Blackness Public School

Upon the closure of Blackness Girls’ School on 31 March 1903, by Carriden Kirk Session, the Bo’ness and Carriden School Board immediately agreed to erect a new school building for around 100 pupils to the west of the village where it would be more central.  Little land was available near the village, in part due to a plan by the Admiralty to build a naval base there.  The Board started to search for a feu in the vicinity of Burnshot and instructed James Dodds, architect, to draw up plans.  In the meantime, the Board took a lease of the old school building and patched up the roof.  Temporary toilets were erected to the back of the school for the boys attending.  Teachers were transferred there from other Board schools on a temporary basis.

Illus 1: 1913/15 Ordnance Survey Plan (National Library of Scotland).

Land on the Binns Estate was examined but in the end a feu was obtained on favourable terms from the Marquis of Linlithgow.  Mr Braes of Burnshot Farm was compensated for un-exhausted manure.  The scale of the new school was diminished, partly to save on costs and partly due to the Admiralty decision not to establish new facilities in the parish.  The 108 pupil school originally suggested had been estimated at around £1,400, and the 62-pupil one now proposed came in at £850.  By dispensing with the two sheds in the playground and the wall there to divide the sexes, as well as a few other non-essentials, this was brought down to £828.  The plan produced by Dodds allowed for extensions to be easily carried out at a future date.  It was T-shaped in plan with the tall single classroom in the centre and a lower porch/lavatory wing on the west and a matching porch/teacher’s room to the east – allowing for separate entrances for the boys and the girls.  The wings were set back enhancing the appearance of the south gable of the main block.  This gable was built in snecked rubble, contrasting with the random rubble elsewhere.  Four tall prominent windows face south to the main road, the central two having shouldered lintels under a relieving arch and the date “1904”.  Three lancet ventilation slots in the apex finish it off.

Illus 2: Blackness School looking north-east.

Staffing was always a problem.  There was no schoolhouse attached to the school and it was almost impossible for the teachers to get accommodation in the immediate vicinity.  In 1924 Miss Meikle turned down the post at Blackness due to the lack of accommodation.  Usually the teachers lived in Bo’ness and had to cycle or walk to work in all weathers.  Miss McKay’s application for an allowance for the use of a bicycle in 1913 was turned down.  Heating was by open fires.  A moment of celebration came in 1911 with the coronation of George V.  The Marquis of Linlithgow presented the scholars with Coronation mugs.

Blackness School suffered from many of the troubles of a rural school.  Problems occurred with the sewage system as the only drain available was not capable of taking the material.  In 1907 a chain pump was installed on the septic tank so that the cess could be carted away by Mr Braes.  In 1910 it was reported that the classes ranged from infants to the sixth standard and were taught by two teachers – all in the one classroom.  Consideration was given to adding an extra classroom at a cost of £150-£400 to avoid the inter-class disturbance, but this was not believed to be justifiable.

Illus 3: The South Gable of Blackness School with the 1904 Datestone.

Management of the school fell to the Education Department of Linlithgow County Council and in 1924 it added an additional classroom to the north at an estimated cost of £1,200.  The drainage was overhauled – finally solving a perennial problem.  A small kitchen was also added so that soup could be provided to the children as they were unable to return to their far-flung homes during the day.

1924 also saw the beginning of the use of the buildings over the summer vacation by parties of children from outside of the area.  Blackness is a historic port on the beautiful southern shore of the Forth and made an ideal destination for camping parties.  In July 1924 children from schools in Edinburgh and Armadale camped in the playground.  The following year children escaped from the bustle of urban life in Glasgow to Blackness and this was repeated for many years.  The Uphall Wolf Cubs likewise started their summer camps in 1928. The normal routine of rural life was disturbed in 1934 when the Department of Agriculture bought land for the settlement of small steadings on the estate of Binns including the farms of Mannerston, Champany and Cauldcoats.  It intended to settle 75 families on the land and their children would require schooling.  The Linlithgow Education Authority immediately proposed two additional schoolrooms at Blackness School and wrote to the Department of Agriculture to find out how many children would need to be catered for.  Naturally that department was unable to state precise numbers at that stage and the Education Authority decided to wait for further information. Some of the new arrivals were initially placed in schools peripheral to the area and in the end W H Boyd of Bo’ness was asked to provide a bus to convey them to Bo’ness.

Illus 4: 1954/55 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

With the prospect of war looming in 1938 Blackness School became the centre for ARP operations in the area.  The schoolmaster was the chief warden for the area and arranged for first aid courses at the school along with the issue of gas masks to the population.  An air raid shelter was erected in the playground and after the war, in 1947, it was converted into a “rural science store.”  It was the 1950s before electricity was brought to the school.

In the late 1970s a timber-framed nursery room was added to the east with a corridor fronting the east wing leading to it.  By 2022 the number of pupils attending Blackness School had reduced to just eight, four of whom did not live in the catchment area, and in November Falkirk Council decided to mothball the school.

Year ArrivedHead TeacherYear LeftNumber of Pupils
1904Miss Mary Taylor Buckie
1905Miss Mackie
1906Miss Strachan190752
1907Miss Duncan191057
1911Miss McKay1915
1915Miss Gordon Miller (temp)1915
1915Mrs Park191756
1917Miss Mary Sneddon1922
1922Miss Christina C Stewart192860
1928James A Scottpost 194761, 90
Rosalind Veneroni20228

Sites and Monuments Record

BurnshotSMR 1949NT 0432 7950

G.B. Bailey, 2022