Polmont Parochial School

Polmont was formed into a parish in 1732 and a church was built shortly thereafter.  Presumably a school followed a few years later, though this may have been housed in an existing building.  It was the duty of the heritors of the parish to provide a sufficient school building as well as the schoolmaster’s salary.

It was 1789 before a substantial, plain, two storey structure was erected almost opposite to the church – that date was carved onto the door lintel.  It was constructed of squared rubble with dressed quoins and tabled skews.  It was oblong in plan with a small central projection from the centre of the main western façade facing the new north/south street which led to the church.  The main block measured 36ft 3ins by 20ft, and the porch wing was 11ft 8in wide, projecting 7ft 11ins under a hipped roof.  The ground floor contained two rooms, separated by a lobby containing a stone stairway with iron balusters.  The first floor also contained two rooms, with a smaller room in the wing.  Analogy with other parochial schools in the Falkirk area suggests that the upper flat would have provided a residence for the schoolmaster with the lower floor used as classrooms.

The schoolmaster had died in February 1789 and so the building seems to have been built in preparation for a new master:

POLMONT SCHOOL.  Being vacant by the death of the late incumbent, the heritors have resolved to supply the same by a comparative trial in the school-house, on Wednesday the 15th of April next; ten days before which, the candidates are desired to lodge the certificates of their characters with the Rev. Mr Finlay.  The branches of education required, and on which they will be examined, are, Latin, English, Writing, Navigation, Arithmetic, Book-keeping, and Church Music.  None who intend to become preachers need apply.”

(Caledonian Mercury 26 February 1789, 1).

Around 1795 Thomas Girdwood was appointed as the teacher and the school thrived.  So much so, that a two-storey extension had to be put onto the back of the school.  It was accessed from the back of the lobby.

The New Statistical Account of 1845 provides us with information concerning the teacher:

The parochial teacher receives the maximum salary – L.34, 4s 4 ½ d.  The scholars are so numerous, as to render an assistant necessary, who is paid by the teacher – the average number being about 140.  The whole emoluments, including the fees of the session clerkship, exceed L.100 per annum.  This is the fiftieth year of the present teacher, Mr Thomas Girdwood’s tenure of office, and no man ever filled it more worthily, or more efficiently discharged its duties.  There are other five schools, attended in all by 250 scholars.

Illus 2: 1860/62 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The pay had not changed much by 1860 :

A neat building erected near the Parish Church and where the ordinary branches are taught.   Average attendance of scholars about 70.   The master’s salary is made up of £7 of school fees, £34.10 from the Heritors, and £21.10 from government, in all £113 a year besides the legal accommodation.   The school is one storey, slated and in good repair.  Property of the Heritors of the parish.”

(Ordnance Survey Name Book)

Amongst the famous pupils of the school were Sir John Kincaid of the Rifle Brigade who was at the Battle of Waterloo, and John Mitchell, the Belgian consul at Leith.  Thomas Girdwood died in 1852 and his household furniture in the schoolhouse was sold off.  It included 400 volumes of valuable books, a milch cow and a number of pieces of silver plate (Falkirk Herald 22 April 1852, 1).  He had evidently done well for himself.

The death of another schoolmaster was seen as an occasion for further building and a separate block was constructed to the north.  This was used as the schoolrooms and the old building was reserved for the teacher’s house.  The new school had large classrooms under a west/east ridge.  To the south the eaves continued down to form a covered shed.  At that time John Miller of Millfield, the famous engineer of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, was taking a keen interest in the school and it has been postulated that he may have supplied the plans.  He delivered the first annual lecture to the Polmont Mutual Improvement Society at the school in 1852 on the subject of the history of steam power.  He was also a great promoter of the Polmont Horticultural Society which had already been using the school to host exhibitions.  A well was dug in the school garden in 1859.

The next teacher was John Beck who started in January 1853.  He was twenty-five years old and must have considered himself fortunate to land this plumb job.  He died that March and was followed by Richard Dorwood.  Dorwood took evening classes and in 1858 would have been found reading “The Wreck of the Golden Mary” to the villagers – no cinema in those days.  His book in 1868 was Cervantes’ “Voyage to Parnassus.”  Dorwood remained in place when the Polmont School Board was created in 1873.  Indeed, he was appointed as its clerk and treasurer – surely a conflict of interest! 

The old schoolhouse of 1789 was demolished c1970.  For the remaining history of the other buildings see Polmont Public School.

1795Thomas Girdwood1852140
1853John Beck1853
1853Richard Wise Dorwood1873
1873Alexander Stark

Sites and Monuments Record

Kirk Entry, Bo’ness RdSMR 1379NS 9372 7923
G.B. Bailey, 2023