an annexe of Comely Park with the same headmaster.

Minor alterations and an extension were made in 1972.  In 1995 Falkirk Council architects designed a replacement school on the site of the old poorhouse to the south of Comely Park School.  It is a low single-storey building covered with dominant shallow-pitched slate roofs with an entrance under a mansard roofed canopy.  This leads to an octagonal lobby from which the rooms open up.  A pavilion-roofed canopy contains a clock.  Built round a courtyard the school consists of four “pods” – a pod having four classrooms and a shared area for TV, painting, library, etc. At the western end there is an assembly hall/gym, dining room and kitchen; while upstairs there is a library and ICT suite. The offices and visitors’ entrance are at the other end of the building below the clock with pedestrian access from Cow Wynd.  Also at this end of the school is a nursery classroom with kitchen, toilet and waiting areas.  In August 1996 the new building was completed and opened to pupils at the beginning of the term.  The old school was demolished and the date and title stones were later built onto the boundary wall at the junction of Cow Wynd and Hodge Street.

Illus 6: Comely Park School looking north-west in 2023.
1879James Cochrane1905300, 330, 418, 515, 601, 763
1905William Alexander Gray1930855, 920
1930David Bain1936
1936John Miller1942
1942Robert Fyfe1946
1946Thomas Reid1954380
1954Arthur Doyle1969
Mr Bingham1974?
George Douglas Semple1999
Mrs. Georgie Morrison
Mrs Laura McLintock(Present)

Sites and Monuments Record

High Station RoadSMR 2292NS 8876 7957

G.B. Bailey, 2023