Central School

Illus 1: The Pediment from the west face of Larbert Central Public School was saved by the author and the demolition contractor and has since been re-erected at Larbert High School.

Early in 1885 the erection of the new Central School was commenced on plans prepared by William Black, architect, Falkirk, and the building rapidly rose from its foundation.  A full description of the new building appeared in the Falkirk Herald:

“The principal elevations are towards Church Street on the north, the Carron Road on the south, with a handsome front toward the road leading from the station.  It is massive and imposing.  It is lighted by large windows,  and the appearance of the western elevation is enhanced by polished courses 12ins high, the remainder being square dressed snecked rubble.  Heavy pilasters with moulded capitals flank each window. 

“On the two principal elevations pediments 19½ ft broad reach the whole height of the building.  The school stands within an area comprising two acres which is divided into boys’ and girls’ playgrounds by a wall 6ft high, the whole being surrounded by a boundary wall 3ft in height topped by a railing 4ft high.  Separate gates are provided for boys and girls.  On the ground floor of the building, and entering from the west or girls’ and infants’ entrance, we have first the girls’ lavatory and assistant teachers’ cloak room.  Out of this we come to the hall, on the right of which is situated the juvenile department, and on the left the infant department, both of which consist of three classrooms, two being 23ft by 22ft, and the other 34ft by 22ft.  Entering from the east or boys’ entrance, it will be found to be an exact counterpart of the girls’ side, with the addition that the heating chamber is placed on the side under the stair.  The hall is a wide and lofty interior, and may prove useful for drilling the boys in wet weather.  The floors of the vestibule, hall, and lavatories are laid with ornamental tiles, and the walls, to a height of 4ft, are covered with white enamelled tiles.  The upper floor is reached by two easy stairs, and the classrooms are exactly similar to those on the ground floor, and by the same arrangement as that which exists on the ground floor, the boys and girls will come and go from their respective classrooms by separate entrances.  In addition to the classrooms on this floor there are rooms for the headmaster, and headmistress, a board room, and private classroom.  This latter room will be found to be very useful as a room in which pupil-teachers can be taught by the headmaster, and very probably as a music room.  The height of the ceiling on both flats is 16ft.  The school is heated by hot water pipes, and a certain number of open fireplaces, which may be used should any accident happen to the pipes, or when only one fire is wished at the time.  The building is ventilated by Munn’s patent ventilators.  The hall and staircase are lighted from the roof of the centre block.  The accommodation provided is as follows: four rooms, each 32 x 22ft, and eight rooms 23ft x 22ft, the whole accommodating 744 pupils.  Each set of rooms is divided from each other by sliding partitions, formed principally of glass, so that while each room is of such a size as to conveniently contain an ordinary class, when occasion required the whole can be made into one large room capable of holding 175 scholars, except in the infant department, which will accommodate 219.A little apart from the school are situated the girls’ and boys’ offices, which are of octagonal form, radiating on an open space to be used as coal cellars, & c.  These offices, which are divided into two distinct sections, are fitted with all the modern improvements, are lined with white-glazed brickwork, and occupy an area of 53ft square.  They are surrounded by play-sheds.  At the north-east corner of the ground facing Church Street, is the janitor’s house, a compact one-storey building containing three apartments, a scullery, & c.” 

(Falkirk Herald 31 March 1886, 3).

The contractors were: masons – J & A Main, Falkirk; slater – John D Stupart, Stenhousemuir; plumber – David Draper, Falkirk; plasterer – James Millar, Grahamston; painters – Ferguson & Bell, Falkirk.  The heating apparatus was provided by James Keith, Edinburgh; and Carron Co supplied the railing and gates.  The feu had been bought from Carron Company for £12 per acre, though the feu charter cost £18 8s 2d.  All in all, the school cost £6,000 and this sum was borrowed from the Education Department at an interest rate of 3.5% payable over 50 years.

Illus: Larbert Central School, c1905.

Larbert Central School opened to pupils on 5 April 1886 with a staff of thirteen teachers, though the formal opening only took place a month later.  A brass plaque was erected in the hall bearing the words “Larbert Central Public School – built to supersede the Old Parochial and Stenhousemuir Public Schools – was formerly opened on 1st May, 1886, by Thomas Dawson Brodie, Esquire of Gairdoch.”  At the foot of the tablet were engraved the names of the members of the School Board and of the Architect.

There was dissatisfaction among many of the ratepayers for a time with the policy of the School Board in building such a large school, but their wisdom and foresight were amply justified because, by the end of ten years, it was completely filled, and in 1900 it was found necessary to add a new Infant School.  At this time there was accommodation for 1100 pupils, while the number on the roll amounted 1,030.  Hugh Martin FEIS became the first headmaster of the Central School and for the next 27 years continued in this capacity.

Illus 3: 1927 Shield Winning Football Team with the Infant Department in the background.

