Falkirk High School II (1898-1961)

In June 1895 the Education Department complained about overcrowding and inadequate facilities at Falkirk High School in Park Street and threatened to remove the government grant.  The creation of the school was deemed a success and so it was decided to erect a larger and better designed building.  After a great deal of trouble a new site was finally secured at Parkfoot/Woodlands to the south of the town in October that year.  Although outside of the town it allowed for future expansion.  Plans by William Black in the Jacobean Renaissance style were soon approved and tenders invited.  The successful contractors were chosen in June 1896: mason work – John Gardner; joiner work – J & A Main; plaster work – David McNair; plumber work – Robert Brown; glazier work – Daniel O’May; slater work – John Happer; tile work – J Youden & Co, Glasgow; heating – James Cormack & Son, Glasgow. The estimated cost of the building was £1,100.

On 30 September 1898 the new Falkirk High School opened in the newly formed Rennie Street.  It was a massive two-storey block with dressed sandstone walls and slate roof containing a central hall.

Illus 2: Falkirk High School looking south-west across Rennie Street, c1900.

The principal features of the main five-bay front, which faced north onto the street, were three slightly advanced bays with gables, which were treated in a free manner, with transomed windows, surmounted by carved pediments, and flanked by pilasters. The centre gable was Dutch in form and was of a more ornate character, with a carved pediment and scrolls, a clock opening forming the central feature.  

The east and west elevations were treated in a similar manner to the front, with gables at either end and deeply recessed plain central bays. The entrances were in these elevations, and were approached by flights of steps flanked by stone balustrades.

The ground floor of the school was occupied by the junior department, the classrooms being six in number, three of them being divided by glass sliding partitions giving altogether nine class-rooms.  In addition to these rooms, there was ample cloakroom and lavatory accommodation, besides a private room for the headmaster of the junior department (Mr Erskine).  

Illus 3: Falkirk High School looking west with the janitor’s house on the right and tennis court in the foreground.
Falkirk High School looking west with the janitor’s house on the right and tennis court in the foreground.

On this floor was also situated the gymnasium, as well as the Rector’s business room placed in close proximity to the main entrance.  The school was planned on what was known as the central hall system, and by means of sliding partitions the central hall, junior department, hall and gymnasium could be thrown into one large apartment in which the whole school could be assembled on special occasions or for entertainments. The floor of this central hall was laid with pitch pine blocks.  The walls of the halls and staircases were lined with white tiles to a height of 4ft 6ins.  

On the upper floor of the school were situated the classrooms of the senior department, consisting of English, commercial, mathematical, arithmetic, classical, modern languages, sewing and cookery rooms, and in addition chemical and physical laboratories with a large lecture room.  The cooking was done by means of a gas cooker and a combined coal and gas range.  Every room in the school was connected by telephone with the rector’s room.  Space was found for art and music rooms by raising the building to three storeys in height at both back and front – the art room favoured by northern light from the roof.  On this floor were also situated the teachers’ private rooms, as well as lavatories for the senior pupils.  The heating was by low pressure hot water.  The desks throughout the school were of the “dual” pattern.  

Illus 4: Plans of the main two floors of Falkirk High School in 1898.


Joinery, and other crafts, now compulsory in secondary schools under the education code, were catered for by a workshop in the basement which could accommodate a class of 25 pupils.  Beside it was the heating chamber and coal store.  The accommodation of the school was – Junior Department – 426; Senior Department – 515; total – 941. The large playgrounds included two ash tennis courts.  In order that the janitor might be at hand when required, a house was constructed for him immediately adjoining the main building, and also had telephone communication therewith.


It had long been a custom of the Parish School in Park Street to give the pupils an ice-holiday at least once a year whenever the ponds in the area froze over.  So in February 1890 when the pupils at the High School requested one it was seriously considered.  Two days were allowed to go by until the rector satisfied himself that the ice would be safe and then he had his janitor report on the conditions on the Union Canal and on the Carron Dams.  The report being favourable, Dr Campbell took most of the pupils up to the canal and those living nearer to Larbert, about twenty in number, were dispatched with the senior assistant, William Brown, to the Dams.  At the latter skating was restricted to the shallows.  However, three girls skated hand in hand to the far side of the water, causing the ice there to break.  Two of the girls were rescued from the water by passers-by but Brown’s attempt to retrieve the third ended up with both their deaths.  It was a sad blow to the school.


The previous month the Education Department had vetoed a proposal by the School Board to turn Falkirk High School into a purely secondary school.  Nonetheless the Board pressed on with its plans and in March got planning permission to erect a gymnasium there.  This was a major development as spelled out in the notice of 29 March 1890 in the Falkirk Herald:

FALKIRK HIGH SCHOOL. THIS SCHOOL will be RE-OPENED after the Easter Holidays, reconstituted as a HIGHER CLASS PUBLIC SCHOOL. Formed September, 1886, to provide facilities for Advanced Education, it has developed until, with the sanction of the Education Department, it has been resolved to make it a purely Secondary School.

