California School

Coal mining flourished in the California and Blackbraes area in the mid-19th century and the colliery owner, Mr Russel of Laurieston, set up schools at these two hamlets.  When the Polmont School Board was formed in 1873 the school at California had a roll of 49 pupils and an average attendance of 45.  It seems to have been taken over by the Polmont School Board as it is known to have had trouble retaining staff there.  By the beginning of the twentieth century about 140 children from the California area attended the school at Blackbraes which was administered by the Muiravonside School Board.  That school became overcrowded and so in 1913 these scholars were excluded.  Temporary accommodation was obtained in the church hall at California for the younger children, and the older ones went to Shieldhill School.  The Grangemouth School Board was now responsible for California and so in 1914 it took out a loan for £2,400 with which to pay for a new school building there.  According to the agreement with the Education Department it was to be paid back within 30 years. 

To Contractors.  Estimates wanted by the Grangemouth Parish School Board for the following works in connection with PROPOSED SCHOOL at CALIFORNIA, viz.: – Mason and Brick, Joiner, Plumber, Slater, Plaster, Painter, and Heating.  Plans may be seen with, and Schedules of Quantities obtained from, the Subscriber.

Sealed tenders, marked on outside “Tender for California School,” to be lodged with J. Burnett White Esq, Solicitor, Grangemouth, Clerk to the Board, by Saturday, 30th curt.  The Board to not bind themselves to accept the lowest or any offer.

A. N. Malcolm, I.A. Architect, Vicar Chambers, Falkirk. 

(Falkirk Herald FH 16 May 1914, 1).
Illus 1: 1955 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

A school with four rooms was erected on the west side of the main road through California opposite to Mamre Drive.  It was only 400yds from the Blackbraes School!  Only three rooms were needed at the time – the fourth was to allow for future expansion.  Consequently, only three of the rooms were furnished at an additional expense of £84.  Two of these were for 50 infants, and the third room for 56 junior pupils.  The older children still went to Shieldhill.  At the time of opening it had not been possible to connect the building to a drainage system and so a large septic tank was installed under the playground.  Two years later agreement was reached with the Duke of Hamilton’s feuars in the area to connect to their drainage.  Nor were there any artificial lights in 1915, these were only introduced in 1922.

Illus 2: California Public School looking north-west, c1920.

The building, designed by Alexander N. Malcolm, architect, Vicar Chambers, Falkirk, was T-shaped in plan with a large Venetian window in the east gable which fronted the road.  The two re-entrant angles were occupied by porches and cloakrooms approached from separate entrance gates for boys and girls.

Illus 3: Dates Keystone on the East Gable window.

The Scottish Education Department re-shaped the areas controlled by many school boards due to boundary disputes and in some cases combination schools were introduced where two neighbouring authorities cooperated.  In 1926 the schools at California and Blackbraes formed one such school known as the Blackbraes-California School.  In 1928 California was added to the remit of the Muiravonside and Slamannan District School Management Committee.  It decided to rationalise the buildings and in 1930 the infants from California were sent to the Blackbraes School.  This was very controversial and led to numerous objections.  Only two of the four rooms at California School were then in use, a situation that mystified the parents at Shieldhill, whose children were being educated in the Welfare Hall due to overcrowding in the school there. 

By 1933 all of the Californian children went to either Blackbraes or Shieldhill and California School stood empty.  The Scottish Education Department pointed out that the building in California was superior to that in Blackbraes.

In 1936 it was proposed that California School would become the Advance Division for the Shieldhill and Blackbraes area with pupils bussed in.  A £2,000 extension was put forward.  The worsening international situation put paid to such ideas for a while and in the Second World War California School was requisitioned by the Emergency Relief Organisation for use as a store, first aid training ground, and centre for the issuing of ration cards and gas masks.  It was handed back in 1946, by which time a new proposal was introduced.  Blackbraes was a dying district – the coal mines were no longer economical.  It was therefore agreed that Blackbraes School would be used entirely as a school for pre-vocational courses (also known as an industrial school).  The advanced division of this school was to be transferred to Redding School and the primary division to California.  The school bus to Redding left California at 8.40am and returned after 4pm.  The school became California Primary School.  The parents of California were elated.

Flat-roofed extensions were placed to the north and south in 1965 and the main entrance was moved to the northern one.

Around 2012 SiBCAS was contracted to design, manufacture and install a nursery using a modular building. It is a stand-alone modular building, measuring 80ft (24.4m) by 32ft (9.75m), to the rear of the main block and provided additional teaching space as well as toilets, a staff kitchen and a community room for all to use.  All of the ground works and mains services were arranged by SiBCAS to meet the building control regulations.

Illus 4: California Primary School looking north-west.
1916Janet Tripneyc192195
c1921Miss Forsyth1926
1926John Fraser1929
1930John Mathieson1930
1931James Hogg1934
1934Frederick J Dean1938
1938John White1941
1942Charles Simpson
c1947John Campbell1951
1951David P Johnston1954
1954George Condie
1956Alexander Miller
c1980sMrs Black
c1990sEdward McLennan1998
Belinda Tomasik (acting)(Present)

Sites and Monuments Record

Main St, CaliforniaSMR 1979NS 9060 7626
G.B. Bailey, 2023