The Infant Department faced Church Street, though most of the light came from the south. It cost £5,012, including the furniture. £5,000 was borrowed to cover this from the Public Works Loan Board, repayable in 30 years, the annual repayment (including both principal and interest) being £245 16s 8d. It contained accommodation for 420 scholars, as well as the cookery classes, which had previously been held in the main block. A large room could be used for public meetings – a sliding door or folding partition in the new building turned the kitchen and cookery room into one, and made a hall to accommodate about 300.

The Coronation gift of Mr J B Cochrane to the Central School in 1902 was of gymnastic apparatus for the school grounds.  Two ‘giant strides’ were constructed in the boys’ playground and two in the girls’ for six ropes each, surmounted by small cupolas, manufactured by D Mellis, Dumbarton Road, Partick.  Two rows of swings, containing half a dozen each, were also provided, the infants’ ground being furnished with six swings suitable for youngsters.  The foundations were laid by J J & P McLachlan, and the tar macadam by WG Walker & Sons, Ayr.

That same year, Carron Company gave up providing evening technical lessons for its workforce and handed over the whole stock of its models, blackboards, and other utensils, to the new class at the Carron School.  The School Board commenced Continuation Science and Art Schools at the Central School –  classes in machine construction and drawing, mechanical drawing, mechanics, steam, art subjects and shorthand.  A class in dressmaking was opened by Madame Grohe, the proprietrix of the Anglo-Parisian School of Dress, Glasgow, in the upper room of the Central Infant School.  It was whilst Continuation classes were taking place in January 1912 that fire broke out under the floor of one of the classrooms in Larbert Central School.  The classes were evacuated and the fire was extinguished by the janitor and teachers.

Part of the playground at the western gusset site was taken over in 1907 by Stirlingshire County Council and a public lavatory was constructed by J J & P McLachlan.  The playground was used by boys practising bayonet and rifle exercises.  In 1911 structural alterations were carried out in the Infant Department to create four additional rooms.  At the beginning of the First World War, in September 1914, Territorials were billeted in the Infant Department of the Central School under Lt-Col Wilson.  The detachment was an artillery one and included horses.  Cookery and woodwork classes had to be discontinued for the time being.  The infant and some of the junior classes were only under instruction for a half day of each day.   In 1916 complaints were made that the Royal Field Artillery battery at the school had a “wet” canteen – that is to say it served alcohol.  Worse still, this was made available to the public!  However, by October they were gone and the Infant Department was cleaned and then re-opened.

In 1921 an Intermediate Department (three years’ course) was opened at Larbert Central School.  This department was intended for qualified pupils residing in the districts of Larbert, Stenhousemuir, Carron, Carronshore, Torwood, Airth, South Alloa, and part of Bothkennar.  “Qualified” pupils were those who had passed the Qualifying Examination and who reached the approved standard in the Control Examination.  After those three years the first pupils had their leaving certificate examination.

The extension of the school leaving age meant that additional accommodation was needed.  In 1927 new cloakrooms and a staff room were added at a cost of £1,383.  Then, on 12 May 1928 disaster struck.  At 2.30am a passing motorist spotted smoke and flames coming from the ladies’ staff room in the north-east corner of the first floor.  Fire crews were soon on the scene but the fire circled the entire floor, spreading from one room to another.  It burned for three hours and the roof fell in before it was brought under control.  The whole of the upper floor comprising eight classrooms, the ladies staffroom, and the headmaster’s room, were gutted.  The classrooms on the ground floor escaped the ravages of the fire, but the ceilings were badly damaged.  The galleries and protective balustrades around the central hall were damaged beyond repair.  The new cloakrooms, which were placed at either end of the building, were not touched.  All of the school records were destroyed, as was an oil painting of Major Dobbie and one of Rev Dr McLaren.  Within a week the pupils were back under instruction, now in the Dobbie Hall.

Unlike the vacillation that had surrounded probable extensions to the school in the previous decade, it was soon decided to reconstruct the damaged building.  Bids were invited for the work and the tenders were awarded to various firms with Duncan Stewart & Co Ltd, Bonnybridge taking the main work on the masonry.  The other successful firms were: joiner work – Messrs A Williamson & Son, Grangemouth; slater work – Milne & Co, Stirling; plumber work – Joseph Graham, Denny; plaster work – Milne & Co, Stirling; electric work – Allan & Mayes, Falkirk; heating works – J L Sanders & Co Ltd. Glasgow.  painter work – W Mclaren, Stirling; patent blackboards & cupboards – Wilson & Garden, Kilsyth; interior railings for staircase – C Russell, Stenhousemuir; furnishing – James D Bennett, Glasgow.  The total scheme cost little short of £6,667.

