Falkirk Charity School

Illus: 1860/62 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

According to the historian, James Love, the Charity School at Falkirk was opened in March 1813 for the education of children who came from “good” families, but who were fatherless, utterly neglected, or whose parents had become oppressed by poverty.  However, a Stirling Observer article of 4 January 1865 gives the date as 1804 and attributed Rev Dr Belfrage of the Erskine Church as the founder.  It was sustained by private subscription and by collections taken at an annual sermon preached alternately by a churchman and a dissenter – the collection often amounting to £40 to £60.  Legacies also brought in a significant income, and the institution was well supported.  A two storey dwelling at the north-west corner of Pleasance Square was acquired outright and converted for use.  The upper flat was used for the school and was divided into two classes, in one of which the girls were taught sewing.  The height from the floor to the ceiling was 7ft and both rooms were badly ventilated.

In 1853 new doors and windows were installed by Andrew Taylor, joiner, in an attempt to improve the building.  Even then it did not meet the standards recently issued by the government, and so did not qualify for the new annual grants that would have amounted to over £60 for such a school with 100 pupils.  It was therefore completely gutted and rebuilt in 1858 – the floor being removed to create a tall room.  Andrew Taylor got the main contract for the joiner work.  As part of his payment he was allowed to sell off the doors and windows that he had so recently put in, as well as the floor and roof timbers.  The new building was completed in November 1858.  The principal schoolroom was 48ft long by about 16 wide, with a 14ft height of ceiling; a master’s closet and small gallery were attached to it.  There was also a room 20ft square, with the same height of ceiling, where the more advanced girls were taught sewing and knitting by Miss Marshall.  To the south was a small enclosed court, with toilets.  The work cost the school trust a little over £300.  As well as the money from the annual sermon it received a legacy of £200 from the late Mr Bryce, a donation of £100 from James Walker, a civil engineer from the town working in London; a similar amount from the late James Russel of Arnotdale; and £100 from the trustees of Mr Ferguson.  As a consequence of the alterations the school qualified for the government grant.

The Ordnance Surveyors describe the school in 1860 as:

A neat and substantial building one storey high, slated and in good repair.  Situated in Pleasance Square, it is a new building and was built on the site of the old school, was erected from voluntary subscriptions aided by a donation of £100 from the trustees of the late Mr Ferguson.  It is partially endowed, the amount of endowment is £200, the interest of which goes to assist in keeping up the school.  It is exclusively for poor children, who are educated gratis.  There are a male and female teacher attached to this school (the latter only attends for a few hours each day), whose salaries are made up from an annual collection made at the parish church, and any deficiency is supplied by private donations.  Affords tuition in the elementary branches of a plain English education.  The females are, in addition, instructed in sewing and knitting.  Average attendance – 80.”

In 1865 it was noted that picnics and tea-parties for the pupils were held at Callendar and Bantaskine.  Mrs Russel of Blackbraes each December generously clothed the boys afresh from toe to toe; and Mrs Hagart of Bantaskine dressed the girls; while Mrs Nimmo and Mrs Graham Hardie supplied stockings and shoes. 

In 1872 the school building was conveyed, free of charge, to the new School Board and became the Southern School.  By this time it was obvious that it was too small and a new site was purchased from the Parochial Board on the corner of High Station Road and Cochrane Avenue.  Here it was decided to erect a school capable of holding 300 pupils, though many doubted the wisdom of such a large facility at the extreme south end of the town.  However, Comely Park School opened on 3 March 1879 with a roll of 305 children.  On that day the children met at the Charity School for the last time.  They then walked the short distance to the new school singing ‘Auld Land Syne.’  Shortly afterwards the 1858 building was sold for £242 for conversion into a dwelling.

“To be sold by public roup, in the Crown Inn, Falkirk, on Thursday, the 17th day of July 1879, at two o’clock afternoon. The Building in the Pleasance of Falkirk, long occupied and known as the Charity School, with conveniences adjoining. The building is substantial, and may, at small cost, be converted into dwelling houses…”

(Falkirk Herald 3 July 1879).
1813Mr Buchanan181835, 70
1830Thomas Downie1836
1837William Buchanan1841
1841Mr Whyte1844
1844James Bell1846
1846John Copeland1847
1847Samuel Neil1851
1851James Christie1854100
1854Thomas Thomson1856
1856Archibald Morrison1858
1858GL Dunnett186080
1860James Cochran1873120

Sites and Monuments Record

High PleasanceSMR 1306

G.B. Bailey, 2023