From this time, therefore, it will be so organised as to secure every possible educational advantage for its pupils.  Its Staff will be further strengthened, and its curriculum so arranged that, while a general education of the highest character will be imparted, a complete and thorough training will also be given to those desiring special preparation.  In this connection it is important to observe that through the public-spirited action of the Committee of the Science and Art School, these buildings will now form part of the equipment of the High School, thus, with the addition of a Physical Laboratory which will be ready, it is expected, in time for next season, providing the means for a complete training in Science and Art.

Teachers specially qualified will have charge of each department of the School, and it is claimed that a thoroughly sound education may be obtained in it.

A Large Gymnasium is being erected, and will be opened at an early date for the use of the School, in which it is intended to give abundant opportunities of securing that physical development which is not less important than the training of the mind.  Further particulars will be given in the Prospectus.

 It is intended to develop and make still more practical the Commercial side of the school, securing a more perfect training in Modern Languages, especially as bearing upon Commercial Life, Shorthand, Book-keeping, & c.

To all the pupils there will be given regular lessons in Elementary Science, which will form an introduction to the study of the facts and forces of nature.  For those in the Upper School, however, a carefully graduated course in Science will be organises with the aid of the new laboratories, which will conform to the science proposed by the Science and Art Department, and provide for the requirements of this district in which the practical application of Science plays so important a part.

The arrangements as to Music will continue on the same lines as hitherto.

The School Hours will be from 9 to 1, and 2 to 4, except for the younger pupils (and those coming by train), who will begin at 9.20 and be dismissed at 3.20.

Preparation Classes will be held from 3.20 to 4, to deal with difficulties in the following day’s lessons.


Upper School – Classes I and II                    20s 0d per quarter

                               III                    17s 6d per quarter

                               IV                     15s 0d per quarter

                               V                      12s 6d per quarter

Lower School           Junior Pupils                10s 6d per quarter

Single Classes, 10s 6d each; not fewer than two classes to be taken.

Music and Painting, & c, as previously.

A Class for Dancing will (if desired) be formed by Mrs Aitken immediately after the Easter Holidays.

The School will be Re-opened on Thursday, 10th April; and it is requested that intending Pupils will be present on that day, or that intimation be given to the Rector as soon as possible.”

The highest part of the playground became known as Majuba Hill.  The Battle of Majuba Hill was fresh in everyone’s mind as it had been fought on 27 February 1881.  It was the final and decisive battle of the First Boer War that was a resounding victory for the Boers and why this corner of Falkirk should have been so named is a little odd.

In 1895 and 1896 the Rector, Dr Campbell and his wife, held receptions for former pupils.  These were enjoyed and when it became apparent that it was not to be repeated in 1897 some of the former pupils decided to take matters into their own hands.  They formed a committee and arranged the December reunion meeting.  On the eve of the reunion a proposal to form the Falkirk High School Former Pupils Club was put forward and adopted.  Over the years it kept the reunion going, keeping the members in touch and promoting their achievements.  It also printed a magazine, provided medals for the dux, set up memorials to its fellows and assisted in the provision of additional facilities.

In 1909 the Rector of Falkirk High School, Alexander C Mackay, concerned about the educational changes occurring in Falkirk, arranged a competition to compose a school song.  The competition was open to all and a prize of £10 was offered.  Many submitted entries under noms-de-plume to avoid bias.  Entries were judged by the Falkirk Burns Club, which determined on two main criteria – the song had to contain local references and to be relatively simple.  The judging occurred in January 1910 when it was noted that none of the entries complied with the first of these.  More entries were invited and in June 1910 a song written under an assumed name was selected.  This was the School Song written by Rev T Logan Douglas.

The high school was performing very well and gained a reputation for swimming, sports and drama as well as for its examination results.  This was a little odd as the playground was not large and there were no playing fields or swimming pool.  For its annual sports day various venues such as Victoria Park or the Pikes in Callendar Road were used.  The school was now being used to train junior teachers, resulting in additional grants.  The success meant more and more pupils.  William Black drew up plans in 1908 for an additional block on the corner of Griffiths Street and Rennie Street on what had been tennis courts in the girls’ playground.  The Science Room was to be moved into it from the old building, which would also include laboratories, an art room, and a gymnasium – all with electric lighting. 

Illus 5: The opening of the Science and Art Building in August 1911.