By now the Stirlingshire County Council Education department were in charge.  The Larbert East Church halls were rented at £2 a week to provide extra accommodation.  The reconstruction opened after the 1929 summer vacation.  A small addition was made to the brass plate in the hall recording the date of the fire, the date of the re-opening, and the name of the person who performed the ceremony.  The reconstructed school had less class accommodation than formerly, there being now eleven rooms (five on the upper floor and six on the ground floor) compared with fourteen in the original building.  The old staircases had been replaced by new ones leading to a narrower gallery, constructed of ferro-concrete.  New staff rooms and a new board room were included in the accommodation on the upper floor.  The woodwork was of light oak, and the colour scheme throughout was tinted Yellowstone.  Gas had been displaced by electricity, six lights being installed in each classroom.  The heating arrangements were also entirely new, a drop heat system providing each room with two radiators and connecting pipes from a Saunders furnace. 

More accommodation was needed and so the following year, 1930, three temporary classrooms with cloakrooms were erected – cost £832.  These were supposed to be short-lived and an extension was proposed consisting of six classrooms, two science laboratories, a commercial room, a music room, a sewing room, a technical drawing room, an art room, an arts and crafts room, two common rooms, two woodwork shops, a cookery room, a combined laundry and cookery room, a housewifery department, a hall, a refectory, a gymnasium and a swimming pond.  Needless to say, the pool was soon dropped on economic grounds.  The financial crisis of 1931 led to the abandonment of the whole scheme.  Eventually a less ambitious project was put forward costing £17,000.

The formal opening of the Larbert Central School annexe was on 30 August 1935.  The opening ceremony was performed by County Councillor George McLaren JP, convenor of the Property Sub-Committee and convenor of the school.  The addition was built of brick and roughcast with slated roofs and was located to the east of the senior building, partly on the playground and partly on the site of the old Goschen Cottages, taken for the purpose of extension of the school.  The front elevation faced the main Larbert-Carron road.  The two storey building was U-shaped in plan, with glazed corridors running round the three wings.  On the ground floor were placed a gymnasium with boys’ and girls’ dressing rooms and showers, a medical inspection room and a waiting-room, a commercial room, a cookery and laundry room, and boys’ and girls’ cloakrooms and lavatories. 

Illus 4: The 1935 Annexe at Central School, Larbert.

On the first floor the accommodation included a combined class and sewing room, two science laboratories, an art room and boys’ and girls’ lavatories, and two staffrooms.  It was electrically lit and was heated by a low-pressure hot-water system with automatically-fired boilers.  The plans were prepared by the County Architect’s department under the supervision of A.N. Malcolm and cost approximately £17,000.  The various contractors being as follows: preparation of site, brick works – James Murdoch & Co, Larbert; reinforced concrete work – the Carmyle Concrete Co Ltd, Glasgow; carpenter and joiner work – D Mundell & Co, Stirling; steel windows – The Crittall Manufacturing Co Ltd, Glasgow; glazier work – William Purdon & Son, Glasgow; plumber work – George Taylor, Falkirk; slater work – David Thomson, Redding; roughcast work – James K Millar Ltd, Falkirk; plaster and cement work – David Robertson & Sons, Denny; electrical work – David Reid, Larbert; heating work – C F Howden, Glasgow; drainage and playgrounds – Stark & Dobbie, Kilsyth; painter work – M Sinclair, Falkirk; furnishings – James D Bennet Ltd, Glasgow; iron gates and railings W Marshall & Son, Stirling; Linoleum, carpets, etc – W Forbes & Son, Stirling; ranges, etc – Carron Co, Carron; cookers – Dobbie Forbes & Co Ltd, Larbert; patent blackboards – Wilson & Garden, Kilsyth; gymnastic equipment – D Mellis Ltd, Glasgow.

The school now had playing fields on the other side of the main road to the south.  In 1938 they were planted around with a screen of trees and a Belisha beacon was installed on the road.  The international political situation had deteriorated by then and the school became a centre for various activities including the issuing of gas masks.  War was declared on Germany in September 1939 and air raid shelters were immediately constructed, blackout equipment was installed and blast walls put up.  As things worsened, the Local Defence Volunteers, later known as the Home Guard, drilled in the playground.  The school became a rest centre and in March 1941 received 640 men, women and children, forced to leave Clydebank as the result of enemy bombing.  Here they were fed and cared for for three days and nights; new identity cards and ration books were issued to them.  At the end of this period the evacuees were placed in private billets – a remarkable operation.  Another highlight occurred in August 1942 when a Larbert girl, Nancy Graham of the F.A.N.Y., acted as chauffeuse to the Princess Royal when she visited the school.  With the end of the war the shelters and black-out were removed, as was a huge emergency water tank which had been assembled in the playground.

Building materials were carefully controlled after the war and in 1947 it was the Ministry of Works which began work on the erection of hutted buildings opposite the school to provide a further five classrooms and a practical room at an estimated cost of £11,000.  By 1950 Larbert Central School had become Larbert High School.  In early 2000a new school was opened at Carrongrange and the old buildings were demolished.  The site was sold for housing.

1886Hugh Martin1913590-1000
1913William Ross Young1930
1930James G Lockhart1932
1932John Smart1937
1937John A Arness1945

Sites and Monuments Record

Main StreetSMR 1009NS 872 828

G.B. Bailey, 2023