Falkirk Grammar School

The first recorded mention of Falkirk Parochial School as a “Grammar School” occurred in 1712 (Love 1898).  In the early nineteenth century the responsibility for the provision of parochial schools lay with the Heritors of the parish.  Falkirk had a long history of a grammar school, that is a school where languages were taught, and in the late 18th century it lay in Manor Street along with a dwelling for the rector.  The school building was far from adequate and some of the leading citizens of the town pressed for improvement.  Provost Robert Adam was at the vanguard and an influential committee was established which included Rev Begg, Charles Haggart of Bantaskine, Dr Reid of Prospect Hill, Henry Salmon, a banker, and James Aitken of Gartcows.  Despite resistance they persuaded the principal Heritors – William Forbes of Callendar, the Earl of Zetland, Carron Company, and a few others – to contribute £800 to the cost of a new school building.  Rather astonishingly they raised £700 by voluntary contributions from the local community.  Plans were ordered in January 1845 and three possible sites were identified.  Upon the selection of Park Street the plans of John Tait, architect, Edinburgh, were worked up and the laying of the memorial stone was performed in September 1845 by the Earl of Zetland.  The contractors were Mr Thorburn, Polmont, for the mason work, and Mr McLaren of Grangemouth, who undertook the wood and other work.  The school officially opened on 18 May 1846.  The old school building and the headmaster’s dwelling were sold.

Illus 1: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Plan of the Grammar school in Park Street.

This Parish School had two classrooms or departments – the Grammar School in the southern one and the English School in the northern.  The Ordnance Surveyors in 1859 emphasised the distinction:

It comprises two distinct parish schools, viz a Grammar School and an English School.  The teacher of the former receives the usual parochial schoolmaster’s allowance, and a house and garden, which are attached to the school, rent free.  The remainder of his salary is derived from school fees, it is not endowed.    The branches taught are classics, German and mathematics.  Average attendance about 40…”

The original school building was T-shaped in plan with a single-storey stalk and two wings of the same height but of two storeys.  The head of the T was aligned W/E and faced south towards the town centre – the main direction of approach.  It was given special treatment having ashlar masonry with backset margins and an eaves cornice.  The central section was advanced and contained three tall corniced and architraved windows linked by a consoled sill and surmounted by a panelled parapet.  These provided light for the “Grammar School.”  To either side, the end bars of the T had two windows on either floor.  The piended roof was slated with broad chimney stacks in line with the central section. 

The east end of this block was also provided with ashlar masonry and contained three close-set windows on each floor.  Elsewhere the walls were of random rubble.

The main facade was obscured by trees and by the tall boundary wall running along Park Street.  Pedimented gate piers on this perimeter wall gave access to the main east-facing entrance of the school located at the re-entrant angle of the building.  Here two doorways with large hood-moulded arches, supported on pilasters and a central square pillar with moulded cornices, opened into an entrance atrium.  Each arch had a rectangular plaque over it.  To the right (north) four tall windows lighted the “English School”.  The “Grammar School lay to the left and presumably each school was served by the appropriate door.

In January 1855 the Heritors agreed to a request by teachers that the lower room should be divided into two and the work was carried out for under £20.  The population of Falkirk was rapidly increasing and by 1868 the school was too small.  The Heritors were again approached to galvanise them into undertaking their duty, but change was already in the air.  The influx of people had loosened the ties between the social classes and besides, there were rumours of forthcoming legislation that would revolutionise the education system.  Again it was the provost of Falkirk, now James Russel, who acted as the coordinator.  £350 was raised by public subscription, enough to build a modest extension and to maintain it for three years.  Upon completion the new rooms were handed over to the Heritors.  To this sum a further £250 was added by the Heritors themselves, allowing a further extension to be created to include accommodation for two of the teachers. 

In 1868 two new blocks were added onto the west side of the school.  The southern of these, joined by a traditional hipped roof, appears to have provided dwellings for two of the teachers.  The northern was taller than the old buildings, and had tall windows topped by a separate pyramidal roof.  On the north side a two-storey stair porch projected from it, containing an arched door facing Park Street with a simple blind roundel above it.

In 1868 the number of pupils on the roll of the Parochial and Grammar Schools of Falkirk was 280, regarding whose instruction the following particulars may be given:

Illus 2: The old Falkirk Grammar School c1880.

Scholars on roll learning –


Writing to the Heritors in July 1863, Mr Liddle urged the necessity of a female teacher being appointed to instruct the girls in knitting, sewing, and other branches of domestic economy.  He pointed out that there were about seventy girls in school, most of whom were of an age to learn these skills.  These acquirements being taught in private schools, the girls attending the parish school were placed at a disadvantage, and many were forced to leave before their education was completed in order that they might have these skills supplied elsewhere. The appointment of a female teacher was delayed so long that Mr Liddle took the matter into his own hands and appointed and paid for one himself.

The passing of the Education Act (Scotland) in 1872 replaced the parochial school system with one of local governance and the Falkirk School Board took over responsibility for the provision of education.  The building in Park Street became the Southern School.  In 1884 plans were drawn up by William Black to adapt it for the new role and to increase its capacity.  Arnothill School opened in 1886 to take on the roll of the school in Park Street, allowing that school to be made into a secondary school known as Falkirk High School. 

1842David Middleton1852
1852William Strathhenry Kemp1859
1859William Middleton1869
1869Thomas Pearson1873
William S Kemp1859
George Liddle

Sites and Monuments Record

Park StreetSMR 1334NS 8889 8008

G.B. Bailey, 2023