Tenders were invited in April 1910 and the successful offerers for the work were informed by the end of the month:—mason work – Ramsay Bros., Laurieston; joiner work – J & P Dewar, Falkirk; plumber work – George Campbell, Camelon; plaster work – David McNair, Falkirk; slater work – James Miller, Falkirk; glazier work – Daniel O’May, Falkirk; heating apparatus – James Cormack & Sons, Glasgow; painter work – O’Brien & Meek, Falkirk; tiling work – J & W Mackie, Glasgow.  Construction work began in the first week of June and it opened on 31 August 1911 at a cost of just under £6,000.  It was a plain Neo-Georgian with channelled stonework at the ground floor and Gibbsian surrounds to the windows of the upper floor.

The advent of the First World War saw many former pupils of the High School joining the armed forces, many as non-commissioned officers.  More than any school in the area there was close contact with those serving and the school and the Rector regularly published the latest roll of honour.  At home, one fly in the ointment was that the German teacher at the school was German.  Demands arose that Rugen Hinkelbein should be summarily dismissed from his post but somehow the School Board managed to defer a decision until the war was over.  Memorials were created to the men and women from the High School who had done their duty – a bronze plaque in the school and endowed beds in the hospital.

Attention turned back to the overcrowding that was readily apparent at the school.  The Rector’s office served as a classroom.  It was now possible to track the progress of pupils on the rolls of the feeder school and in February 1920 it was stated that three extra classrooms would be required by September 1920 and nine by September 1921.  However, the Education Authority rightly took into consideration the overall school provision in the area.  The obvious thing to do was to detach the Junior Department so that the entire building could be utilised by the Senior Department as a true secondary school.  Suggestions were also put forward that another high school might be constructed to relieve the pressure on Falkirk High School.  In the meantime a block of four Speiresque classrooms could provide temporary accommodation and Speirs and Cowieson were asked to provide costs.  It was May 1922 before it was ready for occupation.  Located at the south end of the girls’ playground it had four classrooms each with a fuel stove and capable of seating 30 pupils, with two cloakrooms.  The walls and roof were lined with layers of asbestos to prevent fire.  Its opening allowed two of the classes which had been held in the old high school building at Park Street to return.

Illus 6: 1913/18 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Perversely, in 1921 the Education Authority introduced the provision of a centralised affiliated commercial course in Falkirk district.  All of the commercial classes were centralised in Falkirk High School, with Comely Park School as an annexe for any overflow of pupils.  This new Commercial Centre was affiliated with the Glasgow and West of Scotland Commercial College.  The Junior Course being held at Falkirk, and the Senior Course at the College in Glasgow providing a diploma.  This merely added to the existing congestion, especially as the removal of the primary pupils was put on hold as a result of parental pressure.  This was the only fee-paying elementary school in public ownership in the whole district and as such imparted a certain snobbery.  Localism provided the excuse for the parents in Larbert to object to the removal of the commercial classes from Larbert and that idea was shelved.

The 1922 temporary accommodation was insufficient and by 1926 several classes from the Junior Department of Falkirk High School were being conducted in the old Science and Arts School in Park Street.  Again the Education Authority surveyed the overall picture and noted that whereas pupils had attended Falkirk High School from Denny, Larbert and Grangemouth, this would cease as provision was to be available in those districts.  In fact, this made no noticeable difference and so in October 1927 the architect was asked to prepare plans of a temporary erection in the playground providing for two domestic science rooms and two classrooms.  This idea was dropped in December and it was decided to increase the accommodation by partitioning the existing rooms.  This was evidently not enough for in 1929 a single storey extension was placed onto the south of the main block.  It was built of wood and roughcast, and contained a room for cookery and laundry, and small rooms for housewifery.  It cost £650 with an additional £30 for twenty wash-tubs.

Late in 1930 the Stirlingshire Education Authority announced its doomed super plan for schools throughout the county.  Falkirk High School was to be reconstructed and enlarged at a cost of £6,000.  It never happened.  Meanwhile, Falkirk Technical School opened in 1932 and took some of the pressure off the accommodation at Rennie Street.  Briefly, in 1934, the Education Committee toyed with the idea of making the Technical School into a boys’ high school and Falkirk High School into one for girls.  It was not considered practicable.

Maintenance at Falkirk High School had been neglected and so it came as no surprise in January 1933 when the school bell tumbled from its wooden turret at the back of the school, striking one of the pupils.  The turret was rebuilt.  The problem of the playground was harder to deal with.  Since its original construction in 1898, the Science and Art Block, the four Speiresque classrooms, and a temporary hutment had taken over parts of the ground.  Annual sports days were still held at remote distances.  These sports days had become a kind of reunion for former pupils which formed teams to compete with the present pupils.  So the Falkirk High School Club decided to do something about the situation.  Late in 1935 Festus Moffat, acting for the Club and the staff of the school, negotiated with Falkirk Town Council to take a lease of ground at Bleachfield for playing fields.  The site covered 5.5 acres and just been cleared of a gas works and a bing.  The Town Council agreed to complete the levelling and top dressing and rolling of the ground in exchange for a 20 years lease at a rental of £16 per annum payable half-yearly.  This provided for two full-sized football pitches and a practice pitch which were ready for the end of 1937.  The Trustees of the High School and the High School Club made the bold decision to erect a pavilion at the south end of the site, near to the railway bridge.  It cost almost £600 and contributions were received in kind for labour and materials.  It contained four large dressing rooms each with a bath – two for home and two for visiting teams.  Folding partitions between the rooms meant that one large room could be used for social functions, served by an adjoining kitchen.

