Falkirk Academy II

Illus 1: 1960s Aerial Photograph of Falkirk looking south-west. The Falkirk Academy is just above the building with the Barr’s advert.

Up until the late 1870s there was very little provision for secondary education in Falkirk (no stepping stone between the elementary schools and the universities) and so a Mr Young stepped into the gap and built a private school in 1879.  The school was arranged in collaboration with Hugo Von Meurs, who was its first Principal.  Meurs had been teaching French and German at Falkirk Grammar School in Park Street since 1874 and realised that there was a demand amongst the middle classes for such an institution in the town.  He acquired land on the north side of the junction between Arnothill Lane and the road to the Howgate (later to become Cockburn Street).  He took out a bond to pay for the construction of a well-equipped school which he called Falkirk Academy. 

The Academy contained seven classrooms, two of which were quite large.  The large lower classroom was for advanced boys and the upper room for advanced division girls.  The dimensions of these were 33 x 20ft with a ceiling height of 16ft.  The boys’ room had a sliding partition.  The other classrooms were occupied by the junior division of the school and measured 19 x 16ft.  Two cloakrooms (7 x 6ft), large lavatories (8 x 6ft), and vestibules (7 x 7ft) served these rooms.  A large gymnastic hall contained a variety of gymnastic apparatus and there was a large playground.  George Roberts of Falkirk was the architect.

Bad weather and slow workmen delayed the opening which took place in September 1879, though some work continued beyond that.  The advertisements for the first term were informative:

The FALKIRK ACADEMY, Arnot Hill Gardens.  This School for Boys and Young Ladies will be opened on September 4th at 9.30am (for Boys), and 10am (for Young ladies).  For boys the courses of instruction are both thorough and extensive, and will be such as fully to fit the pupils for their University or Commercial careers.

To Young ladies are offered a complete Education in English and Modern Languages, and a wide range of accomplishments.

School Staff – Modern Languages – Herr Hugo Von Meurs; Arithmetic Mathematics, & Science – Hugh Hamilton Browning AM., BD., Edin. Univ; Classics & English – William Bacon, BA., University of Cambridge (Graduate in Classical Honours, and late Scholar of Clare College); Music, needlework and Dancing – Fraulein Paula Schmelzer (holding diploma from the Musical Institute of Berlin); Drawing and Painting – Mr Wright (Master in the Science and Art School); Infant Department & Drill – Mrs Von Meurs and Miss Charlesworth of London.

The Ladies Department will be under the Superintendence of Mrs Von Meurs.

Mathematics, Classic, and English of Mr Browning.

Modern Languages and Music of Herr Von Meurs.

Attention is invited to the Prospectus, which supplies full information regarding fees, school organization, and the work of the several classes; and which may be had from Her Von Meurs, Hochfield (Arnot Hill Gardens), Falkirk; the Messrs Jeffrey, booksellers, High Street; and Mr Paul, printer, Grahamston.

Pupils will be enrolled at HOCHFIELD (Arnot Hill Gardens), between 10am and 4pm on August 30th and September 1st, 2d, and 3d.

Headmasters – Hugo Von Meurs, Hugh Hamilton Browning.

Herr Von Meurs is prepared to take a few boarders.”

(Falkirk Herald 21 August 1879, 1).
Illus 2: Highfield House looking north-west. The Academy building can just be seen on the far right.

Hochfield had also been erected for Mr Young on the south side of Arnothill Lane and provided a residence for the Meurs.  It was here that the boarders lodged and is now known as Highfield (the Anglicised version of the original name).

During the first two terms there was an average of 100 pupils in attendance.  This was a good start as the anticipated figure had been only 80.  Local businessmen sent their children to the school and supported it as best they could.  By April 1880 the staff had grown to six masters and four lady teachers.  That summer Browning left and was replaced by John D Anderson, a graduate of Edinburgh University.  Herr Von Arnhem was appointed as music master – he had been the music director of the Dortmund Orchestra. 

In November 1882 the businessmen treated Von Meurs to a celebratory meal in the Crown Hotel to show their appreciation of the work that he had done in establishing secondary education in the town.  However, there were already clouds on the horizon.  The Education Commissioners Act had been passed promoting the public provision of such education.  Pupil numbers at the Academy remained stubbornly level but more were needed to keep it viable.

On 1 September 1885 the school re-opened as normal after the summer break.  Numbers had not increased and two months later an advertisement appeared in the Falkirk Herald:

ACADEMY for SALE.  To be Sold, by Public Roup, within the CROWN HOTEL, FALKIRK, on Thursday, 5th November, 1885, at 2 o’clock Afternoon, in virtue of a Bond and Disposition in Security.

That Property at COCKBURN STREET and ARNOTHILL GARDENS, Falkirk, known as the FALKIRK ACADEMY.  The Buildings are substantial, and there are suitable offices and playground enclosed with walls and railing.  The Ground extends to 1 Rood 5 Poles 13 Yards, or thereby.

The Academy is on full operation, and is the only higher class School in the Burgh.  For particulars, apply to Andrew Allan, Solicitor, Falkirk, in whose hands are the Titles and Articles of Roup.

(Falkirk Herald 26 September 1885, 1).

It was bought by the Falkirk Burgh School Board at the upset price of £880 to become “Arnothill School.”  Von Meurs later taught French at the Airdrie Academy.

Sites and Monuments Record

Arnothill GardensSMR 1304NS8852 7985

G.B. Bailey, 2023