Gas masks were issued from Falkirk High School during the Munich Crisis of October 1938.  The crisis over for the time being, the High School Club held a successful bazaar in April 1939 to liquidate the debt on the lease of the playing fields and the changing pavilion.  At the same time, an inspection of the Science Block revealed that the outside stair which had fallen into disrepair had been demolished leaving just one narrow fire exit to the upper floor of the building.  An iron escape staircase was needed.  Fire precautions seem to have been dismissed when the following month a wooden extension was placed on the south side of the main block to provide additional toilets – though it was actually a conversion of the old wood store.  September 1939 saw a flurry of activity and on the 2nd the first batch of children evacuees arrived from Glasgow.  They assembled at the High School, where they were provided with rations for 48 hours and then conveyed to their temporary homes at Muiravonside. Avonbridge, Slamannan and Limerigg.  An underground steel air raid shelter was built in the playground at Majuba Hill.  It flooded and drains had to be installed.

Illus 7: Construction of the Air Raid Shelter on Majuba Hill (Falkirk Herald 27 September 1939, 3).

During the summer holidays many of the senior students went to Taynuilt in Argyllshire where they helped with forestry work.  Others went to the salmon fishing on the River Tay.

After the war the Education Authority had to face up to the major problem of overcrowding at Falkirk High School.  In January 1946 the General Purposes Committee had the County Architect submit four alternative sketch plans and, after discussion, the sub-committee agreed to put the proposal to erect an addition consisting of six classrooms, an assembly hall, boys’ cloakroom, girls’ cloakroom, boys’ lavatory, girls lavatories, store and heating chamber, at an estimated cost of £14,000 to the Scottish Education Department. 

Construction was to be of a light steel frame with exterior walls of wooden framing, clad externally with weather-boarding, and internally with wall board, suitably insulated with felt – a form of construction similar to the pre-war annexe at Grange School in Grangemouth, which had proved satisfactory.  The Education Department replied that due to shortages of materials it could only authorise prefabricated wooden hutments at this time.  The huts available were considered rather poor.

The extension had to wait, and the time was used to seek for an alternative site for a brand new building.  The preferred location was Bantaskine where the estate was being feued.  In October 1946 the school fees were finally abolished and in 1947 it was again proposed to close the Primary Department in order to make room for the extra pupils resulting from the raising of the school leaving age.  In the event this took another three years!

Building now began to take place, though the first new structure was a wooden hut, measuring 36ft by 16ft, in the playground for the Army Cadets.  Costs had rocketed and this simple structure was priced at £1,700, and was erected early in 1950.  Later that year £8,000 was spent on internal alterations to the former Primary Department and an extension to the Science Block.  At the same time a contract was awarded to the Scottish Orlit Company for the erection of a block of three classrooms at a £13,000 plus services and furniture.  The iron railings fronting Rennie Street had been removed during the war and it was 1953 before the Education Department permitted them to be replaced at a cost of £684.  Considering that the old railings had been of no use to the war effort this was a costly exercise.

In 1954 James K Millar applied to Falkirk Town Council to lease the playing fields at Bleachfield as a storage area for its works.  This caused quite some anxiety to the High School Club.  However, their use by the school was considered essential and it was only in the late 1960s that the land was acquired for that use.  Meanwhile, negotiations with the owners of Bantaskine had stalled as they were only willing to feu a large area which included what they derogatively called a “Ditch,” meaning the Antonine Wall.  The stalemate was solved by jointly purchasing the land with Falkirk Town Council in 1955.  22 acres were set aside for Bantaskin Primary School, Falkirk High School, and the associated playing fields.  The High School was built in 1961.

The old building in Rennie Street was reconstructed and re-opened as Woodlands High School with an extension by the Stirling County architect, AJ Smith, 1961-63. 

1886Hugh Campbell1899300, 410
1899Alexander C Mackay1924721
1924John Reid Cameron1931
1931James Jackson Robertson1940
1940Alastair Chisholm Mackenzie19621060, 850

Sites and Monuments Record

Rennie StreetSMR 1133NS 8853 7945

G.B. Bailey, 2023